UU Military: Equality Under Fire
“The military is widely understood to be the most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse institution in the U.S.”, notes The Rev. Sarah Lammert, director of Ministries and Faith Development for the Unitarian Universalist Association, and president-elect of the National Conference of Ministry to the Armed Forces. The relationship between the United States military and Unitarian Universalism has not always been an easy one, and continues to evolve. Lammert believes there’s a direct connection between the lack of UU chaplains and the lack of support that people in uniform felt during and after the Vietnam War, but she adds that, “People began to understand that you could be for or against a war without being against the people who serve the country.” The UUA administration took particular steps to make veterans, and especially chaplains, feel welcome, including establishing a Committee on Military Ministry and creating a clearly defined path to gaining endorsement as a UU chaplain.
The Church of the Larger Fellowship began during World War II, as a way for Unitarian Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to stay connected to their faith while they were serving overseas (visit CLFUU), and although there are currently but a handful of UU Military chaplains, there are many militarily affiliated Unitarian Universalists – someone who identifies as a Unitarian Universalist and is a military service member, a military spouse, a military veteran, a military family-member, a Department of Defense employee, a military contractor, or the friend of any of these who wishes to build community with other military-affiliated Unitarian Universalists. David Pyle, 1LT, USAR Chaplain Candidate, MOD Minister, Great Lakes Military Ministry, writes, “Though Unitarian Universalists may disagree on issues of war and peace, our faith supports all of those who serve, who have served, and their families”(1).
The United States military has struggled to overcome its history of inequitable treatment of service people. The following is a time-line of reforms:
RACE. The march to equality started with Executive Order 9981, when President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military on July 26, 1948 (2).
SEXUAL-ORIENTATION. In 1993 President Bill Clinton introduced the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell“, prohibiting military personnel from discriminating against or harassing homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants but requiring service members not to divulge their sexual orientation and to remain closeted. In July, 2011, President Obama certified repeal (definition here) of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, allowing LGBTQ members of the military to openly affirm their sexual identity while in military service(3). Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently called for same-sex couples to enjoy spousal benefits (see this companion story on Blue Boat for details). Still, pending the U.S Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) later this year, “… on-base housing, medical benefits, visa assistance, burial in veterans’ cemeteries and other significant benefits will still be off-limits”(4).
GENDER DISCRIMINATION. Because of a longstanding American Department of Defense policy women until recently were restricted from occupying more than 220,000 positions in the United States military (5), this despite women serving support roles in combat situations. One outcome of this ban is that women are promoted to leadership positions in the military far less often than are men. Military women also tend to be paid less than their male counter-parts (6). Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced an end to the ban on women in direct combat positions and instituted a program of review to be completed by 2016 to identify “exceptions”: combat roles women still will not be allowed to perform for clear physical or physiological reasons (7). This announcement creates greater equity and equality by declaring that women service members are apt for combat duty, and putting the onus on the military to justify on a job-by-job basis when a woman is not allowed to fill a specific role. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), one of two female veterans in Congress, commented, ““It makes them (women) more competitive for promotions. Most people don’t get to become a general without a combat campaign.”(Read her full comments on Politico here.) (Read more:”75% of Americans support women in combat roles.” Politico)
Related stories and resources for and about Unitarian Universalists in the military:
Duty and Service – Blog by Dave Thut, UU, healer, pacifist —and a veteran.
Read about the Kandahar Crossing UU Fellowship, on Kandahar Airfield military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan (on UUWorld.)