By Becky Garrison
Originally posted 12/19/11 at Believe Out Loud
As reported by The Huffington Post's Gay Voices section, “The Salvation Army's Red Kettle bell ringers have become a truly iconic part of the holiday shopping season. However, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights advocates are now calling for shoppers to skip the donation buckets due to the organization's conservative view of homosexuality."
Here I find myself a bit torn—I volunteered with the Salvation Army's Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) during the 9/11 recovery effort and was pleasantly surprised that they accepted volunteers and even hired some staff who did not follow their Salvationist teachings. So, I developed a soft spot of sorts toward those wearing the Salvation Army aprons.
However, as I continued my service and training with EDS, I began to notice a gradual shifting in their personnel policies. Over time, the calls for volunteers stopped coming and eventually my Salvation Army badge expired. While I was never told explicitly, I was no longer welcome, I soon realized I would need to be a Salvationist if I wanted to have any long-term future within this organization.
Hence, I sympathize with those in the LGBT community who feel excluded from the Salvation Army over their stance of LGBT rights that affirms the dignity of all people but draws the line at “homosexual” conduct. This debate remains at the heart of evangelical theology whereby even in seemingly progressive evangelical settings, they can affirm LGBT folks as children of God but not grant them the same rights and rites granted to everyone else.
Following Sojourners decision to reject an LGBT welcome ad from Believe Out Loud in May, I found myself spending a good chunk of the past seven months unpacking what I termed the Sojourners snafu. At the Ship of Fools website I note that while some shifting has transpired in the past 20 years, the evangelical world continues to lag way behind not only their mainline brethren but the secular culture at large when it comes to welcoming LGBT people and advocating for their rights as part of our shared humanity as global citizens on this planet.
Over at Killing the Buddha, Kristin Rawls lays bare the discontent I’ve been experiencing for some time with emergent and progressive evangelical Christians. At the core of this debate lies the premise that despite our theological differences, we must come together in unity because “we all love Jesus.” Rawls keenly observes the key flaw with this kumbaya crud.
“Notwithstanding the fact that “love” is perhaps the vaguest, most unhelpful political prescription of all time, this kind of thinking removes any analysis of power from the conversation. It falsely presumes that we all enter the conversation on equal footing. Indeed, everyone is so busy preaching “unity” and “loving one another” that there is never any interrogation of privilege or power.”
As we head into 2012, I confess to a weariness regarding battling those evangelicals who keep ringing the same old “love the sinner, not the sin” tune while the rest of the world marches to a different drummer. Hence, I chose this year to tune out the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign, as well as all other fundraising campaigns that do not treat all of us as children of God.
For those who feel called to help those without homes but also want to support LGBT equality, why not make a New Year's resolution to stop supporting shelters, drop-in centers and other programs run by organizations like the Salvation Army whose policies discriminate against the LGBT community. Instead, look for those places that welcome LGBT teens like Broad Street Ministry's Q Spot in Philadelphia or Trinity Place, transitional shelter run by Trinity Lutheran Church on New York's Upper West Side and recipient of a Union Square award in the social justice category.
Along those lines, for those in faith communities who do not fully embrace LGBT people in all areas of the church's ministry, consider making a New Year's resolution to find a local faith community that affirms LGBT equality. In Ancient Future Disciples, I profiled a number of radically inclusive Episcopal congregations. GLAAD maintains an ongoing database of congregations that support marriage equality. Collectives like the Yes! Coalition Philly list welcoming congregations in the Philadelphia area. Also, check out Occupy Faith to connect with those faith-based communities looking to impact systemic change.
Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches.. Her books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.