Major Andrew Craibe, The Salvation Army’s Territorial Media Relations Director for the Southern Territory in Victoria Australia, went on an Australian radio show recently to push back against a boycott movement. Instead, he likely galvanized it.
Darren Hayes, former lead singer of the Australian pop group Savage Garden, is openly gay. He’s also deeply offended by what he sees as The Salvation Army’s anti-gay beliefs and opposition to gay marriage. He’s channeled his anger into a boycott movement to encourage people not to give to The Salvation Army and, instead, give to more accepting organizations working in the community.
As the boycott movement garnered publicity, Major Craibe appeared on Serena Ryan and Pete Dillon’s radio show, Salt and Pepper, to discuss The Salvation Army’s official position on homosexuality and whether it’s evolved over time. Ryan and Dillon are openly members of the LGBT community.
Unfortunately for The Salvation Army, Major Craibe was woefully unprepared for the interview. Here’s one brief exchange:
Ryan: According to The Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?
Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.
Ryan: So we should die?
Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.
Ryan: Wow. So we should die.”
You can listen to the full interview and read the take that The Atlantic took on the story by going HERE.
Recognizing that Craibe blew it big time, The Salvation Army in the Australian Eastern Territory issued a statement, an unbelievably awkward one to have to issue, assuring the public that the organization does not believe that members of the LGBT community should be put to death:
The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of all human life and believes it would be inconsistent with Christian teaching to call for anyone to be put to death. We consider every person to be of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.”
The official statement included the following apology:
The Salvation Army sincerely apologises to all members of the GLBT community and to all our clients, employees, volunteers and those who are part of our faith communities for the offence caused by this miscommunication.”
Within days of the radio interview, the controversy it created found its way to the United States. On June 25, The Salvation Army USA issued the following statement:
The Salvation Army in the United States fully and emphatically rejects the statements made by the media director of The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory regarding the LGBT community. The Salvation Army opposes any discrimination, marginalization or persecution of any person. There is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for any reason including his or her sexual orientation. We stand firmly upon our mission to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
The Salvation Army in Australia has also rejected the opinions stated and provided additional information which you can view here.
We deeply apologize for the hurt that these statements have caused.”
While The Salvation Army USA’s statement strikes all the right notes, it did not quite sync with the follow-up statement coming out of Australia. The Australian statement also said that “all sin leads to spiritual death (separation from God).” This was in the context of explaining the inclusion in the organization’s handbook of text from Romans 1:18-32. The passage from Romans outlines a number of sinful behaviors, including homosexuality, and states, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death…”
Ok. I thought I understood The Salvation Army’s position: Members of the LGBT community should not be put to death. However, they are spiritually dead until they repent and seek forgiveness for their sins.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t convinced that that was so much better than the position that Craibe originally shared. And, I wasn’t sure where The Salvation Army USA stood on that fine point. So, I asked.
I received a prompt email response from Jennifer Byrd, National Public Relations Director for The Salvation Army USA. Here’s what she wrote:
Thanks for your email. The Salvation Army in the US does not agree with how Major Caribe interpreted the particular scripture in the Bible, Romans 1-18-32, but we do adhere to the reality of a spiritual death. By that we mean that anyone who has sinned – who has fallen short of God’s purpose in their life – has died a spiritual death, has distanced themselves from God. To become alive again in Christ, one has to ask for forgiveness, which is given freely and then receive that forgiveness. And then begin to let the Holy Spirit change their heart.
Paul was writing a message to the new Church and used language that was dramatic. He wanted to explain that when one turns his or her back on God through sin, whatever sin it might be, they do die a spiritual death, because they willingly turn away from God, the giver of life. But they are equally as able to become born again in Christ and live life anew. It is a Biblical, spiritual truth.”
So, even in the US, The Salvation Army believes that members of the LGBT community exist in spiritual death.
I’m not interested in arguing theology here. I’m not interested in discussing whether The Salvation Army is a bigoted organization. And, I’m not even going to address the issue of LGBT civil rights, though I stand with that community while not a member of it.
Instead, I want to focus on the fact that a charity spokesman did something ill-conceived and that the charity’s units around the world have been responding in a less than ideal, though spiritually consistent, way.
Craibe’s reason for doing the interview was to convince members of the LGBT community that they should ignore the boycott call because The Salvation Army is a good organization doing good deeds in local communities. However, he was not prepared for the tough, but fair, questions he received. Instead, of tamping out the boycott flames, he undoubtedly fanned them.
While other Salvation Army spokespeople have stepped back from Craibe’s dogmatic statements, they have not completely repudiated them. They have all articulated the belief that members of the LGBT community are sinners existing in spiritual death and in need of salvation. Nevertheless, The Salvation Army is delighted to take their money.
The Salvation Army is certainly entitled to its religious beliefs. But, given its beliefs, what did the organization really hope to gain by going on a radio show targeting the LGBT community? While Craibe was not adequately prepared, I’m not sure any amount of preparation would have helped much given the organization’s religious beliefs. Rather than helping to end the boycott, the interview will likely strengthen it.
The follow-up statements from The Salvation Army are also troublesome. The Salvation Army USA official statement makes it sound like the organization accepts the LGBT community. However, as Byrd’s email to me reveals, the posted statement may really be just a fig leaf hiding what many in the LGBT community believe to be The Salvation Army’s true position: You’re a sinner. You’re broken. We look down on you. But, we want your money.
The Salvation Army cannot have it both ways. It cannot call homosexuals spiritually-dead sinners in one breath and then ask for their money in the next. And, until it reforms its fundamentalist religious beliefs, it should be more careful about how it responds to boycott movements from more liberal communities.
The Salvation Army should develop a communications strategy before speaking. And, that strategy should be absolutely honest. Come to think of it, perhaps The Salvation Army needs to be honest with itself. Perhaps it should actually embrace the boycott movement rather than fight it. Perhaps it should stop accepting donations from people it believes are unrepentant sinners.
All nonprofit organizations should be true to their mission and values. When engaging the public, all nonprofit organizations should have a carefully crafted, but thoroughly honest, strategy in place. The Salvation Army missed the mark on both points.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?