Mission and ministry…that is what it is all about

by Commissioner David EdwardsIt is unfortunate, but true, that for the better part of the past four years the issue of domestic partner benefits has dominated the attention of this territory and has served to divert, to some extent, our focus from what should be of primary importance to us–our mission.

It started with San Francisco and Chapter 12B of the city ordinance enacted in October 1996. This required that all agencies contracting with the city provide equivalent spousal benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

It has since made its appearance in the cities of Seattle, Wash., Los Angeles, and Berkeley, Calif. There are other jurisdictions in various parts of the nation where it is only a matter of time before this legislation goes into the statute books.

The decision to withdraw

Three years ago, when faced with this issue, we took the decision to withdraw from our government contracts–one of three alternatives opened to us. This was after we failed in our efforts to obtain from the city an exemption from compliance with the ordinance–another alternative. This action resulted in the loss of approximately $3 million annually in government funding. Despite the loss of funding, I would suggest that the decision in the case of San Francisco, for several reasons, was the right one at the time.

Above all else, we will be people who care. Wherever we minister we will accept responsibility for the care of all God’s creation. We will lovingly care for each other.

A lesson learned from San Francisco

If there is one lesson that we all should have learned as a result of our decision in San Francisco, it is this: this is not a simple “yes” or “no” to government funding. It affects the lives of people, both the people we serve and the people who serve alongside us.

We certainly should be concerned about our moral and religious principles as reflected in our various position statements.

We certainly should be concerned that we are not perceived as validating a lifestyle that we believe goes against scripture-based principles. But with this issue threatening to sweep across the United States of America, I seriously question whether we could continue to close programs down, throw people out of work, withdraw services to the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the sorrowing without doing serious damage to our mission and ministry.

The decision of the Commissioners Conference

The Commissioners Conference on October 19, 2001, unanimously agreed that a U.S. territory can elect to sign a contract with a government entity (federal, state or municipal) that includes the requirement not to discriminate in employee policies and benefits in the funded program, including the extension of medical benefits to one legally domiciled adult of the employee’s household.

A way to maintain our mission and ministry without violating our principles.

In reaching agreement on the direction in which we ought to go, the primary concern of the Commissioners Conference was the mission and ministry of The Salvation Army–finding a way to maintain that mission and ministry without violating our principles. I believe the Commissioners Conference did exactly that.

I say this, as those principles also–and more–frequently speak to our responsibility as followers of Christ to address the needs, both spiritual and material, of those we serve. Given our Lord’s example, this seemed to be the primary focus of his mission and ministry.

While we certainly ought not to allow government agencies to force us into being another social service agency, it is certainly not their wish to drive us out of this field of social services. At the same time, we have always to keep before us our two-fold mission “To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.” We have always been known and accepted for our “militant evangelism” and our social outreach ministries.

I do not believe that it was any accident when God raised up The Salvation Army to do what it does today: “Save souls, nurture saints, and serve suffering humanity.” I believe The Salvation Army to be an example of what Christ wants his church to be.

We maintain our advocacy of marriage, family life and sexual purity.

There are some of you who will not agree with the decision tapken by the Commissioners Conference. There are some who may be led to believe that the decision suggests that we, The Salvation Army, have changed our positions on marriage and family as well as our attitude to “alternative” lifestyles. This is far from the truth.

We teach and will continue to teach that marriage, as we understand it from Holy Scriptures, takes place between one man and one woman and is what God intended. We uphold and will continue to uphold the sanctity of marriage and family life based on our understanding of the Holy Scriptures. We will always advocate sexual purity before and during marriage. Those are our beliefs and we stand by them.

Let us be united in love

There has been a great deal of internal debate over this issue especially here in the Western Territory where we have tried to make everyone aware of the complexity of this issue. This issue has proven to be quite divisive. There are as many who hold positions on either side–and we should feel quite free to do so.

We can differ in our opinions about what the decision should be on this issue or any issue. But I would plead with all who read this column that we do not allow this decision to divide us in our ministry nor hinder us in the pursuit of our mission. This is God’s Army. He brought it into existence for that purpose. Let us pray for him to continue to give us the needed guidance to accomplish his holy will.

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