Kris Halliday is a Salvation Army Officer in inner city Melbourne. He’s passionate about serving people at the margins and sharing the love of God. He’s also gay. In this conversation he shares his story of faith, sexuality, and advocating for a more inclusive, imaginative and equitable future for the church. Watch our full conversation in the video below, or read an excerpt from the interview.
To connect with the important work Kris and others are doing to advocate for greater inclusion within The Salvation Army, head to https://www.includedpage.com
Please be aware that this video contains sensitive content that may be triggering if you have experienced bullying or discrimination based on sexual or gender diversity.
So I’m not leaving. I’m not losing my place at the table. I’m not going to stop taking opportunities. And I’m absolutely going to fight to the very end to make sure that everything that I do is geared towards making sure that everybody is welcome at the table.
The below is an adapted excerpt from the conversation that touches on many of the key points. Kris shares in greater detail in the video about some of his particular experiences that are worth listening to if you have the space.
Kris: My name is Kris. I’m a Salvation Army officer. I’ve been in this role for 10 years and before that was employed full time in ministry here in Melbourne with the Salvation Army for about six years. I’ve been involved in one way or another with the Salvation Army since I was about 13 or 14. This is a long term thing for me. I’m currently involved in mission in inner city Melbourne, in Richmond and in Brunswick. Really heavy, low socioeconomic area. I’m also gay, and so that’s something I’m quite passionate about too, not being gay, but actually working to make sure that we have a really inclusive model of church and community in my local context, but also in the Salvation Army. So as part of my overall work or life, I get to spend time with some people involved with the Salvation Army around the world who are on this same path of actually trying to resource and equip and provide a platform to raise our voices and create dialogue for people to really dream: what does it look like to be a fully inclusive, equitable church where all people, regardless of who they’re in love with, can find full life and full service in Jesus?
Will: Such good and important work. Would you identify as a spiritual misfit?
Kris: I haven’t really thought of labelling in that way before, but absolutely love it. I’m claiming it. And to be honest, I would say that by default, that’s probably how I would identify, because so many people over twenty five years now of Christian life and participation in the Church view me as an outsider or someone who doesn’t belong or someone who doesn’t fit. And so by very virtue of what others perceive me to be or the threat that someone like me is perceived to be just by purely being myself, it means that I am definitely a misfit. I’m owning of. I’m claiming it. I’m saying, ‘you know what? Let’s bring all of those misfits together and let them know that they’re loved and all created in the image of God.’
Will: I love that we can take a term that that could be negative and own it as a badge of honour. Because I think that the Church of Jesus should be the ultimate misfits club, right? They were the ones he hung out with. So I’m happy to be doing the same.
Kris: It was the misfits. It was the radicals. It was the people on the edge that Jesus reached out to and spent time with. And they were the ones who loved him, they were the ones who followed him and the ones who sought to live like him. And so he reached out and loved them. They reached back and loved him back. There on the edges, right there on the margins, right there in those places where the people gather that aren’t included and accepted in mainstream faith community. That’s where Jesus was.
Will: Could you give us some snapshots of what the journey has been like of coming out while being a Salvation Army minister?
Kris: I actually first felt my call to be a Salvation Army officer when I was about 14 years old. My parents didn’t want me involved in church, they had some quite bad experiences, I found my own way to the Salvation Army, kind of by default. But actually, my family history was in the Salvation Army and it skipped a generation. So I guess I’ve sort of come back and all of a sudden a whole lot of stuff made sense. Obviously, a little bit later on, I started to explore who I was.
Now I’m a little bit older than you Will, and so things weren’t quite so easy, not to suggest that they are right now, because they’re absolutely not. People still struggle with the coming out experience and with bullying, but things were particularly tough back in the 90s in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. And so I’ev spent a lot of years pushing back against the threats and claims of the bullies. And it wasn’t until I kind of left school that I was able to stop and reflect, and think actually, maybe there is something in this and maybe I am different. Maybe I am not not like these other guys at Epping High. So with that exploration came a real tension because I’ve been brought up in the Salvation Army teaching, which was really clear at that point. You know, the material we used to train young people then said that this was an abomination and that is not godly for people to be same sex attracted. It’s something that had to be suppressed and repressed.
So I was pretty honest at that time. I remember I was on the pathway to being accepted to be a Salvation Army officer, and the question came up, I think I was 18 or 19 at this point, 100 per cent sure of this calling to be an officer or minister still working through the sexuality stuff. And so I was asked, ‘are you gay’? And I said, ‘Look, I think I might be still working this through.’
And the person doing the interview said ‘You will never, ever be a Salvation Army officer.’ ‘There is no room in the Salvation Army for someone like you’.
And so that was devastating. That was a real body blow. I’d been through a whole bunch of stuff until that point.Left school at 15, left home at 15 and there were obviously complex things going on. And what helped me was the space I had in Christ. What helped me was the belonging I had in Christian community and what helped was this idea of something else that had life planned out for me. And then that was pulled away.
So I had a few years in the wilderness, but they were fantastic years. I began to explore what it looked like for me to be open, whole honest as a young, gay man. So it was the the parties and the friendship, new friendship groups and the celebrations. And of course, there were the excesses that come with that. That’s all part of the exploration process. And when you’ve been cut free from your safe space, cut free from your community, told by them you don’t belong as you are – well, of course you go away, somewhere you do belong and you’re free from all of the bonds that held you back.
And then I found myself a few years later. In 2003 I had a really significant spiritual experience, actually, where I felt and heard very clearly for the first time, the voice of God calling me back. God said, quite clearly, ‘I know you. I love you. I’m sorry for what’s happened. Let’s try to come back.’ That was on the shores of Surfers Paradise Beach at about one o’clock in the morning on the Gold Coast. And I just felt this really enveloping love of God and buoyed by the spirit and sought out my old officers and the church I used to go to. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Will: Did you ever have moments where you thought about leaving behind Jesus, faith God, church, all of it? And if not, why not?
Kris: Absolutely. I think it there’s no question about that. In that early time, none of it made sense and it was Christian community that had caused this hurt and this damage. And so you do connect in your mind the Christian community, and Christ. That’s just the way it is, and it is particularly hard to find Christian Fellowship in the form of a community. And so one particularly challenging aspect of that, too, is that in the queer community there’s so much hurt that’s been caused by the church in that context. There’s some great statistics out there to talk about how many LGBTQ people are Christian and still remain so, but have been burned by the church. And so it’s actually really hard to find safe space in that community as a Christian, as equally, it is to find safe space in the church as a gay person. So that was tough. So you do end up pushing it right away. It was probably about two years before I started to really develop prayer again, but everywhere I went, I still carried my Bible. I still read it. I was still interested. I guess there were occasional prayers. There was still a sense of God’s presence, but I just couldn’t dig in because it was so much pain and rejection that came with what all of that meant.
Will: For anyone who’s watching this thinking ‘why the heck has Kris not just left?’ Why continue to advocate for change from within when it’s so exhausting, so painful, potentially costs you so much?
Kris: You’ll be joining the ranks of my closest friends and family and many people that I meet that ask that same question, and I’ll be damned if I’m getting pushed away from my calling. God called me to this place, to this church, to this ministry, it’s what makes sense, and I went looking for other things that might. I was doing this work for a time and I went from disability care and I did some training and promotions and marketing of all the stuff that actually boxes for me in terms of what I enjoy in ministry. And something just didn’t make sense because, you know, this is what I was created for. This is my church. This is my role. This is my calling. And I’ve been called as many thousands of people in the Salvation Army and the broader church through history have been called from the margins to the front lines of the mission field, that’s in our DNA. And no one’s taking that from me.
It was told to me when I was finally accepted to be a Salvation Army officer, which was a few years after the first time, that a person at that panel was really struggling. And he said ‘My biggest concern is if we accept you, there’ll be a split in the Salvation Army. Like there was in the worldwide Anglican Church’, I had to say to him, ‘Major, I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m not ‘the king of the gays’. You know, there’s so much pressure placed on people in this situation. And so I think it’s expected that we’ll buckle under that. But I say absolutely not. No one’s taking my calling from me because I know what it feels like to live outside of your calling.
I thought I could find that in other ways, and I could be ministering in other ways and participating in other ways. But actually, this particular thing is what I was called to. And I’m absolutely sure when I look at the history of the Salvation Army, when I look at the history of the church, when I look in the Gospels and see who Jesus was called to and who he hung out with and what he did for those people who were otherwise excluded, I am sure that that’s what I’m called to and what our church is called to, and particularly what the Salvation Army’s called to.
I’ve lost a lot of friends and I will say it’s quite challenging because I’ve lost a lot of good allies, heterosexual, cisgender people who can’t stand by the Salvation Army’s position on sexuality and same sex relationships. And so lately, that’s really challenging to think that my friends are leaving. Shouldn’t I be leaving? Should I feel like a bit of a traitor or hypocrite? But again, this is where I belong, and I’m sure that at its very best and at its most inclusive when everybody is welcome and everybody has equity and everybody has a place at the table, that everybody can be whoever they are going to be in our particular branch of the church, I’m sure our movement is going to be better for it, and I’m sure we’re going to see lives transformed like never before. And we do. You know, I’ve been to Salvation Army churches in Amsterdam and here in Melbourne City and around Australia, and I’ve seen those places where everybody is welcome and everybody is included as they are, and they are thriving. They are bucking the trend of the church in the global north, and they are growing and they are thriving because they’re including people as they are and allowing people to serve and worship as they are without having to hide, without having to compartmentalise. So I’m not leaving. I’m not losing my place at the table. I’m not going to stop taking opportunities. And I’m absolutely going to fight to the very end to make sure that everything that I do is geared towards making sure that everybody is welcome at the table.
Will: I love it, Kris.
Kris: And I thought that was a really long answer.
Will: Well, you have the right to that long answer. That was fire. That was the best sermon I’ve heard preached in years. I think as well, every time somebody feels forced to leave or leaves for very good reasons, it’s like the people that have hijacked the story get to win. They get to tell it. And I wouldn’t expect of anybody that they would put themselves in a position that can be so difficult and exhausting. But I also think, wait, how come those other people get to own the story? It doesn’t work like that. We get the right to to have a say in what the Jesus story is about just as much as anybody else.
Kris: And I just want to be really clear on that, too. It is hard. And so I’m not saying that everybody should stick around because they’re being abused or accept being oppressed. It’s hard. It comes with a real life cost, and I’ve seen colleagues burn out as a result. So if it’s too much, you’ve got to step aside and you’ve got to seek support and you’ve got to find balance, of course. But if you’re able to stick it out exactly as you’re saying, no one can take away our calling. No one can take away our covenant and no one else gets to own our story.