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Nov 28 2010

The Salvation Army and “the most good”

In the brief time since I proposed a boycott of the Salvation Army for their anti-gay policies, I’ve received quite a wide variety of responses. It’s clear that there are a lot of people who weren’t aware of this, and many of them have decided not to give to the Salvation Army for this reason. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for – and I hope even more people will learn about this, too. At the same time, there are a significant number of people who defended the Salvation Army, and for one reason or another, don’t see this as a sufficient cause to boycott them.

In particular, it was striking to see how many people are willing to ignore their policy of official homophobia, and don’t consider this a dealbreaker in terms of giving them money. And I have to wonder if people would be so forgiving of an openly racist or anti-semitic organization. If they knew that a certain group had an official position stating that the white race is inherently superior, or Jews are just “imperfect Christians”, would they still go right ahead and keep supporting them? Would that not make them stop and think that maybe they shouldn’t involve themselves with such a group? It’s interesting that they’re apparently much more tolerant of discrimination against gay people – like this just doesn’t matter to them. It really does seem to be one of the last acceptable prejudices.

Of course, some people have tried to turn this around and claim that we must be discriminating against the Salvation Army, and that not supporting them because of their anti-gay beliefs is somehow a kind of bigotry all its own. It’s rather amusing that anyone would even attempt such a ridiculous argument. It’s quite obvious that standing against bigotry, and taking action to discourage it, is not itself bigotry at all. Indeed, this stands in direct opposition to bigotry. It’s kind of like saying that if you oppose racism, you must be “bigoted against racists”. (Or racist against bigots.) The real bigotry at work here is the passive bigotry of those who would allow such discriminatory attitudes to proliferate unchecked, without ever lifting a finger to stop them. Arguably, choosing to let bigotry proceed without interference can mean being complicit in it yourself. But actively opposing it is most certainly not just another kind of bigotry.

Other people have attempted to minimize this issue by saying that the Salvation Army doesn’t have a problem with gay people, only with the act of gay sex. But I don’t see how that’s supposed to be any better. There’s still no legitimate reason to be against gay sex, just like there’s no reason to object to being gay in and of itself, either. Besides, who do they think is having all the gay sex, anyway? Even if this is what they believe, it doesn’t make their anti-gay policies any more acceptable. Really, is it supposed to be a good thing that they expect people to never have a loving, intimate relationship with another person, for no good reason at all? I don’t see how. A position like that is still just as deserving of a boycott.

Meanwhile, some people have accused us of depriving the poor and the homeless of food and shelter by not giving to the Salvation Army. Obviously, this is not our intention whatsoever. If people do withhold their support from the Salvation Army, I certainly hope they’ll give to another charity instead. We don’t want to undermine services for those in need. But we also don’t want to fund a group like the Salvation Army. And if not giving to the Salvation Army means we’re letting the poor go hungry, you could just as well say that supporting the Salvation Army means letting children in Haiti die of cholera.

I would have to ask why people aren’t willing to hold the Salvation Army itself accountable for attaching completely irrelevant homophobic policies to an otherwise very helpful operation. Where is their responsibility for driving people away from a worthwhile cause with needless bigotry? It’s rather unreasonable to demand that people support your openly anti-gay organization under the implied threat that you’ll have to throw poor people out on the street. That’s just repulsive, and it really amounts to a kind of blackmail. In boycotting them, we’re simply refusing to take the bait. So yes, we do want to make an impact on the Salvation Army itself. By making our support for them contingent upon whether they withdraw their anti-gay policies, they now have an incentive to do so. If we gave them our money regardless of what their policies were, they would never have any reason to change. And that’s kind of the point of a boycott.

Others have said that the Salvation Army are the only ones providing vital services in some areas, and so there is no option but to support them. But clearly, there is another option, and this is really a self-reinforcing argument whose validity relies upon its own application. Of course there won’t be any other groups providing these services, if everyone always donates to the Salvation Army. That’s never going to change if you keep giving them your money – nobody else could ever get off the ground! If this is the reason you have to keep giving to the Salvation Army, it’s only a reason because you keep giving to the Salvation Army.

Most significantly, nearly all of the objections to a boycott shared one common thread: that regardless of their anti-gay policies, the Salvation Army does a lot of good. The implication seems to be that this makes their homophobia more acceptable – as if that somehow makes up for it. It’s surprising how many people think that this is what charity is about.

Certainly we’re all familiar with the concept of penance, even in a secular context: when we’ve done something wrong, we try to make up for it. But what happens if you reverse this? Can you do something good in advance, so as to earn a certain amount of “moral currency” you can spend to permit yourself to do something bad? Not really. The entire point of making up for something bad is that you recognize that you were wrong to do it, you try to make things right, and hopefully you’ll avoid doing that again. But there is no recognition of this wrongdoing, or intention of avoiding it in the future, when you continually use your good deeds to grant yourself a perpetual license to do harm. This seems rather inconsistent with the purpose of a charity.

Even the Salvation Army’s own motto is: “Doing the most good.” And that’s a goal I would completely agree with. But many people, perhaps even the Salvation Army themselves, apparently have a concept of what “doing good” means that is completely at odds with this. Quite simply, they don’t seem to actually care about doing the most good – emphasis on the “most”. Instead, they’re only concerned with maintaining a moral surplus of sorts, and staying out of the red. As long as they do enough good to break even and stay in the black, then they can squander as much of that goodwill as they want on doing bad things.

But this is obviously self-defeating. Why go to the trouble of doing so much good if you’re just going to detract from it by doing harm? That’s not “doing the most good” – it’s only “doing mostly good”. You aren’t maximizing the good you do, you’re just staying out of debt. That’s not what a charity is for. If they truly want to do the most good, then they can do more good by doing less harm. And really, if this is supposed to be an excuse, then just how much does it excuse? How much harm would you allow them to do before you would no longer support them? And, once they’ve reached that point, how much more good would they have to do before you would support them again? This is certainly worth considering when your idea of morality is nothing but a balanced budget.

Once again, I’d like to thank everyone who watched the video and decided to join the cause. I hope you’ll share it with people so more of them will know about this, and we might just make a difference here.

(crossposted from YouTube)

10 comments

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  1. 1
    StarmanReturns

    There’s no reason why the Salvation Army should have it’s homophobic policies and there is no evidence that supports having them at all.If any school,business,place of employment had such policies against gay people they would be sued.The U.S. Military is one of the last places which still has such homophobic policies with it’s “Don’t ask,Don’t tell” policy (which looks like it will soon be over with).With America now entering it’s Second Decade of War the U.S. Military will now be like it’s other NATO Allys (U.K.,Germany, France,Spain,Italy) which has no such anti-descrimination policy.

    1. 1.1
      -

      yeah, dadt. i think the surveys targeted (respected) the lower ranks, since they are whom (or properly, the majority of lower ranks) people have been the concerned. so, i wonder how much b*tching this has stirred amongst fundies, regarding the gay brainwashing agenda? i can imagine they’ll label the survey results as product of brainwashing. (as if boot camp and much of onwards lacks any resemblance to “programming” :-) )

  2. 2
    -

    “who do they think is having all the gay sex, anyway?”
    only the shadow knows,,, plus a few other people.
    but really.larry craig, tim haggard, lots of other names i forget, and so on.
    :-)
    PS. why does that SA kettle remind me of cannibal cartoons?

  3. 3
    Bob Jensen

    To whom it may concern,

    I know nothing of the “Salvation Army’s anti-gay policies.” However, as with nearly all Christian organizations, they would naturally not support homosexuality. Whether they choose to promote homosexuality or not is simply irrelevant in terms of supporting them. They have the freedom of choice to decide their own opinions on such matters. A comparison to anti-Semitism is simply arbitrary, as that would be discriminating against a person for his or her own self-entity rather than choosing not to support a certain lifestyle. You are in effect doing the same thing when you speak ill of this organization. You are discriminating against them because of their beliefs and opinions. I challenge you then to pick up the slack, fill in the gap, ring all the bells, and help all those people out yourself. If you so choose to discriminate against and boycott organizations like this, at least choose ones that are actually creating legitimate harm (such as BP). Be a little more tolerant, and support free speech for CRYING OUT LOUD!!!

  4. 4
    Zinnia Jones

    However, as with nearly all Christian organizations, they would naturally not support homosexuality.

    Some Christian organizations do. Is it unreasonable to expect the Salvation Army to do so as well?

    Whether they choose to promote homosexuality or not is simply irrelevant in terms of supporting them. They have the freedom of choice to decide their own opinions on such matters.

    Likewise, we have the freedom of choice to decide whether to donate to them. Most importantly, we have the freedom to take into account their anti-gay stance when deciding whether or not to support them.

    A comparison to anti-Semitism is simply arbitrary, as that would be discriminating against a person for his or her own self-entity rather than choosing not to support a certain lifestyle.

    Even if there were a difference, it would not be relevant. It does not make it any more acceptable for them to choose “not to support a certain lifestyle” in this case.

    You are in effect doing the same thing when you speak ill of this organization. You are discriminating against them because of their beliefs and opinions.

    Opposition to discrimination is intended to discourage discrimination, and “discrimination” against discrimination cannot rightly be seen as constituting actual discrimination at all, as it works to reduce discrimination.

    Be a little more tolerant, and support free speech for CRYING OUT LOUD!!!

    We are in no way required to provide them material support in the name of “tolerance” or “free speech”.

  5. 5
    Bob Jensen

    My question to you is, what mark are you leaving on this world? Why you using all your energies to slander an organization that is trying to do good things for people? Are you doing something equally altruistic to balance out that subversion of good works that could potentially be occurring as a result of your down-cutting of this organization?

    Disagreement with the opinions of others is part of life. We need to learn to respect the opinions of others and get along with life. There is nothing wrong with having opinions, but respecting the right to free speech should be regarded as being of UTMOST importance in the quest for maintaining human rights and tolerance among peoples. I am reminded of the renowned Professor Noam Chomsky’s defense of the radical Robert Faurisson’s outright statements on the actions of the Nazi’s in the Second World War. Have a read for yourself . . .

    http://www.chomsky.info/letters/198509–.htm

  6. 6
    Heavenly Sword~!

    Hey ZJ, what are you doing for homeless people? When was the last time you actually did without for any serious length of time? have you ever? You didn’t want to go to school anymore, mommy said okay, you wanted to drink Pepsi until it made you so sick ou needed surgery? Cool, your choice! But, to call for the boycott of an organization that is doing so much more good than you ever will?

    It just makes me sick, ZJ. You make me sick. Here you are, preaching from your chair, bantering on YouTube, reciting Pi to 314 digits, and you have the gall to say such things? I think you should fuck off and focus on the Westboro Baptist Church, you overzealous sack of shit. But, honestly? Even that might be a little hard for me to chew, considering the fact that no more than a few years ago, you and your friends were screwing with and hurting people who had never done anything to you.

    Ah, what a glorious and hypocritical legacy you will leave behind.

  7. 7
    Sarah bat asher

    They are a terribly mentally and emotionally cruel and abusive cult. They are mean and cruel to the children that stay there. I have never heard children constantly crying like they do at the Salvation Army. I had to stay at one in Jefferson City MO. I am Jewish. I went to the little reform synagogue in Jefferson City MO, and the staff and permanent residents were all laughing and saying that the Jews killed a puppy and ate it and drank its’ blood during the service for a religious ritual. And the staff and other clients were laughing and saying they were going to burn a cross on my forehead, like I was a vampire or something. And they called me a witch every chance that they got. And hissed at me like a bunch of snakes. And said to each other,” She is ONE OF THEM. She’s a Jew. The Jews killed our god.”
    There was one little white girl there who is about 7 months pregnant from the ‘major’ who runs that shelter. He is black. And old. Yuck!
    The U.S. government took the David Koresh cult out and the Jim Jones cult had to go to South America because they were not allowed to be in the United States. They should not give ANY Federal or State money to the Salvation Army, or a tax-exempt status either because they are NOT non-profit. They take all of those red kettle donations at Yoshke Pundrik time and use them to pay the salaries of the people who are in the fake military ranks of their cult. The soldiers and perverted ‘majors’ who molest vunerable girls.
    Parents do not let these people abuse your children. They ARE going to damage their little minds and feelings of self-worth and independance.

  8. 8
    David

    Wow, looks like the Salvation Army, or a particular location, has problems with Jews as well. But if confronted on this, they would most likely whine and say things like, “oh no, some of our best friends are Jewish” and “oh, we don’t hate Jews, Jesus is Jewish.”
    More reason for me to tell the Salvation Army to fuck off when they ask for a donation.

  9. 9
    Brad Willis

    Bravo, Zinnia!!! I’ve been urging my friends and family to boycott the Salvation Army for years over their anti-gay beliefs/positions. Yes, the Salvation Army does much good for many people. But so do other organizations that, unlike the Salvation Army, support equality for all Americans. Give to those organizations…not the Salvation Army!!!

  1. 10
    The Sally Army « TRiG's links

    [...] Transcript. [...]

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