By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist-endorsed Air Force chaplain portrayed recently in national media as watching approvingly the blessing of a same-sex civil union in the chapel he oversees informed officials at the SBC North American Mission Board July 19 that he is leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.
Earlier Baptist Press carried a story quoting chaplain Col. Timothy Wagoner saying he didn’t mean for his attendance at what is believed to be the first gay civil union or wedding ever to take place at an American military installation to give the impression that he personally condones same-sex marriage, but he was there to show support for the serviceman who took part in the ceremony with his civilian partner and the Lutheran chaplain that Wagoner supervises who officiated.
After a July 4 Associated Press story about the ceremony, NAMB chaplaincy officials contacted Wagoner to “talk to him” about the article, NAMB spokesman Mike Ebert said July 17. “He wanted to make it clear that he stands squarely on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 view of this issue, and he was happy to have that point clarified since the article might have given readers a different impression,” explained Ebert, vice president for communications.
A July 13 Baptist Press story quoted Douglas Carver, retired U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains and a two-star general who took over as executive director of NAMB’s chaplaincy work after retiring from the military this year, as saying he had received assurance that Wagoner was “either misinterpreted or quoted out of context” by the Associated Press.
On July 20, however, Baptist Press quoted NAMB President Kevin Ezell saying that he expects the 1,450 Southern Baptist chaplains that serve in the military to support Southern Baptist doctrines “without reservation” and if a chaplain cannot do so, “then it is best to part ways.”
“When it comes to what our chaplains believe and practice, we do ask and we do expect them to tell,” Ezell said in a play on words on the military’s former “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented people who are openly homosexual from serving in the military but also prohibited harassment or discrimination against those that remained in the closet.
Social conservatives warned that allowing gays to serve openly would lead to a mass exodus of military chaplains forced to choose between military policy and their faith. According to the July 4 AP story that quoted Wagoner, however, there have been very few problems since the ban was lifted last September.
Col. Paul Dodd, a retired SBC-endorsed chaplain and co-chairman of the pro-gay Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, said July 23 that he found it ironic that for all the dire warnings that the DADT repeal would create a crisis of conscience for large numbers of chaplains, one of the first conflicts reported involved pressure not from the military but instead the sponsoring body.
Unless Wagoner finds another body to endorse him, he will have to resign from the military. Attempts to contact him July 23 were unsuccessful.