Friday, November 9, 2012

Which Charity Will You Support This Christmas?

It's early November, so that only can mean one thing: time to start thinking about Christmas!  And while buying gifts for loved ones is first and foremost on our minds, many people choose to pick a charity to support. Two of these charities include Samaritan's Purse and The Salvation Army.

1) Samaritan's Purse is an organization founded by Rev. Billy Graham's son Franklin, and each Christmas they run the wildly popular Operation Christmas Child, wherein participants fill thousands upon thousands of shoeboxes with age-appropriate gifts for children in impoverished countries around the world. It is estimated that the 100 millionth shoebox will be distributed this coming year, somewhere within the 130 countries they end up in. At a church I was attending until recently, they had taken part in this program for over a decade. Not anymore. The problem? Often, an evangelical Christian message goes out with these shoeboxes, rather than them being "good for goodness sakes."  According to the UK website of Operation Christmas Child: "We have never put Christian literature into shoeboxes before they are shipped, nor do we ever intend to do so." In the next breath they say "Yes, where appropriate we are pleased to be able to provide literature.  A local church or Christian partner distributing the shoeboxes may issue a free copy. of a Christian booklet, The Greatest Gift, which contains Bible stories, including an explanation of the true meaning of Christmas.  No-one is obliged to take this booklet."

If you're an evangelical Christian and you're OK with this, it's no problem; however, if you're not, you may want to be aware.

2) The Salvation Army.  We all know of the Salvation Army and the tireless work that they have done amongst the poor and needy for decades. They provide food hampers at Christmastime, run thrift stores, and provide other family and community services. Each Christmas we see Salvation Army volunteers manning donation kettles in our local malls.  However, if you're passionate about LGBT issues, you may find this interesting. While "the Salvation Army offers its services to all who are in need, regardless of sexual orientation," practising homosexuals are "ineligible for full membership" in The Salvation Army. Therefore, members who are attracted to the same sex should "embrace celibacy as a way of life" (something no doubt many straight married couples do already!)

The last decade has been spotted with a couple eye-popping stories when it comes to the Army and the LGBT community. In 2004, the Salvation Army threatened to close all its soup kitchens in the New York City area—which would have ended $250 million worth of contracts with the city—if they were forced to offer benefits to same-sex couples. This move would have lost the Salvation Army around $70 million in direct funding from the city and endangered the lives of several thousand people reliant on the Salvation Army. They said that, by offering benefits to same sex couples, they’d be supporting HIV/AIDS because HIV/AIDS is only the product of homosexual intercourse (um...wrong).  And this past June, Maj. Andrew Craibe, media relations director for Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory, found himself in the middle of a public-relations firestorm for comments he made on a gay-oriented Australian radio show. He was asked about the Salvation Army’s position on homosexuality and a section in its “Handbook of Doctrine” that cites a Biblical passage -- Romans 1:18-32 --  containing a condemnation of homosexuality. The passage mentions that in God’s eyes, “those who practice such things are deserving of death.” One of the radio hosts, Serena Ryan, expressed concern over the passage and asked, “How do you respond to that as part of your doctrine?” Craibe responded: “Well, that’s a part of our belief system. We have an alignment to the Scriptures that that’s our belief.”

Two days later, The Salvation Army put out an apology and explanation: "The Scripture in question, viewed in its broader context, is not referring to physical death, nor is it specifically targeted at homosexual behavior. The author is arguing that no human being is without sin, all sin leads to spiritual death (separation from God), and all people therefore need a Saviour.”

This is a tough call for me, because I have people very close to me who are very loving and do vital work in the community with the Salvation Army. As a Community Services Coordinator told me as I put together this article, "We are all equal. We wouldn't treat anyone differently. I don't know what that guy in Australia was thinking." They would not base their ministry on hate whatsoever. But as an LGBT activist, I feel the need to point these things out.

Who will you support this Christmastime?

Mark Andrew Alward