How I Defeated the Salvation Army
by Chen Chapman
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I come from a long line of variously-striped Bible thumpers, peppered with a few (all male except for myself, notably) slightly advanced fish in our little gene pool.
The denominational range includes Progressive Baptists, Charismatics, and the most determined Christian species of all, Salvationists.
The Progressive Baptists gave up on my soul rather quickly because I was just too thorny a questioner in my youth and considered not truly worth the disruption of Wednesday night suppers, Sunday school or Youth Group. They seem to want God to be kinda fun, kinda light and certainly more about social events than theological analysis. Intellectual discos for tee-totaling virgins, maybe: The colored windows are way cool and I feel really groovy just swayin’ to the beat of Jesus’s heart. Don’t think, just feeeeel the loooove! By age 14, I was solidly outta there. And we were all happy about that.
The Charismatics just frankly think I’m a Satanist (on what basis, I’m unsure) and should be avoided where at all possible. This is OK with me; I think Charismatics display most of the classic signs of Demonic possession themselves, or psychosis, whichever is really applicable (agnostically not knowin’ n’ all), and I do my level best to return that favor. They frighten me with their tongue-talking and glassy-eyed intense stares; get ‘em dirty and put ‘em on a park bench with a paper bag and there you have it. And NO, I do not have a dollar.
But the Salvationists, bless their concerned little hearts, had a mighty hard time giving up the quest to save me.
Occupying most of an entire branch of the family tree is a completely female assemblage of Salvationist Grandma, Aunts and Cousins The True Current Reigning Matriarch of which is my Aunt Jane (not her real name). Jane is a MAJOR in the Salvation Army (yes, they really do have rank, just like in the secular military), responsible for the administrative and spiritual concerns of the Army throughout a couple of large rural southern counties. In addition to being the Preacher, she also oversees the operation of the Thrift Stores, Youth Camps, Food Bank, Christmas Angel Trees (toy drives), Bell-ringers, etc.
I have to credit her with the enormous amount of dedication and hard work she has and continues to put into these efforts. However, as it’s The Salvation ARMY she’s working for, to save an errant soul such as myself is a MISSION. And as for Jane, so it is with most of my rank-and-file Salvationist relatives beneath her.
Since my childhood, I have been subjected to lectures, pleas, pamphlets, summer camp, ad nauseum all in an effort to bring me into the fold. At around 11 or so, I began to actually think about things theologistic and the real fun began. Every family gathering for the next 10 years culminated in some near-scene wherein I repeatedly would point out, in some language or another, that I did not feel a need to be saved, as I did not find myself to be drowning. But I would call as soon as I felt myself slipping under, Thank You Very Much.
At 21, I left my hometown to live in Boston, so my contact with that branch was more limited and therefore more peaceful for the next several years, although their efforts did not cease altogether…until…
When I was about 26, my Aunt attended a Salvation Army Conference in Boston. While she was in town, she called and asked me to have dinner with her. With a great big silent sigh, wishing I had a god to pray to to make it go away, I agreed to meet after all, she is family. So like a good southern girl, I went.
Dinner moved along as dinners do between near-stranger relatives for awhile (time, distance and philosophy has prevented us from ever being close), until, inevitably, the subject of my potential for spending all eternity in Hell came up. I listened quietly until she had seemingly exhausted her supply of rhetoric (it’s not too shabby, really - she’s bright enough to make Major, after all), and suddenly (oooh maybe there is an AGNOSTIC GOD …if so, THANK YOU) a light came on in my head. The rest of the conversation went something like this:
ME: Jane, I really appreciate your caring, but I’ve given the matter a lot of thought and just don’t feel it’s possible for me to define something like “GOD”. Or Satan, for that matter.
And while Jesus had a lot of really important things to say, philosophically, if I can’t define God, then how can I accept him as the Son of God?
Listen, I respect that you have received the DIVINE TAP, but that just simply isn’t the case for me.
JANE: Well, if you would just give your heart to Him…
ME: (THIS IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE END TO THE ARGUMENT EVER):
Listen let’s assume for a minute that you are correct: There is a God, He is the God of the (your) Bible, and Jesus is His Son and savior to all mankind. And I’m just unable to feel the truth or justify it in my own heart and mind.
Do I LIE to GOD, just to be on the safe side? Would God as you know him appreciate a LIE? Would I not be a complete fool to think I could bamboozle God on the chance that I might not go to Hell?
JANE: Well…ah…no. I don’t think you can lie to God. Hmm. I see you’ve really thought about this.
ME: Yes I really, really have.
JANE: Okay, then.
Since that conversation, now nearly 12 years gone, not only has she cut it out, but so has the rest of the clan. I have since returned to live in my hometown, I see them at all major holidays and the like, and no one tries to save me anymore. It seems that the implications of lying to God are enough strangle the argument right out of them.
In fact, I get a strange kind of respect now. Just lately, I received high compliments regarding my life, behavior and parenting, all prefaced by “Even though you don’t believe as we do…” And of course, I never ever tell them to see it my way.
So there you have it, one (wo)man can indeed defeat an army even The Salvation Army. Or at least a battalion.
- Yes, I do believe that Jesus the Popular Guy existed. For you doubters, see responses to Meditation #38 by Mark Crane.