Hard facts about the Salvos
Let me take you back to the scandal that enveloped the Salvation Army a few weeks ago, when their public position on homosexuality and same sex marriage was thrust into the media spotlight after a tweet by Darren Hayes.
The statement on the Salvation Army website described homosexuality as “unacceptable” to God and that it should be “restrained” with willpower. The Salvo’s public relations disaster quickly went from bad to worse when a media spokesperson for the Salvos was interviewed by JOY FM and defended the organisation’s handbook of doctrine which said gay people should be put to death.
For many people this came as a surprise, given the high regard held for the Salvation Army and their work – the Salvation Army receives millions of dollars of Government funding and public donations to assist the most disadvantaged and marginalised in our community. Most of us associate the Salvos with compassion and humanity, not discrimination. As a friend of mine said, “what has God got to do with me giving away my early 90’s baggy jeans or my Sportsgirl t-shirts to those less fortunate than myself...?” Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile how an organisation seeking to alleviate social disadvantage can play a role in perpetuating views that cause significant harm to the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ Australians and their families.
The Salvation Army response was swift. The charity quickly apologised for the “unfortunate” comments aired on JOY FM. The statement on homosexuality is no longer available on the Salvation Army website. Instead, it has been replaced by carefully crafted paragraphs which highlight the non-discriminatory basis on which the Salvation Army offers their services to the public and recruits staff and volunteers.
However, these comments need to be approached with caution. The Salvation Army’s army stance on homosexuality does not begin and end with seemingly dated statements buried on its website.
The community needs to be aware that the charity has chosen to proactively campaign against marriage equality as recently as a few short months ago. The Salvation Army made a submission and provided evidence to the House of Representatives inquiry into marriage equality.
Major Rigley gave evidence that “… the Salvation Army believes that historically the cornerstone of society has been based on the marriage definition as one man to one woman for a lifelong, indissoluble union. That is the Salvation Army’s view, which we believe part of our biblical tradition.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that this contribution did not feature in the Salvation Army’s media response to Darren Hayes’ tweet. The community also needs to be aware that the Salvation Army and other faith based organisations are currently exempt from equal opportunity laws.
Victorian law allows religious organisation to discriminate in providing goods and services (yes, even taxpayer funded ones) and employing and promoting staff. These ‘’permanent exceptions’’ set religious groups apart from others who are subject to legal checks and balances that require them to show that any differential treatment is fair and reasonable. The federal government is considering similar exemptions for its federal antidiscrimination laws, something the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby hopes to prevent.
Faith based organisations provide many critical services funded by taxpayer dollars - services for the vulnerable and marginalised but also hospitals, aged care and schooling. We value the caring spirit in which these services are provided and recognise their importance. However, this does not justify, on any measure, a license to discriminate against people simply on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
We live in an age where discrimination is no longer tolerated. We recognise its harmful and insidious effects. It’s time ensure our charity and taxpayer dollars are not perpetrating hatred and harm towards the LGBTIQ community.