News :: International

Swedish Salvation Army: Gay = Sin

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday May 10, 2011
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The Swedish Salvation Army says that gays are sinners who can be "cured" of their homosexuality, a May 9 article at English language Swedish news site The Local reported.

"An undercover journalist from Swedish TV4’s Kalla Fakta (’Cold Facts’) investigative news program used a hidden camera to record his conversation with a leader from one of the country’s Salvation Army chapters," the article said.

"The Salvation Army’s basic position is that homosexual sex is a sin," a Swedish Salvation Army leader claimed in a May 8 broadcast. "A man shouldn’t sleep with a man in the way he sleeps with a woman."

A second Salvation Army chapter leader prayed for the journalist to be cured--that is too say, rendered heterosexual, the article said.

Officials from the international group told Sweden’s TV4 that the anti-gay message was not official Salvation Army policy. Rather, they said, the comments merely represented "a few personal views from a few chapter leaders."

But Kalla Fakta noted that a manual for "Junior Soldiers" of the Salvation Army
"includes passages saying that children and young people should learn that homosexuality is wrong," the article reported, and asked the organization to clarify why such material was being presented by the group. The TV news program also said that in 1996 the Salvation Army created a policy excluding gays from the ranks of the organization.

The handbook is "outdated in its entirety and is in the process of being reviewed and updated," according to the Salvation Army’s representatives. Moreover, the newest version of the book--published this year--contains no such reference to gays, according to The Local.

Pink Paper posted a May 10 article that said that Kalla Fakta made other allegations as well. The news program "also claimed that the Salvation Army was involved in an agreement with Africa’s Malawi Council of Churches, which comprised of voting for the imprisonment of gay men."

The article added that the organization told the reporter that since he was gay, he was not welcome to join.

According to Kalla Fakta, the Salvation Army developed an ethics document in 1996 which established that people who live as homosexuals can’t be soldiers in the Salvation Army.

The religiously-based group’s website refuted this, with posted text saying that Kalla Fakta had done "investigative journalism a serious disservice" and adding, "[W]e interpret the Bible, which defines sex as something that should happen in a marriage and is something between a man and a woman," The Local reported. But the Salvation Army website also said that gays as well as straights were welcome to join or to seek assistance from the organization.

"All religious communities undoubtedly have opinions and lifestyle requirements that you and I perhaps don’t agree with," said Stefan Attefall, a government official in charge of allocating federal money to faith-based organizations operating in Sweden. "But to review communities’ theological views, yeah, well, then we can’t have any support at all."

The Salvation Army has received criticism in the United States for allegedly anti-gay policies. A Nov. 22, 2010 Bilerico Project posting said that the author and his boyfriend, while temporarily homeless, were shunned by the organization and told that they could expect no assistance "unless we broke up and left the ’sinful homosexual lifestyle’ behind.

"We slept on the street and they didn’t help when we declined to break up at their insistence," the writer added. "I’ve seen the discrimination the Salvation Army preaches first hand."

Those policies have met with decreased level of support from donors, media stories over the past few years suggest.

"Is the Salvation Army one of those organizations that is worth supporting for its overall good even if you disagree with some of its policies?" a Dec. 14, 2009, New York Times article wondered.

A Dec. 15, 2009, posting at Change.org noted that holiday donations to the group had declined in San Francisco and Boston, and offered a run-down of anti-gay statements from Salvation Army chapters around the globe.

The Australian Salvation Army called gays a "rebellion against God’s plan for the created order" and said, "Homosexual practice, however, is, in the light of Scripture, clearly unacceptable." The Australian branch of the Salvation Army also claimed that being gay is a "choice."

"Such activity is chosen behavior and is thus a matter of the will," the group’s Australian branch added. "It is therefore able to be directed or restrained in the same way heterosexual urges are controlled. Homosexual practice would render any person ineligible for full membership (soldiership) in the Army."

A Dec. 14, 2009, op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that the Salvation Army had gotten bad press over its anti-gay stance, but added that the good done by the organization might overshadow its hostility toward GLBTs and their families.

"The Salvation Army served 33 million people in the United States last year," the article noted. "It raises about $2 billion a year and spends an impressive 89 percent of that on services--food, shelter, foster care and HIV programs." Added the op-ed, "It is a consistent and reliable disaster relief group."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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