Those jangling Salvation Army bells get on my nerves sometimes, but that's nothing compared to their effect on the LGBT community. A widely urged boycott of the Red Kettle campaign has probably had some effect already.
Bil Browning made the case on his website a few days before Thanksgiving: "Why you shouldn't donate to the Salvation Army bell ringers." According to Browning, the organization has a dark history of refusing services for people of a different sexual orientation. He himself experienced this years ago when he and a former boyfriend were out on the street: "The Salvation Army insisted we break up before they'd offer assistance." But even worse is the Salvation Army's "record of actively lobbying governments worldwide for anti-gay policies-including an attempt to make consensual gay sex illegal."
The list of examples Browning provides indicates that the Salvation Army has been pushing back against encroachments, not blazing new frontiers in discrimination. At least two of the cases are proactive attempts to protect themselves from having to provide health benefits to same-sex partners or ordain homosexual clergy. But it only takes a few words to slant a point of view.
The Salvation Army's position statement on homosexuality is straightforward and biblical; few Christians, or even nonbelievers, would have raised an eyebrow 50 years ago:
"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."
To many of Browning's readers, clicking through from his website, this is like insisting that gays are called upon to embrace leaky hot-water bottles. It is inconceivable to them that anybody would be saying such things in our supposedly enlightened age. "[The Salvation Army] needs to get with it," wrote one commenter to a Huffington Post article on the subject. "Personal beliefs are one thing, but when they flow out into action against others, I can't go there," wrote another.
Browning doesn't provide any figures, but the organization's own financial report shows most of their contributions going to social services of the kind we're all familiar with: thrift shops, community centers and shelters, soup kitchens, and after-school activities and clubs. The organization also dedicated resources to curbing sex trafficking in the United States and abroad.
The Salvation Army's motto, "Doing the most good," refers to its consistent standing as the charitable organization that devotes the most to service and least to salaries and operating expenses. As one who worked for the local brigade headquarters one summer and holiday season during my college years, I can vouch for that-though they paid a reasonable salary and standard benefits to employees, the officer and cadet corps got less than minimum wage, plus a housing allowance. Their work was not a job but a calling, and a calling usually requires sacrifice. Often it requires taking unpopular positions, too.
It's hard to say how much contributions have been hurt by the unofficial boycott. Giving levels are up in some areas, down in others, which may be more a reflection on the bad economy. But in liberal metros like Portland, Ore., where giving is down as much as 30 percent, the propaganda may be having an effect. That means that fewer needy people, whatever their sexual orientation, will get the immediate help they need, but to gay activists there's a larger principle at stake. But they fail to see that the Salvation Army has its principles as well.
As for me, I'm making an extra effort this year to grit my teeth against those jangling bells, and head for them straight as a beeline with money in hand.