(CBS SF) — The Salvation Army, widely known for its homeless shelters, thrifts stores and holiday bell ringers, has many LGBT advocates thinking twice about dropping coins into those red tin coffers.
LGBT news website Queerty recently obtained several internal memos put out by the evangelical Christian group, namely one titled as “LGBT issues in light of equality of marriage laws” sent via email last February by Midwest Commissioner Paul Seiler. In four pages, it lays out the Army’s theological views on homosexuality, calling it “a profound complexity.” It also clearly states its position on marriage “between one man and one woman” and its expectations that unmarried officers be “celibate in the expression of their sexuality.”
The letter goes on to state several policies that includes forbidding Salvation Army officers from marrying same-sex couples and wearing the Salvation Army uniform when attending a friend or family member’s same-sex marriage.
Queerty also obtained a 24-page “Nondiscrimination Communications” memo sent out by the charity’s national headquarters, detailing how spokespersons are supposed to respond when asked about its treatment of the LGBT community. It states that the Salvation Army does not believe that homosexuality is a sin and hires all people without discrimination.
In response to the documents, Salvation Army spokesperson Jennifer Byrd told Queerty, “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.”
Byrd responded to CBS SF’s request for comment via email saying, “‘LGBT issues in light of equality of marriage laws’ is an internal document intended only for Salvation Army officers (ministers) to help navigate LGBT issues. As clergy, our officers abide by the theological direction of the church, as do other religious groups in this country. This is an important distinction to understand as the information contained in the letter does not have any bearing on The Salvation Army’s non-discriminatory hiring practices or its service to the LGBT community. It bears repeating 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.”
Queerty said they are not trying to argue with the Salvation Army’s theological views, but trying to understand how particular beliefs “which are shared privately among (Salvation Army) 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.”
This is not the first time LGBT advocates have clashed with the Salvation Army.
In 1998, the Salvation Army of the United States turned down $3.5 million in contracts with the city of San Francisco due to the city’s requirement that contractors provide spousal benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex partners of employees. As a result, several homeless and senior citizen programs were closed. In 2004, the Salvation Army of New York threatened to close down all of its services because of a similar ordinance.
In 2012, the Salvation Army of Burlington, Vermont allegedly fired a case worker after discovering she was bisexual, citing the church’s employee handbook which reads, “the Salvation Army does reserve the right to make employment decisions on the basis of an employee’s conduct or behavior that is incompatible with the principles of The Salvation Army.”
Then last year, the Army allegedly scrubbed links from its website to religious ministries under a section called “Dealing with Sexual Addictions.” One of the groups previously listed was Pure Life Ministries, which is dedicated to “bringing the hope, healing, and restoration found only in Christ to those who have been touched by the leprosy of sexual sin,” according to its website.
The Salvation Army says on a newer section of its website titled “LGBT Discrimination: Debunking the Myth” that these anti-gay accusations are “patently false.”
A video produced by the Salvation Army features interviews with several LGBT people who were served by the Army’s community programs all while being openly gay.
“We’re providing comprehensive services to LGBT youth,” the website states, highlighting the Booth Brown House, a Salvation Army youth shelter and housing facility in St. Paul, Minn. where nearly 20 percent of the youth living there identify as members of the LGBT community.
“The rumors scare LGBT youth in need of help,” the website goes on to say, adding that it also persuades people not to give to these programs.