To Boycott the Salvation Army Or Not to Boycott?

Salvation Army (Credit: ILGA)

I am joining other leaders in the LGBT community in calling for a boycott of the Salvation Army during this holiday season, but I want to add an important qualification.

Join in a boycott of donating to the fundamentalist Christian organization during the holiday season IF you do so as an intentional practice of ethics that arises from your Unique Self. That is to say, boycott if it is the way you can most beautifully and splendidly express your inner divinity out in the world.

And if a different impulse of Love arises from your perspective on the world which leads you to make a different choice, I want to respect and even applaud that impulse as well. There is no one-size-fits-all response to the Salvation Army’s red kettle.

The fundamentalist religious organization needs to hear the message that if they are going to support discrimination and gays and lesbians, there is a price to pay. But it will hear this message no matter what you or I do, as there are already thousands of individuals committed to boycotting the organization.

The choice you and I make could be one of following the hordes who donate or the hordes who boycott based on spiritual beliefs or ideological principles, or we can choose based on doing what comes naturally to us when we act out of our Unique Self.

The Salvation Army has a prominent presence at public locations such as shopping malls during the holiday season, riging bells and soliciting donations intended for charitable causes. You probably know the ideological rationale for not giving them money. If you don’t, Bil Browning of Bilerco gives a run-down of the organization’s shortcomings, which have included lobbying campaigns worldwide to make consensual same-sex relations illegal:

The Salvation Army has a history of active discrimination against gays and lesbians. While you might think you’re helping the hungry and homeless by dropping a few dollars in the bright red buckets, not everyone can share in the donations. Many LGBT people are rejected by the evangelical church charity because they’re “sexually impure.”

The church claims it holds “a positive view of human sexuality,” but then clarifies that “sexual intimacy is understood as a gift of God to be enjoyed within the context of heterosexual marriage.” The Salvation Army doesn’t believe that gays and lesbians should ever know the intimacy of anyloving relationship, instead teaching that “Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.”

On its webpage, the group claims that “the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation.” While the words are nice, their actions speak volumes. They blatantly ignore the position statement and deny LGBT people services unless they renounce their sexuality, end same-sex relationships, or, in some cases, attend services “open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army’s doctrine and discipline.” In other words, if you’re gay or lesbian, you don’t qualify.

For Christians, charity begins with recognizing the dignity of other human beings as created in the image of God; at higher degrees of consciousness it can include identification with Love itself, and a felt sense of being one with all beings through Christ. There is no charity in the Salvation Army’s prejudiced decrees and harmful, disrespectful acts.

Personally, my challenge to myself this holiday season in living my Unique Self is to not hold judgments the bell-ringers outside the grocery store or Westlake Center, or even towards the fundamentalist leaders of the organization. I do not believe they are bad people. I do not believe they hate gays. I believe they are ME.

My encounter with them is an opportunity for me to practice compassion towards any part of my Self that I have dis-owned — any part that is unkind, judgmental, failing to recognize the dignity of others, or holds judgments about homosexual persons or behaviors — and to practice love towards all Christian fundamentalists and enemies of gay rights.

My hero Jesus taught:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).

I will remember the days when I did not accept my own sexuality because I had accepted the teachings handed down to me that it was wrong, unnatural, disgusting, unmanly, weak, and perverse … owning those days of my spiritual childhood, I can look on the persons representing the Salvation Army bell-ringers as like to children. And if I start to feel arrogant in doing so, I will practice my belief that we are all one in Christ … and therefore I, too, am child-like and innocent in turn.

Forgiveness is perhaps the most important spiritual practice of them all. That’s why in a holiday season devoted to spiritual principles, thinking about having to boycott a bunch of  Christian do-gooders who are volunteering their time out on a cold wintry night to help the unfortunate seems somewhat cold and unforgiving, even when the boycott is done with the best of intentions.

If I can boycott a sweet old lady reaching out for a few coins on Christmas Eve is really my best and highest expression of divinity in the moment, I will boycott. And be sure to donate even more to charity than I would have done otherwise.

But if forgiveness leads me to overlook my ideological aversion to the Salvation Army’s homophobia, at least for a few moments, then if I do not donate at the very least I may offer a heart-felt “I love you and have a Merry Christmas” to the volunteers.

And if I am walking down the street with a friend who donates to the Salvation Army, I will explain my opposition to their discriminatory policies, but I will not think less of my friend.


Hugo Schwyzer smacks down relativistic green on the question of whether it’s okay to use porn while in a relationship. Here’s the view he wrestles with:

Ethan was a bit less than enthusiastic about my views on radical intimacy and relationship. He writes in a comment: The other issue is that I’m a real relativist when it comes to relationships. This mostly comes from my mother, who is a psychotherapist and feminist. I believe that the presence of pornography in a relationship–or its total absence–is something that should be discussed and agreed upon within a relationship. As in, there is no outside morality that holds any sway within the confines of your relationship. Only what you and your lover agree upon matters. That’s my view.

And in turn Hugo offers a counterpunch:

Yikes. That makes me very uncomfortable. As several other people immediately pointed out, no “discussion” takes place in a vacuum…. Sounds very progressive and mature, no doubt, but it ignores completely the reality that we all bring our people-pleasing, our control issues, and our pre-determined views into the discussion…. And when both parties to the discussion consider the discourse of the overwhelming male sex drive to be an incontrovertible fact rather than a myth, than the entire subsequent conversation will take place under false premises. And the outcome will not be the best.

I’m with Hugo against relationship ethics relativism. But his answer doesn’t quite gel. He seems to want to replace the notion that men are horny as a “fact” with the equally dubious charge that it’s a “myth”. Male and female sex drives are different, and relationships need to be structured in ways that respect those differences. In exchange for the “myth” of the Horny Man, Hugo advocates “acknowledging those pressures,” “copping to them,” and “exploring why it is we feel as we do” as universal values. He rejects green relativism in favor of a greenish-teal existential groping. He seems to see men as reaching out to cop values and exploring the depths of their feelings for some overarching explanation.

But what if the mythical Masturbating Man reaches out for depth and finds no wise guidance whatsoever? That seems to be the situation most gay men and lesbians are in today. Tradition doesn’t provide guidance that works, really, honestly works in our day-to-day lives. Ethics for gays is either cut-and-paste from bad heterosexual models or rejected altogether by “liberated queers”.

By and large, traditions were written by heterosexuals and closeted and repressed homosexuals. Many people today, gays first among many, find themselves groping in the darkness for reasonable guidance and finding the purveyors of wisdom have empty hands. Traditional monogamy just doesn’t apply to gay and lesbian relationships, I’m convinced. And relativistic negotiated openness has its own perils.

We need an evolutionary perspective at turquoise to chart our territory in relationship dynamics. And then we need new organizations, social structures, and institutions at indigo in which that counsel can be transmitted to future generations. Perhaps such structures can be found from the traditions, but they won’t be found in the conventional wisdom that holds heterosexual vaginal intercourse as the gold standard and ideal for human sexuality and imposes rigid limits on expressions outside those boundaries. The reality is more complex than that, and the future is more insecure.

About the book, Soulfully Gay

This week I’ve gotta get the paperwork back to the publisher to finalize the book deal. They asked me to write a 200 word description of Soulfully Gay as if it were going to be used on the back cover. Here’s my first draft:

Sex, Culture, Spirit. Sex and spirituality, faith and skepticism, morality and freedom, mysticism and madness. Joe Perez, a former student of comparative religion and philosophy at Harvard, writes at the intersection of these conflicts. A man struggling to understand the meaning of human sexuality, Perez uses his own homosexuality as the terrain for exploring … and ultimately resolving … these troubling conflicts in his life. The outcome of his search for understanding is a theory that places the ground of homosexuality (called gayness) at the root of human nature and the heart of religious revelation, and he traces the development of cultural attitudes towards gayness through levels or stages of increasing adequacy. From there he takes a fresh look at debates over morality, gay culture, political strategy, AIDS, and religion. And as he works out the implications of his theory in his own contemplative life, he discovers that he must tunnel into buried memories for a forgotten secret that could either help him reach wholeness or destroy his sanity.


Perez’s journey is shared in the form of journal entries and other short writings arranged chronologically. This book depicts the universal quest to be soulfully, gaily human.

Not sure that I’ll send this in to the publisher or not. If I do, I don’t know that they’ll use it. But it’s a start.