Bil Browning

Revealed: The Apology the Salvation Army Won't Release

Filed By Bil Browning | December 19, 2014 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-LGBT discrimination, Doing the Most Good, leaked information, red kettles, SA-USA, Salvation Army

bigstock-Salvation-army-kettle-7115932.jpgYesterday Queerty exposed two internal Salvation Army USA documents that lays out exactly how the religious org planned to battle the negative publicity from my campaign to get them to apologize for their anti-LGBT past. After reading the memos describing their plan for a "strategy of containment" that includes whitewashing their past, confusing potential donors, and refusing to take responsibility for their horrendous history of discrimination, it seems appropriate to release exactly what they don't want revealed: the public apology that the church leadership refuses to issue.

In two separate documents, the Salvation Army clearly is more interested in using PR spin to deflect attention and make LGBT people doubt whether or not the group's history is worthy of an apology. In a 24-page memo titled "2014 Nondiscrimination Communications & Protocols," the org's public relations department spells out exactly how local and regional branches of the not-for-profit should respond to critics.

"In April 2013, The Salvation Army's National Advisory Board adopted an aggressive issues management plan, with specific emphasis on addressing allegations of discrimination on on [sic] ongoing basis," the document reads under a section marked "Preparations." It notes that "The Salvation Army NHQ communications team and Richards Partners have held issue briefings and media training workshops in 2013 and 2014 for more than 150 of the highest ranking officers and respective public relations officials."

Sadly, the organization has been in constant communication with me in an attempt to duplicitously silence my campaign demanding an apology. In 2013 the group's public relations team expressed interest in issuing the apology I requested and asked me to write it for them. I did so, and the team said they would pass it on to national and regional leadership for approval.

As the months passed, the org stayed in touch with me and gave excuse after excuse as to why they hadn't issued the apology yet. They didn't want to put it out during the run-up to Christmas out of fear of offending the religious right. They didn't want to put it out immediately after Christmas because it would seem patronizing to LGBT people. And they didn't want to put it out during the summer months because they were suddenly having problems with the approval process. New leadership was in place, they said, and now they had to start all over again.

They knew they had a problem. They knew they needed to fix it. And they wanted to take responsibility and issue an apology. These new leaked documents expose just how untrue those breadcrumbs they tossed my way really were.

This year, the group's social media team has been working overtime to reach out to Facebook and Twitter users who share my post or say anything negative about the church. One canned message that's been seen repeatedly is expressly given in the document as a "suggested Facebook post" for church members. Instead of taking responsibility for their history of rampant discrimination, they encouraged their followers and staff to lie and deny.

"These accusations simply aren't true. Since its founding nearly 150 years ago, The Salvation Army has lived out its mission: To meet human need in His name, without discrimination. People who come to the Army for assistance will be served according to their need and our capacity to help - regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation," the canned text reads.

Another suggested posting goes even further in an attempt to deflect responsibility saying, "We acknowledge that because of our size and scope, occasionally, one of our millions of employees or volunteers might say or do something that does not reflect our true values. We address these incidents as soon as they arise. The Salvation Army believes that all people are equal regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor, including race, gender, and ethnicity."

Just as the org is lying about the well-documented "accusations" of abuse, they also include links to articles published online that contain misinformation and obvious factual errors. The PR team also says that fact-checked reporting from the New York Post, New York Times and other mainstream media outlets is "inaccurate." A quick check of court records and widespread national news belies their spin.

With the group now lying and trying to cover their tracks, it would appear that the Salvation Army USA will never issue the apology that they asked my help in crafting. After the documents were leaked, I wrote to Communications Director Jennifer Byrd - with whom I've worked closely on the proposed apology - to ask if they were simply yanking me around in an attempt to keep me from beating the drum that they have a horrible history of discriminating against LGBT people. There was no response.

It's incredibly disappointing to see from the internal Salvation Army documents posted by Queerty that the org opted for a "policy of containment" instead of taking a proactive approach of working with the LGBT community to heal old wounds. Instead of "doing the most good," the SA-USA opted to spin the truth and gloss over their extremely anti-LGBT past. I continue to hope that they'll actually "do the most good" some day, but that obviously isn't their priority right now.

Since the Salvation Army won't publicly release the apology they asked me to prepare for them, I will. You can also read the 24 page memo yourself here [pdf] and be sure to head over to Queerty to read the extra memo they've printed on their site.

The Apology the Salvation Army Won't Release

At the Salvation Army, we have always focused on the people society often overlooks - the disadvantaged, the sick, and the outcasts. We have stood for the basic theme of Jesus Christ's teachings: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." No one is outside of forgiveness and salvation. In God's eyes, we are all equal.

Unfortunately, we haven't always given that unconditional love to our brothers and sisters in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Instead of allowing God to judge people's hearts, we took it upon ourselves to interpret God's wishes and, as these situations always end, we were not as loving as Christ would want us to be. As we have reflected on our past actions and the painful stories the LGBT community has shared with us, we have realized that to truly be Christ-like, we must follow his example. The path to salvation lies through forgiveness.

The Salvation Army USA would like to apologize to the LGBT community for any hurt we may have caused in the past. Whether through the sin of omission or commission, we have done harm to countless of our brothers and sisters and we are truly sorry. We ask for the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt and pray that you will extend us the opportunity to prove ourselves anew. Being gay is not a sin, but being judgmental is.

As with most Christian denominations in the United States, we are evolving on how we handle LGBT issues. We are in the process of updating our policies and practices, but this is what we can pledge to do now. We have instituted a nationwide nondiscrimination policy for clients, volunteers, and employees that is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. We now provide domestic partner benefits in all states and cities where required by law as well as states where same-sex marriage has been legalized - and are examining ways to expand these benefits nationwide while still holding true to our church values. We have removed all references to harmful "ex-gay" therapies from our literature.

Most importantly of all, we pledge to continue to listen and work with LGBT people to improve our services so we can do "the most good." It is our prayer that together we can make the world a better place for everyone.

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