Title: Law Reform: Where does the Salvation Army stand now? Credit: David Parrish Features Thursday 13th July 2006 - 12:00pm1152748800 Article: 1337 Rights
During last weekend's celebration of the 20th anniversary of Homosexual Law Reform, the Salvation Army received a hammering from many glbt activists speaking at anniversary events. Their theme was that the Salvation Army had made a fatal error in judgement in choosing to endorse the petition circulated against Law Reform in 1985-86. A decision from which they may never recoil, a decision that reverberates to this day. Aucklander Keith Hay, of Keith Hay Homes, and Sir Peter Tait, former National and Napier local body politician, launched the petition. At the time, Hay drew the curious analogy between himself and Christ the carpenter. “I'm just a carpenter doing [God's] work,” he loftily claimed. These two Evangelical Christians, founding members of the vehemently anti-Law Reform Coalition of Concerned Citizens, garnered support from anti-Reform members of Parliament, a situation not altogether unexpected by gay and lesbian activists. However, just days after the petition was launched, the Salvation Army announced it would administer the petition, and use its extensive network to circulate it far and wide. It was this decision that really irked the pro-reformers, and has left a bad taste in many gay and lesbian mouths ever since. Fran Wilde, the MP who championed Homosexual Law Reform through Parliament, pulls no punches to this day. At the time, she admits to being “pretty brassed off, actually.” Wilde thought the Sallies should have been “administering to the needy, not getting involved in political issues.” Their impact on the campaign was “huge”, she says, and “I have never given them a cent since and I never will.” Bill Logan, a front man for the Gay Task Force of 1984-86, recounts the day the petition, which supposedly included the signatures of 800,000 New Zealanders, was brought up the steps of Parliament. It was “a surreal American-inspired comic-opera… a truly bizarre spectacle – a tawdry echo of a Nuremberg Rally – which at the same time was both frightening and funny, with its flags and sashes, and military precision.” That day was formative for the gay and lesbian communities, and has informed our attitude to the Sallies ever since. The Sallies were branded in the gay and lesbian communities with the worst epithet imaginable in a post-Holocaust liberal democracy – they were ‘fascist extremists'. Their predecessors and kin were those thousands of Nazis whipped into a frenzy by Adolf Hitler at Nuremberg, half a century prior. History has pinpointed the original Nuremberg Rally as a turning point which led directly to the ‘cleansing' of millions of non-Aryans, including Jews and homosexuals from conquered Europe. You might be hard pressed to find a gay and lesbian activist who would seriously contemplate drawing a direct connection between the Sallies and the Nazis. But, image is everything, and the ‘military precision' and Nationalistic fervour of Wellington's rally at which the Sallies and their cohorts delivered their message provoked this comparison. As things transpired, the rally on the steps of Parliament worked out in favour of pro-Reform activists. “It was a gift to us in the end,” admits Wilde, “because it was so over the top… it was the defining moment in the campaign.” The public was “astonished” by what they witnessed. “It really frightened people,” and public opinion swung in favour of Law Reform. Photographer and journalist David Hindley, activist and media advisor with the Gay Task Force, agrees. “They certainly shot themselves in the foot with a lot of people, in the same way more recently that the Destiny Church did [in opposition to the Civil Union Bill], putting people in black shirts and marching them down the street.” Salvation Army insiders, speaking to on condition of anonymity, agree the decision to become involved was a poor one. “It was a very painful and divisive experience for the Army, as for the rest of the community at the time, and we have paid a price for it ever since,” says one soldier, senior in the Sallies' national movement. There are rumours this division led to separate tearooms within the Army's headquarters, divided along pro- and anti-petition lines. Hindley recalls this division, apparent when activists picketed Sallies' church services. “It was quite strange because while the people at the top of the Salvation Army were saying all these nasty things, and being quite vicious… [when picketing] we found all these charming elderly people would turn up and you realised that they were quite bemused, quite embarrassed by what was going on.” Wilde recalls that “a lot of church people, including Sallies, came up to us and apologised profusely.” So who within the Sallies supported their involvement, and why did they do so? The Army was led by an Australian at the time, Territorial Commander Donald Campbell. He wrote to Wilde explaining his motivation in supporting the petition. “The Army believes the nation must distinguish between homosexual disposition and homosexual acts, between sympathy for an abnormality and condoning overt sexual acts which are in conflict with scriptural standards.” In other words, there could be no social acceptance of the sinful acts of practising homosexuals. Love the sinner, but not the sin. Campbell did not consult widely when taking this decision. The current head of the Army, Territorial Commander Commissioner Garth McKenzie admits that Campbell's decision “was not unanimously endorsed by all Salvation Army leadership at the time, and it did give rise to considerable debate within our movement.” So, has the position of the Army changed since those dark days? Does it support the legal status quo, or does it believe consensual gay sex should be re-criminalized? Certainly, there is ongoing debate within the Army over its position on homosexuality. Currently, the Salvation Army says it “follows the Roman Catholic Church in admitting that homosexual orientation is a fact of life, but insisting that homosexual practice is wrong.” It has decided not to revise a “positional paper” on the subject, but has instead prepared a “discussion document” for circulation among members. The document canvasses a broad range of views, from endorsing the age-old view that homosexual acts are sinful, to an acceptance of sexual orientation as part of creation, as ordained by God. The odd thing is, these two extremes are not seen as being mutually exclusive. Homosexuality may be natural and immutable, while gay sex is still wrong. The Salvation Army's Soldier's Covenant does not refer to homosexuality, but unless married to a person of the opposite sex, a “homosexual soldier or leader would be expected to remain celibate.” So you can be gay, so long as you don't have sex. Is this reasonable? Surely, having sex is a gift to all humanity, not just to straight people? The discussion document takes up this argument. “Some say that an active sex-life is part of a fully human and fulfilled life, and that homosexual people have their needs just as heterosexual people do.” Besides, we're not just talking about sex as a physical act, but as an expression of identity. The Sallies pointedly broach this in their discussion. “Sexual orientation is part of everyone's identity whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. If what we call the person's ‘sin' is who they are, are we saying to the homosexual, ‘You must deny your identity in order to qualify for our love?' How would you feel about this as a gay person?” So the Sallies are asking pertinent questions of their membership – questions that many gay Christians have grappled with. And, yes, the Sallies have retracted their position on the legal status of homosexual acts. As Commissioner McKenzie categorically states: “We do not [now] support the criminalisation of homosexual practice between consenting adults.” Additionally, the Sallies did not oppose the recent law changes that sought to recognise the validity of same-sex relationships. Around one-third of their membership supported the Relationship Recognition Bill, but disagreed with the Civil Union Bill, one-third opposed both bills and one-third supported both bills. This lead to a rather backhanded submission to the Select Committee considering the bills, that the Army “accepted the arguments for the Relationships Act, which removed discrimination against homosexual partners, but urged upon Parliament the importance of supporting and valuing marriage as foundational to society.” The movement has, however, chosen not to allow its officers to conduct civil unions. All in all, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The Sallies are pro-family, anti-discrimination, and won't perform civil unions. They're discussing homosexuality, but if the irreconcilable arguments they canvass in their discussion document are anything to go by, the discussion may never end. Commander McKenzie has, however, apologised to the gay and lesbian communities: “We understand that the Salvation Army's official opposition to the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was deeply hurtful to many, and are distressed that ill-feeling still troubles our relationship with segments of the gay community,” McKenzie said last week in a near-as-dammit apology reported by “We regret any hurt that may remain from that turbulent time and hope to rebuild bridges of understanding and dialogue between our movement and the gay community.” The inference is that bridges must be built from each side of the chasm. But many gay and lesbian activists of the mid-80s believe it was the Sallies that destroyed the bridge, thus it must be the Sallies who rebuild it. “Fear and righteous indignation can be a potent mix,” writes Sallies' Captain Christina Tyson, referring to the 1985-86 campaign. “Christians are supposed to be identified by love… but the message of God's love cannot be heard when the louder Christian message is one of bigotry and intolerance.” An admission of poor judgement, plus an apology for the hurt felt by gays and lesbians, may go someway to healing the rift. But gays and lesbians want to be accepted for who we are, which includes whom we choose to have sex with, and it may be some time before the Sallies resolve their impasse between identity and sex. The Sallies' foray into the Homosexual Law Reform campaign in the mid-80s has left a scar too deep to heal for many gay and lesbian activists of the day. As lesbian activist Alison Laurie said, in addressing the Wellington anniversary celebrations on Sunday evening: “I will never forgive them… despite their wishy-washy apology.” To which the predominantly glbt audience responded with rousing applause. David Parrish - 13th July 2006    
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