CHARLESTON, S.C. — A decorated former Navy SEAL who has served as a chaplain for 15 of the 19 years of his military career is been threatened with discharge after superiors called his Christian counseling against premarital sex and homosexuality a “recipe for disaster.”
Chaplain Wes Modder served in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, and also served as the Force Chaplain for Navy Special Warfare Command (WARCOM). Last year, he was assigned by a four-star admiral to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC), where he was to provide counsel and spiritual encouragement to sailors.
In December of last year, Captain Keith B Davids, the Commanding Officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center, wrote a letter recommending that Modder be promoted to Commander. Davids stated that he was “impressed by [Modder’s] character, integrity, moral center and approach to ministry in the Navy,” and referred to the chaplain as a “skilled ethics adviser.” Other letters in recent years had also offered high praise for the Navy chaplain.
But several sailors had allegedly filed complaints against Modder, stating that he was guilty of discrimination for the way that he had provided counsel regarding issues of sexual morality. In a “detachment for cause” letter dated Feb. 17, Navy Capt. Jon Fahs, NNPTC commander, branded Modder as being “intolerant and “unable to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment.”
Among the incidents that Fahs cited as being inappropriate, included an alleged statement to a female sailor that she was “shaming herself in the eyes of God” for having sex outside of marriage, “berating” another female for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, and advising several other sailors that homosexuality was wrong and goes against human physiology. He also noted that Modder said that if policies conflicted with his faith, he must still stand for his faith.
Fahs contended that to allow other students to be exposed to Modder would be a “recipe for tragedy.” Calling Modder’s counsel “misconduct,” he recommended the chaplain’s removal. Modder has until March 16 to respond to the “detachment for cause,” where he must show cause for retention in the Navy. In the meantime, the chaplain has been reassigned to the Naval Support Activity Charleston.
“I think what we are seeing is a hostility to religious expression in the military now,” said Liberty Counsel Attorney Michael Berry, who is representing Modder in the matter. “What we’re seeing is this new modern, pluralistic Navy where service members are encouraged to be hypersensitive, especially about issues of faith, marriage and family.”
The organization also states that “federal law and military regulations forbid the Navy from taking adverse action against a chaplain based on his faith.” Christianne Witten, a spokesperson for the Navy Chaplain Corps agrees that the military does make provision for religious liberty for its chaplains.
“The Navy values, and protects in policy, the rights of its service members, including chaplains, to practice according to the tenets of their faith and respects the rights of each individual to determine their own religious convictions,” she told the Military Times.
“[F]or the Navy to detach me for cause, I feel betrayed. I feel dishonored for my 15 years—almost 20 total of service to my country,” Modder said.
“My hope and my prayer is [that] the truth will prevail, that religious liberty can be restored, that what is taken away from us—my first Amendment rights, my freedom of speech and for me to be able to operate as a military chaplain, an ordained minister with my church to our American military men and women—[will be restored],” he continued. “That has to be the outcome, but that’s who we are as America.”