Navy Chaplains, Damn Lies, and Statistics

In the latest example of stunning dishonesty from conservative Christians who want to view themselves as persecuted, a group of Navy Chaplains has apparently enlisted a damn liar statistician to “prove” that they’re being discriminated against by not being promoted to higher officer ranks as frequently as chaplains from other Christian denominations. I have an alternative explanation: maybe they’re not being promoted because they aren’t doing their duties as well as other chaplains.

The Christian Post illustrated this article with a photo of former chaplain James Klingenschmitt praying while in uniform. Klingenschmitt loves playing the martyr and frequently claims that he was kicked out of the Navy “for praying in Jesus’ name.” Actually, he was kicked out of the Navy because he disobeyed a lawful order. He, like all military personnel, was forbidden from wearing his uniform at a political event in order to prevent the impression of military approval or endorsement of a political group or message. Klingenschmitt wore his uniform to a rally; he disobeyed an order, and he was court martialed for it. In fact, the photo on the CP’s site is almost certainly the very event that led to Klingenschmitt’s court martial.

None of this is mentioned in the CP article or the photo’s caption. Either they are very badly failing at their journalistic endeavors, or they’re deliberately using a disgraced ex-officer as their prime illustration of some Christians who claim to be discriminated against, and lying by omission.

The lawsuit concerns promotions to O-4 and above (Major or Lt. Commander and above), which are the first competitive promotion boards. If these chaplains really see themselves as following in Klingenschmitt’s insubordinate footsteps, it makes perfect sense that promotion boards might evaluate them as underperforming officers. Chaplains who make it their mission to undermine and even disobey military regulations, direct orders, and their own oaths as officers to the Constitution and its principle of religious liberty probably aren’t impressing their superiors with their outstanding performance.

This is just one more stunt by conservative Christians in the military that reveals their true colors. Chris Rodda of the wonderful Military Religious Freedom Foundation has a piece in the Huffington Post about the much larger and better-organized Officers’ Christian Fellowship. I speculated a while ago about how much consternation a similar Pagan organization would raise. I didn’t know at the time how evangelical the OCF was.

I would never want Pagans to adopt similarly fundamentalist attitudes or act to oppress others’ free exercise. But in the face of such oppression ourselves, we have to stay alert. We have to be active to debunk the lies, whether they’re told through statistics or false claims of discrimination or martyrdom. We have to be willing to work personally and politically to protect religious liberty for all Americans, Christian and non, military and civilian, alike.


(Although I tipped my hat to Mark Twain in the title, as a mathematician and sometimes statistician myself, I would like to point out that statistics is not all damn lies; it’s actually a wonderful field that does a lot to uncover truths and can be used to make the world a better place. Sadly, it can also be abused by unethical people like this. If there’s a deity of statistics, perhaps zie will lend a helping hand – or a randomized sample – to making sure that this kind of nonsense gets disregarded.)

Given names: Up now at the Slacktiverse!

I’ve got a new piece up at the Slacktiverse called “Given names,” on the topic of names and power. I draw from several different examples and intersections: military interactions, men using women’s names to create an unwanted sense of intimacy, and the ongoing “nym wars” about real-names-only policies on social networking platforms. Enjoy!

Protect us all, or let it be

Since the Supreme Court affirmed that the execrable calumny produced by Fred Phelps’ clan (Westboro Baptist Church) is protected speech, Congress is considering passing laws that would expand the exclusion zones of time and space around military funerals. Unfortunately, I think this is a bad move on many levels, most of all because Congress should either protect all funerals or acknowledge that enduring some truly vile speech is the price we pay for freedom of speech.

My partner got into a passionate discussion with someone the other day because the other guy was insisting that members of the military are extra-special, better people, overall, than non-military. My spouse, who has made his career in the military, disagreed. He doesn’t think he’s anything special, and certainly not a better person than non-military people. He also knows first-hand that people in the military are a lot like any other kinds of people: they screw up and do bad things. Honor is something they strive for, not something that automatically accrues to them when they join.

I said afterwards that the other guy was trying to express a deeply-felt sentiment (mostly gratitude) but that he kept translating the depth of his feeling into hyperbole, but not realizing the difference between his hyperbole (with respect to the facts) and his feelings. Regardless, it deeply disturbed my partner because he does not want to see the country put the military on a pedestal to the point where that attitude could destabilize our democracy.

This potential law is an example of that kind of attitude. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad most citizens have learned to separate their feelings about the members of the military from their feelings about the national policy those members are enacting. But my partner is right that perpetuating the idea that the military is sacrosanct is dangerous.

If I saw this sort of legislation being sought to protect the funerals of high-profile QUILTBAG people* (which are the Phelpses’ other favorite target), I would still be concerned about it as a potentially unconstitutional limitation on free speech. But as it is, this proposed legislation is an insult to all the other grieving families that the Phelpses target. If grieving families are worth protecting, and the speech can be limited in this way, then the law should protect us all. That’s what the military lives and dies for.

*QUILTBAG is an acronym that arose on The Slacktiverse’s comment threads. It’s intended to capture the alphabet soup of the ever expanding GLBT… acronym. It means Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transsexual/Transgender, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay.

Imagine this: OPF

Imagine the uproar that would happen if a conservative Christian picked up a brochure in the Chaplain’s office that read:

Officers’ Pagan Fellowship (OPF) of the U.S.A. was formed in 2011, in the midst of the longest-running wars in US history. The gods have used OPF powerfully for their purposes ever since, in peace and war. Today, we are Pagans in all branches of the US Armed Forces who are united by our reverence for nature and the immanent holiness of all people and places. We are committed to living out our practices in the military society.

Our Purpose and Vision statements are:

Purpose: To honor nature by uniting Pagan officers for environmental awareness and respect, equipping them to minister effectively in the military society.

Vision: A spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for all gods in uniform, empowered by the spirits of people and places, living with a passion for nature and compassion for all people, military and civilian.

Those statements have been combined into our Mission Statement which says, simply, that we are: Pagan officers exercising natural leadership to raise up a military practicing myriad traditions.

That’s not real, of course. There is no Officers’ Pagan Fellowship. But the above is based on the text of the standard Officers’ Christian Fellowship brochure found in just about every Chaplain’s office everywhere. Imagine how frightening conservative Christians would find a similar brochure for Muslim officers – suppose they were intending “to raise up a military submitted to Allah” or a military following the law of Allah? They would even find a similar statement from Jewish officers a little unsettling, I imagine. At the same time, the OCF and similar groups expect non-Christians to find them benign and well-meaning? Their own hypocrisy betrays their duplicity.

Protected speech: Ur doin it rong.

Slacktivist recently argued that

If [groups spouting anti-gay diatribes] have been arguing in good faith all along, then they will be gladdened by yesterday’s decision. They will be happy to learn that they need not fear any abridgment of their rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion just because they believe that homosexuality is a sin. They will be joyously and genuinely relieved to see this confirmed, unambiguously, by the highest court in the land. And they will stop making this argument, stop spinning scary scenarios of pastors getting arrested by the Gay Police, stop arguing that legal protections for others must entail a loss of legal protections for them.

But I don’t think they will stop making this argument.

News today shows that Slacktivist was half right. Notably execrable anti-gay bigot Bryan Fischer said that while he disagreed with the ruling, he was glad that because Phelps’ speech is allowed, “it certainly must be okay for students in a classroom, for public officials, and for radio talk show hosts to express reasoned and rational criticism of homosexual conduct without any kind of penalty whatsoever.”

First of all, it’s pretty rich for someone to say this when he works for an organization labeled by the SPLC as a hate group precisely because they use misinformation, distortion, and outright lies in their “rational criticism” of gays. Second, this statement looks to me like an outright declaration that Fischer intends to use the Phelps decision to continue to peddle his hateful falsehoods in support of the idea that recognizing gay rights is harmful, especially to the military. The SPLC is right, and Fischer cannot be arguing in good faith. He’s right that his freedom of speech is protected, but he is doing it wrong.

DADT, BDUs, and freedom

Shocking news: The military forces its members to break the laws laid down in the Bible! It’s explicitly required in military regulations! They are not allowed to use their First Amendment rights to refuse to participate in these abominable practices!

That’s right: military uniforms are made of cotton-poly blends.

Wait, what?

Some conservatives are complaining loudly that the repeal of DADT will force people in the military to violate their religion’s requirements. This is a specious attempt to use religion as a cover for bigotry. The fear-mongers claim that since they will not be allowed to condemn homosexuals, their religious rights are being compromised. These people are hypocrites, even by what they claim are the standards of their religion.

In Leviticus 19:19, the law specifically prohibits wearing clothes made of mixed fibers. It’s just one chapter after the law in Leviticus that forbids men to have homosexual intercourse. (Lev 18:22) Most contemporary Christians say that this is part of the Old Testament law that they don’t have to follow, just like they don’t have to keep kosher, or be circumcised, or follow any of the other highly detailed laws laid out in Leviticus and other parts of the Old Testament. Usually these Christians say that the Old Testament law was made obsolete by Jesus, and anyway, those laws were made for a time and place and situation, and they’re not relevant now anyway. Anyone who wears a military uniform and claims to condemn homosexuality based on Leviticus is a bald-faced hypocrite.

But many of the same Christians who eat cheeseburgers (not kosher) and wear whatever they want are claiming that their religion requires them to condemn homosexuality.  In fact, there are only a handful of verses that address anything like homosexuality, and the main one is right there in Leviticus alongside regulations about how to deal with mold on your walls and what clothing you’re allowed to wear. If the Old Testament law is irrelevant, either because of Jesus or because of changing contexts, then this law is just as irrelevant as the rest of them.

There is, in fact, one place in the New Testament that addresses homosexuality. But that’s Paul, not Jesus, and Paul is probably describing what today we would call pedophilia. (Note to the Roman Catholic Church: that’s still illegal, by the way.) By the way, Paul is also famous for telling women to cover their heads and be silent in church, which are commandments that most Evangelicals feel free to interpret according to cultural context. Jesus himself never says anything about homosexuality and says remarkably little about sex at all. He was probably too busy condemning those who mistreat their neighbors and just forgot about it. Oops.

Members of the military have restrictions placed on their First Amendment rights. The government bends over backwards to try to protect First Amendment rights of speech and religion, but not all of those rights are the same for military members as for civilians. Military people lose a lot of control over how they look (haircut, uniform, etc. – which is what I was referring to in the opening, because appearance is a form of speech, legally) and over what they can say, and when. It is true that military chaplains who are Evangelical Christians aren’t allowed to push their form of religion on others, and can be disciplined for doing so in ways that violate the ethics of the chaplain corps, although there is actually a much more reasonable argument that the Bible instructs Christians to tell others about Jesus. Too bad: it’s a minimal restriction to ensure the freedom of others. And so is the requirement that the military get used to treating people with respect, regardless of their sexual orientation.

As far as concerns about limiting speech outside of the military, well, as Slacktivist has pointed out, Fred Phelps is evidence that our country values freedom of speech so highly that it’s willing to allow some pretty odious speech to occur. We have other ethical guidelines that tell us not to do things like join the Nazi party or demonstrate with Fred Phelps, even if they are legal. Those ethical guidelines often transcend religion, especially the Golden Rule. Although, come to think of it, I think Jesus did have something to say along those lines.

Conscientious objectors and medical care

In my last post, I explained why people who purport to object to abortion on moral grounds are being hypocrites by trying to legislatively restrict women’s health care choices, especially through control of funding. I compared opposition to abortion to opposition to war. Another way this comparison is relevant is in the area of so-called “conscience clauses” that allow health care providers to refuse to provide services they find immoral. These are often, directly or indirectly, compared to exceptions that allow people with conscientious objections to war to avoid military service. If the comparison is taken seriously, it shows why the “conscience clauses” as they are currently used are incorrect. The comparison, taken seriously, shows that people who object to providing the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, should not be allowed to become health care providers.

People who are conscientious objectors aren’t put in the military in positions where they won’t kill anybody; they’re not sent over to war zones carrying a rifle with the understanding that if their base is attacked, they won’t actually shoot anyone, they’ll just call one of their comrades to do it for them. We’re not willing to let soldiers die because their fellow soldiers aren’t willing to do their duty. We shouldn’t be willing to let one woman die or be permanently harmed because her health-care provider isn’t willing to provide the necessary care to save her life or her health.

Today’s military is all-volunteer, so there’s very little need for conscientious-objector regulations. Last I checked, nobody was drafted into medical school, either, or nursing school, or pharmacy school. If people voluntarily enter those professions, voluntarily assuming specific duties that their fellow people depend on them to perform, then they’d better be willing to perform those duties.

In some cases, when military service has been compulsory, conscientious objectors have been given alternative assignments that still served the nation’s purposes but presented no moral objections. We should apply the same standard to medical practitioners: if you’re not willing to perform your duties or provide a reasonable standard of care (including not letting women die), then you should be doing something else achieving the same ends. You can be an eye doctor, or a physical therapist, or a child psychiatrist. But you can’t be an on-call ER doctor, and you can’t be the only pharmacist on your shift, just like a pacifist can be in the Peace Corps but not the Green Berets.

I know there are already people in those professions who have these objections. The only reasonable use of conscientious objections in medical care is for such people, and they should be subject to restrictions as I mention above. We can grandfather these people in until they finish their careers, as long as it doesn’t put women’s lives or health at risk. If you have an objection to filling a prescription for Plan B, there has to be another pharmacist available who will, and so on. No medical facility that receives public funding should be allowed to refuse to provide abortions in ways that put the woman’s life or health at risk.

There is an issue of time and convenience here: non-emergency abortions can usually be rescheduled, but ensuring that conscientious objections don’t raise significant barriers to women’s access is a more nuanced situation. Still, these things can be handled while we are in the process of ensuring that all future health care providers are willing to do their jobs.

Any other position is an ill-disguised attempt to conceal a desire to control women’s health care, and ultimately, women’s bodies. When the so-called “pro-life” groups are willing to act in ways consistent with their stated beliefs, I’ll believe them and work with them. Until then, they are hypocrites who want to control me, even to the point of being willing to let me die. I won’t cooperate with people who lie about that.

Resisting government funding of abortion: a comparison

Bottom line up front: People opposed to abortion have a perfect example of how to resist what they perceive as government funding of an immoral action: the movement to resist paying taxes that support war. If people opposed to abortion do not follow this model, if they persist in attempting to use government to enforce their beliefs on others, I conclude that they are in fact attempting to legislate their morality in a way that is inconsistent with their stated beliefs and purposes.

In my efforts to understand and deal with the portion of my society that wants to restrict or eliminate women’s access to reproductive choices, especially abortion, I have often been stymied by the idea that if these people actually believe that abortion is murder, they are actually doing an ethical thing by doing nearly everything possible to prevent murder. I feel I have a responsibility to take them at their word that they are not trying to establish a theocracy or enforce their religious beliefs, that instead they are trying to create legislation just as necessary as the laws against homicide, manslaughter, etc. If I believe them on that topic, then the debate revolves around what each person thinks of abortion, rather than whether this is an appropriate topic to legislate.

I have finally come up with a comparable example that shows how people opposed to abortion, whether for religious reasons or not, could pursue their goal of not participating in or contributing to abortions without trying to eliminate others’ access to the health care of their choice. The efforts of pacifists to resist participating in war or even paying taxes that directly fund war are morally equivalent in nearly all ways, but the pacifists have had the courage of their convictions and have not attempted to make their beliefs compulsory for everyone.

No one is in any doubt that war kills people. There is no possible room for debate over whether the soldiers and civilians killed are fully human, independent persons. Pacifists are on much stronger ground than the so-called pro-life side: the pacifists are truly pro-life. (In fact, a Catholic bishop pointed out that if one is opposed to abortion, one must also be against the death penalty and not wholly pro-war in order to be consistently “pro-life.” Would that more people had listened!) No one is in any doubt that our country is actively engaged in killing people, and that our taxes fund that.

We have recognized principled opposition to war by creating the status of conscientious objector; people who meet certain criteria are excused from military service that would otherwise be required. I’ll address the complex issue of similar “conscience clauses” in medical care in another post. But the major fights right now regarding abortion and women’s health care are supposedly about funding. There is a major push on in Congress to place all kinds of restrictions on women’s health care based on the idea that no federal funding should go pay for abortion, since some people who pay taxes object to abortion on moral grounds.

The courts have repeatedly established that people are not excused from paying taxes because they object to the uses of that tax money, even if the objection is on religious grounds. Resisting government funding for abortion on moral grounds is no more admirable than resisting government funding for war on moral grounds. The “pro-life” movement ought to be making common cause with those who resist paying taxes that fund war, and ought to be working to change the tax code or the structure of government so they can be sure their money doesn’t go to those purposes. Why don’t they?

The so-called “pro-life” crowd is trying to enforce its moral beliefs on everyone else. The heart of their argument is that the woman cannot decide what is right for her and the fetus. Pacifists similarly argue that neither the soldier nor the government can decide whether it is right to wage war and take lives. Principled pacifists realize that this means they cannot enforce their position on others – that would be just as wrong as the government using soldiers to decide who lives, who dies, and who owns what oil-producing land. But the so-called “pro-life” crowd think that they can decide what is best for women. They can decide that women should be allowed to die rather than have an abortion; the woman can’t decide for herself, but they can decide for her. They are like pacifists standing outside a recruiting center and shooting people to keep them from joining the military.

They are hypocrites of the worst sort, and their actions belie their words. I believe the actions. If they want people to take them seriously and to try to work with them, they ought to act in accord with what they say they believe, and take a principled stand, even to the point of suffering the consequences. I respect conscientious objectors and I even respect pacifists who resist taxes that pay for war. I do not respect hypocrites who endanger others and protect themselves.

Conservative says gender essentialism explains military sexual assaults?

From Right Wing Watch‘s current reporting on the CPAC, including comments made during a panel discussion by Elaine Donnelly:

One of Donnelly’s main arguments did not seem exactly respectful of our armed forces: she said repeatedly that servicemembers can’t be counted on – or trained – to control their sexual urges. That’s why, she said, we are losing so many ship captains due to sexual misconduct. Sexual mistreatment of women in the military is not their fault, she said, but it’s not surprising.

I don’t know how many ship captains we’re “losing” to charges of sexual misconduct, but if she’s talking about the most recent case, she’s way off base. Regardless, take a look at that argument again: men are aggressive, especially sexually, and that’s just the way they are. It can’t be changed. Rape is bad, sure, but you know, we just shouldn’t put people in those situations, because people are animals driven entirely by their instincts, which can’t be controlled, so of course bad things happen when you let women in the military, or let them wear short skirts, or, heck, let them leave the house without being accompanied by a male relative and swathed in a burqua….oh wait.

If the conservatives want to see the face of “creeping Shariah,” they ought to look in the mirror. Rape apologism (“she deserved it, she didn’t take care of herself, she never should have been there/worn that/drunk that/trusted him”) is only a short step away from the obvious solution of legalistic limitations designed to “protect” women. The recent piece I was critiquing in the link above only suggested the softer form of social pressure, with advice from Dad not to get in a car with a guy, but really, since conservatives and the Religious Right in particular seem so hell-bent on legislating what happens inside my uterus, it’s not unreasonable to say that they have much more in common with their imaginary enemies, the Shariah-imposers, than they’d like to admit.

(NB: I can’t seem to find a transcript of what she actually said, but one of her flowcharts (yes, she used flowcharts – and bad ones, at that) includes the statement “Gays No More Perfect Than Anyone Else.” Score one for the Mistress of the Obvious here. But since that statement helps lead the path of illogic on the flowchart to “New Forms of Sexual Misconduct,” it seems to confirm that she thinks people in general can’t keep their pants on, especially not when they’re anywhere near a bed. This is probably also a dogwhistle to the vile lie that gay people are just waiting with bated breath to rape their straight counterparts.)

When they pray for Christian leadership, is this what they mean?

A Navy officer, Captain Honors, has been relieved of command over inappropriate videos that he created and broadcast to subordinates some years ago. But now the investigation has expanded to include what his commanding officers, including the captain of the ship. (As I understand it, at the time Honors was a Commander and XO. Possibly the videos were part of the XO’s traditional job of maintaining morale.) And the officer who was captain of the ship at the time? He’s now a Rear Admiral, and specifically the Rear Admiral who appeared at the National Day of Prayer, illegally in uniform.

When people on the Religious Right talk about wanting Christian leaders, and pray for Christian leadership in the country, is this what they’re talking about? Lewd and offensive videos circulated to 6,000 people? When will the Religious Right collapse under the weight of its own hypocrisy?