To: General Linda Bond
The Salvation Army
Dear General Bond,
As you're no doubt aware, Uganda will vote any day now on a bill that calls for the execution or life imprisonment of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people. Though the details of the bill are shrouded in mystery, it seems likely that it will also mandate imprisonment of those who "harbor" LGB people by refusing to turn them over to the authorities for imprisonment or execution.
In response to this appalling legislation, the usual religious and secular activists have mobilized, the usual petitions have circulated and the usual condemnations have been issued. The more strident and extremist voices of right-wing religious activism have publicly praised the bill, and, as usual, some Christian leaders have remained silent -- leaders like you.
Your silence is particularly disturbing given your organization's global influence. You've had a presence in Uganda since 1931. Your words have weight there; it's time you used them. In fact, it's time for you to clearly and publicly condemn the "kill the gays" bill in Uganda.
It may seem to you that there's no reason to get involved in a matter that might be controversial within your organization. Why invite a lot of debate about biblical authority, the role of religion in government and the role of outside religious leaders in discussing other countries' laws? But if you take the time to look closely at this issue, you'll find that condemning this bill is an important opportunity to take a public position of social relevance, theological clarity and moral leadership.
Your organization has recently suffered from criticism that its policies and practices are unfair to LGBT people. There are are stories of local offices refusing to help LGBT individuals. Your organization threatened to leave New York over an ordinance offering benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. Your Major General Andrew Craibe of Austraila has stated that LGBT people "deserve to die." These controversies, among others, have resulted in a swarm of Internet memes and videos urging LGBT people and their friends to stop giving to the Salvation Army.
The memes and boycotts are clearly having an impact. This week the Salvation Army's Major George Hood told Current TV, "[W]e want to dispel the notion that we do discriminate when the fact is we're working very hard not discriminating and it is a part of our mission. ... Many of those things start fueling through blog sites and postings on the Internet, and it's really really tough to shut them down when they get out there."
Hood is not alone. Many evangelical or fundamentalist Christians feel that they are unfairly vilified by the blogosphere and the media as inhumane, hateful and wishing to impose their interpretation of biblical law as the law of the land. Now you have an opportunity to show that evangelical leaders are capable of compassion, humanity and humility. Show that you favor the separation of church and state. Show that your position on LGBT issues is one of loving concern, not murderous fear. At the very least, show your understanding that the project of saving "lost" gay souls requires that those souls stay alive long enough to be saved. Condemn this bill.
In order to support something as drastic as the "kill the gays" bill, one must not only believe that scripture clearly, undeniably and forever condemns all same-gender sex (though Exodus states that the "sin of Sodom" was greed, the words of Paul may have been about temple prostitution, and many biblical prohibitions, in both the Old and New Testaments, are no longer applied today, even by your organization) but that the condemnation is mortal, and that it should be a matter of secular law. Does your organization really believe this? In a written apology for Craibe's statements, your organization has stated that it "does not believe ... that homosexuality should result in any form of physical punishment," and that same-gender sex is simply another sin, all of which result in "spiritual death." In the apology the Salvation Army urges its members to "act with acceptance, love and respect to all people." It's time to put those beliefs into action. Lives hang in the balance. It is no longer possible, no longer morally excusable, for an organization to put a friendly public face on fundamentalist views while privately condoning their excesses. Unless you actually support this bill, condemn it.
Religious leaders all over the world have already done condemned this bill, including Dr. Rowan Williams of the Anglican church, and even Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, Catholic Archibishop of Kampala, but you are positioned to provide unique leadership on this issue. Your organization worked tirelessly in Uganda to help internally displaced persons during the recent humanitarian crisis. Your shield logo is a trusted symbol of help and safety across Africa. Won't you use your influence to help shield people from execution in Jesus' name? Because of your organization's stature, you can't avoid a position; your silence is, in itself, a position of tacit approval, suggesting that you agree with the project of legally enforcing a certain deadly interpretation of biblical law, just as Sharia law is enforced in certain unenviable Muslim countries.
Your church has a history of guiding social agendas all over the world. You cannot now abdicate that responsibility under the guise of letting Ugandans decide for themselves. And you cannot claim that you're simply a vessel for God's unchanging word, given that over the years there's been room for new revelation throughout the fundamentalist movement on everything from dancing to race relations to women's hair and clothing. It's time to accept a new revelation today.
Maybe you're not ready to accept that the Bible's supposed "condemnation" of loving same-sex relationships is a matter of interpretation, like many other interpretations used in the past to condemn people (interracial couples, slaves, the mentally ill, the disabled) but which are now readily ignored by most evangelical Christians. If you can't accept that new revelation, at least accept this old one: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Legalizing the murder of consenting adults to enforce a religious doctrine is the ultimate act of judgment and, thus, the ultimate act of disobedience. You know this to be true. Tell the Ugandans. Condemn this bill.
Follow Wayne Self on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ewayneself