Friday, June 29, 2012

Shame

I was walking through the city this morning when, stopping at a traffic light, I heard a young woman beside me saying to her children "Look, there's a Salvo". For the first time in my life, I cringed inwardly at the identification. There was no ill intent on her behalf and normally I would have smiled proudly and engaged in friendly conversation. This time, the best I could manage was a weak smile with no eye contact.

For a number of reasons, over the past couple of weeks, The Salvation Army in Australia has come to be associated with the worst kind of homophobia in our media and in the LGBTQI community. I'm personally devastated by this association, as are many of my Salvo friends and colleagues.

There's a part of me that's naturally defensive. Certainly, there's been some irresponsible and inaccurate reporting going on. No doubt, the officer in the middle of the saga was unfairly targeted. I know, as well as anyone, that this characterisation doesn't reflect the wonderful, non-discriminatory work that goes on in hundreds of social programs right across this country - some of which is performed by gay and lesbian employees on behalf of The Salvation Army. But somehow, this doesn't satisfy the shame and sorrow that I'm feeling.

I've lost count of the stories of anger and hurt that I've listened to in recent days. No matter how much misunderstanding may have contributed to this, a defensive attitude just doesn't seem to work in the face of the very real pain that people are feeling. Context is everything and the public perception at the moment is that The Salvation Army, an organisation with massive public support in this country, has been seen to vilify a group who already figure disproportionately in terms of depression, self-harm and suicide, particularly amongst young people.

No matter how much we might want to reclaim our own image, those who've been hurt by what they've heard need to be our first priority. There's no quick fix to the damage that's been done. We need to genuinely engage corporately and individually with the gay community firstly with an unequivocal apology and secondly to build the kind of robust relationships that ensure that such misunderstanding never happens again.

Some honest self-examination is needed to identify the various factors that have led to this tragic episode. We may not be guilty of all the things we're currently being accused of, but we're not innocent either. Though I'm confident that our social programs function without discrimination, I'm not so sure that our Corps are all gay-friendly places of acceptance and belonging. How many gay soldiers and officers are continually dealing with feelings of shame and guilt? How many are quietly slipping away? It's not just a matter of doctrine or positional statements or how we read the Bible (though all these things matter), it's the acceptance, compassion and love that we show to people, not because of who they are or aren't, but because they're made in the image of God.

I am sorry. I am deeply saddened. I have shared some of the pain of my gay and lesbian friends and colleagues. I am committed to playing whatever part I can to ensure that we can and will do better.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for some leadership on this issue, and for your honesty and acknowledgement that defensiveness, stonewalling and disavowal won't resolve this situation. I commend your concern about the pain, self-harm, spritual abuse and even loss of life that comes from homophobic (literally, a 'fear' of difference re sexual orientation) responses to people searching for inclusion. Stats released and broadcast today show a large percentage of gay couples looking for acceptance and support re marriage are Christians; this puts TSA's rusted-on theological stance at odds with people in great pain.

railton said...

The struggle is in part that it is hard to feel welcome in any church that has as a fundamental position that you are "less than". No matter how well meaning the welcome, no matter how strong the local personal relationships, the positional statement sets up the belief system. I know it has been taken off the web, but it is still the paradigm cadets are taught in dealing with gay people. ABS data says 40% of gay couples identify as christian- so where do they go? Where is there a fellowship that will honestly engage on issues of faith and commitment and relationship. I am an ex-officer and I come across ex-soldiers and ex-attenders quite often who just couldn't handle waiting for the condemnation from the platform. You don't necessarily hear how often it is said if it doesn't apply to you. Grace to you for having the courage to engage with how this issue affects people Jesus loves.

The Horse said...

The stance of religious groups has been one that in most cases of little sense. Using an old testament teaching that sits alongside rules such as stoning. Stoning is not acceptable by the church but this teaching is.

It seems to me picking and choosing what you take as unmovable is hypocritical to say the least. If you would like to see the devastation of such a position I suggest you watch this you tube video. I personally know these people.

http://youtu.be/pR9gyloyOjM

How can anyone justify the way they act in the face of such inhumanity and inequality.

I thank you for the effort you are expending, however I feel as its not going to be enough. After all in Queensland our same sex unions were removed and now our access to surrogacy, whats next a re introduction of laws that make homosexuality illegal.

There has to be a way around all of this,its not like we are asking everyone else to change their lives or their beliefs. I wonder how they would feel on the wrong end of all of this

Lorelie Jorheim said...

Thank you again, Jason, for thinking independently and opening yourself to differences among the human community.

You are right, the terrible hurt, pain, dismissal, and minimization of same...happen in the corps. And for the Army to hold up their social services as a defense is dreadfully dishonest and manipulative.

You are also right that defensiveness gets no one anywhere. God save the world from defensive people and defensive organizations.

Of course the Army isn't the only church who judges who the sinners are...but it IS the Army who put large signs of buses that say "We Care" (a new sign every year...along the same lines. Yes, it is a PR "trick" preceding the Red Shield campaign, but words have power, especially those ones. Everyone doesn't relegate those words to the Army's social work exclusively, and so expectations of caring are, in a sense at least, rightly born.

The Army is accountable for what they have and continue to do in the way of harm, whether they choose to believe it or not.

I am so disappointed in the executive leadership of the Army. Lots of talented people there...but I'm afraid they are being shown to be pretty superficial if they aren't moved to tears and driven to their knees and thus compelled to just talk with the lgbtt community. And if not a spiritual burden, then where at least is the integrity?

So sorry if this sounds negative. Outside of the subject of fundamentalist churches and our lgbtt community,I am actually a laid back and very positive person. But I and all of my friends are also in that group called "Christian" and lgbtt. We all still live by those values and relationship. But we are all in agreement that we stand to lose it all if we try to absorb any more of the abuse coming out of churches like the Army, via the various corps and of course, if only by implication, the leadership.

However, YOUR leadership is greatly appreciated.

Cheers!
Lorelie

M. Roberts said...

Interesting reading. I posted on this issue myself recently, more on the doctrinal stance. http://www.anidealist.net/some-of-the-salvos-best-friends-are-gay/

I think you make a very good point about the social services treatment not aligning with the atmosphere of some corps. But can you ever expect a corps to be a gay friendly place if the official stance is, as another commenter above said, that being anything other hetero is "less than" the ideal? Is that not where the discussion needs to begin?

JDK said...

Thanks for all the comments above. I'm very aware that I'm just one person in this big Army but my conversations with others strongly suggest that I'm not alone by any means.

Change is definitely in the wind but it's not yet the kind of storm that will sweep away everything in its path. I'm fully aware that it's one thing to call for patience as a straight person who isn't directly affected by the discrimination that LGBT people experience. It always seems like way too much to ask of those who've been, and continue to be, deeply hurt by the church solely due to their sexual orientation. I can only say that I have felt deep grace from those who are prepared to hang in there and have nothing but respect and understanding for those who feel they cannot.

I want to commend Marshall Roberts blog cited above to other readers. It's one of the most insightful pieces of commentary on recent events that I've seen. In answer to your question, Marshall, about how corps can be 'gay-friendly', I can only say that I know some that are - despite everything that might seem to be stacked against that. At the end of the day, it's our people that define the Army (for better or worse). Life might be easier if policies preceed practice but sometimes they're playing catch up.

Regards, JDK