Finley: Leave Salvation Army out of culture war

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
Nationwide, the Salvation Army's 3,600 officers, 64,000 employees and 3.3 million volunteers serve 30 million Americans in need, without precondition, Finley writes.

Thank you for your service, troops of the Salvation Army.

These Christian soldiers are battling the extreme consequences of poverty in America, feeding those desperate with hunger, sheltering those with no roof over their heads, salvaging lives ruined by drugs and alcohol.

Nationwide, its 3,600 officers, 64,000 employees and 3.3 million volunteers serve 30 million Americans in need, without precondition. All who walk through their doors are embraced in the true spirit of Christianity.

In southeast Michigan, the Salvation Army runs five homeless shelters, including the Harbor Light mission in downtown Detroit. Three Bed and Bread food trucks are on the road seven days a week, feeding 3,000 to 4,000 people daily.


It provides addiction counseling, services for seniors and after-school activities for children, including free music lessons. 

These are good people, doing the Lord's work. And saving lives. 

But this season the Salvation Army finds itself caught in the crossfire of the fight between the LGBTQ community and the Chick-fil-A fast food restaurant chain. Chick-fil-A is a target of activists because its founder, a devout Christian, funded groups opposed to gay marriage.

In a malicious libel, the Salvation Army was placed on the list of anti-LGBTQ organizations. Chick-fil-A's charitable foundation donated to the Salvation Army. In its effort to get LGBTQ activists off its back, the foundation last month dropped the army from its list of beneficiaries and is directing the money instead to groups deemed more gay friendly.

It's a small amount of money -- less than $200,000 annually -- but the damage to the Salvation Army's reputation could inflict a far bigger cost.

The charges are not rooted in truth.

Go the the army's website and see for yourself. The organization makes a powerful statement on its commitment to inclusion, specifically highlighting its services to the LGBTQ community.

It also notes that it provides the identical employee benefits to same sex couples as it does to all others.

"There is no anti-LGBTQ message in any of the activities of the Salvation Army," says Lt. Col. John Turner, commander of the Salvation Army for eastern Michigan and a 32-year veteran. "None of our programs are geared to excluding or discriminating against any group of people."

But, as Norton notes, truth matters little in a social media society, where "it's easy for somebody to hear something and spread it around the world very quickly."

Easier still for activists to use the misinformation to blacklist an organization, pressuring corporate and individual donors to withhold their support, just as Chick-fil-A did with the Salvation Army.

High profile donors have become skittish, and cowardly. Few want to risk a boycott or being labeled virtueless. 

What happens, then, if the Salvation Army joins the untouchables? 

The dollars may dry up, but the need goes on. If the Salvation Army has to curtail the number of homeless it shelters and hungry it feeds, who will fill the gap?

Will the activists who bullied Chick-fil-A buy their own kettles and bells and stand out in the cold to raise funds to feed and house the poor? Doubt it.

This season, push back against the bullies. When you pass a Salvation Army bell ringer, empty your wallet into the red kettle.

Catch Nolan Finley on "One Detroit" at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on Detroit Public Television.