Saving the Salvation Army

Blue_Rock Creek_2012-08-17


2013-11-19 – My wife Kit attended a class today as she continues to prepare to open her new business. The class took place at a Salvation Army shelter for abused women and children. She said that the class members were required to keep their cell phones out of view while they were there.

Suspicious me, I asked if that was because of possible theft. No, Kit said. The rule was to prevent pictures being taken of the people taking shelter there. Imagine that: a shelter that provides protection!

Here’s the troubling thing: last week I saw a number of posts on Facebook urging us not to give to the Salvation Army this year because of their homophobic policies. Is it wrong to support a shelter for abused women and children because of the policies of their benefactors?

Now, I’m not here to write a brief for the Salvation Army. I don’t understand their beliefs at all, so I can’t attack or defend them. But they clearly do a lot of valuable charitable work.

My question is: when do an organization’s policies become so repugnant that we would boycott its charities? Are we supposed to do some kind of balancing? Or is it all or nothing? If you boycott the Salvation Army, do you—

  • Boycott Catholic charities because their church covered up pedophilia or because they oppose abortion or because they have an anti-gay policy?
  • Boycott Jewish charities because of the pedophilia scandal in some of their ultra-orthodox communities?
  • Boycott Muslim charities because of uncomfortable ties to al Qaeda?
  • Boycott UNICEF because of anti-Semitic activities?

. . . and so on.

It’s my guess, that you said yes to some of these and no to others? Did you give the yes-boycott verdict to the ones who are discriminating against your favorite victims? Did you give the no-don’t-boycott verdict to organizations whose discrimination is more to your liking?

If it’s a matter of purity, we might be boycotting everyone. No charity at all.

The shame of this is that the folks who lose are the abused women and children seeking shelter from the Salvation Army. As usual, the officials of these organizations—the folks with the distasteful opinions and policies—don’t suffer at all.

Trickle down happens in the world of charity, too.

This makes charitable giving very tricky, indeed. The answer, of course, is in the details. Who benefits from your contribution? Does money go to the loathsome purpose or to a deserving beneficiary? How much gets to the beneficiaries and how much to the higher ups? Is there a more effective way to bring change to the organization? Are there alternative charities without loathsome policies that will get funds to the same beneficiaries?

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