“I am a bisexual Salvation Army officer [who’s] still in the closet,” Patrick (not his real name) tells Queerty in an exclusive interview.
Patrick reached out via email earlier this month after reading our story on the Salvation Army’s video defending the charity’s past treatment of the LGBT community. He provided the previously unreleased internal documents that exposed the discriminatory practices within the Salvation Army.
“Despite all of this negative information you have received concerning how the Salvation Army treats the LGBT community,” he says. “I enjoy the ministry we have. I love helping people out. I’m not in it for the money. I’m here to serve God by helping others. That being said, if I were to [publicly] go against my superiors, I would be terminated immediately and be left homeless.”
Patrick offers insight into what it’s like as working as an LGBT officer within an an organization that he describes as “at a crossroads” between antigay activism and an acceptance of equality.
Here’s what he had to say:
How long have you been involved with the Salvation Army?
I’ve been an officer in The Salvation Army for over 10 years, but less than 20. For officers, this means they haven’t quite reached the “Long Service Award.” I come from a long line of family members — over four generations — who have grown up in the Salvation Army. It runs in the family. I’m over 40 years old, but only recently came to terms with my bisexuality.
What is the atmosphere like for LGBT officers?
LGBT officers are under scrutiny. There is a lot of fear.
As a Salvation Army officer, I am forbidden from having a boyfriend. I cannot marry a man, even if it is legal in the state where I reside. I cannot officiate as an ordained minister at a same-sex wedding. I cannot wear my uniform at a same-sex wedding. I cannot allow a same-sex wedding to take place in our sanctuary.
Officers who are out are expected to remain celibate. Just how our headquarters goes about verifying this celibacy is beyond me. Most other LGBT officers have been dismissed and have had their ordinations revoked for being in a relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
Why did you decide to provide Commissioner Paul Seiler’s memo?
I feel that this needs to be an open discussion within the Salvation Army. No one has a chance to give his/her opinion. Decisions are made from the top with little input from those out on the field. Those of us with more liberal tendencies are told to be quiet or to find another church to worship at. This is never done on an official level, but will often be done in one-on-one discussions. We are told that we knew what we were getting into when we joined the Army. We shouldn’t expect change.
The whole incident with Major Andrew Craibe from Australia [Craibe advocated for homosexuals to be “put to death” in 2012] forced the Army to quickly distance itself from that mess. However, even though he had expressed himself wrongly, he represents the prevalent thought within the Salvation Army: that LGBT people are choosing their lifestyle and they need to stop. We officers [who don’t believe that] are in a most perilous situation. We cannot go against our superiors publicly because that would show disloyalty and we would be terminated.
Are there people within the organization who are trying to change things?
There is a progressive movement within the Salvation Army, but it is being repressed at every opportunity. The fear that we have as officers is that we are not allowed to voice differences within our organization for fear of being labeled disloyal. This disloyalty normally results in either punitive appointments such as being relegated to an assistant officer or being put on probation. Our military hierarchy promotes efficiency, but restricts our freedom to speak openly and without fear of punishment.
Of course, there is precedence for this. Our own founder, William Booth, forced out two of his own children, Ballington and Herbert, for their questioning his authority.
Why do you think the Salvation Army is so hesitant to accept LGBT people?
I think it’s a financial issue. In the early 2000’s, the Salvation Army in California made a move to extend health insurance benefits to same-sex couples who were employed by them. This caused an outrage from other Christian groups. I think that the Army thinks if they were to fully embrace the LGBT Community, they would lose support from their conservative donors. However, if they are openly hostile to the LGBT community, they risk being called bigots and losing support from the younger generation, which tends to be more accepting of the LGBT community.
What did you think of Jennifer Byrd’s, communications director for the Salvation Army, response to the memo?
I noticed that Ms. Byrd omitted some key points. She doesn’t even address the apparent disparity between “sexual orientation is not a sin” and the fact that officers can only marry or officiate for ceremonies of the opposite genders.
I actually followed up with her on that. I asked her to explain how that wasn’t discriminatory and she wouldn’t give me a clear answer. She just kept saying it was a “theological issue.” She also did not address trans people at all.
Yes, what about the case of trans people? If someone has made a transition from one gender to another, can that person marry someone of the opposite gender, or should they remain celibate, too?
In regards to celibacy, nothing is done to help LGBT officers or even laypeople remain in a state of celibacy. There are no workshops held. It is generally not addressed at camps, conferences, youth activities, etc. There is a huge silence in those regards. So I think it’s hypocritical for them to say that sexual orientation is not sin, but even though it’s not a sin, you can’t express your sexual orientation. It’s also hypocritical of them to offer no support to any LGBT person.
If you’ll notice between the lines, the hope is that these people will simply choose not to worship at the Salvation Army. Sort of like Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” theory. In those regards they have had many “successes.” I know so many people in the LGBT community who have been hurt by the Salvation Army and forced to leave as members in our church.
What do you make of the media’s response the leaked memo?
In viewing all of the recent newscasts that have come out because of your article, I am struck by this one fact: Most people do not realize that Salvation Army officers are not employees. Because of this fact, the Salvation Army can state truthfully that they do not discriminate in their hiring practices. It’s a stupid regulation that we have, but all Salvation Army officers are technically considered self-employed. I receive an allowance and housing (parsonage).
Given everything, why do you stay? Why not find another church? Why not go some place more accepting?
I stay is because I believe in the mission of The Salvation Army: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination. If I focus just on that one particular aspect of negativity, I would miss out on all the positive things we actually do. Right now I won’t leave unless that terminate me as an officer.
However, with the Salvation Army “hunkering down” on some of these issues, it has become more and more difficult to function.