01 September, 2012

The Secrets of The Salvation Army

For a good 7 years of my life, I was a part of The Salvation Army Asian American Corps in San Francisco, California.  Church, God, and Christ became a center or SUPPOSEDLY became a center of my life during that time.  I've blogged in the past about my time with them on my original Faith Entry.

Let's face it, for the most part all families are dysfunctional.  (Best case scenario: quirky; worse case: criminally dysfunctional) This church family is no different.  It's just that there's no "father/mother" dynamic, but more of a "pastor/pastor" one in place.  (One of the requirements of The Salvation Army pastors aka "Corps Officers" is that both parties to the marriage must enter the ministry.  In other words, if a husband felt a "calling," the wife must enter ministry training too along with him.  It's somewhat progressive in a sense cause the wife does have equal title and position, but not progressive because what if the wife felt another occupation was her calling?  Refer to this cause I'm going to go back to this.)

I've already shared a lot of the criticism I received from various key members of this organization on the aforementioned blog entry,  and some of their "quirks," but it seems like the quirks are ever expanding.

When I "officially" left at the end of 2001, there were a lot of whispers and speculation of where I was going to end up.  I left a message on the end of my letter acknowledging them as my "1st church family," and that I leave "with no ill-will towards anyone."  When I received a message from the Territorial Director of Program that I "fell short of the higher standard of Christ," I suspected that though I share no ill-will, the opposite may not be true.  That was confirmed when I learned that I was a center topic of discussion shortly after my departure amongst my previous study group.  Now of course my study group was going to discuss my departure, it's just that the added twist was the attendance of the Corps Officers themselves.  That's when I learned that the officer commented with a sarcastic tone that he "hopes I find what I'm looking for."

Now that I've been studying and learning about New Thought Practical Christianity, I feel a breath of fresh air and a sense of freedom, however I also am aware that there still lies an emotional bondage I developed as a result of my time with SA.  Slowly and surely, those layers are thankfully coming off.  Gone is the need to inquire about whether or not a business person is a Christian before conducting a transaction with them.  In fact I recall that it was "a good idea" to use those who advertise on KFAX. (A Christian talk show station) So after following suit I learned the hard way that just because a business declares their Christian belief, that doesn't necessarily means their business practices are "Christ-like." 

Now another aspect of The Salvation Army is their propensity to assign the corps officers to different assignments.  They nickname this procedure as "the move."  This is when around the month of May corps officers learn if they're going to be re-assigned to another location.  Having visited a corps with several different officers in charge within a seven year period, one should not be surprised at the general surface small talk, lack of a connection mentality amongst the congregants.  Having visited a "final service" of a corps officer who was being "moved," what I witness was not an encouraging sight.

When a corps officer couple went through a divorce, the husband adamantly wanted to remain as the corps officer.  Because of the divorce, not only did he lose his position, he lost his other benefits as well.  It was believed that they were not "truly called" as corps officer since they could not hold their marriage.  Eventually the Army "rehired" the husband as an "Envoy" (not full benefits as an officer) since they were short-handed finding officers.

I also shared an experience where I was openly criticized about my "quiet time."  That's a time which consist of anywhere between 10 minutes to up to 120 minutes of Bible reading/studying and personal prayer time.  Upon my return and learning about "quiet time," I often closed my day before bedtime.  After an incident involving myself, I was accused of not having a "quiet time" otherwise the incident wouldn't have occurred.  I was then grilled on what I did and how I performed my "quiet time."  When they learned that I did so at the end of the day, they concluded that the incident occurred because I did not conduct that time in the morning.  Eventually my quiet times became less and less.

Our Sunday school instructor was the brother in law of the then corps officers.  He often interject his opinion on how "sinful" it was to not honor the boycott of Disney.  (This was during the Ellen De Generes controversy) Ironically enough, The Salvation Army was sponsoring a Salvation Army Day at Disneyland.  He was also the same one who linked any struggle that the male congregants experienced to whether or not they attended an annual event called The Promise Keepers.  The Promise Keepers was an all male Christian outdoor rally.  If they struggled and did not attend, that's where the problem lies.  If they struggled and did attend, they needed to make a commitment to register for the next one.  It should not be surprising that one of the number one "struggle" within those who attended regularly were sexual and pornographic in nature.  That aspect was so repressed so deep. Sadly, the single male members were singled out or "profiled" as being the highest "at risk" for such struggles. 

When I was "baptized" into the Corps, it was really a "swearing-in" and a document signing ceremony.  There was no water involved.  The document itself included The Salvation Army's Articles of Faith.  It also included a list of "I commit to..."  One of them included an "I commit to abstaining from smoking, alcoholic beverage, and non-prescription drug consumption."  So based on that declaration of commitment, drug-addiction within The Salvation Army is avoided right?  Well, remember the key word(s) here are "NON-PRESCRIPTION" drug use.  There's no problem as long as the doctor makes a prescription.  So even though there were incidents of Corps officers who were abusing their prescription pain-killers, there was technically no problem since the doctor prescribed them.

Lastly, as a member of the Summer Service Corps program, I came and met a number of those who were openly recruited to become Corps officers in training.  I'll admit even I once considered the possibility.  Let me explain what Summer Service Corps is.  During summer academic break, college age and young adults are recruited for a 6-8 week program to serve on behalf of The Salvation Army in a ministry, in most cases overseas.  It's basically a summer mission.  It's also a way to recruit for new corps officers.  A territory would send 4-6 teams to different assignments.  All teams report to the Territory center for orientation.  (In my case, we were part of the Western Territory, located in Palos Verdes, California)  I met quite a few people during that summer (1997)  I even reconnected with some of them via Facebook in the past few years.  Recently I learned that one of them whom I met through the orientation and the "debriefing session" (we served on different assigned teams) was suffering from substance abuse and suicidal tendency.  Upon further inquiry, this person suffered from PTSS that was incurred during her assignment when we served in 97.  The traumatic event she encountered was coming upon the levels of abuse the officer to whom she reported to during her assignment was committing.  (Physical, sexual, and emotional)  I don't know if she personally received that abuse or was a witness to it.  If you think that the Catholic Church was guilty of scandals, then I'm sure The Salvation Army comes a very close second.

So why letting all of this come out now?  Part of it is simply "housecleaning" for me.  Tired of keeping all of this inside and not moving forward.  Another reason is because of recent events coming to light.  One of the former members whom I maintained contact with over the years was allegedly involved in a criminal investigation and mysteriously disappeared. 

In dealing with the emotional abuse that I tolerated from this organization during my 7 years with them, I accept my responsibility of my part in it.  As an institution who's public image is based on supposed "Christian qualities" and public perception, it's time to clean up and take a closer look in the mirror before condemning others.  It's not so easy to practice what you preach after all.  Stop sweeping the dirt under the rug and pretend that the dirt doesn't exist.  When I spent time with the Territory Program Director back in '97, I was surprised and baffled when he mentioned to me of all the pending lawsuits against them.

Now I'm not as surprised.


No comments:

Post a Comment