They’re a staple of holiday shopping, as ubiquitous as Muzak carols and endlessly repeating “one day” sales: Salvation Army bell ringers stationed just outside store doors, playing on Christmas spirit (and perhaps a little consumer guilt) to get you to drop a few dollars into their ever-present red kettles.
It would merely be a sweet charitable tradition, except that the Salvation Army is no mere charity.
The organization, which conducts numerous programs to aid the poor and others in need, is a militaristic church — a church that does not accept gay people unless we never act on our desire for love and intimacy.
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.
“The Salvation Army believes … that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life,” reads the Army’s position statement on homosexuality. “There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.”
In that respect, the Salvation Army is no different than other conservative religious faiths. If the Pope stood out in front of the mall ringing a bell, would you give him money?
For an increasing number of LGBT people, the answer is “no.” For at least the last decade, activists have mounted campaigns to encourage people to walk right past those red kettles — or even drop in a note objecting to the Army’s beliefs.
The efforts have waxed and waned through the years, hitting a high in 2001 — the year the Washington Post exposed the Salvation Army’s attempt to get the Bush administration to exempt religious groups from state and local laws that banned job discrimination based on sexual orientation. In return, the Salvation Army would support Bush’s faith-based initiative. The White House eventually declined, ABC News reported at the time.
But LGBT activists never forgot.
Bil Browning, editor of the LGBT blog Bilerico Project, led this year’s charge against the Salvation Army with a Nov. 21 post.
Browning urged holiday donors to pick more inclusive charities, listing Goodwill, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and Habitat for Humanity. He also directly disputed the Salvation Army’s claim that it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation when providing services to those in need.
“I’ve seen the discrimination the Salvation Army preaches first hand,” Browning wrote. “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.”
The issue caught the attention of the national mainstream press. Articles at MSNBC.com and USA Today were then cited in multiple other outlets, from smaller news sites to Christian blogs.
Even with all the publicity, it’s unlikely that shunning from LGBT donors will cause the Salvation Army to change its position on “homosexuality.” The church is not yet engaged in the kinds of internal discussions over sexual orientation that have led to policy revisions in more mainstream denominations like the Presbyterian Church USA, which changed its rules to allow gay clergy to live in committed same-sex relationships.
So why not avoid looking like a Scrooge to other shoppers and toss a few coins in the bucket?
The answer is because, while your change may not change the Salvation Army, it could add up to big changes for smaller charities — especially those that support LGBT issues.
Imagine if you donated $1 every time you passed one of those red kettles this month. Would it add up to $10, $20, $50? Then take that money and give it directly to an organization that accepts you, fully.
If you want to expand your giving beyond just groups working directly on LGBT issues, but also want to be sure you aren’t inadvertently financing bigotry, check out all of the groups that are part of Georgia Shares (georgiashares.org). Each is dedicated to social justice in our state.
Gay people can now serve openly in the U.S. Army, but they are still banned in the Salvation Army.