Breaking Salvation Army Tradition, Trading Career for Love

Salvation Army rule forbids officers to marry nonmembers and keep position.

Dec. 7, 2008 — -- One familiar sound during the holidays is the ringing of Salvation Army bells, beckoning passersby to spread good will and compassion for their fellow man.

But for Salvation Army Capt. Johnny Harsh, that same sound signifies quite the opposite. It is the sound of an entire life he will likely be forced to leave behind -- all because he fell in love and found himself in opposition to church doctrine that is nearly a century and a half old.

The Salvation Army, a church established in the 1860s and widely known for its charity work, expressly forbids officers to marry non-officers of the church.

That means that Harsh, after working for the church for 14 years, will have to forfeit his job in order to marry his girlfriend and non-member, Cia.

"This ruling, like a lot of other things in other churches, is a manmade rule," Harsh told "Good Morning America." "God does not look at a Salvation Army uniform."

In the Salvation Army, officers are analogous to clergy in other faiths and, according to church doctrine "must marry another Salvation Army officer or leave his or her officer status."

Harsh knew and obeyed the rule during his 14 years of service, but when his first wife, who was a Salvation Army officer, died earlier this year and he met Cia, he decided to speak up.

"I asked God to bring me a woman who was pretty on the outside and on the inside and that's exactly what God did," he said. "Something needs to change about this and I pray every future officer that loses their spouse doesn't have to endure what I've endured."

In defense of the church's doctrine, which also forbids members from drinking or smoking, Salvation Army Maj. George Hood simply cited the longstanding tradition.

"Well, there's a lot of things that we might do that people think are bizarre or crazy, but you figure for about 145 years we've made it work," he said.

While the Salvation Army has taken no official action against Harsh, he said he expects to be fired next week.

"They want my stuff packed up and taken out," he said.

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