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Gays in the Military: A Religious Issue?

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Top U.S. officials say they want to repeal the decades-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which requires gay soldiers to keep their sexual orientation secret. I was asked recently if I believe that religious views should be a factor in that decision. Is this a religious issue? My short answer if, "of course it is".

Homosexuality IS a religious issue, at least it is if you are religious and happen to believe your faith should influence your thinking about big issues. And if your faith does not play such a role in your life, it's hard to imagine what you mean by religious.

Religion has, does, and will continue to inform the debate about gay people in the military because it informs the thinking of many of those involved in it. The same can be said for almost any social issue in a country overwhelming composed of citizens who believe in God.

But religious influence is not the same as religious coercion, and what policies are dictated by one's faith can range from denial of a gay person's right to serve to it being a religious mandate to assure an openly gay soldier's right to serve. Ultimately though such theological debate is a distraction from the only thing upon which policymakers should be focusing.

The issue is not the extent to which religious thinking should influence the decision makers. While religious thinking may inform people on both sides of this debate, the only appropriate question when it comes to making policy for the military, is what will give us a stronger, more efficient and effective military.

Unless policymakers are prepared to publicly claim that the full inclusion of gay soldiers will cause God to curse our military, the answer on this one is a no-brainer. Gay people should be able to serve our nation without fear of "detection" or shame about who they are. But we should also admit that implementing that policy is a quantum leap which presents real challenges, both practical and personal, for many people in the military and in the country.

Like all transitions, this shift in policy requires more time and patience than most people who support it seem willing to allow for. Because even if this is where we ought to go, the sensitivities of soldiers and policy-makers who do not share that view need to be taken into consideration. Why? Because they too are part of the effective, efficient fighting force that we seek.

Rather than spending endless hours and millions of dollars "proving" to each other what is the right response to this issue, we need to ask how whatever view we espouse could also take into account the views, needs and sensitivities of those who do not share it. Why? Because that too is a religious issue.

In this case, perhaps we religious, of whatever persuasion, should take a Sunday school lesson outside of our particular shul, church, mosque or other holy place. We need to take a lesson from the military, in which the cohesion of the unit regularly trumps the ideological debates which are generally a luxury of those not on the front lines.

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