If someone had told me a few years ago that I’d be advocating for people to not support the Salvation Army, I would have thought they were crazy. Salvation Army executives wanting gay people dead while the organization only helps a select group of people sounds like the plot to a bad movie; why would I have taken that seriously? Something worse than that would-be movie, though, is the fact that this is actually happening.
The Salvation Army is one of the most recognized charities in the United States. Every holiday season, we see the bell ringers outside of businesses collecting change in pots while he or she shivers in the cold. It’s a regular part of the shopping experience as we rush about to get the presents that we need. When I was a child, I always asked my mom for change so that I could give it to the bell ringers and feel like I did something that made a difference. The difference people are making when they donate to the Salvation Army, though, is only for a select population of people: heterosexual Christians. What a lot of people, myself included until recently, do not realize is that the Salvation Army is actively and institutionally homophobic and works against people in the LGBTQ community.
In 2004, New York City enacted an ordinance that stated companies would have to provide health insurance for gay employees’ partners. The Salvation Army threatened that if it was forced to comply with this law it would shut down all New York City offices and projects. To appease them, Mayor Michael Bloomberg acquiesced and let them operate without offering the healthcare that other businesses were required to provide. The Salvation Army would have abandoned thousands of homeless and needy people just to prove that they are against treating people equally. For a Christian organization, it seems antithetical that they would rather let people go hungry than treat minorities the same way they treat their other employees: with respect.
In 2012, Major Andrew Craibe, a Salvation Army media relations director for the company, implied (at the very least) that gays should be put to death. It’s one thing to hold a city hostage by saying that you’ll abandon the homeless you’re helping because you have to treat people equally, but to say you believe in death for LGBTQ people is just a whole different realm of bigotry. Australian journalist Serena Ryan interviewed Craibe, saying “According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?” Craibe replied, “Well, that’s part of our belief system.” A surprised Ryan asked “So we should die?” and Caibe, ever the perfect media relations director, answered “You know, we have an alignment to the scriptures, but that’s our belief.”
Unfortunately, these aren’t isolated incidents. These are representations of the Salvation Army’s belief system at a corporate level, showing how they feel about homosexuality. What about at a local level? How are people treated when they come in off the street looking for help? Isn’t that what people are really donating their money for?
Mark Oppenheimer ran a 2011 story for the New York Times solely about the Salvation Army turning away people because they are homosexual. While the Salvation Army has denied this, with their culture of discrimination and continued media reports, it’s a slim-to-none chance that people aren’t experiencing that discrimination when they look for help.
This inequality is built into the very structure of the Salvation Army. For this self styled “evangelical part of the universal Christian Church”, the homophobia is literally written into its handbook. Their position statement on LGBTQ individuals reads, ”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.” Telling people that they are not entitled to love another person because of their sexual orientation is degrading and inappropriate. One could argue that they are only staying true to their beliefs, but what if one of their beliefs was not to help African Americans? Or the disabled? Is it appropriate for a tax-exempt organization to discriminate against a certain minority?
Donating to an organization that actively works against LGBTQ rights supports the belief that heterosexual people are worth more than LGBTQ people. For those that believe that people are equal, tossing your coins into the red bucket is in direct contrast to that belief. For those that donate to the Salvation Army, you’re saying that it’s alright to discriminate and to turn needy people away because they are different than the majority. These aren’t the values that Christianity or America should ascribe to. Instead of donating to the Salvation Army, donate to the American Red Cross. If you want to support a smaller organization, there are any number of local shelters that would be grateful for your donation.
Remember that how you choose to spend (and donate) your money shows support for the organization who receives it. Just make sure you’re supporting the right cause. Skip the red buckets and support the idea of an inclusive, non-discriminatory organization that truly wants to help everyone that comes through its doors.