For the first time in a long time, recently-retired Wes Modder – a former enlisted Marine turned Navy Chaplain – feels like he finally has his religious liberty back from what has become Obama’s military.
Modder, now a pastor in the Chicago area, has been going hunting in rural Minnesota every year for the past quarter century with a group of Christian men. Two years ago he started taking his now-15-year-old son with him on the trip, which he described as a rite of passage.
In a phone interview with Conservative Review as he drove into the woods for this year’s annual retreat, Modder talked about his last years in the Navy, what has happened to the military during the Obama administration, and the need for a moral revival in America’s fighting force in the future.
Modder was nearly dismissed from the United States Navy in 2014 after sailors complained that his religious views were “intolerant,” because he counseled a lesbian sailor against having premarital sex and engaging in a same-sex relationship.
The former Marine of 16 years and father of four felt betrayed. “After so many years serving honorably and then to be dishonored and disrespected,” Modder told Conservative Review in a phone interview. “Betrayal was the first thing I felt.”
What really stung, however, was being abandoned by his fellow chaplains and officers.
“I really was surprised at all the people that ran away,” Modder, a veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield during his 16 years of service, said. “They treated me like a criminal or like I had leprosy or something, because the topic was so hot.”
Following the months-long legal battle, aided by Texas-based First Liberty Institute, Modder was eventually exonerated and returned to full duty in September 2015.
But while his name was cleared and his pension and benefits were no longer in danger from the P.C. police, Modder’s test of faith was far from over. His experience returning to the fleet was far from what he expected, quickly realizing he’d been placed in dead-end career purgatory.
... the only thing that can save the military from the sin, moral decay, and political correctness that have plagued the Obama-era Pentagon ... is courageous, moral leadership.
“After that, I was given a really unproductive assignment in San Diego,” he said. “I eventually realized that there was nothing for me to do there, and no chance of any further promotion. There was no more future for me in the Navy after all that.”
Being put through the administrative ringer and stuck with no hope for advancement left him “feeling ashamed for the first time to wear the uniform.”
So he decided to get out earlier this year. “It took me about a year to see the writing on the wall,” he chuckled. “I’m a bit slow.” Signing DD Form 214 for retirement “felt like I was divorcing a whore,” he joked.
“I really had no idea where I was going to go. It was really a step of faith and it was kind of unnerving,” Modder recalled. “I was applying all over the country; I was in the final stages of applying to work at a local ministry in San Diego. I just decided in my heart that God was going to write the next chapter of my life.”
“That was a big step, not having the answers.”
Modder eventually landed at Stone Church, an evangelical congregation in Orland Park, Ill. After just a month of pursuing his calling in ministry, his outlook on life turned a big corner from his last embattled years in the military.
“I may not have gotten promoted to commander, but I got promoted right to the pulpit,” he told CR.
He never pictured that he would ever be in his current position as a senior pastor in a Chicago suburb. But Modder said that he now feels “free” for the first time in years.
“The freedom to worship God and to not have to worry about someone telling me how I have to do things, whether it’s about a bulletin insert or if I end a prayer in Jesus’ name, or if I tell someone that something is a sin,” said Modder. “Now I can preach the way I want to. Now I have the freedom to be a minister.”
That freedom, however, is fleeting and fading for those who still wear the uniform. “Whether it’s about what you have posted on your computer or how you pray as a chaplain, or what you say, everyone’s walking around on eggshells,” Modder lamented on the state of religious liberty in the military today.
This creates a bleak future for other pastors in the service, said the pastor, stating chaplains these days shouldn’t expect to get promoted or be able to fully retire, “unless you’re a liberal or a coward.”
Pastor Modder said the only thing that can save the military from the sin, moral decay, and political correctness that have plagued the Obama-era Pentagon — a trajectory he fears will make the military “unrecognizable in 20 years” — is courageous, moral leadership.
“The military now leads the way in a lot of immoral behavior, where five years ago it led the way in honor, courage, and commitment,” he said. “We need a moral fighting force.”
“I was asked during the investigation what I would do when Navy policy is contrary to scripture,” he said. “Well, for me there is no choice; I have to err on the side of scripture.”
But Modder is shocked by how quickly Naval chaplains have fallen in line with the Obama-era culture and policies: “I have never seen an organization able to ruin clergy faster than the military with its current climate. You give an insecure minister a uniform, a rank, and some ribbons and they start acting it out.”
“I want to be proud of America. I want to be proud of the Navy and Marine Corps, but I cannot be proud of a moral decay in them that has to be eradicated,” Wes Modder stated. “I miss the moral fiber that the military once had. We need that back, and we needed it yesterday.”
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to correct several typographical errors.
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Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, jihadism, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMadden_IV.