It was 2006 and my wife and I were stationed in Hanover, Germany. One of our young soldiers, Christoph, was doing a gap year in the United States and helping out at a corps in Michigan. He seemed to be the darling of everyone. He was even featured on the cover of YS, the Army's magazine for young Salvationists. We heard nothing but glowing reports about him.
When he returned, he stopped coming to the corps. We called. He made excuses. He didn't show up. He did live an hour south of Hanover and couldn't come every Sunday, but he had previously come so faithfully. We didn't know what to do.
That year we had homeland furlough. So Camie, our newborn son, Zachary, and I traveled back to the United States. While there, we met with some officers who knew him and we mentioned how we hadn't heard from Christoph in a while. To which they responded, "Christoph really needs to tell you why he isn't coming any more."
I looked perplexed. "Is it because of a girl?" (I knew he had wanted to date some people, including some girls who said they wanted to become officers.)
She replied, "If only it were a girl."
I was dumbstruck. So Christoph was gay.
My wife and I traveled back to Germany and took it upon ourselves to visit Christoph in his home. We were both convinced that we needed to confront him, but lovingly, too. So we traveled down to his place and had a long conversation with him. At the end, we told him that we knew of his orientation and that it wasn't in line with being a Salvation Army soldier. We told him that it would be better if he himself resigned as a soldier.
He did. We thought that would be the end of it, but God had other plans. We kept in loose contact with Christoph. He found a new life in Berlin and went his own way without The Salvation Army. I was sad about it, but thought that there was nothing I could do.
Coming back to the United States, I experienced a complete change in my worldview. I realized slowly that my attitude and the way I had treated Christoph was wrong. Even though I meant to be kind and gentle, what I had done was kick him out of the Community of Believers.
How was this right or correct? How was I showing love to him? I wasn't. By kicking him out, I was in effect telling him that he was not worthy of fellowship with us. I didn't mean to say that. I didn't say it out loud, but my actions spoke louder than words.
Others have spoken better than I have at how wrong it is for Christians to treat the LGBT Community in the way that it has. (For a good beginning, try here.) So one thing I needed to fall back on is the verse from the Bible that has meant so much to me (Deuteronomy 6:5 NASB):
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
All other commandments stem from this, including to love your neighbor as yourself. I was not loving Christoph. I was kicking him out of the family of God.
I had sinned.
With a very heavy heart I wrote to Christoph and told him how very sorry I was. I was wrong. I had treated him wrong. If I had to do it over again, I would have never told him that he needed to leave The Salvation Army.
To his credit (and to my joy), he told me that there was nothing to forgive. He was very surprised by my letter and my change of heart and I am so happy to say that we have had reconciliation with each other.
There are many within my own denomination who disagree with me and disagree passionately; however, I am now acting within my own conscience. I realize that love is the main motivator for serving God and serving others. Love is not merely an emotion, but an action as well.
My penance is now to right the wrongs I have done in my life and to demonstrate to the world that we need to love more than we need to judge. We need to be allies to our friends in the LGBT Community. We need to listen more than we need to talk.
The issue of LGBT inclusion within the Church has become a hot debate in all corners of the Christian world. I feel as if we are in a crucible, awaiting a change for the better for the Church. In this we will be judged by God. Have we shown love to our siblings in the LGBT Community, or have we kicked them out of the Fellowship of Believers?
In the end we need to love. Simply love.
Please note: Christoph has given me permission to tell part of his tale as well. For that, I am grateful.