I have blogged before. This isn’t something I have done with great frequency, but it is something I have enjoyed quite regularly. Unfortunately, with my blogging experience, I have run into several problems.
First of all: I am bisexual. This has been something I have struggled with since I was about 14 years old. I grew up in a conservative Christian denomination that teaches that same-sex attraction, although not sinful, becomes sinful when acted upon. Most people from the outside of that situation would ask me: Why not leave? That’s where it gets complicated.
I am an ordained minister in my denomination. Which denomination is that? The Salvation Army. This might come as a surprise to many. Very few people know that The Salvation Army is a religious denomination. Most people know that we are a good organisation that helps people out in need. Some even realize that we are a faith-based Christian organization. Still, our principles are guided upon Jesus’ command to serve our fellow neighbour.
I feel strongly that The Salvation Army can do this most effectively. We try not to do it with a lot of fanfare or pomp and circumstance. We do not look out for photo opportunities or PR moments such as other organisations might do. We keep our costs down, often to the detriment of our staff’s wages.
I have always felt God’s call on my life to serve him as a Salvation Army officer. This was never a question for me. I grew up in The Salvation Army and love everything about it: from the quirky uniforms to the fact that we try to help as many people as possible. We can do this quite effectively, too.
One of our biggest assets is also one of our biggest liabilities: our military hierarchy. When The Salvation Army first started out in 1865, very little thought was given to a military church. Our founders, William and Catherine Booth, felt that we need to reach those that the Church had forgotten or despised: the poor, the homeless, the prostitute, the drunk. We did this quite readily. However, we noticed that people did not want to hear about God or religion when they were hungry, homeless, needing clothes, etc. We began to realise that we need to help the whole person out and not just his or her soul.
Almost by accident, our name changed in 1878 from “The Christian Mission” to “The Salvation Army.” In Great Britain, it was (and still is) not uncommon for uniforms to be everywhere and part of everything in society: school children wear uniforms. Brass bands wear uniforms (not tuxedos). So why not a church? William Booth became general. (Fun fact: William’s wife remained without a rank. Catherine was simply known as the “Army Mother.”) Our clergy became “officers” and the laity became “soldiers.” Becoming members meant that we signed “Articles of War.”
This is nothing new and you can Google it to find out more information about our structure.
Our hierarchy gives us quite a bit of efficiency. We can mobilise rapidly and deploy our services all over the world.
Our hierarchy also does not allow for dissension. This can be good. Whenever someone tries to alter something vital to our teachings, our structure allows for it to be stifled. Unfortunately, when change is needed, it becomes next to impossible to do anything about it, unless mandated from the top command.
So, how does one enact change? The way our structure is set up, it is next to impossible to enact a very significant change.
As a Salvation Army officer, I am not an employee. There is no legal status between The Salvation Army and myself. In fact, I had to sign a statement saying as much. Technically, I am self-employed, receiving an allowance and housing from The Salvation Army for services rendered. I am grateful for The Salvation Army. They take care of their officers very well. I want for nothing.
The problem comes in when I challenge the system. If I were to come out as a bisexual Salvation Army officer, I would be scrutinised heavily. I only know of 2 other officers who are active gay officers and who are known to be gay by their superiors. These officers are expected to be celibate.
Salvation Army officers are expected to be celibate unless they are married and gay Salvation Army officers are not allowed to marry someone of the same gender. I have come to realise that being a member of the LGBT Community and having a committed relationship with someone of the same gender is not a sin. Many people have talked about this before. I would refer you to Justin Lee’s Unconditional (title Torn in other countries), and Matthew Vines’, God and the Gay Christian.
Besides these wonderful books, there is also Reverend Mark Sandlin’s excellent blog post on “Clobbering ‘Biblical’ Gay Bashing.”
I have come to understand that Jesus, were he ministering today, would minister to those that society, and especially religious society, has rejected. In this case, that would be the LGBT Community. Jesus would be dining with drag queens, going to Pride Parades, and showing love to those we have forgotten to love.
Over the process of several years, not only did I begin to accept this fact, I began to accept myself as a bisexual person.
When I attempted to address this with my superiors, I was told to stop talking about it. I was also told that what I was talking about was heresy and that if I wanted to continue being a Salvation Army officer, I should stop discussing it. If I were to talk about this publicly, especially in social media, I would be terminated immediately.
The Salvation Army shows great compassion to everyone. They serve everyone without discrimination. The discrimination comes into play when people try to become members of The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army’s Position Statement on “Homosexuality” is ludicrous. At one point, it acknowledges that same sex attraction is not a sin, but at the same time it says that even though it is not a sin, it is a sin to have a loving relationship with someone in the same gender. Most websites of The Salvation Army have removed the Position Statement on Homosexuality, just because this has been so misinterpreted over the years.
Here is the current Position Statement on Homosexuality (as of 2002):
The Salvation Army holds a positive view of human sexuality. Where a man and a woman love each other, sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage. However, in the Christian view, sexual intimacy is not essential to a healthy, full, and rich life. Apart from marriage, the scriptural standard is celibacy.
Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity. Whatever the causes may be, attempts to deny its reality or to marginalize those of a same-sex orientation have not been helpful. The Salvation Army does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself. Homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, requires individual responsibility and must be guided by the light of scriptural teaching.
Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.
Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.
In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.
So, in one breath we are told we can be who we are. In the other breath, we are told not to act on it. The Salvation Army officiates marriages for heterosexual couples, no matter how many times they are divorced. Divorced people and remarried people may serve as Salvation Army officers. However, if someone is in a committed same-sex relationship, the line is drawn there. I find this hypocritical. In one instance, The Salvation Army says they are trying to defend marriage by not allowing LGBT people to marry, but at the same time, they will participate in divorced couples getting married and even ordained.
Why? I’m not certain, but I can hazard a guess: They are afraid of anything different than heterosexuality. They can understand how people get divorced and go through a difficult marriage, but they cannot understand someone who loves someone of the same gender.
Where does that leave me? Right now: Forever stuck in the closet. I will not be able to discuss this with anyone. I’m not even certain if people will read this. However, having this blog gives me an outlet to express myself without fearing that someone will take away my ordination.
I will continue to serve God. I will continue to serve humanity. I’ll just be in the closet.
In the next few weeks, I will tell more about my story: How I came to peace with my bisexuality, my experiences with bisexuality, and other theological matters that are important to me.