Monday, 16 December 2013

Think Generously This Christmas

A Salvation Army band in full swing -
As you wander around the streets of any city over the next week or so, you are likely to hear the dulcet (or otherwise) tones of the brass band or singular wind instrument pumping out the old Christmas standards. They will often be accompanied by a tin rattler imploring you to give generously this season. But before you drop that gold, silver or paper legal tender in their tins, have a think about what you're doing.

The most prominent of these en-brassened Christmas groups is the Salvation Army. When hiding behind the veneer of solemn traditional carols and even some post-1907 foot-tapping standards, those Salvos can appear positively perky. Besides, they "do good" in the community and stuff. Helping the homeless and addicts and telling people they can't smoke. Where's the harm in that? It's easy to forget that behind the Christmas cheer is a conservative evangelical church that demands absolute obedience from its members and arguably has many of the hallmarks of a cult.

The rigid military hierarchy seeks to control the thoughts and actions of its "soliders", with acceptance of god and buddy Jesus the only solutions to any of life's infinitely complex problems. You won't be surprised to read the Army officially holds an ultra-conservative outlook on the usual issues such as gay marriage, premarital sex, and abortion. As usual with most "pro-family" organisations, their stance on homosexuality is confused and unconvincing.

After a fracas on Melbourne's Joy FM, where Major Andrew Crabe may or may not have agreed with gays being put to death (whether he did or not is immaterial; his lack of a full and explicit condemnation of the mere suggestion says a lot about "good" Christian folk), the Army's not quite sure what to say.

They have been hard at work trying to reconcile their dogged and almost literal belief in the scripture with the existence of gay people. There isn't even a "positional statement" on homosexuality from the Southern Territory branch of the Army, which is telling. They are apparently having a "healthy and vigorous" debate over how they deal with sexuality that doesn't conform to their ancient and irrelevant text. When finally and vigorously released, I gather it won't be a missionary position.

But of course, you'll say, the Salvation Army does so much "good". Well, of course they do. They provide recovery services for alcoholics and drug addicts, where victims are evangelised at, prostheletysed to and bible-bashed until free of their wicked human sins as part of the rather Orwellian sounding "12-steps" programme (the link's from NZ).

The Salvos regularly rally against evidence-based, socially progressive reforms such as safe injecting rooms, infecting the secular world with their all-singing, no-dancing form of Bible-bashing evangelism. They also ran children's homes where hundreds of wards are known to have been abused, with many other undocumented cases likely. To the Salvation Army's credit, they have apologised unreservedly, but why any right-minded person should think an unreserved apology (accompanied by financial compensation) is something we should congratulate these organisations for, I'll never know (still waiting, Pell).

Of course I would be accused of cherry picking the worst behaviours of these organisations if I didn't mention the extensive other "good" work done by the Salvos, from supporting the homeless to the help offered to victims of drug and alcohol abuse. Their work in these areas is mostly good, although one must question how a good "Soldier" balances their requirement to spread their faith with the help they claim they provide to anyone, regardless of religious or sexual orientation. But this is the friendly face of the Salvos, the seemingly non-evangelical, tuba-blowing tin rattlers who we see this time of year. Why not give them a few bucks for this "good" work, you might say. I'd ask you this: why support an organisation with such extensive ideological and prejudicial baggage when you can just donate to the Smith Family, OXFAM, UNICEF or Médecins Sans Frontières who "do good" for the sake of doing good?

You might agree with the conservative evangelical ethos of the Salvos. If you do, you probably aren't reading this. Go forth and do whatever conservative religious types do - scorning others I think is your main thing. But I have a feeling that if you've read this far and stumbled upon my little web log, you probably don't agree with the Salvo's underlying values. So this Christmas, think a little and put your charity dollars somewhere more in-keeping with your own beliefs and values.

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