When the Air Force chaplain’s office rescinded its invitation to Tony Perkins to keynote a military families’ prayer luncheon, it should have been over something truly dreadful. Disinvitation is serious business; usually, once an offer has been made and accepted, hospitality is supposed to kick in.
So what did Perkins, a former Marine and president of the Family Research Council, do to offend the Air Force chaplaincy? He wrote on his organization’s website that he opposes Pres. Barack Obama’s intention to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
In the words of a written statement from the authorities at Andrews, Perkins’s invitation was retracted “after his recent public comments made many who planned to attend the event uncomfortable.” The chaplain’s office “wanted the luncheon to be inclusive for the entire base community.”
Those who were distressed by Perkins’s opinion still work for a military that does not allow homosexuals to serve openly, a reality beside which Perkins’s mere comments really ought to pale. All Perkins did was express his support for what is still, despite the president’s opposition, the law, which is not such a strange thing for a former military man to do.
Indeed, the week of the Perkins-less prayer luncheon, several current military men expressed the same opinion. Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told the House Armed Services Committee that “this is not the time to perturb the force, which is at the moment stretched by demands in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, without careful deliberation.” His Army counterpart, Gen. George Casey, said he had “serious concerns” about a repeal. (Both were invited back onto their bases after testifying.)
And it isn’t as though Perkins had been scheduled to speak about “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The theme of his convocation — which was put on the books way back in October 2009 — was “Back to Basics.” The event was devotional, not political. “I would have never used this venue as a political venue to even mention the president,” Perkins said, “unless it was to pray for him.”
Air Force chaplain Lt. Col. Gary Bertsch made one good point — exactly one — which was: “As military members, we are sworn to support our commander-in-chief, and are forbidden to make or support statements which run counter to our roles in the armed forces.”
It’s true enough that military men owe deference to their commander-in-chief and shouldn’t be noisy about points of disagreement with him. But the president has invited debate on gays in the military. Congress has called on high-ranking men to give their honest and expert opinions. Perkins heads an organization that specializes in family issues. Of course he would weigh in.