The Salvation Army’s philanthropic efforts serve 130 countries around the globe, and its aid reaches roughly 23 million people annually. While perhaps most famous for its homeless, hunger, and disaster initiatives, the church funds an array of lesser-known services for vulnerable people: hotlines for victims of domestic abuse, after-school programs for at-risk youth, and job-training programs for the mentally ill. Its work fills critical gaps in the oft-derelict patchwork of public services, both domestically and abroad. It is one of the largest charitable organizations in the country, and is synonymous with American Christmastide.
It is also a Protestant sect, an institutional church with its own dogma, doctrine, and theology. Among its beliefs is an utterly orthodox opposition to same-sex marriage, which is, at most, incidental to the service work it performs — it serves people without regard to race, religion, sex, or sexual preference. Yet it has recently come under renewed fire from LGBT activists and others for its putative “homophobia.”
No one ever really says how the Salvation Army is “homophobic,” or even attempts to define what homophobia is. They just level the charge, and the cultural powers that be presume it to be true. Insinuation, in the age of the Internet, goes quite a ways. The once-stalwart, ostensibly Christian fast-food giant Chick-fil-A recently felt the need to divest from the Salvation Army because of its alleged “anti-LGBTQ stance.” And even Pete Buttigieg, a “symbol of LGBT progress,” has been unable to outrun the madness. After a picture of Buttigieg in a Salvation Army apron emerged, the online version of Out, the monthly magazine devoted to LGBT-related issues, excoriated the mayor for deigning to volunteer for the “Homophobic Salvation Army.”
The Out piece, of course, didn’t manage to put meat on its accusation. Its implication was that Buttigieg is something of a self-hater for ringing a bell and wearing an Army-branded red apron. That, again, presumes that the Salvation Army is a “homophobic” organization, which it is not, if we are to insist upon words retaining their meaning — the church and its attendant charity arm do not harbor an “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals.” They do not discriminate in their provision of services, and there is a compendium of examples of LGBT persons who have expressed gratitude for the work that they do. The only way Out can insist that they are “homophobic” is to stipulate that a belief about marriage held by 31 percent of Americans — and 49 percent of African Americans, including, until 2010, Barack Obama — is necessarily motivated by “unreasoning fear” or “antipathy.” It insisted upon doing just that, citing the fact that the Salvation Army once “circulated internal memos opposing marriage equality” as evidence that the church has a past ridden with anti-LGBT bigotry.
Perhaps the most inane example of the smear campaign came via singer Ellie Goulding, who was appalled to learn that the nonprofit she had once supported believes about marriage what, until the cosmic equivalent of a second ago, was widely held to be self-evident. Goulding was scheduled to perform at the Dallas Cowboys halftime show but threatened to withdraw the appearance because of the Cowboys’ affiliation with the Salvation Army. “Upon researching this,” Goulding said, she “would have no choice but to pull out unless [the Salvation Army] very quickly [makes] a solid, committed pledge or donation to the LGBTQ community.” The thousands of gay persons the charity serves in homeless shelters every year, the housing units it provides for transgender people, and all the other services it provides to the “LGBTQ community” apparently don’t count as a “committed pledge.” In truth, what it seemed like Goulding was really asking for was affirmation: If the Salvation Army didn’t lend its institutional approval to sex acts that its faith forbids — even while serving persons who engage in such acts the same as it serves everyone else — she insisted that she would withdraw her support.
I’m reminded of Adrian Vermeule’s thesis:
Progressive liberalism has its own cruel sacraments — especially the shaming and, where possible, legal punishment of the intolerant or illiberal — and its own liturgy, the Festival of Reason, the ever-repeated overcoming of the darkness of reaction. Because the celebration of the festival essentially requires, as part of its liturgical script, a reactionary enemy to be overcome, liberalism ceaselessly and restlessly searches out new villains to play their assigned part.
The pool of potential villains is rather thin in 2019. The charitable arm of the Salvation Army, apparently, will have to do. The Festival, after all, must go on.