Members of Congress are weighing in with the Secretary of the Navy in the case of Chaplain Wes Modder, who is being forced out of the Navy after complaints by a gay officer who hid his sexual orientation.
Thirty-five Members of Congress have written Secretary Ray Mabus and the Chief of Chaplains Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben asking them to “protect military chaplains’ freedom to practice their religion according to the tenets of their faith.”
Modder, who has served just shy of 20 years in the military, has religiously counseled thousands of sailors and Marines over his long career, often in combat situations. He has only ever received sterling recommendations from his superior officers.
Even so, after the implementation of open gays serving in the military, Modder came under scrutiny by a gay officer working as a temp in his office. The officer never revealed to Modder that he was both gay and married to a man. The officer sought out other sailors who were counseled by Modder and got them to complain about Modder’s counseling on homosexuality and sex outside of marriage. Modder insists he only counseled by them based on his deeply held religious beliefs and according to the tenets of his endorsing Church [all military chaplains must be approved and sponsored by a religious denominations and must agree to counsel according to the teachings of that denomination].
The Congressmen express support for Modder. Calling Naval chaplains “…the unsung heroes of the American warriors,” the Members, led by Republican Randy Forbes of Virginia, write:
…we are deeply invested in protecting the vital role of chaplains in the United States military. Military chaplains fill a crucial religious need that exists uniquely in the realm of military service—a need that is imperative to the well-being and operational readiness of the troops. Their religious guidance and self-service are crucial pillars to the health and success of our service members.
Navy policy also protects a chaplain’s ability to preach and teach consistent with the tenants of his or her endorsing denomination, even when Sailors may disagree with the chaplains remarks. Chaplains have the right to express their religious beliefs during their conduct of a service of worship or religious study.
National laws passed by Congress, they write, guarantee that, “expressions of belief are protected with the bounds of good order and discipline and that a chaplain may not be required to perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to his or her conscience, moral principles, or religious belief.” The Congressman insist that any chaplain is answerable to his “endorsing denomination — not the military — for evaluation of theological positions.”
In a separate letter, Congressman Doug Collins, who has served as a military chaplain, asked the Navy to investigate how, “Chaplain Modder’s private, confidential communications were obtained, and whether any regulations that protect confidentiality were violated.” He also wants to know if Modder received any warning prior to the announcement the Navy was seeking his ouster.
Without ever speaking to Modder about the charges, his superior officer relieved Modder of his duties earlier this year, removed him from the promotions list, and began procedures to have him removed from the military involuntarily. Modder made a formal request for a religious accommodation, which the Navy declined. In an official report his superior officer said the Modder’s religious beliefs imperiled “unit cohesion” and “military preparedness.”
The report stands in stark contrast to previous reports from his superiors. Rear Admiral Edward G. Winters called Modder “a consummate chaplain, exceptional leader, and extraordinary teacher and mentor.” He said, “Chaplain Modder distinguished himself by excelling as a supervisory chaplain for over 8,000 personnel deployed to the combat zone.”
The Commanding Officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center called Modder a “talented and inspirational leader” and “the best of the best” with “my strongers and highest possible recommendation…”
Chief of Naval Chaplains Rear Admiral Margaret Kibben said Modder “is one of the most enthusiastic, passionate, and dedicated chaplains in the Chaplain Corps.” She said, “He has been called to negotiate with vested parties well beyond his pay grade and has done so with both self-assurance and skill.”
The only thing that appears to have changed between these glowing reviews and the efforts to fire him from the military is the gay ascendancy in society in general and specifically in the military. Advocates point out that wherever the rights of gays come into tension with religious freedom, it is religious freedom that usually loses. Supporters of the Indiana religious freedom legislation would point to the Modder situation as a real-world example of how believing Christians are being discriminated against for their religious beliefs.
Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse