Monday, 27 December 2010

Christianity and Politics (part two)

A few weeks ago I wrote on here about the interaction between Christianity and political power. My personal view is that all faith systems should be treated equally by the state, so I have not been joining in with the seasonal complaints about how our country has lost its Christian heritage and we can't celebrate Christmas properly any more.

Well I've just read an article which so neatly illustrates the opposite view to my own that I feel I have to write something about it. Someone on a messageboard that I read posted this article about the repeal in the USA of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (or DADT) rule which currently allows homosexual people to join the armed forces as long as their sexual orientation remains secret. When the repeal of DADT is signed into law, openly homosexual people will be able to apply to the USA military. At the moment, they are not able to do so and apparently over 13,000 people have been dismissed from the armed forces in the USA after their sexual orientation became known.

If you read my previous post on Christianity and politics then you can probably guess where I stand on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'. I don't think the state should deny people certain opportunities or services because of their age, gender, faith, sexual orientation, etc. So I was pretty stunned when I read that article I just linked to. The author's view is that the DADT policy itself, which allowed gay people into the military as long as their sexuality remained secret, was 'a slippery slope down the slide of societal collapse' and 'a slick wink and a nod to homosexuality'. According to the writer, the new policy means that 'our once noble military is being used to conduct a social experiment in debauchery, ostensibly to prove the point that moral turpitude need not necessarily reduce the effectiveness of our fighting force'.

I know very little about how you sign up with the USA military but maybe someone can tell me whether there is a wide-ranging test of morality that you have to pass as part of the entrance procedures. Are you asked about how generous you are, how well you control your temper or about your faithfulness to your (opposite sex) partner (to whom you were married before you slept together)? Or is sexual orientation the only issue of morality (if it is an issue of morality – I won't go there in this post!) that ought to be considered? I can just possibly see the argument that allowing openly gay people into the military could lower morale and cause some people to leave or not sign up in the first place (the latter point is made in the article). But this argument could have been used – and probably was used – by those who argued against equal rights for black people, or for women, or for any other marginalised section of society. Too bad if some white people stopped using buses because they might have to sit next to a black person! Too bad if some straight people leave the armed forces because they might end up serving with someone who is gay! Government shouldn't pander to our prejudices, it should promote and enshrine in law equal rights and opportunities for all.

It's particularly odd to see the Founding Fathers of the USA invoked in an argument for faith-based restriction of people's rights, considering that the Declaration of Independence says this:

'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'

I'm struggling to see how this can be squared with denying certain people the right to join the armed forces because of things those people do in the privacy of their own homes. And that leads on to my second issue with the article and the view it espouses: what gives the author, or me, or anyone else, the right to have our particular view of morality imposed on others by the law of the land? Who says my view is correct? And even if it is correct, why should I get to rob others of their right to live as they see fit? Focusing in on Christianity, what did Jesus say about enforcing your views on other people? He gave plenty of teaching about what his followers should be like but I can't find where he told his followers to compel non-Christians to also obey those ways. Indeed, the New Testament seems to show Jesus' followers respecting and obeying authority, apart from where it is in direct contradiction to the ways of Jesus.


  1. To be fair, it should be pointed out that the guy who gave you that link is a known crank, almost universally derided by Christians and non-Christians alike, except for one or two users who like to encourage him. As a result, his links are also from cranks, and therefore may not be the fairest sources from which to judge the other side of the argument fairly. Bill Clinton, the man who gave us "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the first place, never offered this line of reasoning (i.e. homosexuality is immoral, therefore we must keep it out of the military") to justify the policy. As you say, there are no other morality tests in the military (and in fact jokes about the debauchery of sailors are legendary).

    The problem in judging it fairly is that Clinton never offered any *other* line of reasoning either. It's a very unusual argument in being one of the few where neither side ever offers much of a case. I would ASSUME that the "sensible" argument in favor of excluding gays from the military has something to do with rooming arrangements and the possibility of sexual harassment. You don't bunk people sexually attracted to each other together for the same reason that you don't bunk the men with the women.

    If that's the argument, it may not be insurmountable. After all, they somehow managed to room gay and straight roommates together in colleges. Presumably the military could handle it as well. If somebody would actually MAKE that argument, we could try to examine it.

    The biggest potential problem I see is in the political climate of the US, namely its extreme political correctness. With gays serving openly in the military, if someone claims to be the victim of abuse, slurs or whatever, there's a real danger that his accusers would be regarded as guilty until proven innocent. Plus the fact that the whole basis of military training seems to be to abuse the recruits (within reason) in order to make them tough enough to handle it when the enemy tries to kill them. A military more concerned with making sure nobody ever has their feelings hurt than with defeating the enemy is asking for trouble.

    Is that a good argument? I don't know, because nobody has ever made it, and I'm only guessing that this is part of the rationale at all. We shouldn't have to guess, so certainly the onus of proof is on those who think the policy should be maintained to demonstrate that it ought to be. The opposing argument that you've presented doesn't work very well, but then you picked the kookiest source you could find. To get a better cross-section of opinion, you should go to RCP or something, look for all the articles you can find that take the other side and see if any of them have anything good to offer.

  2. Graeme, thanks for giving some more details about DADT - so how did Clinton convince Congress to vote DADT through? Surely he must have said something about why he thought it was a necessary or important or even just useful piece of legislation?

    And you are right, I have not looked in detail at the argument against allowing openly gay people to enlist in the armed forces. That wasn't meant to be the main focus of my blog post, rather I was using the Rapture Ready article as a counterpoint to my own view of how Christians should engage with political authorities.

    Having said that, it does truly baffle me that many Christians focus on sexual orientation to the exclusion of almost every other matter of personal behaviour. It's so odd, considering how little Jesus is recorded as saying about sexual orientation in comparison to greed, humility, peace-making, anger, service etc...