Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Some of you may be aware of a longstanding concern that The Salvation Army practices employment discrimination against gays and lesbians and that campaigns have been launched to boycott the holiday red kettles in response. Recently this debate has surfaced in Island social media networks and we are writing to share our understanding of the national and local dynamics at work around this issue.
Let us begin by saying that our local chapter of the Salvation Army has no paid staff, yet provides critical emergency financial assistance to individuals and families in need without discrimination. Island congregations receive many calls a year from individuals and families facing financial and housing crises and we often collaborate with the Salvation Army in meeting those needs. The local Salvation Army is also active in disaster response services and provides food and other amenities to our Island’s first responders. The local organization is highly effective and widely praised.
The issue of the employment practices of the national Salvation Army is different. The Salvation Army is a private, nonprofit, faith-based organization. There are thousands of these across the country. Faith-based organizations can, by law, exclude anyone in their hiring process, in addition to giving preference to people of their own faith background. Many faith-based organizations choose not to do this and abide by the fair employment practices of public and corporate entities.
We add our voices to those who call upon any and all public and private entities to abstain from all forms of discrimination in their hiring. However, we feel that no cause is served by stopping our support for the very necessary social services provided by our local chapter of The Salvation Army. To our knowledge, The Salvation Army does not discriminate in the provision of services to anyone in need. This is especially true of our local chapter.
So please do stand up against discrimination by any and all appropriate and lawful means, but do not turn your backs on those red kettles. All the money collected on the Island, stays here, and helps Island residents in need.
Rev. Cathlin Baker, West Tisbury
Rev. Robert Hensley, Vineyard Haven
The Rev. Cathlin Baker is minister of the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury; the Rev. Robert Hensley is rector of Grace Episcopal Church.