I Was a Salvation Army Officer
In the past, I have been very careful to try to avoid identifying my denomination. I avoided it out of fear. Fear that you would assume that I’m a homophobe or conservative weirdo. Fear that you would think that I am speaking on behalf of The Salvation Army. But mostly, I feared punishment from my leaders.
I have feared punishment from my leaders for seven years, the entire duration of my pre-seminary/seminary/professional ministry years. I’ve feared it because the main motivation tactic used is “don’t screw up or you’re a goner.”
That’s a pretty scary umbrella to live under because I’m someone who screws up a lot.
I’m too opinionated. I’m too liberal. Even the filtered version of me is not for the faint of heart. I’m not impressed by or intimidated by rank or title. I challenge people without meaning to.
And so for seven years, I’ve been intermittently punished for the strangest things. While in training (seminary), I commented that I missed college, so I was reprimanded for 40 minutes about how my comment was disparaging to the instructors and my peers. I was written up because my kitchen smelled like fruit (I had a fruit bowl and an orange scented plug-in air freshener). I wrote a blog post about being anxious and my blog was then sent to territorial headquarters (which is several levels of leadership above me) “for review.”
It seemed like I never knew when I was going to be blindsided.
I know I made my share of mistakes. When I had my first congregation, it was nothing short of an abusive hell. Had it not been for a few people who held onto me, that ministry would have killed me. Literally. I begged for help, but it came two years too late. As things fell apart at work, something had to give. Looking back, The Salvation Army isn’t used to dealing with situations as bad as that one was, so it wasn’t prepared to help me while I floundered and tried to figure it out. None of us seemed to know what to do. I was thankfully moved out of that location when the third year of moves were announced.
But not before I was assured that everyone in leadership thought I was a terrible person. Not before it was made abundantly clear that I was incredibly disliked by most of the other officers/ministers. I kind of knew that already, but to have it spelled out for me was something else.
I feared saying where I ministered because The Salvation Army, as an organization (not to be confused with everyone who comprises it), is primarily concerned with its reputation and image, and if I said something they thought might damage that, they wouldn’t hesitate to react. So we are told by leadership and our peers to shut up. To never, ever, under any circumstances, criticize anything at all related to The Salvation Army. It’s the old attitude of keeping your dirty laundry in the cupboard instead of cleaning it out, no matter how badly it stinks the place up.
I feared punishment for living out my faith. I’ve never been a conservative, but the older I get the more I believe in full LGBTQ inclusion in the church (meaning they should have the same access to membership, ministry, etc. as a straight person) and marriage equality in both civil and religious marriage. These are not just political or social opinions – they are rooted in Christ’s command to love others. The Salvation Army is officially against both of these beliefs, so much so that we have received written “guidelines” that are nothing short of thinly veiled threats for the minority of us who are more liberal. My gay and lesbian friends cannot be fully participating members of The Salvation Army if they are in a same-sex relationship. They cannot be married in a Salvation Army wedding. Any participation in a same-sex wedding on my part is grounds for termination, meaning if I choose to be a part of Brandon’s wedding party, or say a prayer during the wedding, or help tie ribbons on reception favors, I could be terminated. What a crock of shit.
PLEASE, PLEASE KNOW THAT NOT ALL OFFICERS AND MEMBERS OF THE SALVATION ARMY ARE HORRIBLE – THAT’S NOT WHAT I’M SAYING. There are still plenty of good people doing good things in their community through The Salvation Army. I’m saying that the organization that I believed in has failed me. I’ve watched as it failed so many of the good people within its ranks. I’ve seen it destroy people.
Writing this, and the resignation that will follow, means that I will become gossip fodder again. I’ve been in The Salvation Army since I was born, and I know what gets said of those who leave. I will be accused of breaking a covenant with God. I will be accused of having been too sinful. I will probably be “unfriended” both on Facebook and in real life by some. There will be an awful lot of people who will read this and think I’m just bitter and angry and disregard my experience. There will be people who will blame my decision to leave on a great spiritual failure. One friend who left four years ago warned me that I will be essentially disowned. That’s bleak.
But it’s not worse than what I’ve been living, and after seven years, I cannot in good faith say I want 34 more years of it. I can’t survive 34 more years. One former officer said to me tonight that he left when he realized that he spent most of his energy in internal fights instead of joining with other officers to fight against the things we’re supposed to battle (poverty, war, hatred, etc.). I did not sign up for 37 years of fighting like this.
I feel weak for not being able to keep fighting to change the things that are broken.
I feel like I’ve let a lot of good people down, some whom I couldn’t face right now for fear of seeing the disappointment in their faces.
The fear I have right now is that some people I love won’t love me anymore.
So as of 2:18 a.m., October 16, 2014, I’m done being an officer. My resignation won’t be submitted until I have ironed out a place to live, work, and recover, but I’m taking my the shreds of my heart back. The Salvation Army did not hold up their end of the bargain, so as of today, I’m moving on.
THE REALITY: Tonight, I submitted my resignation. I don’t have all the details ironed out yet, but it’s just too hard to try to find work in a town three hours away when I cannot travel for interviews. So I am going to move there in hopes that either A. something comes from the few interviews I have lined up, or B. I find something else really quickly. Tomorrow, my sister and mother will come and help me pack up and move.
I have told a handful of people that I’ve resigned, including my parents, best friends, and sessionmates (seminary cohorts). They have all been overwhelmingly wonderful. I didn’t shed a tear while writing my resignation, but I have cried over and over because of their kindness and support. One of them said she hopes I can love the SA again. I told her the truth: I don’t hate the SA, I am disappointed and hurt by some people within the SA, and unfortunately for me, those people hold a lot of power.
I am scared. Nervous. Bruised.
But also freed. Hopeful. And thanks to my PGs, admins, and AoHs, LOVED.
Posted on November 10, 2014, in Anxiety, Church, Friendship, Woman Preacher and tagged Change, church, Fear, Friends, Gossip, minister, Ministry, Salvation Army, The Salvation Army. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.