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Another March to the Right for the Salvation Army

Under pressure from the Christian right, the charity has rescinded domestic partners benefits.
 
 
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Within a few days after the Western Territory of the Salvation Army decided to provide domestic partners benefits for its employees, the national organization buckled under intense pressure from the Christian Right and nixed the idea. This action came only days after several high-profile Christian Right organizations unleashed a heavy-duty offensive on the Salvation Army's national leadership.

According to AgapePress, a Christian news service, in a memo distributed by the Salvation Army's Commissioner Lawrence Moretz to Army officers, the Commissioners' Conference states clearly that its decision rescinds the Western Territory's earlier policy on domestic partner benefits. The national headquarters has now established a national policy extending access to health benefits to an employee's spouse and dependent children only.

"In rescinding this policy and in the establishment of a national policy on health-care benefit access to spouse and dependent children, we must stand united in the battle that will undoubtedly follow from those who would now challenge our biblical and traditional position," the memo reads. "We will not sign any government contract or any other funding contracts that contain domestic partner benefit requirements."

This has been a rough year for the Salvation Army. In July, the Washington Post exposed its secret negotiations with the Bush administration to exchange its support for the president's faith-based initiative for assurances that charitable groups would not have to comply with state and local anti-discrimination measures involving the hiring of gays and lesbians.

At the time, the administration was desperately trying to stitch together a faith-based legislative package. These days, a scaled down faith-based initiative is bouncing around somewhere among Bush administration agencies and Senator Joe Lieberman's office. On Nov. 7, President Bush wrote Senate leaders asking them to move on his faith-based initiative before the year is out.

Shifting Sands

The Scenario: Earlier this month, in a startling move, the Salvation Army Western Corporation agreed to extend health-care benefits to the domestic partners of its employees. It appeared that the Salvation Army was preparing to march forward into the 21st century.

A report by Concerned Women for America's Culture and Family Report indicated that Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, "had discussed the matter in a 'cordial but frank' exchange Tuesday with Salvation Army National Commander John Busby and that Busby confirmed the policy will apply to the entire Salvation Army." A later report, published by AgapePress service, seemed to indicate that the new policy would likely only cover the western region.

The impetus for giving benefits to domestic partners grew out of a Salvation Army decision it made a few years ago to not go along with San Francisco's domestic partnership law and terminate its contracts with the city, which cost the organization some $3.5 million dollars. By offering domestic partner benefits the Salvation Army would have been eligible again for public funding.

Col. Phillip D. Needham, the chief secretary for the Salvation Army's Western Corporation, explained why the Salvation Army planned to reverse its 1998 decision in an article titled "The Domestic Partner Issue: A Rationale for Response," published Oct. 27 in the Salvation Army's New Frontier. "After considering all the theological, moral, missional and practical dimensions of this issue, I have personally come to the conclusion that the right thing to do is to extend the option to purchase medical coverage for 'one legally domiciled adult' in the employee's household, whether spouse or another adult."

Needham added: "This [new] decision reflects our concern for the health of our employees and those closest to them and is made on the basis of strong ethical and moral reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent years."

Some immediately applauded the organization's change of heart. "San Francisco has done nothing less than to change the world," gay San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno told the San Francisco Chronicle. Leno also noted that 3,289 companies now comply with the law mandating domestic partner benefits. The Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign called the Salvation Army's action a "prudent decision" and "welcome development."

Mobilizing the Faithful

The Salvation Army's new national policy is illustrative of how quickly the Christian Right was able to mobilize its forces. Through talk-radio and the Internet several groups unleashed a letter writing, email and phone campaign against the Salvation Army, threatening withdrawal of financial support over the new domestic partners guidelines.

On his popular radio show Dobson told listeners: "The Salvation Army is the first evangelical church, that I am aware of, to cave in on this contentious issue. This decision will have enormous influence on other Christian organizations and entities that have tried to hold the line on moral and family policies. The Salvation Army has confirmed that this policy will apply, not only to the 13 Western States as the media has reported, but also to the entire organization."

Dr. Dobson added: "Needham's statement reveals that the decision to accommodate homosexual employees is based on cultural considerations, rather than on what is right and ethical and, of course, on the impact of federal money. We are not talking about hatred for individuals; we are talking about policies that will affect generations to come. What is at stake here is an agenda that involves the welfare of children, the definition of marriage, the constitution of the family, and credentials for pastors and priests.

"Our concern does not represent an attack on the Salvation Army. We would not disparage the good work that has been done by it for 100 years and continues to be done. But I cannot remain silent when such an unfortunate policy has been handed down and supported at the highest level of that organization toward interests that have now over-ridden a century of moral integrity.

"I beg the leaders of the Salvation Army to pray about this and to reconsider, because it will lead to similar decisions and compromises elsewhere."

In an AFA Action Alert, the American Family Association's Rev. Donald Wildmon said, "We are absolutely shocked that an evangelical Christian organization would grant health benefits to same-sex partners. Homosexual relationships are not legitimate in God's eyes, and treating them as if they are by extending the benefits traditionally reserved for married couples is troubling."

Wildmon vowed not to contribute money to the Salvation Army during the upcoming holiday season. "Unfortunately, I'm going to have to say that when I pass the kettles going in or out of a store this Christmas, I'm going to have to keep my money and put it into another place that I'll trust to be more in keeping with the biblical mandate of the family and human sexuality," he said.

The American Family Association asked supporters to contact Major John R. Jones, Community Relations and Development Secretary for the Salvation Army, and ask him "why The Salvation Army has compromised the standard of Holy Scripture? [And] politely advise Major Jones that you will be diverting your financial support from The Salvation Army to ministries which uphold Biblical standards in defining the family."

AgapePress reported that in Pennsylvania, some organizations that normally volunteer to collect money for the Salvation Army in the week before Christmas threatened not to do it this year. Diane Gramley, director of the American Family Association of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the local chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association "decided to boycott the Salvation Army."

The Culture and Family Report urged readers "to pray for the many Christian employees of the Salvation Army who firmly disagree with the leadership's decision to reverse itself on 'domestic partners,'" and to contact the national headquarters of the Salvation Army.

After a few days of intense pressure, The Salvation Army caved -- deciding to take its marching orders from the Religious Right. The organization's initial decision to adapt to new and different times and embrace a broader definition of family no longer holds sway. In a Nov. 12 AFA Action Alert, American Family Association President Donald Wildmon announced that the Salvation Army decided "to rescind its policy allowing the extension of health benefits to the sex partners of its homosexual employees. The[ir] new statement says any review of The Salvation Army's health benefit policy 'has always centered on service to people and we deeply regret the perception that the Commissioners' Conference surrendered any biblical principles in making the original decision.'"

Back in July, after the back-room negotiations with the administration many were moved to rethink their charitable giving before donating in any way to the Salvation Army. For a short time it seemed like putting money into the bell ringer's kettle might be a good thing to do this holiday season. Now, with the Salvation Army's latest anti-gay decision, we should all be looking for a new charity.

To make your opinions known, contact: The Salvation Army National Headquarters, PO Box 269, Alexandria VA 22313, 703-684-5500, www.salvationarmyusa.org.

Bill Berkowitz is an Oakland-based freelance writer covering right-wing movements. Contact him at wkbbronx@aol.com.