The Indignation!

I think I touched a raw nerve. Last week, an older post of mine generated nearly 2,000 views. I started receiving all sorts of comments from Salvos (mostly Americans, I believe, based on their grammar), seriously condemning me for my views. Someone even tweeted on Twitter that they could not believe I was still an officer.

First of all, I could not believe the amount of people who viewed my site. It seems that the vast majority of the viewers were from the States. Many of them seemed to dare me to even publish their comments. I do not know why. Therefore, I obliged them.

There were a few things I learned out of all this:

  1. They were indignant with me. Why? I believe they think I am advocating for sin. I am not. I am advocating for love and acceptance. Most Salvationists believe it is impossible to be in a same-sex relationship and be a Christian. Bollocks. Hogwash. Who are we to judge whether someone is a Christian or not? Who are we to judge on whether or not someone is saved? Who are we to judge the state of one’s soul? I do not need to justify myself or my salvation. The Eighth Doctrine of The Salvation Army states:

    We believe that we are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and that he that believeth hath the witness in himself.

    I have no need to prove my salvation to anyone. This is a matter strictly between my Saviour and myself.

  2. Secondly, many of my commentators seem to think that I am gay. I am not. I am bisexual, which means I have the possibility of being attracted to both men and women equally. A mate of mine asked me which I preferred:  men or women. I appreciate both equally. Given the opportunity, I would marry either, if he/she is willing.
  3. Finally, I am concerned by the amount of hate that seems to emanate from those posters. I saw several of my more conservative friends link to my article, thinking that it was impossible for someone to believe as I do and still be an officer. I am not “out” yet. However, I do know personally 2 gay men who are out and they are both officers. They are single. They are celibate. Believe me, I know they are watched like hawks. However, they have impeccable characters and are a true witness to the saving grace of our Lord.

I am truly sad for this state of affairs. It seems that we can only talk at each other and not with each other. We are not capable of listening. We are only capable of condemning. May we all remember that we are all sinners saved by grace. We need to stop condemning and begin loving.

A Cause for Celebration!

AmsterdamOost

Sometimes I get nothing but good news. A friend of mine from the Netherlands shared this beautiful image with me. Yesterday, 12 July 2015, Ronald Bar and Gertjan Nicolaas, who are gay Salvationists (and in uniform no less!), received a blessing by their corps officer (similar to a pastor) at the Amsterdam East (Oost) Corps (Church). They have been in a committed relationship for 25 years. Not only did The Salvation Army acknowledge this, but celebrates this as well!

I could not believe this great news. I am so happy that this may be done in the Netherlands. I hope some day that this will be able to be acknowledged and celebrated all over The Salvation Army world. We speak about comforting the marginalised. The Netherlands has shown us the way!

Moge God zegene de gelukkige paar! (May God bless the happy couple!)

Boundless 2015

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This past week The Salvation Army held an International Congress in London, UK. The theme for it was “Boundless 2015”. This was taken off of William Booth’s most famous hymn, “O Boundless Salvation”. The Salvation Army is currently in 126 nations worldwide.

The last Congress was held in 2000 in Atlanta, USA. Normally these congresses are held every 10 years. For some reason there was none held in 2010. I’m not certain why.

A lot of money is spent on these congresses. I’m not privy to how much is actually spent. One could make the argument that the money could be spent on far better purposes, but I also believe it serves a greater purpose for fellowship. It’s not as if these Congresses happen every year and the last one was 15 years ago.

The Salvation Army divides the world into territories. Each territory designed its own pin. These pins become collectable items quite quickly; however, the most sought-after pin did not come from a territory, but was an unofficially produced Rainbow Salvation Army shield. (See the picture above.)

When I saw these pins, I rejoiced. I know that I am not alone in my denomination and in my beliefs. I know that we are on the beginning of a long journey which will eventually lead to full inclusion of all LGBT Salvationists. I long for that day. I know that this inclusion will take time and will involve a lot of love. We will need to be patient, but also persistent.

This Rainbow Shield has given me hope! I am so grateful for it.

Free at Last! (Well, not quite)

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This past Friday was wonderful! It was great! The Supreme Court handed down the decision that allowed all Americans to marry whom they pleased. I saw many of my non-Salvationist friends adopt rainbow profiles. They were LGBT+ people, but also allies. I was also very impressed by those Salvation Army officer who changed their profiles to a rainbow, too. Unfortunately, the vast majority of American officers did not change their profiles. I was disheartened by that. At the same time, I understand. Those who are allies and officers have a very difficult time publicly proclaiming so.

Salvation Army officers are forbidden from going against policy and speaking out against The Salvation Army. In one aspect, this does make sense. We don’t want to be badmouthing our own organisation. On the other hand, we officers have no way of internally addressing theological changes within The Salvation Army. I recently read a public post from a Salvation Army officer, who stated, “Leadership in The Salvation Army will have to decide which side it will come down on because both views [on marriage equality] cannot be correct and stand equally together.”

This view actually saddens me. I have been very much impressed with the idea of “living in the tension.” Is it possible to live with differing views and still call each other a brother or sister in Christ? In The Salvation Army, we do not hold to one view of the end times. We allow for various views:  from premillenialism to amillenialsim. Despite these mindsets, we still accept each other as Christians.

The Salvation Army does not practice sacraments (a topic for another post). We do not consider those who do practice sacraments to be sinning. Most of my fellow non-Salvationists still consider me to be a Christian. I might be heterodox because I do not practice what the rest of Christianity considers to be a commandment of our Lord. Granted, there are those Salvationists who believe that people who do practice sacraments hold to a cheap grace. I also know other Christians who believe that Salvationists are sinning by not practicing the sacraments.

Hopefully we are through judging each other.

My biggest regret is that so many officers and soldiers have been hurt by The Salvation Army because they belong to the LGBT community. As a bisexual man, I could marry a woman and no one would be the wiser; however, if I decided to marry a man, I would be dismissed as an officer.

Just recently, our general, André Cox (international leader of The Salvation Army), changed our Handbook of Ceremonies to specifically insert the words that marriage is between one man and one woman. The only reason this was done was, in my opinion, to prevent the possibility of someone stating that we could technically have a wedding ceremony between 2 people of the same gender. General Cox is not allowing for much debate, saying in a recent issue of The Officer, “According to Scripture the institution of marriage was intended to be between one man and one woman.” He is leaving no room for discussion here. Change almost always occurs from our superiors and rarely comes from the soldiery.

In times like this, I wonder what we should do. We have no opportunity to discuss our differences. When we do, we are censured, placed on probation, or dismissed as Salvation Army officers. For those not in The Salvation Army, one should realise that officers receive only a modest allowance and a parsonage. When we are dismissed, often times we are left destitute and having to rely on family and friends to support us. We are homeless with no safety net. In other countries, such as Sweden, The Salvation Army is required by law to have a union for officers. This is unfortunately the exception, not the rule, for the vast majority of officers around the world.

So this is another reason why I must remain anonymous. I love The Salvation Army. I love what we do. I love that we help those in need and show them the love of God. Unfortunately, we refuse to allow practicing members of the LGBT community to be members of our organisation. We allow those who are divorced, gluttons, recovering alcoholics, former prostitutes, etc., to become members, even officers, but God forbid if a gay couple tryto become soldiers in The Salvation Army.

So, on the one hand, I rejoice in the judgment of the Supreme Court, but at the same time I realise that we are far off from equality in The Salvation Army. Most of my more conservative friends who are officers posted articles from such hate groups, like the American Family Association, and issued dire proclamations from Franklin Graham or misquoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Most conservative Salvation Army officers will publicly post anything to disparage anything on a liberal bent. They are never censured. However, officers who are liberally minded are often publicly ridiculed and privately censured. The disparity is terrible.

So, what do I do? I keep on serving God and I serve those in my community. That’s all I can do. I’m trying my best to make my own difference by being the best officer I can be. I will be happy once I’m able to do so publicly as an out and proud bisexual officer.

Hello! (Sorry for the Anonymity.)

Bisexual Pride

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.