Salvation Army

Salvation Army or not to boycott?
December 2, 2011 By Joe Perez

I am joining other leaders in the LGBT community in calling for a boycott of the Salvation Army during this holiday season, but I want to add an important qualification.

Join in a boycott of donating to the fundamentalist Christian organization during the holiday season IF you do so as an intentional practice of ethics that arises from your Unique Self. That is to say, boycott if it is the way you can most beautifully and splendidly express your inner divinity out in the world.

And if a different impulse of Love arises from your perspective on the world which leads you to make a different choice, I want to respect and even applaud that impulse as well. There is no one-size-fits-all response to the Salvation Army’s red kettle.

The fundamentalist religious organization needs to hear the message that if they are going to support discrimination and gays and lesbians, there is a price to pay. But it will hear this message no matter what you or I do, as there are already thousands of individuals committed to boycotting the organization.

The choice you and I make could be one of following the hordes who donate or the hordes who boycott based on spiritual beliefs or ideological principles, or we can choose based on doing what comes naturally to us when we act out of our Unique Self.

The Salvation Army has a prominent presence at public locations such as shopping malls during the holiday season, riging bells and soliciting donations intended for charitable causes. You probably know the ideological rationale for not giving them money. If you don’t, Bil Browning of Bilerco gives a run-down of the organization’s shortcomings, which have included lobbying campaigns worldwide to make consensual same-sex relations illegal:

The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they’re "sexually impure."

The church claims it holds "a positive view of human sexuality," but then clarifies that "sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage." The Salvation Army doesn’t believe that gays and lesbians should ever know the intimacy of anyloving relationship, instead teaching that "Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life."

On its webpage, the group claims that "the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation." While the words are nice, their actions speak volumes. They blatantly ignore the position statement and deny LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services "open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline." In other words, if you’re gay or lesbian, you don’t qualify.

For Christians, charity begins with recognizing the dignity of other human beings as created in the image of God; at higher degrees of consciousness it can include identification with Love itself, and a felt sense of being one with all beings through Christ. There is no charity in the Salvation Army’s prejudiced decrees and harmful, disrespectful acts.

Personally, my challenge to myself this holiday season in living my Unique Self is to not hold judgments the bell-ringers outside the grocery store or Westlake Center, or even towards the fundamentalist leaders of the organization. I do not believe they are bad people. I do not believe they hate gays. I believe they are ME.

My encounter with them is an opportunity for me to practice compassion towards any part of my Self that I have dis-owned — any part that is unkind, judgmental, failing to recognize the dignity of others, or holds judgments about homosexual persons or behaviors — and to practice love towards all Christian fundamentalists and enemies of gay rights.

My hero Jesus taught:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).

I will remember the days when I did not accept my own sexuality because I had accepted the teachings handed down to me that it was wrong, unnatural, disgusting, unmanly, weak, and perverse … owning those days of my spiritual childhood, I can look on the persons representing the Salvation Army bell-ringers as like to children. And if I start to feel arrogant in doing so, I will practice my belief that we are all one in Christ … and therefore I, too, am child-like and innocent in turn.

Forgiveness is perhaps the most important spiritual practice of them all. That’s why in a holiday season devoted to spiritual principles, thinking about having to boycott a bunch of Christian do-gooders who are volunteering their time out on a cold wintry night to help the unfortunate seems somewhat cold and unforgiving, even when the boycott is done with the best of intentions.

If I can boycott a sweet old lady reaching out for a few coins on Christmas Eve is really my best and highest expression of divinity in the moment, I will boycott. And be sure to donate even more to charity than I would have done otherwise.

But if forgiveness leads me to overlook my ideological aversion to the Salvation Army’s homophobia, at least for a few moments, then if I do not donate at the very least I may offer a heart-felt "I love you and have a Merry Christmas" to the volunteers.

And if I am walking down the street with a friend who donates to the Salvation Army, I will explain my opposition to their discriminatory policies, but I will not think less of my friend.