Rick Garcia, a senior policy adviser at The Civil Rights Agenda, said the Salvation Army uses donated money to oppose gay rights and told his friends to boycott the group on a Facebook post, according to a Chicago Tribune report. The Salvation Army's red kettles and bell ringers are a fixture on the streets of Chicago during the holiday season.
Garcia urged friends to "pass the kettle" and give to other charities. He said, "Serving a gay or lesbian person that needs help with food or housing or clothing is laudable… But you can't feed them and then stab them in the back."
Anti-gay accusations are commonplace for The Salvation Army. Each year during holiday time, when the Salvation Army aggressively solicits donations, Lt. Col. Ralph Bukiewicz, the commander of the Salvation Army Chicago Metropolitan Division, says the protests escalate.
The group also has been criticized for its theological stance on homosexuality and accused of discrimination in shelters and the workplace. The Salvation Army says the money it collects stays in the community and that it doesn't discriminate against those who seek help or its workers based on sexual orientation.
Although it's thought of as a mere nonprofit organization, the Salvation Army is a church, a massive one, with satellite churches operating in 125 countries. According to the Salvation Army's 2010 year book, membership includes 16,938 active and 9,190 retired officers, with 1,122,326 "soldiers" and over 4.5 million volunteers.
William Booth, an evangelist, founded the Salvation Army in 19th century England on the east end of London. In 1878, Booth coined the name "Salvation Army," as he surmised, "The Christian mission is a volunteer army."
Prostitutes, alcoholics and robbers were among Booth's first converts, and after their "salvation," he urged them to lead others to Christ. One of the officers, Lieutenant Eliza Shirley, migrated from England to America and the first United States meeting convened in Philadelphia in 1879.
Chicago's current Salvation Army commander says it will help anyone who needs charity and doesn't discriminate but considers its stance on homosexuality to be in line with its biblical doctrine and beliefs. Last year, the Salvation Army USA removed a statement from its website encouraging homosexuals to "embrace celibacy as a way of life." Church leaders say it was an internal doctrinal statement not meant for a public audience.
In 2011, donations to the Chicago Salvation Army dropped by 10 percent. Lt. Bukiewicz said this was due to the economy, fewer bell ringers and a decrease in sites where the kettles can be placed.
The Salvation Army is a church, and it holds the doctrinal position that homosexuality is a sin. Although the statement on homosexuality was removed from the Salvation Army's website, it remains part of its doctrine. The church is firm in its convictions, although it has addressed discrimination head on and says it won't tolerate discrimination against clients or workers. Individuals choose to give or not give to churches, often basing donations on how much the church helps the general public, along with personal beliefs about the church's doctrine.
What is the role of faith-based organizations in an inclusive society? Does the Salvation Army differ from other churches that ask for donations because of its highly visible and public appeals? Would you give to the Salvation Army?