Analysis Religion

STOKING FIRE: Ultra-Conservative Doctrine May Be the Reason for Unreported Sexual Crimes in the Military

Eleanor J. Bader

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report sexual crimes in the military rests with an unsympathetic military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians, and marines can turn for counseling.

The cliché tells us that war is hell, but for female enlistees, the war on the domestic front—within their units–trumps that of the battlefield. In fact, a recent Veteran’s Administration survey revealed statistics that should have turned the military on its warmongering head: 30 percent of female vets told the interviewers that they had been assaulted by a male colleague and/or supervisor. Worse, 14 percent reported having been gang raped and 20 percent reported having been raped more than once.

Shockingly, these figures may be low since under-reporting of sexual crimes is known to be endemic.

Part of the blame for the reluctance to report rests with an unsympathetic military chaplaincy, one of the few places soldiers, sailors, reservists, national guardians, and marines can turn for counseling. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 20 percent of today’s 3000 military chaplains were trained at the ultraconservative Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. Founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell and Elmer Towns in 1971, the school bills itself as the world’s largest seminary, something it attributes to its “conservative doctrinal position, its sound grounding in Bible teachings, and its reflection of core Christian essentials.” The school’s website clears up any definitional murkiness: “Liberty is committed to changing the entire world for Jesus Christ, first changing the world with its students, then equipping them to change the world around them.”

While most of its students are undoubtedly attracted to this mission, others attend Liberty because tuition is low: $1900 a term for residential students and $2200 for distance learners. During the 2011-2012 year, nearly 9000 students from 46 countries registered for online classes; of them, more than 1000 hope to complete the 72-credit program and become military chaplains. A severe shortage of armed forces clerics—an article posted on Times in February 2011 blames the deficiency on the military’s rigid age and physical requirements and on the reluctance of pastors/rabbis/imams to exchange the comforts of home for combat—will likely make this dream come true for many of them.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

That this bodes badly for women and the LGBTQ community is a given.

Rebecca Turner, Executive Director of Faith Aloud, a St. Louis-based prochoice, pro-LGBTQ group, notes that, “There is a clear pattern within fundamentalist churches to blame the victim. For them Adam and Eve is historical fact and even today the woman is seen as the temptress and the man the fool who can’t resist her feminine wiles.” Fundamentalist chaplains, she continues, will hear a woman say that she was attacked and assume that she did something to provoke or warrant it. “The military is still a predominantly male, macho culture,” she says. “Add chaplains trained in very conservative ideology and you have the perfect storm of victim blaming for women who step forward. “

Rev. John Gundlach served as a United Church of Christ chaplain for 27 years and is now part of the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign. He has personally witnessed the evangelical ascension and says that the declining number of mainline Christians—Turner estimates that 90 percent of today’s Christians are fundamentalist—opened the barracks door to them.

“Some super evangelicals see the military as their own government-paid mission field,” Gundlach begins. “They are there to proselytize; that’s their mandate. Even though proselytizing is prohibited, it takes place all the time.“

In addition, Gundlach says that many Liberty-trained pastors are incompetent. “They take courses online and don’t get the practical training and hands-on experience they need,” he says.

Then there’s the issue of ideology. “Some male pastors lord over women. Some talk about ‘the gay lifestyle,’ which they see as a sin to be condemned. Even though they say they love the sinner and hate the sin, this viewpoint doesn’t help the individual who needs pastoral care and counseling,” Gundlach continues. “They claim it violates their religious freedom to have to provide care for lesbian or gay people, or to offer rites and sacraments to them.”

Of course, now that LGBTQ service members can be out, marriage is the first sacrament that comes to mind. But pastors can also be called upon to perform baptisms, confirmations, last rites, bar and bat mitzvahs, funerals, and provide counseling to enlistees and their families. Within a month of DADT’s repeal, Gary Pollitt, a spokesperson for the Military Chaplain’s Association, assured clergy that they “take cues from their religious order, not the DoD.” Those fearful of having to marry Lisa and Joan or Omar and Stephen need not worry. “Just because the Department of Defense says that gay marriage can happen, chaplains perform such rites in keeping with their ecclesiastical authorization. Period,” Pollitt told them.

As for rape, groping, or sexually offensive comments, the MCA has been appallingly silent.

“Liberty-trained chaplains are just one piece of a larger problem,” Rev. Gundlach concludes. “The evangelical Christian piece is huge. Their influence in the Pentagon and the military academies is enormous and will not be easy to overcome. It’s not just chaplains but senior officials and admirals who have been influenced by these conservative groups.”

Sharon Groves, Director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program, sees the challenge as attracting seminarians who are sensitive to women and LGBTQ people, preachers who are willing to uphold the Code of Ethics promulgated by the 4000-member Association of Professional Chaplains: “Members shall serve all persons without discrimination regardless of religion, faith group, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, or disability… [and] refrain from imposing doctrinal positions or spiritual practices on persons whom they encounter in their role as chaplains.”

Now, wouldn’t that be something for the Amen Corner to celebrate?

Analysis Politics

Indiana’s Looming Gubernatorial Race Should Act as a Lesson for Democrats on the National Stage

Bil Browning

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's reputation took a drubbing in the aftermath of the "religious freedom restoration act." But many progressives feel his would-be adversary, John Gregg, isn't progressive enough to satisfy voters.

Indiana’s reputation took a drubbing after the legislature passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Republican Gov. Mike Pence, however, took the brunt of the vociferous national blowback. Once considered a potential presidential candidate, the chances for higher office collapsed for the conservative Republican, who officially launched his re-election campaign on Thursday night.

In the face of growing controversy and media coverage of the bill as it moved through the Indiana legislature, the governor defiantly signed the state RFRA in a private ceremony surrounded by anti-gay religious right lobbyists and leaders. Within days, however Pence had started to waffle between vehemently defending the law and admitting it needed to be “fixed.” He bumbled his way through multiple interviews and press conferences, blaming the media for sensationalizing the legislation. While he signed the new legislation specifying that the RFRA law could not be used to deny service to LGBTQ people, Pence was still pointedly clear when he said that protecting them from discrimination was not a priority of his administration.

Messaging against the law, meanwhile, was remarkably consistent for an uncoordinated campaign. Businesses nationwide decried the RFRA, canceling or postponing plans to build or expand in the state. Conference organizers threatened to pull conventions; celebrities started trashing the state on social media and canceling upcoming appearances; politicians took to the bully pulpit; and Hoosiers took to the streets by the thousands for a protest in Indianapolis.

One voice from the opposition was conspicuously absent as the public relations catastrophe unfolded, however. John Gregg, a Democrat and Pence’s opponent in the last gubernatorial election, remained silent through most of the controversy. When he did put out a statement, hours after legislators passed the bill through both chambers, it spoke primarily about his religious faith and expressed concern “about others who mock me because of my faith.” Gregg’s statement hardly mentioned LGBTQ people, except for a single reference that he once campaigned for a gay man.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Gregg, who has already announced his intention to pursue a rematch with Pence in 2016, has tried to dance a delicate line on gay rights over the past few years but continues to trip over his own feet. Abandoning a chance to not only score political points, but win support from LGBTQ voters, Gregg hesitated to speak on the issue at all. Instead of acknowledging the law was rooted in animosity toward LGBTQ people, Gregg said Republicans pushed it “because they don’t want us to look at their failure to govern the state in a responsible manner.”

Other political watchers and players weren’t as coy.

Richard Sutton, the former president of Freedom Indiana, the group that led the 2014 effort to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, didn’t hesitate to speak up. “He issued a RFRA statement and it was windy and limp,” Sutton said in an interview with Rewire. “He’s a great person. I respect his track record in the house and at Vincennes University,” where he was interim president, “but his record on civil rights issues is rotten.”

Pushback like this from Indiana progressives against Gregg’s recent gubernatorial campaign announcement can and should act as a microcosm for the upcoming presidential election. Populism has started to spread throughout the Democratic base in recent years, as seen by the rise of Elizabeth Warren as a progressive leader, and with Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign kickoff. More moderate Democrats are now eyed with wariness. Cozying up to Wall Street and the military industrial complex are out. Social issues like LGBTQ civil rights, as well as reproductive rights and other progressive causes, now require strong supporters instead of lukewarm lip service.

Who Is John Gregg?

Gregg, a former speaker of the house in the state legislature, is a conservative Democrat known by both allies and opponents for his big bushy mustache. His RFRA response was the latest in a dismal record on social issues: During his tenure as the head of the house, legislators passed the first attempt to write discrimination against gay and lesbian couples into the Indiana Constitution. Gregg supported the bill.

He continued to oppose same-sex marriage through his gubernatorial campaign in 2012. After President Obama announced his evolution on marriage equality, Gregg rushed to the cameras to assure Hoosiers that he hadn’t changed his position and he still supported a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. When Democratic party officials decided to include opposition to the proposed amendment into the party platform, Gregg advocated for it.

Zach Adamson, Indianapolis’ only openly gay city-county councillor and a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, a governing body representing LGBTQ Democrats, is hardly enthusiastic about a potential rematch between Pence and Gregg given Gregg’s history.

“If I have a choice, I’ll support a Democrat who embraces our platform and did not throw us under the bus for no reason,” Adamson said.

“He was a consistent antagonist during the 2012 campaign. He fought us on platform language at the Democrat state convention,” recalled Sutton. “He says he favors full marriage equality now, but that train has left the station. Our community would prefer Governor Gregg over Governor Pence any day of the week, but he has a lot of making-up to do to prove to us that he’s serious on important civil rights issues.”

Gregg’s allies in the state maintain, meanwhile, that the candidate has taken a laissez-faire stance on marriage equality. “Gregg says that the issue of same-sex marriage has been fought and it has been won by the supporters. He says that he’s told many ministers around the state that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in Indiana, and it’s not going to change,” according to Jon Easter, a gay Indianapolis city-county council candidate who supports Gregg’s candidacy and spoke with the candidate about the issue in May. “As governor, Gregg said he would veto any bill curtailing that law,” Easter wrote in a blog post describing the conversation.

On reproductive rights, as well, Gregg has tried to hold fast to his personal views while maintaining an illusion of true progressivism. Easter noted in the same blog post that Gregg agrees with “96 percent” of what Planned Parenthood does, citing birth control and cancer screenings as examples, while he neglects to mention what it is about the reproductive health organization he disagrees with. Easter also wrote that Gregg is a “pro-life Democrat, and that comes out of his religious beliefs.”

Former state Sen. Vi Simpson (D-Monroe), who ran alongside Gregg for lieutenant governor in 2012, denied that there was a struggle on the ticket over Indiana Democrats’ LGBTQ-inclusive party platform. “We had a private conversation about it and decided that the party platform was the party’s business and we wouldn’t involve ourselves in that argument. We focused on our campaign and our message,” she told Rewire.

“I don’t think people give him enough credit for how far he’s come on some of these issues,” Simpson continued. “Just like society as a whole and individuals such as President Obama, Hillary Clinton and [Indiana Senator] Joe Donnelly, John’s positions have been evolving. We all are different people than we were a decade ago, and that is true of John as well. His willingness to listen and consider other viewpoints should be acknowledged.”

Gregg did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Rewire.

Populist Persuasion

Indiana Democrats, Gregg included, have long suffered from what state progressives call “Evan Bayh syndrome.” Bayh, a former governor and senator from the late ‘80s through 2011, was notorious among leftist Hoosiers for his milquetoast positions and his insistence that he was a “moderate” in an attempt to woo Republican voters.

As the highest elected Democrat in the state for years, Bayh’s handpicked leaders for the party followed his lead and the tone of the party became more conservative. Instead of advocating for solid principles that championed the working class, LGBTQ people, and people of color, they focused on courting right-leaning Democrats and moderate Republicans, refusing to challenge conservative proposals. The two parties became practically indistinguishable until recently, when extremist social conservatives and the Tea Party took over the Republican base in the state.

At this point, it is useful to remember President Obama’s 2008 campaign, in which he focused on a message of inclusion and issues important to the Democratic base. He was the second Democrat presidential candidate in history to win the state’s majority vote. Hoosier Democrats seem to have forgotten that recent example as they continue to mount stunning losses in nearly every election with candidates who refuse to take strong progressive stances on social justice. The last gubernatorial race was no exception.

“In 2012, a group of Democratic leaders from across the state met, looked at polling results, determined the candidate profile we needed to run against Pence and settled on Gregg as the nominee. The field was cleared, and he had his shot,” Jennifer Wagner, former communications director for the Indiana State Democratic Party, said.

Now, Wagner says that her support of Gregg would be nothing more than window dressing.

“If Gregg is our nominee, I will devote my efforts to Democratic candidates who share my beliefs and whom I believe should be in public service,” she continued.

“Naturally, I’ll support our nominee, but I think, for all of my memory, the political machine has given the voters a choice between right-wing fascist and a diet Republican,” Adamson agreed. “I mean really … What’s the worst that could happen? We could lose? How is that different from the last 12 years? You can’t keep doing what you’ve always done and expect a different outcome—especially when the population is trending towards your issues.”

Clearly, a change is necessary in order for Democrats to have any chance of succeeding in Indiana’s gubernatorial race—because the status quo of Democrats more concerned with fundraising and mollifying corporate interests just isn’t working. Instead of settling for the candidate who is Not-A-Republican, many progressive voters are clambering for a chance to vote for someone who actually reflects their own values. If the party wants to inspire voters to choose their candidate, they need to select someone who stands out instead of going with more of the same.

Simpson, a former state senator from one of the state’s most liberal areas, is considering a run for the office herself. Many progressive pundits and organization leaders across the state include her when ticking off potential candidates they would support; most list her first.

Simpson, for her part, has been beating the populist drum for years, in addition to her support for LGBTQ and reproductive rights.

“The inequalities in personal income of Indiana families concerns me greatly,” according to Simpson. “When incomes go down, families have less to spend and that has a negative impact on business and the economy, generally. Indiana’s average family income has lagged behind the nation for more than a decade, and we must commit ourselves to turning this trend around,” she told Rewire.

“The Democrat bench is very deep, and our state is fortunate that we have so many talented, energetic people in our ranks. However, running for statewide office is a very personal decision that requires a lot of sacrifice and commitment,” Simpson said. “My plans are uncertain at this time. I am weighing my options based on what is best for my family and how I can best serve the people of Indiana.”

State Sen. Karen Tallian, meanwhile, has already announced she will seek the Democrat nomination, but most insiders don’t think she’s quite ready for a statewide campaign yet. Her lack of name recognition and small base of supporters would make her a tough sell to voters across the state, they think.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who has been involved in several high-profile scuffles with Gov. Pence over the past few years, also announced her candidacy earlier this month. Recent polling has Ritz tied with Pence in a head-to-head matchup. She has the support of the teacher’s union and could attract progressive voters with her pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ positions.

Wagner, for her part, favors former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson, but he hasn’t announced any intention to run yet. Peterson has flown under the radar since losing his last campaign for a third term as mayor, but played a prominent role in the bipartisan “fix” to the disastrous RFRA law.

“I’d like to see Bart Peterson run because I think he would be a good governor. For me, the entry-level litmus test for wanting any elected office is being able to articulate why—and being able to do the job. That’s my chief issue with Gregg: He has never been able to clearly say why he wants the job or how he’d get it done,” Wagner said.

This kind of discontent with “middle-of-the-road” Democrats is not limited to red states like Indiana; in fact, the situation there reflects the one on the national stage. While Clinton was seen as the frontrunner for the 2008 election, Barack Obama clinched the nomination by appealing to more progressive voters and youth. This time around, although it is still early in the presidential election season, a challenger on Clinton’s left has emerged once again in the form of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is drawing the largest crowds in Iowa and bringing in big bucks from small donors.

As Americans have wised up to the increasingly conservative social policies of the newly remade Republican majority, civil rights and reproductive rights, in addition to immigration reform, income inequality, fixing a broken prison system, and rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure have risen to the top of many voters’ priority list. And as next November draws nearer, Democrats in both state races—including Indiana’s gubernatorial fight—and presidential campaigns will need to support more populist candidates and lead on these issues.

Last-minute maneuvering to appease progressives, such as empty statements of support after any political risk has vanished, simply won’t work. Voters want more—and they’re increasingly turned off by social conservatives and those who seek to emulate them.

As Adamson said, “With a shift in the popular perception on how disconnected the social conservatives are, the time to give the voters a contrasting choice has never been better. I’ll back the candidate that does that.”

News Violence

Report: Civilian Victims of Military Sexual Assault ‘Remain in the Shadows’

Emily Crockett

Sexual assault in the military could be twice as common as the Pentagon claims, according to a new report released this week by the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Content note: This article contains a graphic description of sexual assault.

Sexual assault in the military could be twice as common as the Pentagon claims, according to a report released this week by the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

In a review of 107 case files on sexual assault from the nation’s largest military bases, 53 percent of the alleged victims were civilians—either the spouses of military service members, or women who lived near a military base.

The “alarming rates” of assault against these two groups of civilian victims aren’t included in the Department of Defense’s annual surveys on the prevalence of sexual assault, Gillibrand said in a statement.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“The more we learn, the worse the problem gets,” said Gillibrand, who has led the congressional charge to change the Pentagon’s sexual assault policies.

The Pentagon estimates that 20,000 service members were victims of sexual assault in 2014, but the total number of people assaulted by members of the military might be as high as 42,000. These uncounted victims are “part of the overall military community, yet remain in the shadows,” the report says.

It’s not clear whether the 53 percent figure holds true for the military as a whole. It’s possible, for instance, that sexual assaults against civilians are more prevalent or better reported at the four major bases surveyed in the study.

The report notes that the 107 case files reviewed are “redacted, incomplete, and often do not contain all relevant data pertaining to the cases.”

But that incompleteness is another symptom of the problem, the report charges. It “calls into question the [Defense] Department’s commitment to transparency.”

Gillibrand’s office asked for all relevant cases from the past five years; instead, they got reports from one year. The number of reports was also suspiciously low given other data about the prevalence of assaults.

And the actual outcomes of these cases “suggests a large scale systemic failure and a culture that protects the accused and ostracizes the survivor at the expense of the public and the servicemembers’ safety,” the report reads.

Most military spouses declined to press charges, and none of those cases reviewed that went forward resulted in a conviction.

Almost half of all survivors gave up after taking the first steps through the process, which the report says could indicate a lack of faith in the system or problems with retaliation.

Twenty-four of the 107 cases proceeded to trial. Eleven of those resulted in a sexual assault conviction, six resulted in conviction on a lesser charge, and seven resulted in acquittals.

The report also looked behind the numbers, highlighting several case studies that show how “dysfunctional” the current military justice system is.

Serial rapists may have been allowed to walk free in two cases. In one case, the suspect was discharged despite a recommendation that he be court-martialed; in the other, there was no record of an investigation or punishment, despite DNA evidence.

A 34-year-old Marine allegedly gave wine to a 17-year-old civilian and raped her, held her down, and inserted an object into her anus, but he received no trial; instead he paid a fine and was demoted one rank after pleading guilty to adultery and giving alcohol to a minor.

A military wife committed suicide after alleging rape by her husband, who wasn’t charged despite physical evidence of assault, including dried blood and bruising.

These findings point to the need for independent prosecutors, not military commanders, to adjudicate sexual assault cases, the report says.

Gillibrand has been a vocal advocate for this policy change, citing the lack of legal training and frequent conflicts of interest among commanders.

The Pentagon has resisted the reforms in Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, despite growing calls from advocates who say that true reform isn’t possible without putting independent prosecutors, not military commanders, in charge of the adjudication process. Gillibrand has gotten a bipartisan majority of senators to sign on to her proposal, but so far it hasn’t been enough to defeat a filibuster.