Salvation Army Official Says Gays Deserve Death

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?

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25 Responses to “Salvation Army Official Says Gays Deserve Death”

  1. Thank you–to you. That’s what I say.

  2. Unbelievable, but it points to the fact that there exists a lot of support for this particular position on this matter. It has become as divisive as the pro-choice issue.

    • Sylvia, thank you for your comment. The fact that the issue of LGBT civil rights is a divisive issue is, in itself, very disturbing. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the right of faith-based organizations to hold beliefs different than my own. I just want them to be honest so that prospective donors can make an informed decision.

  3. It is a shame. I actually met a man who was related to an initial funder of the Salvation Army many years ago. I am sure it was not his intent to be exclusive in any manner. I wonder what their employment policies and practices are? Just goes to show that donors can cast their dollars as they see fit. The Salvation Army did more harm then good. We don’t even want to look at their balance sheets, people would wonder why they still even ask for money?

    • Patrick, thank you for commenting. The Salvation Army says that it does not discriminate in its hiring. Members of the LGBT community can serve as staff members, volunteers, and donors. However, practicing (in other words, non-celibate) members of the LGBT community may not be “members” of The Salvation Army. Of course, there are many other charities that do similar work in an effective way. So, donors have choices.

  4. Michael,

    I have admired the Salvation Army and the good works it’s done for those in need for many years. I have plunked coins in their buckets during the holidays, and will likely continue to do so. Being a religiously based organization, I understand their desire to adhere to the teachings found in their scriptures. Religions based on Abrahamic teachings, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all say that same sex acts are a sin, and this has been taught to billions for thousands of years.

    As what I refer to as a “Red letter Christian”, I base my beliefs on what is actually credited with what Jesus said (in many Bibles, his quotes are denoted in red, rather than black), and the topic of homosexuality was never broached by him. I can say, that while I can acknowledge a sin as a sin, according to the teachings of Jesus, as a sinner myself, I have no right to judge another person’s sin, and if you asked, I could provide several quotes from the Bible to back that up.

    In the case of the Salvation Army, I see it as I see Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. If you take a stand due to your beliefs, be prepared to suffer the consequences and accept them. I agree with you that if the Salvation Army wants to hold on to their fundamentalist beliefs, which they certainly have the right to do, then they should prepare to accept that those who do not share their beliefs will stop supporting them, and that may hurt them financially. They must decide as an organization which is more important, their beliefs or their funding. They cannot have it both ways.

    • Richard, thank you for sharing your thoughts. In the past, The Salvation Army has tried to have it both ways. Now that donors are getting a better understanding of what The Salvation Army believes, they’ll be able to make an informed decision about where to send their money. The Salvation Army and, for that matter, all nonprofit organizations are entitled to their beliefs. I just believe that nonprofit organizations should be honest, open, transparent, and forthright when it comes to making those beliefs known. Then, donors will be able to make a contribution to an organization whose values are in alignment with their own.

  5. I think that a company’s spiritual doctrine is up to them. You cannot make everyone accept LGBT communities. Just educate yourselves on which companies these are that do not support an “alternative” lifestyle, and educate the public so that they can decide for themselves who to do business with. Hell, go to the Goodwill instead, if they are more open-minded, but we should not be upset that the Salvation Army was, in fact, being honest about their stance. Actually, Craibe did the world a favor. At least he didn’t sugar coat it. Now we know, and knowing is half the battle.

    • Stacy, thank you for sharing your comment. I think we’re pretty much in agreement. The Salvation Army is entitled to its beliefs, as is any organization. I just want all organizations to be completely open and honest so that donors can make informed decisions. My concern with The Salvation Army is that it appears to have, for years, tried to dance around its beliefs about the LGBT community in the hope of getting money from that community and those aligned with it. Reading The Salvation Army USA’s official statement in reaction to Major Craibe’s interview, one might come away believing that the organization feels differntly about the LGBT community than it really does. The follow-up statement from their spokesperson rounds out the organization’s position and gives donors a better understanding of The Salvation Army’s beliefs. I’m a believer in full disclosure so that donors really understand their choices. To the degree that this whole situation informs the public and allows more thoughtful philanthropy, it’s a good thing.

  6. While I might agree that a boycott will catch someone’s attention, please remember this: the dollars that you DON’T give hurt the clients (including many who are gay), not The Salvation Army.

    My favorite story about this whole thing is that during Christmas, three men were ringing the bell together at the train station. A man came up and said, “I won’t throw any money in that bucket because you hate gays!” Two of the three men (the third being an officer in Salvation Army in uniform) put their arms around one another and said something to the effect of, “The Salvation Army helped us with our addictions and, as a gay couple, we help The Salvation Army whenever we can.”

    There was no reaction from the first man, as he walked away.

    • Truecomfort, thank you for taking the time to comment. Just to be clear, not that you were suggesting otherwise, my post was neither for nor against the boycott of The Salvation Army. However, I do want to point that you are mistaken about the boycott hurting people in need. There are plenty of social service organizations that help the needy AND are more liberal minded than The Salvation Army. If those that boycott The Salvation Army transfer their giving to these more liberal social service agencies, the needy will still receive the help they need.

      This is one of the very important lessons of this story: Donors have choices. In this case, it’s not about helping those in need or not. It’s about helping those in need through The Salvation Army OR some other, more liberal, social service organization.

      You mentioned that The Salavation Army has helped gay people. Unfortunately, there are also stories about how the organization has not helped or has otherwise discriminated against gay people. That’s what has inspired the boycott movements in Australia and the USA. Again, donors have choices as they seek to help those in need.

  7. Because of the difficulties members of the LGBT community face with inheritance issues, it’s no secret that they often include charitable giving in their estate plans as a way to accomplish certain goals.

    Perhaps the best response to this issue with the Salvation Army (which is well known for its active planned giving program) is that all the “spritually dead” that have included the Salvation Army in their estates take a truly living action and change their wills, trusts, and pod designations to support another organization.

    Just my personal opinion but if you have to make excuses for what you believe, nonprofit or otherwise, you might want to re-evaluate who you are in society.

    • Lorri, thank you for sharing your view of the issue. One good thing to come out of this Salvation Army mess is that the public now has a more complete and honest understanding of the organization’s values. With this knwowledge, donors and prospective donors can make informed decisions about their philanthropy. My hope is that anyone who chooses to boycott The Salvation Army will also choose to transition their support to other social service charities so that innocent people in need are not harmed.

  8. The issues raised are twofold. One being a basic communications issue and the lesson learned from not clearly articulating a position before a controversy starts and having everyone who represents the organization in anyway aware of how controversial issues are internally held and how they are perceived by the external public. The second issue is the actual belief that supports the Salvation Army in its perception of the spiritual life of anyone who deviates from their belief system, not just this issue of homosexuality. I don’t know their beliefs specifically on abortion or marriage or adultery or many other fundamental ethical concerns. But all I require is honesty in expressing their beliefs, not that those beliefs be identical nto mine. They do not have to agree with my belief system to deserve my donations as long as that belief system does not effect their service to mankind. If and when it does, they will no longer receive my support. In a similar way, if anyone feels that their belief system is offensive and unacceptable and this becomes a barrier to giving support, then by all means find another organization that serves the same constituency. Although I may not agree with all their beliefs, I do admire and respect the services they provide to the needy.

  9. It does not surprise me that the Salvation Army believes in a morally polarized universe. Many people do. Because I do not share their black and white value system I won’t be donating to them – even if their public relations strategy improves. For me the mission usually tells the story and the motive behind it is relevant. Bad people sometimes do good things and vice versa. Certainly there are better ways to express a desire to serve a higher power or spiritual principal than judging a diverse and decidedly heterogeneous (pun intended!) Group as being spiritually dead?! The terming of groups as Bad and Good is a very immature way to see the world Imho. And yes – I am judging too. But that doesn’t mean I think every member of that group agrees with that philosophy or that there is no good in their work. It does reduce my desire to support them when there are other alternatives that don’t offend me.

  10. Hi, I wonder if I may add a few comments here. I’m a Christian who fully supports gay rights and same-sex marriage. I am probably in a minority among Christians, but I believe it is a rapidly growing minority.

    The interview seems to have led to the widespread view that the passage Romans 1:18-32 says that “gays should be put to death.” It is lamentable that the Major did not correct that view and, I think, Michael, that you are right in saying he was woefully unprepared for the interview, and bungled it badly. The contentious phrase in the passage is “deserve death,” and it comes some way after the reference to homosexual acts, which itself is not the main point of the passage. The phrase needs to be understood in the context of the rest of the book of Romans – later in ch 3 v 23 it states “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and again in 6:23 it says “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”

    Now, I’m not here to preach and say this is what you should believe — however, I hope that it clarifies the intended meaning of the passage — that we are ALL spiritually dead sinners, who have the offer of life in Christ. The passage is part of a much larger argument for hope, in the first eight chapters of Romans, not for condemnation.

    There of course remains the issue of whether it is saying that all homosexual activity is “a sin.” I once considered this to be true, but have re-evaluated my position on this as a result of evidence — meeting many gay people whom I am pleased to call my friends and whom I accept, and reading what gay and “straight” accepting Christians have said about the relevant passages.

    It would take too long in a post to go over the relevant passages, but it is my opinion having studied them all carefully in their textual and cultural context, that the Bible is actually silent on the issue of homosexual orientation — that the acts described are not those corresponding to a loving commitment between two people of the same gender. The passage in Romans appears to relate to people who were by nature heterosexual, but who abandoned them in favour of homosexual acts. I am convinced that many people are homosexual by nature, and for them it is not a case of “abandoning natural desires.”

    I am sure the Salvation Army would disagree with me on this, and would state that homosexuality is sinful. However, I do not consider it so.

    • Iain, thank you for sharing your insights. I have intentionally steered clear of a theological debate for two reasons: 1) as a non-Christian, I’m not qualified to argue Christian theology, and 2) the Salvation Army is free to believe whatever it wants. Don’t get me wrong. The theology of the subject is interesting and worth discussing in appropriate forums. And, I thank you for presenting an alternative theological view to that held by the Salvation Army.

      For me, the valuable take-aways from the Salvation Army situation are:

      1. Be completely honest with the public.
      2. Avoid taking polarizing positions that are not part of the organization’s core mission.
      3. Recognize that donors have freedom of choice.
      4. Recognize that donors will give to organizations whose mission AND values they can support.

  11. I will point out that Ms. Byrd’s statement did NOT say that LGBTs specifically were spiritually dead, but that ALL sinners who have not accepted Christ are spiritually dead. They don’t single out gays in their shelters either: shelters will not house unmarried parents together as they view sex outside of marriage as sinful; instead, children are sheltered with their mother and dads separately in the men’s shelter. Gay people get the same assistance as other unmarried people in need. Perhaps when legal gay marriage is more common they will recognize such unions, but for now I am thankful Major Craibe is on the other side of the world.

    • Jan, thank you for commenting. You are correct. Ms. Byrd did not single out members of the LGBT community. However, given the context of my exchange with her, it’s clear that The Salvation Army includes members of the LGBT community as members of the broader community of sinners. I’m not sure how that’s much better. While the organization is free to practice its religious beliefs, donors are free to practice there own beliefs and direct their support elsewhere if they prefer.

  12. Hello, Michael: Thank you for sharing this thoughtful perspective. A few comments I’d like to add.

    First, I’d like to echo what Iain Strachan shared (and yes, I acknowledge that you do not wish to delve into theology, but hang with me for a moment), in that the scripture refers to all sinners. All sin leads to death: envy, murder, malice, gossip, deceit, and the rest of a lengthy list of sins not related to homosexuality. In accordance with the Bible, we are all sinners and are in need of grace. Unfortunately, by using this as a defense of the statements made by Andrew Craibe, the public perceives the Salvation Army as singling out the LGBT community, when in fact the whole world — including those who work / worship at The Salvation Army — have sinned at one point in their life. Therefore, their people are just as much subject to spiritual death as the next guy.

    Should the Salvation Army take another look at how they respond to these questions — absolutely. But it pains me to think that the words of a couple of poorly prepared PR figures could jeopardize the work the people on the front lines, the thousands helping people in need everyday, and not talking to radio djs.

    I respect the Salvation Army because I have personal experience with them as volunteer and never ever witnessed any hate to anyone. And the group I volunteered with helped some people that no one else would help. I was never interrogated about my personal beliefs or lifestyle. Of course, I realize that’s just one experience in one city and the Salvation Army works in cities all over the world, but it makes me believe that the organization –at heart– is a good one with fabulous people who work/serve there and is poorly characterized by comments from a select few.

    Again, thank you for presenting this in such a constructive view and asking for a thoughtful discussion, unlike some of the other slanderous blogs I’ve read lately.

    • George, thank you for commenting. I’m glad to hear that you have had good experiences with The Salvation Army. The organization does do great work around the world. But, donors have choices. And donors will want to support organizations whose values align with the own. Organizations should be clear about what their values are. The Salvation Army could have avoided a great deal of grief at several points along the way.

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