Salvation Army commander: Yes, we are faith-based charity. But we serve and love everyone.
The following op-ed was written by David Hudson, national commander of The Salvation Army, and published in USA Today on Nov. 22, 2019.
I am truly thankful to live in an era of limitless connectivity.
The proliferation of communication platforms and ubiquitous internet access mean we have rich information and diverse perspectives right at our fingertips. I reap the benefits as much as anyone — professionally and personally — daily.
It’s ironic, then, that the same unfettered ability to learn and share anything at any time can create a nearly impenetrable logjam on the path to progress, impeding our ability to balance reason with emotion or to separate conflict from contribution. A cacophony of chatter fills our news feeds and the nation’s newsrooms.
Why take the time to read, research and rebut when we can simply scan and swipe? Assumptions are regularly presented as foregone conclusions, and facts often are drowned out by fiction.
Here’s our truth:
The Salvation Army is the world’s largest nongovernmental provider of poverty relief, serving more than 23 million in need each year in America alone. Our doors are, and always have been, open to all. We don’t ask anyone their orientation, identity or beliefs, to help ensure that they feel welcome and safe. So while we can’t claim an exact number, we believe by sheer size and access that we are the largest provider of poverty relief for people in the LGBTQ community.
Across our 7,686 centers of operation, you’ll find Salvation Army employees who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. You’ll find social workers who understand, advocate for and implement tailored services. You’ll find dedicated initiatives and resources designed for unique support. And you’ll find volunteers who embody our mission to serve all.
Backlash harms the most vulnerable
Yet because our organization is rooted in faith, a chorus repeatedly rises that insists we are anti-LGBTQ. And that refrain is dangerous to the very community we are wrongly accused of rejecting. At minimum, perpetuating rhetoric that vilifies an organization with the reach, housing, programming and resources that we have in place to lift them up is counterintuitive and inefficient. But when that organization depends on the generosity of donors to provide much-needed assistance to so many across all walks of life, it’s devastating.
We have a dorm in Las Vegas exclusively for transgender individuals. In Minneapolis, an estimated 20% of the 550 or so individuals who seek rest in our Harbor Light shelter each night are members of the LGBTQ community. In San Francisco, we operate a detoxification facility that caters to those infected with HIV/AIDS. Our Young Adult Resource Center provides day shelter to homeless youth in Houston, many of whom identify as LGBTQ. We work with the City of Baltimore to combat trafficking among transgender individuals, a growing need there. And every other Salvation Army program, shelter or center nationwide is open to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Those are verifiable facts, and though we have much more to do as we try to address unique needs of all kinds, Salvation Army programs like these are ready to help vulnerable LGBTQ people at this very minute.
Surely no one wants to see programs for those living in poverty eliminated simply because some disagree with the theology of those who provide them. It’s true that The Salvation Army’s pastoral leaders, who subscribe to the international tenets of the church on which we are founded, do themselves adhere to a traditional Biblical definition of marriage — that’s also true of the leaders of most churches around the world.
In our 150-plus-year history, there unfortunately have been individuals who misrepresented our theology through actions and speech motivated by their own personal biases, but those few instances do not define The Salvation Army. Our faith is the very foundation of our officers’ commitment to serve anyone, including those who might not share that faith.
The risk to our ability to serve millions in need, due to the spread of misinformation and mass bandwagon-jumping, is very real. For the sake of those living in or on the edge of poverty, we must cut through the sensationalism and listen to what matters. So to those who may be confused or are deafened by the noise of ill-informed sentiment, we share our message in hopes that it is heard loud and clear:
Regardless of sexual or gender identity, orientation, belief or any other factor, we love all, we welcome all.
Please help us serve all we can. I wish you blessings and a happy Thanksgiving.