Southern Baptist Army chaplain cleared of charges

The United States Army announced on Friday, August 24 that the charges against Southern Baptist Chaplain (Maj.) J. Scott Squires, center, had been dropped. An Army investigator had recommended disciplinary action after Squires told a lesbian soldier that he could not perform a marriage retreat if she and her same-sex partner attended. In this photo, North American Mission Board (NAMB) president Kevin Ezell, left, and Douglas Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at NAMB, visit with Squires at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Dallas in June, 2018. Photo by NAMB.

By Brandon Elrod

(Fort Bragg, N.C.)—The United States Army announced on Friday, August 24 that the investigation against Southern Baptist Chaplain (Maj.) J. Scott Squires had been dropped. Chaplain Squires’ commanding officer determined that Squires had properly handled the situation in accordance with military policy and followed the guidelines of his denominational authority. As a result, Chaplain Squires was fully exonerated from all charges against him.

“This is great news for both Chaplain Squires and all of the military chaplains who are serving our men and women the U.S. Armed Services. It is a significant victory for all who support and defend the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, especially regarding the freedom of religion,” said Gen. Douglas Carver, executive director of chaplaincy at the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

“We sincerely want to thank Chaplain Squires’ commanding general for having the moral courage to make the correct but difficult decision regarding the investigation into Chaplain Squires,” Carver continued.

In early 2018, Chaplain Squires told a soldier that he could not perform a marriage retreat for the soldier and the soldier’s same-sex partner, and Squires provided an alternative by rescheduling the event so that another chaplain could conduct the retreat.

An Army investigating officer initially determined that Squires had discriminated against the soldier and recommended that Squires face disciplinary action.

Mike Berry, the attorney from First Liberty Institute representing Squires, argued that Squires’s actions adhered to Army protocol by taking the appropriate steps to provide the service that Squires could not personally oversee or attend per the policy of his endorser.

The Army agreed that Squires had followed the correct procedure.

Throughout the process, Squires continued to fulfill his duties as an Army chaplain, but with the investigation dismissed, he no longer has to worry about the prospect of facing disciplinary action.

“Few chaplains have endured the investigative scrutiny that Chaplain Squires suffered over the last seven months,” said Carver. “We applaud Chaplain Squires and all chaplains like him who remain dedicated to their faith while seeking to respect all persons within the diverse military community.”

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, the entity that endorses Squires, augmented its ministry guidelines for chaplains in 2013 after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage only in terms of opposite sex unions. Southern Baptist chaplains are expected to respectfully serve within the pluralistic culture of the military with grace and charity, obeying such biblical commands as Romans 12:18 to, if at all possible, “live at peace with everyone.”

“From the moment the investigation began,” said Carver, “Southern Baptists have stood behind Chaplain Squires with their prayerful support, wise counsel, and encouraging words. Our partners in the Gospel from other denominations faithfully stood with us as well. We are here to ensure that our chaplains can exercise their religious freedom and model the tenets of our faith as Southern Baptists in an uncompromising and Christ-honoring manner.”

More than 1,600 Southern Baptist chaplains serve the US military. The North American Mission Board endorses those chaplains on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published August 24, 2018