In order for a Christian ministry to be true to the teachings of Jesus, it must see the faces and hear the voices of the damned, the disinherited, the disrespected and the dispossessed.
And such a ministry must not censor or cease its work toward social justice on those people’s behalf when it also sees and hears the voices of the opposition.
On November 1, the Western Corporation of the Salvation Army announced a policy to extend employee benefits to domestic partners, to include a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend, parent or grandparent, or someone living with you as a caregiver. But two weeks later, the Salvation Army rescinded its offer. And it did so in the face of anti-gay zealotry.
In recognition the changing composition of the family, and the moral and ethical imperative to have just laws that protects this change, Col. Phillip D. Needham, chief secretary for the Army’s Western Corporation, headquartered in Long Beach, Calif., stated:
“This decision reflects our concern for the health of our employees and those closest to them, and is made on the basis of strong ethical and moral reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent years.”
Interestingly, had the Salvation Army not rescinded the policy by its Western division, it would have finally brought the Salvation Army into compliance with San Francisco’s Equal Benefits Ordinance.
Domestic partner benefits are becoming a common policy at many workplaces. Statistics now show that the number of employers offering domestic partner benefits has increased by more than 50 percent since 1999, from 2856 to 4337 now. And the number of Fortune 500 companies offering domestic partner benefits has grown from 61 in 1998 to 151 today, more than doubling in the past three years.
However, if you thought the religious right was going to take this lying down, you were sadly mistaken. In fact, a group of conservative Christian leaders, representing such groups as the American Family Association and Focus on the Family, sent a letter of protest to the Salvation Army.
“We are writing to you with utmost urgency regarding the decision by the Salvation Army’s Western Corporation to allow marital-style benefits for homosexual couples,” they wrote. “We implore you to reiterate the Biblical standard for marriage and sexuality by rescinding the policy. Unless you do, the entire church will be put at risk of further pressure from governments to abandon Biblical principle in return for money or even the freedom to operate.”
But just what is the Salvation Army?
It is a Christian organization founded by William Booth (1829-1912) in London in 1865 to perform outreach ministries in poor and distressed areas to fight against poverty and human sin. Its military style represents the Salvation Army’s attempt to create good foot soldiers in its mission to wipe out sin.
Members of the Army are called Salvationists, and women have always been accepted as officers in the Army on equal terms as men.
The Salvation Army Corps is a church within the organization that is established for the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and to do service in the community. Each week a variety of people will meet for worship, fellowship, and musical activities. Its motto “Blood and Fire” refers to the blood of Jesus and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Caught between what it should do in light of the Christian imperative of these times — mandating that LGBT people be afforded the same rights as heterosexuals — and what it feels it cannot do because of an antiquated gender proscription, this 136-year old church and charity fails at its claim that its Army bars no one.
On its web site, the Salvation Army says: “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.”
Leaving biblical passages unexamined in light of a changing world is similar to what Socrates said about an unexamined life: It’s not worth living. The word of God must be alive in us in order for us to have just relationships, not only with God but also with one another in the world.
In order for a Christian ministry, like the Salvation Army, to be true to the teachings of Jesus, it must see the faces and hear the voices of those relegated to the margins.
The Western Corporation of the Salvation Army covers 13 states plus Guam, Micronesia and the Pacific Island. Just think of the number of LGBT people who would have finally benefited from a service that should not have been denied them in the first place.
Salvation is the deliverance from evil and difficulty. But as LGBT people, we can see that this army offers us no salvation.