Friday, May 16, 2014

My Penance

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.


  1. Once again, beautifully written and expressed. My only comment is, just as God convicted you on your opinions and actions concerning the LGBT Communinty, guard yourself so that you do not go to the opposite extreme, and not love or accept those who still think as you use to. Everyone is precious in the sight of a God.

    1. For certain. I have not abandoned "the opposite side." Most of the people in our corps would fall in that category.

  2. Good words. Hard words but good words. Not hard because of the consequences of "outing" yourself but hard because of the reality of what it means to look honestly at oneself and publicly say, "I was wrong."

    I am a former officer and as a single woman officer, my own sexuality was put into question and I was taken to the carpet by the DC because I was attempting to live a life that was loving (though I nearly vomit as I reflect that this was still with the retched approach of "hate the sin, not the sinner." Even at trying to take that position in relation to people who are differently oriented, 19 years ago in the Army world, that was being too accepting and as such, I "obviously a lesbian." Yes, true story in good old San Francisco.

    These days I guess that I am in the category of "friend of The Army" as I haven't been a member since I resigned my commission in 1997. So, I don't officially hae a horse in the race with The Army but I still am very much involved in ministry within a conservative arm of the Christian Church. I am a professor at a Southern Baptist college in the south (yes, the repeat of the southern element is important because we get the spiritual conservativism with an extra dose of southern culture mixed in. It didn't take long for my students to learn that I offered a "safe zone" in relation to sexual stuff (orientation and otherwise). I have to be careful in how overtly blatant I am in my support of students who don't fit the expected mold but I try to demonstrate genuine love. Easy? Not always. A work in process? I sure pray so!

    By the way, my husband and I vacationed in Germany last year and enjoyed our time in Hanover as well as other fantastic spots around the country.


    1. I'm so sorry you had to go through those experiences, Patti. I am hopeful that things will soon change and that more will experience the openness of loving each other rather than showing prejudice to each other.

      You definitely have some unique challenges, but I'm still glad that you are someone "safe" that your students can go to.

  3. Thanks Tim for your perspective! I'm still trying to grasp what the guidelines for LGBT inclusion would be. There has to be something beyond just loving the LGBT. What would be the depth of the fellowship? You mention that it was wrong to recommend that Christoph should resign. What would the alternative have been? Could he have remained in the Army as an LGBT? There seem to be too many unresolved questions regarding the Salvation Army or any conservative denomination fellowshipping with LGBT Christians.

    1. Yes, he could and should have, even under our guidelines today. I was young and foolish. My views on LGBT inclusion differ slightly from the official position of The Salvation Army.

  4. I completely agree with allowing anyone and everyone to come to church and be a part of the congregation. No one should be excluded from hearing the gospel and learning of God's love. However, I do not agree with people who are choosing to live a life of sin to be wearing a uniform and being in a place of leadership. And, I don't mean this to only be aimed at someone who is gay. I have known many people who regularly do things during the week that they would never profess to on Sunday because they know it is not in line with the Holy Spirit's leading. I guess I always think of the story in the Bible where the woman was about to be stoned for adultery. Jesus saved her from that and commanded the people to only cast a stone if they were without sin, which obviously they couldn't honestly do. However, Jesus said to the woman, "Go and sin no more". We should never condone what the Bible clearly states is sin just so someone feels comfortable coming to church. Just my view.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jennifer! I agree mostly with what you say, except for one thing: I do not believe that people in a committed same-sex relationship are involved in sin. Same-sex orientation is not something that can be controlled or changed, which is in line with The Salvation Army's position statement on Homosexuality.

      Where I differ on the Position Statement is that although The Salvation Army admits that same-sex attractions cannot be controlled, they force all those in the LGBT Community to live a celibate life. This is not what celibacy was meant for.

      Thanks for reading!