It has been an interesting journey, this series on GLBT issues and the Salvation Army. As I have talked to people online and in person there have been 3 kinds of responses:
- · Why do we have to talk about these things? People’s minds are made up, the discussion threatens the fabric of our movement, it is not essential to salvation, we should not waste time on it.
- · Why is this taking so long? It is a matter of justice, why can’t we resolve it, surely there is common ground. We are becoming a laughing stock.
- · Why is this even a subject for discussion, the bible settled this long ago, we should not countenance the discussion. We are at risk of heresy if we are not already there.
It looks pretty hopeless doesn’t it? Looks like there is no way forward? No point on which we can agree?
I want to suggest there is a way forward which:
- · Preserves the distinctive life and witness of the Salvation Army
- Provides space for a different kind of conversation
- Does not require anyone to accept a position or practice that they find challenging, difficult or wrong.
The Salvation Army is not a democracy. It will not resolve contentious issues by a vote or some kind of political process. We are not Anglicans, or Baptists or Catholics. We are Christians in the Salvationist tradition. We need to approach this issue in a uniquely Salvationist way.
The Salvation Army is all about saving souls, growing saints and serving suffering humanity. Let’s use that model to advance our understanding of the Salvationist way forward in these issues.
Firstly, let’s recognise that there is suffering humanity in the middle of this issue. Both gay and straight people have suffered from traditional understandings and the challenge to those understandings. And it is not just the clients of our services, there are people in our Corps, in officership, in leadership who suffer as a result of exclusion or poorly thought out teaching Let’s acknowledge that some have been hurt because a same sex attracted person was “encouraged” to marry a person of the opposite sex to “cure” them. Let’s acknowledge and repent of the damage caused by name calling, and heresy wars, and unholy conversations. And let those of us who are GLBT acknowledge that we have excluded people who disagree with us, just as we have been excluded from the life and witness of the Army. There is hurt on all sides of this conversation, let’s find a safe place to serve suffering humanity. We do not have to agree with each other to demonstrate compassion and a servant’s heart. We seem to have developed a view that in order to serve you, I must agree with you.
Secondly let’s be honest about what we think and feel and so grow saints. If the position of the Salvation Army is ultimately that there is no place for GLBT people, let’s say that unambiguously. It is far better to have an honest conversation than to live in half truths. But before we get to our final position let’s have a different conversation. Let us grow saints by teaching that takes the bible seriously, by a conversation that is characterised by really grappling with the issues and not adversarial proof texting from across the platform. Let us reason together, each accepting that the other has a genuinely held position which has been arrived at with integrity. Let us seek first to understand, rather than be understood. As a movement we have changed our view on lots of things and lots of social issues, we have been at the forefront of justice. Let’s talk about this issue with all the intensity and integrity that we discuss poverty, or human trafficking, or the role of women. Just because an issue is contentious does not mean, in an International movement, we ought not to discuss it. It does mean we should take our time and discuss the issue in a spirit of humility on all sides.
Why should we do this? Because not having grappled with the totality of this issue is affecting our ability to engage with our community so that souls may be saved. There are people who no longer listen to us because they think we have a closed mind, they cannot see evidence that we are genuinely trying to resolve the issue among us, that we are genuinely listening from either perspective. As Paul says;Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
(I Corinthians 9:19-23 The Message)
Do you want to reach the whole world for Christ? Then be prepared to invite the whole world including gay and straight into your Corps, and be prepared for the ride of your life. It is okay to say we do not have the answers and we have strongly held differences, it is not okay to not deal with them honestly.
You and I might disagree on whether my committed same-sex relationship is permitted for a Christian, we might even disagree on whether or not I am a Christian or am saved. I might not think you can say the things you do about me and be saved. But our salvation, or lack of it, is a matter for God. What we can agree on, I think, is that Jesus died for all and that whosoever will may be saved.
So, what do you reckon? Can we try and walk this path together? I am willing to be open to the possibility that I am wrong, can you allow the same possibility? Can we search the scriptures together. Good then, I’ll put the kettle on- at least we can agree there’s nothing like a salvo cup of tea.
Messengers of Hope