Monday, March 21, 2016


"May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! He is the compassionate Father and God of all comfort. He's the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. That is because we receive so much comfort through Christ in the same way that we share so many of Christ's sufferings. So if we have trouble, it is to bring you comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is to bring you comfort from the experience of endurance while you go through the same sufferings that we also suffer. Our home for you is certain, because we know that as you are partners in suffering, so also you are partners in comfort." - 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (CEB)

I know something about rejection. This past year could have been my "Year of Rejection." I lost nearly everything that was dear to me.

However, things began to look up. I became a Dispatcher for the City of Branson. I was being welcomed very much in the corps (church) where I lived. I had some excellent talks with the corps officer about what had led to my no longer being an officer. We agreed that although we were of a difference of opinions, we were still brothers in Christ. I was participating again in the meetings. The only thing I really regretted was that this corps has no Bible Study for the members.

So I did what I thought was natural, I asked to have my membership transferred to the Branson Corps. The corps officers even took my orders for my soldier's uniform. Then on the 11th of February, my corps officer asked to have a coffee with me. This was not unusual. I had done it before with him. We talked over an hour and a half. Then I had to get to work. That's when he delivered the bad news:

The divisional commander (like a bishop) and my corps officer had decided to deny my transfer as a soldier to the Branson Corps. The reason:  They did not believe that I would uphold "the sanctity of marriage," as is expressed in our "Articles of War," which is the covenant all soldiers sign when we become members of The Salvation Army. The relevant portion states, "I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life."

What was the reasoning behind this? I support marriage equality. I believe everyone can marry whomever he/she desires to marry. If it is someone of the same gender, I do not have a problem with this. Unfortunately, The Salvation Army has been wrestling with this problem, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully.

The topic of LGBT inclusion has become a polarizing issue in The Salvation Army. Because of my stance on it, I was told that I was not allowed to be a member of the corps. This infuriated, saddened, and upset me. I asked our headquarters in Chicago if I was still a soldier in The Salvation Army since my transfer was being refused. They wrote back to reply that I was indeed. So it seemed that my problems only are local.

I shared my concern with some friends of mine in a group on Facebook, called "Salvos for a More Inclusive Church." Unbeknownst to me, an officer from the Territorial Headquarters in Chicago took screenshots of what I had said in this private group and spread them around, including to my corps officer. This was against the rules of the group, but that officer did it anyway. My father confronted him about it and he admitted to it.

Things seemed to be getting worse.

Rejection Letter

I had written to my corps officer, asking for clarification about why he was rejecting my transfer. He wrote the following:

At this time, your soldiership roll will not be transferred to the Branson, MO Corps. There is absolutely no restriction on your attending, participating in, or being active in the Branson Corps. I would hope we could review the transfer together at a later time. I would enjoy the opportunity to discuss with you in person, and in more depth, our reasoning behind not accepting the roll and the things I'd like to see happen before reconsidering an additional request. . . .

As a Corps Officer I am responsible for the membership and the involvement of soldiers within my appointment. As a Salvation Army Officer I feel a great sense of sacred trust for which I am accountable for to both the institution of the Army and most importantly, to God Himself. As much as this choice to not accept your Soldier's roll seemingly erects a wall around the Army for you - making the movement who's been your own avenue of sacred service a vehicle of hurt - be assured that God's grace is greater. God wills to use you just as much as He did the day you were commissioned. His love is steadfast towards you and I believe that the same Holy Spirit who began in you with a ministry of wooing you to Him still works amongst you.

On a larger scale, know that there is no intention, nor do I hold the authority, to pursue the removal of your Soldiership from The Salvation Army. Territorial Headquarters has confirmed that your soldiership is active with the territory, but you just won't be a soldier of the Branson Corps.

Reading this, I was crushed.

This is what I felt he was saying to me:

You cannot be a member. You can attend, but we don't really accept you. We accept you, but you need to sit at the back of the bus.

When I told my friends, many of them quickly came to my side.

What was even more heartening: several officers from around the world offered to take me on as their soldier, even though I wouldn't be able to attend regularly. Some as far away as Australia and New Zealand said they would take me as a soldier in their corps.

So on one hand I had rejection, on the other hand I had acceptance.

Then one of my best friends, who is an officer in Iowa, told me to transfer my soldiership to his corps. I am in the process of that right now. I look forward to being a soldier of the Newton, Iowa corps. His divisional commander did not have any problems with me being a soldier in his division, either.

I decided to write to our Chief Secretary (like an archbishop) about my situation. I felt it would be best to explain to him what had been going on with me. I know him to be a prudent, kind, and caring man, with whom I closely worked in Albania. This is what I wrote to him:

My response:

First of all, it implies that they view my personal beliefs as a form of adultery. However, I have always been faithful to my wife.

Secondly, it implies that I have somehow broken my covenant when I signed my Articles of War.

Thirdly, I understand in my conversation that day with [the corps officer] that this whole controversy stems from my belief that The Salvation Army needs to be more inclusive in its membership, especially towards those in the LGBT Community. [They] have used a tenuous logical thought to state that since I believe that The Salvation Army needs to be an affirming Church (i.e.: welcoming to the LGBT Community), that this in some way means that I do not uphold the sanctity of marriage.

Fourthly, I find it duplicitous that [they] would deny me the right to be a soldier at the corps when my soldiership is in good standing and I do not have any restrictions placed on me in regards to uniform wearing. I have even participated in Sunday Worship meetings, being asked by the lieutenants to do so and with their full knowledge of my personal beliefs.

So, although in his letter, [it] states that I can still come to the meetings and worship there, he denies me membership. It is very much a "separate but equal" situation. Can one wonder why The Salvation Army has such a negative image with the LGBT Community when people in their own ranks are discriminated against and not allowed to be soldiers? How can one feel welcome at all in a corps, but at the same time be told that you can't be a member because of a point in theology? Also, it is in my opinion that it is an insignificant point. When Christ himself said that marriage would not be an issue at all in Heaven (Matthew 22:30), I do not see how it should be so divisive for us. I still hold to all 11 Doctrines of The Salvation Army. I still hold to my Soldier's Covenant in the Articles of War. I still hold myself faithful to my Officer's Covenant, even though I am no longer an officer.

In speaking with Major Dick Justvig, he told me that this was unprecedented and that he had never heard of someone being denied a transfer because of his/her personal beliefs. Since I am not allowed to be a soldier of the Branson Corps, I will not be attending until such time as I can be accepted.

I am extremely grateful to Majors Jeff and Mikey Carter and Major Greg Thompson for looking past this and allowing me to be a soldier of the Newton, Iowa Corps. However, I believe this issue should be addressed.

I am very concerned that this issue will tear The Salvation Army up when it doesn't need to. We have marginalized the LGBT Community far too long. Being bisexual myself, I can only emphasize just how unwelcome this whole action makes me feel at the Branson Corps.

What I would ask of you is that you would countermand [the] decision to deny my transfer to the Branson Corps and allow me to be a soldier there. If, however, you deem this to be unnecessary, I am content to be a soldier of the Newton, Iowa Corps.

With kind regards,
Timothy McPherson

New information!

And so, with this last bit of information, you, the reader, have found out something about myself that I have been reluctant at times to broadcast to the public world: I am bisexual. I did not come to terms with this until this past year in 2015. It had always been a part of my identity, but one that I had been trying unsuccessfully to repress, but that is perhaps a point for another blog.

Do we stand up for an ideology? Do we stand on principle, or do we stand up for people?

In the midst of all this rejection, I have found acceptance and comfort. I have found friends who have come to my side and stood with me, loving me for who I am and for whose I am: a child of God.

I will always love The Salvation Army. I believe in many ways we encapsulate what is best of serving those in need. I think we have lost our way and have decided to marginalize people once again. I, too, have been guilty of that, even as an officer. However, we need to stop being like the learned scholars of Jesus' day.

Love God. Love others. If anything we do goes against that, we are doing something wrong.

My letter seems to have had some effect. I received a text message from the corps officer, stating that the divisional commander wants to meet with me to discuss everything that has been going on.

I am hopeful that something will happen, but also am extremely nervous, given how I have been recently treated.

To be continued . . . 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Um, I felt the Bern.

I'm entering new territory here:  telling you about my experience at a political rally. It's new for me because when I was an officer in The Salvation Army (clergy), I was not allowed to express my views politically through social media. So as a disclaimer, these views here are my own and should in no way reflect those of my family or my denomination. Also, this is mostly talking about my experience at the rally, not necessarily about why you should vote for Bernie Sanders.

This morning I got an email from the Bernie Sanders campaign, stating that he was going to be at a rally on the Missouri State Campus in Springfield, Missouri, which is only about 1 hour north of me. I have never gone on purpose to a political rally before. One was held at my college at Asbury for George H. W. Bush. I remember that being a surreal place where strategically placed people were in the audience, chanting "four more years" at weird moments.

However, this year was different. The email said the doors would open up at 4:00 PM. So I showed up at 3:00 PM. I didn't have a Bernie Sanders pin or shirt, so I wore my shirt from the Christian Left. More than one person asked me if I had started the Christian Left. (I felt that was a very nice compliment, by the way!) The shirt is awesome, too, and has a great message.

Waiting in line, I certainly felt my age. I was one of the oldest people there. Most of them were from the college, but I did meet a retired coast guard sailor. Still, everyone was extremely nice and well-mannered. There were no counter-protests, nobody from the Trump or Cruz campaigns to disrupt the meeting, either. Still, people chatted with me as if they had known me for years. I enjoyed that very much.

I was up in the "mosh pit," in the standing room area, which was closest to the podium. Then we waited. We waited a good, long time. Finally, the event began. Tulsi Gabbard, congresswoman from Hawaii and a veteran of the Iraq War, gave the first introduction, followed by several others.

OK. Yes, this is cheesy. I'll admit it.

Then Bernie Sanders spoke and the crowd went wild. Those of you who know me, know that I normally am not a crowd-follower. When there is corporate worship and people are told to raise their hands, I refuse. So I listened and took notes, applauding when I agreed with what was said.

What did I learn? Bernie Sanders is substantive in his speeches. He covered so many different areas of American life and didn't leave anything out.

This is what he covered:
  • Oligarchy - 1/10% of 1% of our nation has the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%.
  • Economy
  • Our broken criminal justice system
  • The failed Wall Street Bailout
  • Hillary Clinton's speeches, where she earned $225,000 per speech
  • NAFTA, TPP Trade Agreeements
  • Free College Education/Student Loan Crisis
  • Equal Pay for Women
  • Drug Addiction being a mental health problem, not a criminal problem
  • Mental Health and having better access to mental health medication
  • Taking marijuana off of the controlled substance list
  • Improving Immigration Standards and protecting the undocumented who are being used as virtual slave labor here
  • Improving the lives of Native Americans
  • Addressing Climate Change and emphasizing that we humans are the cause of the more devastating effects
  • Our nation's infrastructure is terrible, as evidenced by the Flint Water Crisis
  • Healthcare in the United States is still problematic and needs to be moved to a single-payer system.

I won't go through all of those points, but needless to say, he was quite detailed in how he would approach each issue. (Also, as a side note, there was a wonderful woman, translating American Sign Language for the Hearing Impaired. What was remarkable was this woman only had the use of one hand.)

ASL Translator

However, what impressed me the most about Bernie Sanders, were the things I found out about him that night. Many people are aware of the 4 young girls who were murdered in a church through a bomb in Birmingham, Alabama. This act galvanized the Civil Rights Movement, which Bernie Sanders was a part of then. Bernie said that what was not commonly known, was that this bombing was the 14th bombing that happened in Birmingham. It took that many bombings to happen before people cried "Enough!"

Some of my favorite quotes from the evening:

"Think outside of the box. Think outside of the status quo." - In response to those who say we cannot make such big changes in healthcare, the environment, infrastructure, etc. What is commonplace now (integrated schools and same-sex marriage), was unthinkable several years ago.

"A great nation is judged by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable."

I was tweeting some of these things during the rally. To that last quote, I knew people who were pro-life would raise objections. Bernie Sanders advocates for a woman's right to choose.

My caveat:  I am also pro-life. I do not believe that abortion solves problems; however, in all of the years we have been electing so-called "pro-life" candidates to office, abortion is still legal and is still happening. We need to address why women are resorting to abortions and not make it illegal. In all honesty, are we willing to pay young women's medical costs, education, and other bills while she carries and unwanted pregnancy? More often than not, the poor cannot afford any more children. Once we address that terrible inequality, only then will abortions decrease.

It is to Christian Evangelicals' detriment that they have become a one-issue voting bloc. Just because someone is pro-life, doesn't make them a good politician. I could also say, just because someone is a neurosurgeon or a business mogul, does not make him/her fit to be president, no matter how "pro-life" s/he is.

After the rally was over (and listening to Disco Inferno ad infinitum), we got to meet and greet Bernie and that is where I felt the Bern. (I shook his hand!)