On July 20, another Baptist Press article appeared, announcing that Wagoner was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.
‘We do ask’
It quoted Kevin Ezell, president of the SBC’s North American Mission Board, as saying, “When it comes to what our chaplains believe and practice, we do ask and we do expect them to tell.”
“We only want to endorse chaplains who can support Baptist doctrine and belief without reservation,” Ezell said. “If an SBC chaplain concludes he cannot conduct his ministry in harmony with SBC beliefs and doctrine, then it is best to part ways.”
The U.S. military requires that all of its chaplains have the endorsement of an established faith group. According to recent Pentagon figures, the Southern Baptists are the largest endorser — accounting for 450 of the roughly 2,930 active-duty chaplains.
Professor David Key, director of Baptist Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, predicted that Wagoner’s departure from the Southern Baptists might be the first of many as their chaplains try to reconcile conflicting loyalties.
“The SBC has been defined by its anti-gay stance,” Key said. “They now find themselves not just out of sync with growing segments of society but also out of sync with the U.S. military.”
“This may be the beginning of a wave of resignations,” Key said. “Showing affirmation for gay and lesbian soldiers is what the military wants, and exactly what the SBC doesn’t want. At the moment, it’s irreconcilable.”
Pentagon guidelines say that chaplains are entitled to adhere to the specific beliefs of their faith, but also should show respect for those who hold different beliefs.
The Southern Baptists’ executive director for chaplaincy, former Army Chief of Chaplains Douglas Carver, was quoted by Baptist Press as calling military chaplaincy “one of the toughest ministries in the Kingdom of God” — in part because of the emphasis on multifaith, multicultural diversity.”