An Open Letter to the Salvation Army

Just a reminder to think twice before giving your change to the Christian, anti-gay Salvation Army this holiday season.

It was written (PDF) by an anonymous reader of this site:

To whom it may concern,

The Salvation Army, a Christian organization, states that intimate homosexual acts are forbidden:

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.

The Salvation Army also states:

The Salvation Army believes that God’s will for the expression of sexual intimacy is revealed in the Bible, and that living fully in accordance with biblical standards calls for chastity outside of heterosexual marriage…

Such Bible-based beliefs about same-sex relationships are archaic, amoral, demeaning, errant, insufferable, repulsive, and unsubstantiated. These base views oil the slippery slope of exclusion, hatred, bigotry, suffering, bullying, gay-bashing, and, eventually, murder. It is long past time to change.

Arguments in defense of Christianity’s views, written by a Christian in response to the previous paragraph, read as follows:

  1. Inclusion. Christians promote their inclusiveness by mentioning that all non-procreative sex is a sin, not just the sex acts performed by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgendered individuals.
  2. Superiority. Christians think that homosexuals should be allowed civil unions, but not marriage, and that heterosexuals are not superior to homosexuals.
  3. Acceptance. Christians preach love and acceptance; they emphasize that homosexuals are accepted for who they are, as long as they refrain from sin.

Let us examine these statements, starting with acceptance.

On Acceptance. The word acceptance is defined as follows:

  • i. A person’s agreement to experience a situation, to follow a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit.
  • ii. The act of accepting; a receiving of something offered, with approbation, satisfaction, or acquiescence.

By calling upon same-sex Christians to “embrace celibacy,” the Salvation Army has attempted to change the behaviour of homosexuals. Informally, accepting something means to do so without attempting to change it. The Salvation Army Christians, therefore, do not preach acceptance; they preach conditional acceptance, which is much different.

On Superiority. The word equal is defined as follows:

  • i. The same in all respects.
  • ii. Like or alike in quantity, degree, value; of the same rank, ability, or merit.

The Salvation Army maintains that there is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to heterosexual marriage. If no same-sex unions are “equal to” heterosexual marriage, then same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages are somehow unequal — they differ in value, ability, or merit. Had the Salvation Army simply stated that same-sex unions are not supported by scripture, there could be no argument. Using the word equal suggests relative values. The Salvation Army Christians imply that heterosexual marriage is more valuable than homosexual unions, which is a judgement from superiority.

On Inclusion. In their presentation, Marriage and the Recognition of Same-Sex Unions, the Salvation Army defines marriage as having the following characteristics:

  • Covenanting of one man and one woman, thus intrinsically heterosexual.
  • A voluntary union of faithfulness, mutal affection, respect, and support.
  • Socially indispensable environment for nurturing children.
  • A benefit to both partners and to society as a whole.
  • Respect and understanding of the sexes is passed on to succeeding generations.
  • Mutual comfort, where sexual intimacy may be expressed within a secure and trusting environment.

Excepting the first, the Salvation Army correctly anticipated that people will assert that these characteristics also apply to same-sex couples. In the same presentation, the Salvation Army claims it “does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the delivery of its services.” Yet challenging the legitimacy of same-sex marriage because same-sex couples cannot procreate like heterosexuals do is, at its core, sexual discrimination. (The Salvation Army maintains there are important theological, philosophical, historical, social, legal, cultural, and anthropological reasons to keep marriage a heterosexual union. No supporting evidence is given, only conjecture.) While Christians promote their inclusiveness, the Salvation Army Christians advocate discrimination, which is exclusionary.

It is disdainfully ironic that the Salvation Army’s religious agenda regarding same-sex marriage and homosexual acts abets condemnation, superiority, and exclusivity.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • C.W. Kent

    Very good article.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I agree with the general thrust of this article, and for the call to not donate to them in any manner. The Salvation Army’s written policies are filled with doublespeak, self-contradiction, and hypocrisy. These are the kind of things I have often heard from people who try to claim moral authority over others with nothing to support their claim except their own assertions.

    BUT the anonymous writer has left one important part of his/her own argument unsupported:

    Arguments in defense of Christianity’s views, written by a Christian in response to the previous paragraph, read as follows:

    “A Christian”? Who? Which one of the 2.1 billion Christians who, I’ve heard, hang around here?

    Yes, I’ve heard Christians use the three listed arguments. I’ve also heard other Christians partially or completely disagree with those arguments, in every direction the arguments could go. It sounds like the article writer is implying that this particular Christian speaks for all Christians, or at least for the Salvation Army.  Does the unnamed Christian have some kind of credible authority to speak for the Salvation Army?

    Citation needed.

    In building a persuasive argument, craftsmanship is extremely important. Be careful to avoid doing the very same kind of tactics that you are objecting to in others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-J-Spart/1414300126 Matthew J. Spart

    Not to nitpick, but you might list some secular charities as alternatives to the Salivation Army [sic]. Granted, they might not be ringing those damned bells outside of the box stores, but it would be nice for us to get our donations to the needy via other channels.

  • Guest

    I discouraged my workplace this year actively from donating to the Salvatory Army. at least the official company is not donating to this organization. 

  • Jeannebeanie1

    While shopping on Black Friday I entered at Normans Hallmark store in PA.  There was a 25% off sales ONLY if you pay $2.99 for a ‘holiday bell’ to wear around your neck and $1 goes to the SA.  I walked out….these Hallmark stores seem overly Christian to me.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if it’s a corporate thing with Hallmark, but I do know that the franchisees tend to be little old (or middle-aged) Christian women. Plenty of the non-Hallmark merchandise is overtly religious.

  • http://babasyzygy.myopenid.com/ Todd Masco

    This is a great place to plug Foundation Beyond Belief ( http://www.foundationbeyondbelief.com/ ), IMO.

  • TychaBrahe

    The Red Cross provide disaster relief: http://www.redcross.org

    The Ali Fourney center provides services to homeless gay youth: http://www.aliforneycenter.org/

    Bet Tzedek (The House of Justice) provides legal services to low income people in Southern California: www.bettzedek.org

    Beyond that, look for your local food bank and crisis shelter.  I’m sure your local police or fire department knows who helps the needy.

    And, frankly, since religious people see charity as a ministry, seek advice from members of gay- and atheist-friendly religious groups, such as Reformed Jewish synagogues and Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ Congregationalist churches.

    • Rosemary

      The story told recently on Daylight Atheism (Adam Lee’s site) suggests that the leadership of the Unitarian Universalists may not be atheist-friendly at all. http://bigthink.com/ideas/41021?page=all

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Salvation Army marriage weirdness extends beyond same sex:

    Salvation Army officer suspended over love life

    OSHKOSH, Wis. (WLS) —
    Captain Johnny Harsh has come under fire for wanting to marry someone from outside the Salvation Army…

    Several points here:

    1) The Salvation Army is a religious sect, not a secular charity.
    2) They do not allow members to marry outside the sect.
    3) Captain Johnny Harsh is a way cool name.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      I wouldn’t call them a “sect”. More like a “cult”.

    • Anonymous

      They aren’t even a religious charity. They are literally a church

    • Wrobl1nb

      Salvation Army members are permitted to marry outside their church, but the issue is the man’s captaincy. The Sal assigns military titles to its clergy, hence Captain. One of the rules of their clergy is that if they are to marry, they mus marry other Sal clergy. They believe that service to god is a two person job in that manner much like they do for raising children.

      • Rosemary

        So they get two for the price of one?  What kind of slavery is that? 

        What happens is one partner dies?  Does the other one suddenly discover that they are unable to fulfil the requirements of the (two person) job?
        What happens if the couple divorce?  What happens if one is mentally or physically unable to continue their job?  What happens if the marriage is a farce? violent? intolerable?  How much play acting is the couple supposed to do?

    • Jandjlaird

      Members of The Salvation Army can marry whoever they wish, Reginald

    • Elheugh

      You are not sharing quite the whole story of Capt. Johnny Harsh.  It is true he did come under fire for anting to marry someone who, as a pastor, he was already living with.  Most Christians do not support co-habiting before marriage, not just members of The Salvation Army.  It’s not just a matter of marrying outside of a particular church – if you’re the pastor, it is not acceptable (or moral by Christian teaching) to be cohabitating outside the sanctity of marriage.

      • Rosemary

        That really does not make it any better, does it?  

        According to this very screwed up logic, it is better to continue to go on cohabiting with someone to whom you are not yet married than to get married to them.   If that is the “christian” ideal taught by the Salvation Army then they are giving out very contradictory messages.  

  • Robertlrader

    Must be that time of the year; at work we had a Salvation Army thing going on, and there was going to be a photo-thing that they wanted some of the employees involved in. I declined; even if they weren’t guilty of bigotry, I can’t show support for an organization that holds faith as a virtue.

  • Daniel Brown

    Check out this discussion at Reddit – A lot of people with first hand experience say that while the website says what it says, they actual people there to help turn no one away. Just something to think about:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/atheism/comments/mjmze/just_a_reminder_the_salvation_army_is_not_a/?limit=500

    I guess the question is, do you support them because in the end they are helping everyone, or do you not support them because there may be something with the higher ups that turns out to make things worse for us all?

  • Ndonnan

    personally i dont know many people of either sex that think homosexuality is ok or normal at any leavel,and that has nothing to do with christianity or any other religion for that matter. the thought of touching another mans hairy butt is repulsive to me and every other man i knowTo not agree with homosexuality dosent make me a bigot or other derogitory name, im the normal one,this isnt a religious issue its a social issue.Gay people dont feel rejected by society because of lack of acceptance,its because its wrong at so many levels and they know it but a small group tells them it ok when they know its not.Its a petty article,nothing to do with athiasism

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Yeah, it makes you a bigot. And an asshole.

    • TheBlackCat

      personally i dont know many people of any race that think being black is ok or normal at any leavel,and that has nothing to do with christianity or any other religion for that matter. the thought of having dark skin is repulsive to me and every other man i knowTo not agree with being black dosent make me a bigot or other derogitory name, im the normal one,this isnt a religious issue its a social issue.Black people dont feel rejected by society because of lack of acceptance,its because its wrong at so many levels and they know it but a small group tells them it ok when they know its not.Its a petty article,nothing to do with athiasism

      personally i dont know many people of any religion that think being jewish is ok or normal at any leavel,and that has nothing to do with christianity or any other religion for that matter. the thought of being jewish is repulsive to me and every other man i knowTo not agree with being jewish dosent make me a bigot or other derogitory name, im the normal one,this isnt a religious issue its a social issue.Jews dont feel rejected by society because of lack of acceptance,its because its wrong at so many levels and they know it but a small group tells them it ok when they know its not.Its a petty article,nothing to do with athiasism

      I could go on.

    • Dmacabre

      Saying you are not okay with homosexuality is not bigotry?
      Ok.

      So…  basically what you are saying is that if I say I am not okay with black people, that is not bigotry, right?

    • http://twitter.com/HannahBag Hannah King

      Wow, you are a bigot, no other name for it. It is fine to be personally repulsed by a sexual act or sexuality not your own, but to go ahead and make sweeping statements about people not like yourself? To declare that a sexual act you personally do not like or sexuality that you are not is ‘wrong at so many levels’ is an act of bigotry. You do not need to ‘agree’ with sexualities not your own, that’s fine, it’s a personal choice. But keep the bigoted comments to yourself. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/otakumommy Sheila Tagavilla Davis

      I’m sorry…I just found this response absolutely hilarious. That’s about all it’s worth is a good laugh!

    • Anonymous

      “personally i dont know many people of either sex that think homosexuality is ok or normal at any level…”

      Maybe you should expand your circle. It appears you live in a hermetically-sealed bubble of ignorance.

    • Alantas

      “The thought of touching another man’s hairy butt is repulsive to me and every other man I know.”

      If hairy man-ass was all there is to it, hell, I’d be straight too. But there are so many other ways to be erotic and sexual with men that don’t involve touching hairy man-ass. Or even touching at all. Just because you make decisions from a limited worldview doesn’t mean anyone else should.

      For that matter, how do you think women view hairy man-ass? If men* don’t desire it, then surely there’s no way women would? Maybe they should all be lesbians.

      * The only ones who have desire, of course. Or the only ones whose desire matters, not that women have desire anyway, but if they did, which they don’t, it wouldn’t matter, for that matter.

      • Guest

        First off I apologize for my punctuation and spelling writing is not a strong attribute of mine. I agree with the point you’re trying to make but don’t you think your concept of desire is a bit narrow minded. I found it contained a sense of superiority over men. On what basis can you say that women have no desire or that it does not matter for them? Do you see desire as a flaw? If so than why when there are so many types of desire? Couldn’t the want or need to be loved and accepted be considered  a desire and isn’t this a quality found in the large majority of human beings (both sexes included of course)?
        I don’t mean to seem as if I’m attacking you as it is not my intention. I assume that you are a nice and reasonable individual it’s just that I found this part of your comment not very nice or reasonable at all.

        • Rosemary

          I think you missed the sarcasm :-)

    • Anonymous

      I really hope that I’m experiencing Poe’s Law as I read this comment.  I usually have trouble believing that people can be so proud and open about being so hateful.  But then again, it happens all the time….

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      being bigotted *does* make you a bigot

    • quepasa

      It was hard to read this, not just from the content, but because you lost me with at least 24 mistakes in grammar, spelling or punctuation.  If a guy wants to be sloppy, he risks not being heard or listened to.  You want to make a point?  I wouldn’t bother if I were you.

    • Rosemary

      You need to get out more.

    • Rosemary

      Sexual preference is largely due to brain wiring that is influenced by genetics and hormonal secretions in the womb.  It appears that you are lucky enough to have developed in a way that makes it easy for you to conform to the usual conventions of your society.   You may even be lucky enough to have developed in such a way that your sexual preference for skin color and facial features conforms to the usual conventions of your society. 

      In every society, including animal societies, there are people whose brains are wired differently.  These people and animals are sexually attracted to members of their species who do not fit the norm.  

      It does not seem to have occurred to you that your own sexual preferences, while appearing “normal” to you, will be repulsive to others.

      It does not seem to have occurred to you that all women whose brains are wired to be only sexually attracted to the male sex will find your  sexual attraction to vaginas to be repulsive.   They could not imagine doing what you want to do.

      It also does not seem to have occurred to you that most women who are wired to be sexually attracted to the male sex will, nevertheless,  not be attracted to you.  Many will find your hairy butt repulsive.

       It is a mark of maturity to accept and tolerate those whose preferences
      are different from one’s own, unless, these preferences are expressed in
      a way that hurts others.  Grow up!

  • Anonymous

    I just sent them a large check, and I’ll do it again next year unless I find another charity that serves the same needs with the same economy and efficiency.  Yes, I find their doctrine distasteful, but “handsome is as handsome does”, and they DO handsomely.

    Their emphasis is on aid in kind (meals, shelters, assistance) to the poor and homeless, rather than sponsoring athletic activities for the affluent, and they are efficient at it.  Fund-raising costs are 1%, while 84% of total income goes to the programs.

    OK, if you’re LBGT they don’t “approve” of you, but they’ll still give you a meal.

    Dan Covill

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      could you not send that money to a secular charity?

    • Rosemary

      I have more respect for American Catholic charities than I have for the American Salvos.  I do not respect the harmful attitudes and practices of either group but in a land that makes it difficult for a secular charity to operate on an equal footing my money has to go somewhere.   As we have recently seen, even secular organizations such as the American Anti-Cancer Society, can be discriminatory on the basis of beliefs that stem from a particular variant of a particular religion. 

      I think Red Cross is about the only secular charity that is able to operate in the US that is demonstrably fair in its treatment of people, regardless of their religion or lack of it , so long as they are not grossly immoral, obviously harmful or significantly disrespectful of the natural human rights of others.

  • 99yankeesierra

    Your blog certainly comes off as Atheist; as for friendly – not so much.

    You may refuse to believe there is an Almighty God, an un-created Creator. That’s okay; He most definitely believes in you.

    Pax Domini vobiscum.

    • Anonymous

      Could you perhaps clarify what you found to be so unfriendly about this post?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

      sigh. You seem to think friendly means doormat.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Hi 99yankeesierra,

      The “friendly” in Friendly Atheist is an attempt to counteract the pervasive slander usually originating from clergy and then faithfully repeated by their flock that all atheists are evil, vicious, immoral, nasty, angry, unpatriotic, criminal, etc. etc.  Here the majority of atheists will treat you respectfully even though they do not respect your beliefs. If you think that your beliefs and you are one in the same, then you’ll be uncomfortable here, regardless of how good people’s manners are toward you. So consider viewing those two things separately.

      We are not “refusing to believe” in  supernatural beings, we’re simply unconvinced because of the lack of evidence. We welcome positive and constructive dialogues with theists about many issues. Once the obstacle about beliefs is overcome, we and believers often discover that we have as human beings far more in common than we have differences.

      Please stick around, ask sincere questions, and contribute to mutual understanding.

    • Rosemary

      “Friendly” does not mean that someone fails to challenge an idea that you hold that does not appear to be logically or empirically supported.  I presume you would not describe a teacher as “unfriendly” simply because they did their job and challenged your sloppy ideas, corrected your bad grammar and demanded that you used the locally accepted spelling practices.  That is essentially what Hemant is doing, in as non-threatening a way as this is possible, given people’s tendency to confuse their religious beliefs with their identity and hence, their self-esteem.

      It is not possible to “refuse to believe” in the existence of something that you have no valid reason to believe exists.  For most atheists, a disbelief in the existence of any gods is a conclusion based on much thought and investigation;  it is not a mindless “rejection” of something that they secretly believe is true. 

      You are clearly NOT okay with this non-belief in your particular version of a particular god as you retort  that one of the numerous divine entities that Hemant has no good reason to believe exists is not only existing but taking a special interest in Hemant.  This implies that Hemant’s research, reasoning and intellectual integrity is inferior to your own.  What a disrespectful put down!  How unfriendly of YOU.  

      I am constantly amazed at the number of theists who post on sites like this and demonstrate a whole array of unfriendly behavior but insist that they and their version of a particular god are antithetically “loving”.   It underlines just how deeply the mind can delude its owner in order to make them feel good about themselves while they are behaving like a**holes. 

  • http://twitter.com/Librehombre Richard Collins

    I always enjoy reading this blog and the comments are often the best part (no offense, Richard). You have attracted some sharp readers here.

    As far as the SA goes, I stopped dropping coins in their kettle years ago, but that is not an effective way to respond to their backwardness. Perhaps readers could select some of the justifications offered here for not supporting the SA financially and make up a little letter they could hand over to the bell ringer. The volunteers mean well and their hearts are in the right place, but they are woefully behind the times. I work on the theory that if you object to something, you need to suggest a better way of doing things.

  • Panofsky

    You don’t have to search for very long on the web to find stories of incredible corruption at SA (Starvation Army to their workers). Not surprising considering they are an incredibly wealthy fundamentalist church answerable only to god. If you donate to them you are giving money money to the church, I believe most of their programs recieve government funding.

    Here in Toronto they charge the government $10 for a hellish night in a flea ridden cot in a loud stinking dorm with hundreds of others. They were recently trying to increase it to $15, I don’t know if they’ve succeeded.


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