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from the desk of…The Army of the open door

The following is an opinion piece by Lt. Col. Edward “Dusty” Hill, The Salvation Army Western Territory’s secretary for program. The views represented are his own and reflect his passion for The Salvation Army’s long-standing international mission statement, which includes these words: …”to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet needs in His name without discrimination.”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will go in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

I celebrate with you a Salvation Army that opens its doors to all of humanity. In our meetings, Salvationists delight in hearing the stories of folks who have joined our fellowship from a variety of entry points and various stages of moral purity. We are an inclusive Salvation Army. With that truth in mind, may I humbly suggest the time is now for The Salvation Army to fling open its doors a bit wider and more aggressively reach out to groups not traditionally identified with our movement? I’m speaking of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.

Connecting the LGBT community with The Salvation Army will be no easy task. Part of the problem is perception. A sizable portion of the LGBT community views The Salvation Army as being hostile. This perception of the Army is both inaccurate and unfortunate. The reality is that the vast majority of officers, soldiers and employees of the Army are anxious to positively engage the LGBT community. Indeed, The Salvation Army carries out many programs and services that directly benefit the LGBT community and does so, as The Salvation Army mission statement declares, “without discrimination.” However, I think it is still up to us to be proactive in breaking down barriers in order to more effectively communicate our best intentions.

Not every Salvationist will be anxious to see the Army reach out to the LGBT community. Much of that reticence is based on the interpretation of the Bible by many sincere and mature believers. I am not insensitive to the theological difficulties that the issue of homosexuality raises for many, but my view is that Salvationists need to think differently on this subject as we move into the 21st century. The time has come for us to engage in a meaningful internal dialogue (without rancor and judgment) that focuses less on the theological or Biblical arguments for or against homosexuality (and there is a wide interpretation on the subject among many Salvationists and Christian denominations) and more fully on how Christians can meaningfully and lovingly engage members of the LGBT community seeking a closer relationship with Jesus. Indeed, Wesleyan Christianity has long demonstrated that Scripture ought to be constantly reexamined and re-applied in light of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and in tandem with human reason, church tradition and experience. The cheerful inclusion of the LGBT community into our fellowship does not require every Salvationist to change the core principles of faith or interpretation of the Bible. What is required, in my view, is that God’s people put aside the stereotypes and biases of the past that have often made the church an obstacle, rather than a haven, for members of the LGBT community seeking fellowship in the body of Christ.

The LGBT community makes up a small percentage of the population and, despite our best efforts, few are likely to flock to The Salvation Army anytime soon. And yet, a proactive and accommodating response to the holistic needs of the LGBT community, sprinkled with a heavy dose of God’s love and grace, will send a powerful and positive message to a community that is generally untrusting of our great movement. The answer to the question of how The Salvation Army ought to best engage the LGBT community is not going away. How will we respond?

The generations of young people coming up in the Army show evidence of being more passionate about their faith, biblically centered, and accommodating to different communities than mine. My expectation is that these emerging generations of young Salvationists are going to exceed my best efforts in every way, including a nobler embrace of the LGBT community. However, I’d like to show my kids that even dad can rework his paradigm.

I’ve been on a journey of faith for 50 years. Along the way, I’ve had to address my own personal struggles, prejudices, phobias and biases. While still a work in progress, I declare with the hymnist that, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.” My prayer remains, “Create in me a new heart Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). Friends, I want to grow, mature, and be more loving, particularly toward those to whom I have been less than sensitive and understanding.

Here is my final challenge to anyone still reading (and I am speaking only for myself): If God has a place for me to worship and serve alongside my family in The Salvation Army, why not equally a member of the LGBT community? The impulses of my heart lead me to make an urgent call on the Army of the West to fling open the front entries of its chapels a little wider. Let’s send a clarion call that everyone is unconditionally welcomed to enter, fellowship and serve in The Army of the Open Door.

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