Salvation Army officer suspended over love life

December 11, 2008 2:57:18 PM PST
Captain Johnny Harsh has come under fire for wanting to marry someone from outside the Salvation Army. Harsh was suspended from his Oshkosh, Wis., Salvation Army last week. On Thursday, a board of Salvation Army officers discussed his fate.

The organization is recognized for its holiday bell ringers. Those within the Salvation Army are on a spiritual mission and officers are ordained to live by the Salvation Army's doctrine. Harsh is now struggling with one of the old rules.

The Salvation Army's central territory, which represents 11 states, is headquartered in Des Plaines. Now, board members there are deciding Harsh's fate.

"It is a personnel issue involving one of our officers, and as such, it is being handled confidentially," said Major John Wilkins, The Salvation Army.

Capt. Harsh led the Oshkosh Salvation Army for more than three years before he was suspended for not following orders. He is a widower. His wife, who was also a Salvation Army officer, died suddenly last summer.

"I asked God to bring me a woman who was pretty on the outside and the inside. That's what God did," said Captain Johnny Harsh, suspended officer.

Capt. Harsh now plans to marry Cia, who is not an officer.

"Something needs to change about this. I pray that any future officer losing their spouse doesn't have to endure what I have endured," said Capt. Harsh.

"He is giving up a lot, but we have talked and we're both willing to -- to go through this sacrifice," said Cia, Harsh's Fiance.

The Salvation Army is a church whose officers are only allowed to only marry other officers. The organization ordered Capt. Harsh to have Cia stay at a hotel. Instead, Cia stayed in a guestroom. That decision could cost him his position.

The Salvation Army spokesman at the Central Territory Office is reluctant to discuss anything about the case.

"At this point, I would have to say that really i can't comment on that. It's being handled according to guidelines. And any decisions made would be made at the proper time," said Major Wilkins.

Captain Harsh said he is prepared to take a demotion that would allow him to marry Cia and maintain a position with the Salvation Army. He said the Central Territory board is expected to make a recommendation to his commissioner, who will then make a final decision.


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