Salvation Army Officer, Facing Dismissal Over Marriage Plans, Says Don't Stop Giving

A Wisconsin Salvation Army leader who faces dismissal if he marries outside the organization is asking people not to stop donating to the group during the holiday season.

Capt. Johnny Harsh of Oshkosh, Wis., says he's been receiving letters and e-mails from people angered over the Salvation Army's decision to uphold its long-standing rule that an officer in the agency may marry only another officer.

Harsh was suspended from his position as leader of the Oshkosh Salvation Army after he announced his engagement to a woman he named only as "Cia." Harsh's first wife, Capt. Yalanda "Yoley" Harsh, a Salvation Army officer, died suddenly of a heart attack in June. A few months later Harsh said he met Cia, 56, a nurse, on a Christian online dating Web site.

"I prayed and told the Lord, I can't stand being single. Can you please give me a woman on the outside and inside," said Harsh. He said it was love at first sight. "One word describes her. Wow."

Harsh said the organization's rules regarding marriage are outdated, unfair and must be changed, but he doesn't want his personal situation to harm the Salvation Army.

"I want to tell people, and use the media, to say don't stop giving to the Salvation Army because of this. That would be terrible," Harsh told

The annual Christmas drive, marked by the group's ubiquitous red kettles on street corners, accounts for about 25 percent of the Salvation Army's revenue. Despite a boost in donations on Black Friday last week, overall collections are expected to suffer this year because of the recession.

"[The rules] are not scriptural. They are man-made," Harsh said. "God could care less about the uniform or a position. I am doing this so future officers don't have to go through what I went through."

Harsh, who has worked for the Salvation Army for 14 years, has recruited followers and revived flagging churches around the country. Almost four years ago he was asked to lead the Oshkosh Salvation Army.

Salvation Army Advisory Board member Helen Lord Burr said the agency's rules are the same all over the world. Officers are also made to sign a covenant requiring them to maintain the "doctrines and principles" of the army.

Major Robert Thomson, Salvation Army Divisional Commander for Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, did not return calls for comment. He was quoted as saying that Harsh's situation is "highly confidential."

Harsh will go before a review board on Dec. 11, at which time the Salvation Army will make a decision on his status. Harsh, who receives some of his housing expenses, said he expects he will be told to leave the army.

"I feel that God is sending me out of the church," he said, adding that he wants to start a non-denominational church. "I prayed about it. I think that God answered my prayers."