Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why This Lesbian Pastor Gives to the Salvation Army

I’m really proud of the questions our young people are asking these days. I think if we raise a generation who has learned to question everything, we will have done the world good. So I had to smile the other day when I read a Facebook post of a friend asking for volunteers to do bell ringing for the Salvation Army locally and the first comment was one from a high school student asking an important question about the social service agency. “Is it true that the Salvation Army is an anti-gay organization?” Good question! I’m especially happy about the answer that he was provided, too. The original poster, a director of youth ministry, affirmed his need to know and provided information for him to read and make his own decision.
That, my friends, is how the world ought to work! Instead of getting all hyped up and attacking one another, how about if we look at things from all angles? I’m a lesbian, and I’m quite happy to drop some money in those red buckets when I have it available. Why? Because I believe in the work that the Salvation Army does to improve people’s lives. We are all pretty quick to criticize, but the bottom line is that in most places, they are the ones on the front lines of the war against poverty and homelessness. How many homeless people have most of us housed, clothed, fed, and gotten employed recently?
In addition to being a lesbian who would gladly give my change to the bell ringer outside the grocery store, I’m a pastor of a Christian church. My church is pretty different from the one that meets at the Salvation Army. We don’t believe all the same things. I believe that God celebrates all of the fabulous gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in my congregation (and the straight folks too!). But we do believe some of the same things. We both believe that the love of Jesus was enough to change the world forever. We believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and therefore deserve to live a life of dignity. We believe that a part of our Christian duty is to make the world a better place. We even both believe that the way to transform the world is one person at a time, tending first to the most basic needs like food and shelter, and also to the soul. This is where our methods and understandings begin to differ, in some places pretty drastically. But the bottom line is that while we were agreeing on all those other things, we could work together to get women and children off the streets and out of dangerous situations. We could work together to provide meals to people who are hungry, whether or not they meet the requirements to stay in the Salvation Army shelter. We could work to get men and women into treatment programs that help them to get their life back in order; help them get into employment programs and get back on their feet; and even help with the initial costs of getting somebody back into a housing of their own with rental deposit assistance.
I believe firmly in acting out of our most deeply held religious beliefs. I do it every day, and my hope is that all other people of faith do the same thing. Even if they believe the exact opposite of what I do. To do anything less would be inauthentic. I believe in interfaith relationships and collaboration, not by reducing our beliefs to the lowest common denominator, but by allowing space for those who think differently to express themselves from their viewpoint and act with integrity out of that understanding. Will there be some things we may never be able to do together? Absolutely!
This morning I sat across the table at a local Unmet Needs Committee meeting across from a Major from our local Salvation Army. We collaborated together, and with others, on ways to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people in our community. I’m pretty obviously gay. He didn’t seem to let that change the work that we were there to do. I doubt that we’ll be sharing communion together in a church service anytime soon, but that’s true of lots of folks.
So I guess I say all of this to say…before you get all bent out of shape about pictures that have likely been altered or staged, showing Salvation Army bell ringers proclaiming anti-LGBT hate, consider the purpose behind the bell ringing, and ask yourself if the money you would give would change lives for the positive. I think if you checked it out, you would find that in many communities, the Salvation Army really is “doing the most good.” That’s why this lesbian pastor will gladly continue to support their work.
I’ll give my money to the Human Rights Campaign when I want somebody looking out for things like marriage equality. And when I want my money to feed the hungry two meals a day, 365 days a year; and provide a Christmas for families who otherwise might not have one, I’ll drop it in the red bucket outside the grocery store.