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Posts for December, 2011

No, the gay community is not boycotting the Salvation Army

A Commentary

Timothy Kincaid

December 1st, 2011

Unlike, say, the Southern Baptist Convention, the widely diverse group of people who fall under the general category of “the gay community” do not have an official spokesman. And, fine as Bil Browing (editor of Bilerico) is, and as committed to our community as he is, he doesn’t speak for anyone but himself – as, indeed, is the true for all of us bloggers.

But to some in the news, a whiff of disagreement between a gay person and a religious group is a news story and so off they have run.

MSNBC: Gay groups boycott Salvation Army red kettle drive
Christian Post: LGBT Groups Boycott Salvation Army’s Red Kettles
And USA Today: Gays, lesbians call for Salvation Army boycott, really gets it wrong:

The gay and lesbian community is calling for a boycott of The Salvation Army and its annual holiday red kettle drive because of the organization’s stance on gay and lesbian relationships, Christian Today, MSNBC and other news organizations are reporting.

Let me first address the facts, the hype, and the conflict.

The facts:

The Salvation Army is a church. It’s a denomination, just like the United Methodist Church or the Assemblies of God. But, unlike those denominations, the Salvation Army is best known for its charity.

And, indeed, the Salvation Army has been focused on the less fortunate since its start in the 19th Century. William Booth’s intention to bring the gospel message to the poor including “alcoholics and prostitutes” was not only a challenge to class and status but a genuine care for the physical needs of those to whom he preached.

The three ‘S’s’ best expressed the way in which the Army administered to the ‘down and outs': first, soup; second, soap; and finally, salvation.

Personally, I find that a church which focuses first on caring for physical necessities and then on social integration and finally on religious conversion has their priorities in order. I would go so far as to say that a good many churches could take a lesson from the Salvation Army.

But, paradoxically, the Salvation Army’s prioritizing has led to criticism by some. As so few churches do place care for the unwealthy unsaved and unloved as their fifth, sixth or eighteenth priority, it comes as a surprise to some that those people calling themselves the Salvation Army are actually a church. But, but, but churches don’t act like that; only non-religious non-profit organizations – or the government – help those in need!

The hype:

And upon finding out that the Salvation Army is a church, many assumed that therefor it must be a right-wing extremist anti-gay church. After all, it’s sneaky: pretending to be a charity like that! And when the Salvation Army responded to questions with theological positions which were not those of, say, the United Church of Christ, such fears were confirmed.

Making matters worse, in 2001 when George W. Bush proposed funding faith-based charities, the Salvation Army requested that the Bush Administration exempt religious charities that receive federal money from local laws that bar anti-gay discrimination. Their concern was based in fear that they would be required to provide domestic partner benefits to their gay employees, something they felt contradicted their religious teaching. Bush ultimately said, “no”.

And thus was created the public image of the Salvation Army as being virulently homophobic. Google “Salvation Army homophobic” and you’ll get over 60,000 responses.

And, as he has in times past, Bil Browning has written to advise his readers to find a better choice for their charity dollars than the Salvation Army.

And the Chicago marxist organization masquerading as a gay group, Gay Liberation Network, has jumped in to and emailed news organizations that they “support the boycott”, thus providing the press with both “an LGBT group” and the b-word.

The conflict.

The Salvation Army is not homophobic. But it has somewhat conservative theology on the matter and has behaved carelessly, if not callously, towards the gay community.

The Church’s theology falls within mainstream Christianity and its teaching on homosexuality is not divergent from that general realm. They do not, as do many conservative evangelical churches, deny sexual orientation or champion ex-gay ministries or even deny membership or positions of leadership to gay people. But, consistent with a significant portion of mainstream Christianity, they believe that gay people should live celibate lives:

The Salvation Army holds a positive view of human sexuality. Where a man and a woman love each other, sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage. However, in the Christian view, sexual intimacy is not essential to a healthy, full, and rich life. Apart from marriage, the scriptural standard is celibacy.

Sexual attraction to the same sex is a matter of profound complexity. Whatever the causes may be, attempts to deny its reality or to marginalize those of a same-sex orientation have not been helpful. The Salvation Army does not consider same-sex orientation blameworthy in itself. Homosexual conduct, like heterosexual conduct, requires individual responsibility and must be guided by the light of scriptural teaching.

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.

Not an embracing position, but not exactly hateful either. And, other than their efforts to protect their own self-interest, the Salvation Army has not been much of a player or – with a few exceptions – actively campaigned against civil equalities or inclusion in the fabric of society. On the scale from SBC to UCC, they are closer to the middle.

And now my recommendation:

People are in need. This economy sucks. If you are able, please give to those who have less than you. However, in giving you have a responsibility. And you have choices.

Bil Browning reports that the Salvation Army discriminates in the providing of services:

I’ve seen the discrimination the Salvation Army preaches first hand. When a former boyfriend and I were homeless, the Salvation Army insisted we break up before they’d offer assistance. We slept on the street instead and declined to break up as they demanded.

Bill’s situation may have been a local policy or it may have been revised since that time, but currently the church has as policy that sexual orientation is not considered in its provision of services. And the church reportedly does not discriminate in the hiring of bell ringers (though its permanent gay employees do not get partner benefits).

However, ultimately, this is a church. And while it invites you to give to help support its charity efforts, once the soup and the soap have been distributed, it will seek to fulfill the third “S”, the one in its name. The charitable efforts of the Salvation Army were never intended to be secular, but rather the distribution of care from Christians to those in need.

So if you do not support the reason they have an S on their crest, “Salvation from sin through Jesus”, or if you believe that their theological teachings are incompatible with your own beliefs, the Salvation Army should not be your first choice for caring for the essential needs of those suffering most in this economy. Perhaps your local Episcopal Church or Lutheran Church has a soup kitchen (many mainline churches have established programs which – while not on the scale of the Salvation Army – do reach their local community). Or perhaps a secular organization is a better fit for you.

But we are not “boycotting”. Generally, boycotts are ineffective and end up with embarrassment in the media. So, while our community does on rare occasion rally together and make a universally accepted purchasing decision (which seems to happen spontaneously), when the gay community boycotts you, you will know it.

Though we are not boycotting, I echo Bil’s call:

Instead of donating to the Salvation Army, choose a different charity that will help everyone without prejudice. Find a local secular charity [or pro-gay religious charity] – or here are some national organizations that provide help to anyone who needs it:

Goodwill (disabled and unemployed)
The Red Cross (medical and emergency relief)
Doctors Without Borders (medical and emergency relief)
Habitat for Humanity (homelessness and housing)

But I add this caveat. Some of you may find that you are less propelled to click the above links, make a pledge, pull out a credit card or send a check. Best of intentions aside, you know you aren’t going to give.

Others might not be able to give much and feel embarrassed to attach their name online to a gift of only give a few dollars. Don’t be. They are delighted to get your two dollars and will put them to good use.

But if you can’t overcome your embarrassment or motivate yourself to make a more socially responsible selection, don’t choose to simply not give. Don’t let someone do without this holiday season because Bil or I have criticism of the Salvation Army. So while we both encourage another choice, if reality says that its the Salvation Army or nothing at all, then drop something into their red buckets.

Because this isn’t about “boycotting”. It isn’t about “punishing the Salvation Army” or demanding that they change their theology. It’s about helping the poor and doing so in the most responsible way we can.