They're ubiquitous at this time of year: red and clear kettles full of change, friendly volunteers shaking sleigh bells. I'm talking about the Sally Ann's Christmas Kettle Campaign of course. It's almost a holiday tradition walking over to one and dropping in a few dollars. I remember doing it with my Dad when I was younger. You'd practically feel guilty if you didn't.
I'm not supporting the Salvation Army this year.
There was something about the Salvation Army that always put me off as a kid. Perhaps it was the 'salvation' part. Or the 'army' part. (The focus on salvation in western religions, and some eastern ones, has always been a point of contention for me. The underlying premise being that humanity is somehow fundamentally flawed, but that is a discussion for another time.) Admittedly, the Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization with a semblance of military structure. Imagine my surprise when I found my childhood suspicions confirmed.
Consider this from The Washington Post via AMERICAblog Gay.
The Bush administration is working with the nation's largest charity, the Salvation Army, to make it easier for government-funded religious groups to discriminate against gay people in hiring, according to an internal Salvation Army document."Alright," you say, "but that's the Salvation Army in America, Australia, and Scotland. Not Canada."
To which I give you the following from the Salvation Army's ethics website:
The Salvation Army upholds the dignity of all persons. For this reason, and in obedience to the example of Jesus Christ, whose compassionate love is all-embracing, The Salvation Army does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the delivery of its services.In other words: "Being gay is fine, just don't act on it." They claim to respect the dignity of gays and lesbians, but would ask that they refrain from expressing their love intimately to respect their own sensibilities. I see this canard a lot, and I find the attitude sanctimonious. It is rude for a group to expect special consideration from non-members of the group. Gay and lesbian Christians on the other hand, may feel obliged to follow church teaching, but they may have their own objections as well.
The Salvation Army believes that God’s will for the expression of sexual intimacy is revealed in the Bible, and that living fully in accordance with biblical standards calls for chastity outside of heterosexual marriage and faithfulness within it. We do not believe that same-sex attraction is necessarily blameworthy and we oppose the vilification and mistreatment of gays and lesbians. We believe that we are accountable for the ways in which we express our sexuality.
Consider also the following from The Edmonton Sun.
CALGARY — The Salvation Army says it refuses to distribute Harry Potter and Twilight toys collected for needy children because they're incompatible with the charity's Christian beliefs.This policy, while not universal, misleads otherwise well-meaning donors and deprives children of reading material, compounding problems with illiteracy in those already most vulnerable.
The policy has alarmed a Calgarian who volunteered to sift through a southeast warehouse full of unused, donated items and was alarmed when he was told by Salvation Army officials that the two kinds of toys are "disposed of" and not given to other charities.
"I was told to withhold a six-inch Harry Potter figure, but when I picked up a plastic M-16, I was told, 'That's for the 10-year-olds,'" he said.
"I was shocked...war-themed toys and toys from TV shows and movies with far more violence than Harry Potter and these were considered appropriate toys?"
This cuts to the heart of my disillusionment with many charities. While often founded with the intent of doing good, many charities have ulterior motives in addition to their charity work. As I've already mentioned, the Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian organization. Their goal is to bring people to God; to save them. Working with the less fortunate provides the perfect opportunity for this. Beggars can't be choosers, and those that rely on the support of charities like the Salvation Army sometimes feel the need to adopt the charity's views to fit in with the group and feel secure. Alcoholics Anonymous could be another example of this.
I've made donations to the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders/MÉDECINS SANS FRONTIÈRES before. I became a monthly contributor to the Canadian Red Cross this year. I'm satisfied with their track record and I believe they'll make good use of my donation.
I'm not going to say that secular charities are immune to this; they can have ulterior motives as well. I think all that this stresses is that care needs to be taken when selecting who receives your charity dollar.