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.

The Third Principle: Self-Esteem

Bridge of Light, Yellow Candle

A winter cultural tradition originating from the LGBT community.

Short ritual: On New Year’s Eve, light a yellow candle, the third of seven, and let it burn through New Year’s Day.

Long ritual: Light a yellow candle each evening between December 28 and New Year’s Eve, the third of seven, and keep the last candle lit through the New Year.

Honor the Core of Spirit, the third chakra. Celebrate the evolution of Spirit in love and eroticism that first appeared in the era defined by the rise of the world religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism), beginning about 500 BCE and continuing to the present day.

The Second Principle: Eros

Bridge of Light, Orange Candle

A winter cultural tradition originating from the LGBT community.

Short ritual: On New Year’s Eve, light an orange candle as the second of seven, and let it burn through the New Year.

Long ritual: Light an orange candle, the second of seven, each evening between December 27 and New Year’s Eve, and keep the candle lit until New Year’s Day.

Honor the Fire of Spirit, the second chakra, the principle of Eros. Celebrate the evolution of Spirit in love and eroticism that first appeared in the era defined by the rise of the great divine and mortal heroes of the ancient world, celebrated in song and myths: Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Horus and Seth, Jonathan and David, Naomi and Ruth, and many more, beginning about 5,000 BCE.

The First Principle: Community

Bridge of Light, Red Candle

A winter cultural tradition originating from the LGBT community.

Short ritual: On New Year’s Eve, light a red candle, the first of seven, and let it burn until New Year’s Day.

Long ritual: Light a red candle each evening between December 26 and New Year’s Eve, the first of seven, and keep the candle lit through New Year’s Day.

Honor the Root of Spirit, the first chakra. Celebrate the evolution of Spirit in love and eroticism defined as it first arose in ancient spiritualities, including Wicca, paganism, and Goddess/pre-patriarchal religions (approximately 10,000 BCE and continuing to the present day).

Revisions to the Bridge of Light

Bridge of Light is an interfaith and omni-denominational cultural and spiritual tradition originating in 2004 and connected in its inspiration and organization to the Gay Spirit Culture Summit held that year, a gathering of 100+ spiritual leaders and change agents in the gay community.

Since then, the annual winter ritual (now in its fifth year) has helped to draw attention to the positive contributions made by members of the LGBT community in the areas of spiritual growth, inner transformation, and religious leadership.

The core of the tradition is a simple ritual of lighting candles, one for each color of the rainbow flag, on New Year’s Eve (or from Dec. 26 to New Year’s, one candle for each day). Each color corresponds to a universal spiritual principle as well as the specific ways that this principle has found expression in the course of LGBT history and in our contemporary situation.

These are the principles of the Bridge of Light in their current (2009) form:

The First Principle
Color: Red
Meaning: The Root of Spirit (Community)
Order: Dec. 26 or first candle of New Year’s Eve
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in same-sex love and eroticism defined as it first arose in ancient spiritualities, including Wicca, paganism, and Goddess/pre-patriarchal religions (approximately 10,000 BCE and continuing to the present day).
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the first chakra.

The Second Principle
Color: Orange
Meaning: The Fire of Spirit (Eros)
Order: Dec. 27 or second candle of New Year’s Eve
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in same-sex love and eroticism that first appeared in the era defined by the rise of the great divine and mortal heroes of the ancient world, celebrated in song and myths: Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Horus and Seth, Jonathan and David, Naomi and Ruth, and many more, beginning about 5,000 BCE.
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the second chakra.

The Third Principle
Color: Yellow
Meaning: The Core of Spirit (Self-Esteem)
Order: Dec. 28 or third candle of New Year’s Eve
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in same-sex love and eroticism that first appeared in the era defined by the rise of the world religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism), beginning about 500 BCE and continuing to the present day.
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the third chakra.

The Fourth Principle
Color: Green
Meaning: The Heart of Spirit (Love and Compassion)
Order: Dec. 29 or fourth candle of New Year’s Eve
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in same-sex love, eroticism, and traditional gender role defiance in the era defined by the rise of the modernity in the industrial age (approximately 1,500 CE and continuing to the present day), e.g., secular philosophies, inventors, business and scientific leaders, pioneers in democratic societies, early developments in the abolition of slavery and women’s sufferage.
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the fourth chakra.

The Fifth Principle
Color: Blue
Meaning: The Voice of Spirit (Self-Expression and Justice)
Order: Dec. 30 or fifth candle of New Year’s Eve
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in same-sex love and gender role evolution in the era defined by the rise of Romanticism, Transcendentialism, late modernism, and early postmodern artists and pioneers (approximately 1,800 CE to the present day).
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the fifth chakra.

The Sixth Principle
Color: Purple
Meaning: The Eye of Spirit (Integration and Wisdom)
Order: Dec. 31 or sixth and final candle of New Year’s Eve
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in pluralistic expressions of sexuality and gender in the era defined by the rise of the feminist, homophile movement, gay liberation, queer, and LGBTQ identities in the past 60 years.
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the sixth chakra.

The Seventh Principle
Colors: Black and White (light two candles)
Meaning: The Crown of Spirit (Contemplative Spirituality and Unitive Consciousness)
Order: Jan. 1 (New Year’s Day)
Correspondence in LGBT History: We celebrate the evolution of Spirit in the contemporary period and future generations to come, and the emerging connections between the struggle for gay liberation with the struggles for justice and dignity of all peoples throughout the world, the healing of the natural world, and the amelioration of suffering of all sentient beings.
Suggested Practice: Meditations on the seventh chakra.

These seven principles are slightly evolved in their meaning, order, and associations since the first draft of my article “Proposing a New Queer Winter Holiday” was published in LGBT newspapers throughout the country in 2004 and later published in Soulfully Gay.

Note: In the following post, I will describe some of the inspirations for the changes, invite additional suggestions for future changes, and encourage readers to plan their own Bridge of Light parties and rituals this holiday season. If you are interested in celebrating your own ritual, why not join the Bridge of Light group on Facebook to share your ideas?

LGBT Community Celebrates New Year’s Eve with Bridge of Light, a 3rd Annual World Spirituality Day Event

FOR RELEASE ON DEC. 14, 2006

Members of the worldwide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are among those creating a more spiritual and reflective transition to 2007. The Bridge of Light celebration on December 31 marks the arrival of the New Year by honoring the full equality and dignity of all people. This celebration marks the 3rd annual celebration of the cultural tradition, founded in 2004. Today, the Bridge of Light is a part of World Spirituality Day, a non denominational global spiritual tradition modelled after Earth Day.

Seattle, WA — Members of the worldwide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are among those creating a more spiritual and reflective transition to 2007. The Bridge of Light celebration on December 31 marks the arrival of the New Year by honoring the full equality and dignity of all people. This celebration marks the 3rd annual celebration of the cultural tradition, founded in 2004 by participants of the Gay Spirit Culture Summit (GSCS) held in Garrison, New York.

Although the Bridge of Light idea was the fruit of the GSCS, a gathering of over 100 spiritual leaders and luminaries in the international gay and bisexual men’s community, now the event belongs to anyone. All are invited to celebrate a tradition to affirm the full equality of all persons, setting visions for the year ahead, and symbolize their shared hope, unity, and spiritual heritages and principles.

The Bridge of Light tradition is part of the 4th annual World Spirituality Day, an event sponsored by Integrative Spirituality, a not-for-profit omni-denominational spiritual organization based in San Francisco, CA. World Spirituality Day is regarded as “The Earth Day for the Spirit.” Just as Earth Day is celebrated worldwide now, in many different ways, World Spirituality Day allows for a kaleidoscope of worldwide gatherings and events, big and small, year after year. Bridge of Light is one such type of event, celebrated by members of the LGBT community.

The nondenominational World Spirituality Day is simple to participate in and can be celebrated either alone or in a group. Bridge of Light’s distinctive contribution to this global tradition is to symbolize the many distinctive contributions of gay and queer-identified women and men from throughout history and in many cultures. Specifically, the Rainbow is offered as the focal symbol for Bridge of Light celebrations because it is the symbol most widely recognized as identifiable with the worldwide gay and lesbian community. The Rainbow is honored not only for its diversity but also for its underlying Unity behind the multiplicity of colors.

Joe Perez, founder of the Bridge of Light tradition and founder/editor of the Gay Spirituality & Culture Weblog, says: “The first two years of Bridge of Light celebrations have seen only small, private celebrations in homes. But I hope that soon larger group and community-wide parties will emerge. Social, religious, and civic groups are welcome to add Bridge of Light ceremonies to their list of winter activities. What makes this tradition unique is its focus on spiritual principles that are the common heritage of all people … and the vision that these principles can provide the basis for affirming universal human dignity, rights, and justice for the gay community and all people.”

Like Kwaanza, the holiday honoring African-American heritage first celebrated in 1966, Bridge of Light is a cultural celebration not requiring any particular set of religious beliefs. The central ritual of Bridge of Light is a candle-lighting ceremony intended to honor the distinctive contribution of men who love men and women who love women and others whose ways of loving mirror the beauty of the Divine ways of loving. As part of the Bridge of Light, six candles are lit on New Year’s Eve, one candle for each color of the rainbow.

Universal values and spiritual principles are honored with each lit candle: Creativity (by lighting a purple candle), Freedom (a red candle), Integrity (a blue candle), Self-Reliance (an orange candle), Harmony (a green candle), and Love (a yellow candle). Some celebrants of Bridge of Light also light additional candles to highlight additional traditions, values, and principles from their own distinct traditions.

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