As we are now approaching the holidays, we are getting into a festive mood as well as a charitable mood. And one of the signs of the times is the ringing of the bell by a worker for the Salvation Army. With such ringers all over the place, this charitable organization takes in a goodly amount of money to help those in need. But there has been controversy for this group, so I have had to think about what they do, how well they do it, and at what cost there is to give to them.
First off, as the name ought to imply, the Salvation Army is a religious organization, founded by a Methodist minister William Booth in London. That doesn’t mean much about how well organized they are or the particulars of their theology. But there have been flare-ups from the organization that show it doesn’t conform well to secular needs.
The Week has a good timeline summary of how the Salvation Army has been a retarding force for gay rights. It is apparent that there is not just a bad apple in the US but there are issues all over when it comes to the LGBT community and respect towards it. In New Zealand, 1986, they attempted to stop the decriminalization of homosexuality. This is way beyond opposing the rights of homosexuals to marry, this is wanting to keep a law on the books to punish someone for being gay. Perhaps the law wasn’t as severe as what is apparently going down in Uganda right now, but that is pretty nasty nonetheless. If the law was anything like that in the UK which destroyed Alan Turing, it was an evil piece of legislation. And the Salvation Army supported it. Fortunately, they didn’t hold sway.
But it has been more recent things that have caught the ire of humanists and secularists such as myself. The Salvation Army sought protection via the Bush Administration to ignore state and local laws that would have forced them to hire and pay gays and gay couples the same as heterosexuals and straight couples. More directly in the words of the organization itself coming from it’s handbook that cites Romans 1:18-32 which talks of men deserving death due to homosexuality (one citation of Rom 1:18-32 is under the Problem of Evil and this suggests homosexuality is categorized under human evil). In an interview with a representative of the Salvation Army, the spokesperson stuck to the negative beliefs about homosexuality. A later press release tried to correct how the statements of the representative were interpreted, namely that Salvation Army does not call for the murder of homosexuals. It claims that no physical punishment ought to be administered to homosexuals, thought that sounds different than the support for criminalizing it in New Zealand mentioned above. Also compare to the attempts of the organization to keep discrimination in the law in the UK.
So it is fair to claim that the Salvation Army is a regressive force when it comes to the treatment of homosexuals, sometimes having it called “an unacceptable urge“. Throughout its history and across the Anglo-American world the Salvation Army has tried to discriminate against gays when it comes to hiring and paying benefits due to its religious background.
But is that reason enough to not give to the charity? Does supporting the Salvation Army mean you support their political agenda?
Before going farther, consider how good of a charity we are talking about. Because it is a religious organization and based in the UK, the Salvation Army does not need to open up its books for inspection in the US. This means groups like Charity Navigator do not have an evaluation of the Salvation Army. However, Charity Watch does have some numbers to work with and make an evaluation. From what it looks like, the Salvation Army takes in a huge amount of money (at least in 1996) and it mostly went out to help those in need. Most charities have such a huge amount of overhead that little goes to help those in need and instead pays an army of secretaries and other middle-management personnel. So on that front, the charity is great at being a charity. When it comes to human services, the Salvation Army gets A or A- marks according to Charity Watch. So, if you give a dollar to the Salvation Army, you can be confident that most of that dollar will help someone in need.
However, this isn’t the only charity in town. And seeing how the group is even getting political, let’s look at the options. In the same category of Human Services by Charity Watch, the Red Cross and Farm Aid have equally good or better marks as well as the former YMCA. Charity Navigator also has a significant collection of well-rated charities that help the hungry and homeless. There are also other ways of helping, such as I did in supporting cancer research and for Doctors Without Borders, another well-rated charitable group. And this can be done without having to support a group promoting a regressive theology.
Don’t get me wrong; the Salvation Army does amazing good work in helping those less fortunate. Nonetheless, they need to see that policies that treat gays as second-class people will not endear support to them. If they want to continue to be a great charity, then they will slowly move away from such practices as politicians have been in the US to some degree. Perhaps in a decade this will all be behind us. But for now, I will give elsewhere, especially to the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).