‘Tis the season. In cities across the country, Salvation Army volunteers wearing red Santa hats and aprons are ringing bells and soliciting donations. But if you were already thinking twice before dropping your hard-earned coins into those little red coffers you may want to think a third time.
Queerty has obtained SA internal documents that give lie to its propaganda campaign to win back LGBT donors and staff and confirm what we’ve suspected all along: The Christian charity discriminates against LGBT people, but it doesn’t want anyone to know about it.
Of course, this isn’t an entirely new revelation. But the documents underscore the tug of war within the Methodist organization between religious laws, which leadership believes requires discrimination when it comes to marriage and sex, and civil laws, which ban discrimination in hiring and in the workplace.
SA is no stranger to antigay scandals. Perhaps the most infamous occurred in 2012, when Andrew Craibe, media relations director for SA Australia, said gay people should be put to death. SA officials denounced the claim in the strongest possible terms, but each time a similar incident occurs, the organization goes into public relations crisis mode, arguing that the individual incidents do not reflect its larger stance.
One of the documents Queerty obtained is a memo regarding the SA’s official views on what it calls “LGBT issues,” by midwest Commissioner Paul Seiler. Dated February 21, 2014, the policy statement was emailed to officers in the Salvation Army’s Central Territory, which serves Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North & South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana.
Subject line: “LGBT issues in light of equality of marriage laws.”
“This is not for public use,” the letter warns, “including social media of any sort.”
What follows are four pages detailing the SA’s theological views on the “homosexual orientation” (which it calls “a matter of profound complexity”), its position on marriage (which it states can only happen “between one man and one woman”), and its expectations that unmarried (a.k.a. gay) officers “be celibate in the expression of their sexuality.”
In addition to the letter signed by Seiler, Queerty also obtained the SA’s 24-page “Nondiscrimination Communications” memo, which was sent out by the charity’s national headquarters, detailing how spokespersons are supposed to respond when asked about its treatment of the LGBT community.
Let’s take a closer look at the organization’s public and private talking points, based on the documents which have not been released publicly before now…
What it says publicly:
Among the Army’s official talking points from its “Nondiscrimination Communications” memo on how it treats LGBT people are the following:
The Salvation Army does not believe that homosexual orientation is a sin.
We emphatically reject accusations of discrimination based on sexual orientation; claims to the contrary are false.
We simply do not discriminate against the people we serve or hire. Our doors are open to all.
We serve and hire all people without discrimination.
What it says in private:
The internal letter signed by Seiler and sent to officers on February 21 states:
Leadership roles in denominational activities such as teaching or holding local officer roles require certain adherence to consistently held spiritual beliefs. This would apply to any conduct inconsistent with Salvation Army beliefs and would include same-sex sexual relationships.
So the organization does not discriminate… except in policing the relationships of LGBT officers.
But it doesn’t stop there. Seiler’s letter also instructs:
For anyone in a Salvation Army ministry position, the theological belief regarding sexuality is that God has ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman and sexual activity is restricted to one’s spouse. Non-married individuals would therefore be celibate in the expression of their sexuality. This is the long-standing expectation of all individuals in ministry roles in The Salvation Army, including lay people.
In other words: Gay people can’t get married. Unmarried people can’t have sex. Therefore, gay people are forbidden from being intimate with one another.
The letter also forbids SA officers from marrying same-sex couples:
The officer would therefore decline acting in any officiating capacity at a same-sex marriage.
And that if an officer wants to attend a same-sex wedding as a guest, he or she must go incognito:
When an officer attends a same-sex marriage as a friend or family, it would be consistent with our policy that the wedding would be at a non-Army facility and the officer would be out of uniform.
The punishment for breaking any of these rules? “Termination.”
The memo states:
Officers are ordained and commissioned by The Salvation Army are expected to follow a number of organizational and denominational policies and there are consequences for internal disregard, which may include termination.
Now, here’s what the Salvation Army told Queerty:
Jennifer Byrd, the director of communications for the Salvation Army, responded to our inquiry on the matter with the following e-mail:
The Salvation Army is a religious organization founded in 1865 by a Methodist minister. As such all 3,500 officers that you see wearing a uniform are ordained ministers in The Salvation Army church. The letter you reference addresses the theology of the organization and is used to help guide Salvation Army officers as they navigate the LGBT issue nationwide. While The Salvation Army has a theology of marriage, it also has a theology of service. Please know that the requirement of celibacy for single officers – those who are heterosexual and those who are members of the LGBT community – has always been a policy in The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army serves 30 million people a year without discrimination, as you will see by the information included in the communications packet you have.
We realize our message of service to the LGBT community and our non-discriminatory employment practices have been overlooked, misconstrued or misunderstood in recent years, and our focus the past 12-18 months has to be address these failings. We have traveled the country extensively meeting with Salvation Army officers and employees to help communicate the mission of The Salvation Army as it relates to the LGBT community and encourage them to reach out to LGBT organizations on a local level as we have on a national level.
Just so everyone’s on the same page, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “discrimination” is defined as “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.”
Insisting that LGBT officers remain unmarried and refrain from “expressing their sexualities” is, by definition, discriminatory. But SA goes even further, requiring that officers distance themselves from same-sex weddings but not opposite-sex weddings.
The SA may claim it “serves 30 million people a year without discrimination,” and that may be true, but it doesn’t address the issue of how the organization treats its LGBT officers (a.k.a. those doing the serving). They remain marginalized.
To be clear: We’re not trying to argue with the Salvation Army’s theological views. It can believe what it wants to believe. The problem is, these beliefs, which are shared privately among SA insiders, are at direct odds with the organization’s public message, which states, in blanket terms, that it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Sounds like SA wants to have its cake and eat it too.
Read Commissioner Paul Seiler’s memo in full below: