Bell Ringers and Gays

There is a campaign underway to get people to boycott Salvation Army bell ringers because the Salvation Army allegedly “discriminates” against gay and lesbian people in that they teach that homosexuality is a sin and openly LGBT individuals are not eligible for charity from the Salvation Army. As a long time advocate for and ally of the LGBT community, I have something to say about this.

It’s arrogant, short-sighted, and plain wrong to advocate for a boycott of Salvation Army bell ringers because you disagree with their position on LGBT issues.

Let’s take a moment and try to look at the facts objectively. The Salvation Army is a religious organization and as such is exempt from discrimination laws. Mind you, they aren’t my kind of religious organization and I don’t agree with many of their beliefs – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a religious organization. Moreover, they are a religious organization that has a long history of doing important work for homeless and addicted people. Are they perfect? Of course not, no organization is perfect. Do I believe they should change their teachings on sexual orientation? Of course I do, as I believe every Church – including the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the WELS, the LCMS, the ELCA, the Assembly of God, COGIC, the United Methodist Church, and every other Church suffering from ignorance around sexual orientation needs to do. What we are really talking about isn’t sexual orientation, it’s homelessness.

Now, the percentage of the population at large that is LGBT is estimated at ten percent.  Assuming for a moment that ten percent of the homeless population is LGBT РI do not believe there is any way to measure that claim* Рthen it would mean that ninety percent of the homeless population would be eligible to receive assistance from the Salvation Army. What those advocating a boycott of the Salvation Army bell ringers are really saying is that if LGBT homeless people cannot receive assistance from the Salvation Army then nobody should receive assistance from them. That is a morally reprehensible position.

If it was true that there are no other agencies providing homeless services to the LGBT population, this argument might hold some water. The truth is, however, that the Metropolitan Community Church, or MCC, has a vibrant homeless ministry that – like the denomination – is of, by, and for the LGBT Community. They directly serve LGBT homeless folk and while they do not to my knowledge reject non-LGBT people who might seek services their services are not targeted to the heterosexual population. Are we to advocate a boycott of contributions to MCC on the basis of discrimination? Of course not.

One of the realities that all of us have to face throughout our lives as we strive to grow spiritually is that life isn’t all about us. The spiritual life is about reigning in our out of control egos. It’s perfectly fine to advocate for equality, it’s perfectly fine to fight for full inclusion, but it simply isn’t realistic to believe that if we can’t go to a party the party shouldn’t be held. It’s profoundly irresponsible to urge a boycott of contributions to a religious organization that does important work because they won’t serve me when there are alternative religious and secular agencies that will.

Stated bluntly, nobody should have to freeze to death because you don’t like the Salvation Army’s doctrine. Thinking that they should makes you a narcissist, and that’s not at all becoming.


* It is believed that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT due to family rejection issues.

One thought on “Bell Ringers and Gays

  1. We had this issue at my church when it came to Red Cross blood drives. As a Welcoming Congregation, we had a spirited debate, with strong feelings on both sides, regarding whether holding blood drives violate our principles because the Red Cross would not accept blood from men who had had sex with other men. What we ended up with was a bad compromise, in which our church stopped holding Red Cross blood drives, and put together a list of other places where people could give if they so chose. Really nowhere on the issue. My view was that it was irresponsible to boycott the Red Cross over the position. The only way a boycott works is if you disrupt an organization’s operations, and do we really want to disrupt the supply of life saving blood to people who are dying? (Including homosexuals, as they do not discriminate on who gets the blood.) Beyond that, as it is not the Red Cross’s policy anyway, but a national law, I thought a more effective way to voice our opinion would be to combine the blood drive with an awareness and letter-writing campaign that had some chance of having some kind of actual policy changing effect. A lot of times I do think that a cosmetic solution ends up being chosen over a more substantive response. My dad left a bad family situation at age 14 and bummed around the country and was often fed by the Salvation Army.

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