Under heavy criticism from religious conservatives, the Salvation Army's top U.S. leaders have ordered a hasty retreat. They have reversed a new policy that would have allowed employees in the organization's Western region to purchase health insurance for a "legally domiciled adult" living with them.

Critics said the Army's initial decision gave support to backers of homosexual marriage. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, sharply criticized the Army on his November 8 radio broadcast. Leaders of the American Family Association and Family Research Council also were very critical.

Col. Philip Needham, chief secretary for the Army's Western region, originally defended the regional action. "This decision reflects our concern for the health of our employees and those closest to them," he wrote in a statement. The original action was, he said, "made on the basis of strong ethical and moral reasoning that reflects the dramatic changes in family structure in recent years."

A Salvation Army statement on homosexuality says, "There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage." In 1997, the Army gave up $3.5 million in contracts with San Francisco over the issue.

Tom Minnery of Focus described Needham's distinction between providing benefits and endorsing homosexuality as "monstrous," "egregious," and "disgusting."

Less than two weeks after the first announcement, the leaders of the Army in the United States and its four regions—a body known as the Commissioners' Conference—overturned the policy. "We deeply regret the perception that the Commissioners' Conference surrendered any biblical principles in making the original decision," the group said. "We will not sign any government contract or any other funding contracts that contain domestic partner benefit requirements."

The Human Rights Campaign, which supports domestic partner benefits, is "greatly disappointed" by the reversal but does not plan to boycott the Army, says communications director David M. Smith.

"The leadership of the Western Territory seemed to really want to do this," Smith says. "They felt it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the national board prevailed. It's a part of the differing views on this subject that exist around the country."

In protest, gay activists in the Midwest launched a campaign to place bogus money into the Army's kettles during the holidays. Conservative critics applauded the policy reversal and restated their support for the Army's mission.

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The reversal could mean a loss of an estimated $28 million in government contracts previously awarded to the Salvation Army's Western region for social service programs. Some California cities, including Oakland and San Francisco, require the extension of domestic partner benefits as a condition of doing business.

Counting Their Losses

Nationwide, 4,300 companies, governments, and universities offer or plan to offer such benefits. According to the national office of Catholic Charities, its local units may determine who can buy health insurance. Catholic Charities in San Francisco allows employees to buy health insurance for a "legally domiciled adult" who resides with the employee.

The question now for the Salvation Army is whether private funding can replace government contracts.

"It's very hard to anticipate or predict what the implications of that decision will be," says Capt. Bob Rudd, a spokesman for the group's Western Territory headquarters in Long Beach, California. "We have probably a subjective notion that the funding process for Salvation Army programs is going to change dramatically, as we likely will have to walk away from contractual relationships."

Robert H. Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute in Washington, says the Army would have suffered far more if the policy had been allowed to stand. "I think they would have lost even more money as word got out to devout Christians that they had caved in to the homosexual agenda. It would have devastated them," Knight told Christianity Today.

"I think private donations will eventually make up for the shortfall and may even exceed it. That has been the case with the Boy Scouts," Knight says. "In places where they have been defunded by the United Way or by corporations, they have wound up with bigger budgets as people stepped up to the plate to replace that which was lost. I hope and pray this will be the case with the Salvation Army."

Related Elsewhere

Read the Salvation Army statement rescinding their decision on "domestic partner benefits."

Since the reversal of the plan, advocacy groups have led protests including one by Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays to stuff fake dollars in Salvation Army collection tubs.

Christianity Today's Weblog covered both the Army's plans to introduce partner's benefits and the announcement that the Army had dropped the plans.

The Salvation Army's official site (national headquarters site) includes basic information, bios on historical figures and news releases.

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A recent Christian History Corner reported that while being put through the ringer now, the Army has been through worse.

For more on Salvation Army history, see issue 26 of Christian History. Another Christianity Today sister publication Christian Reader adapted one of the articles on Catherine Booth.

Previous Christiany Today articles on the Salvation Army include:

Business Principles, Salvation Army-styleWhat the nation's largest charity knows about leadership. (December 18, 2001)
Moscow Bans Salvation ArmyEmbattled ministry appeals judicial ruling. (October 31, 2001)
Dismantling the Salvation ArmyIn maintaining integrity, Salvationists got the Boy Scout treatment. (August 27, 2001)
Moscow Bans Salvation ArmyEmbattled ministry appeals judicial ruling. (Nov. 11, 2001)
Russia Recognizes Salvation Army as a Religious OrganizationOfficials say that doesn't restore status to the Army's Moscow branch. (Feb. 28, 2001)
Moscow Salvation Army RejectedWithout official recognition, ministry and the elderly suffer. (Feb. 13, 2001)
Salvation Army Closed in MoscowMoscow court decision turns city into a 'legal never-never land' for Christian charity. (Jan. 11, 2001)
Still Red-Hot and RighteousThe Salvation Army's International Congress meets outside London for the first time since its founding. (July 12, 2000)
Saving Bodies, Rescuing SoulsChechen Muslims find Salvationist care has compassionate accent (Apr. 11, 2000)
Salvation Army General Seeks Refocus on GospelNewest world leader faces modern challenges (June. 14, 1999)
Did Somebody Say $80 Million? (Dec. 7, 1998)
Salvation Army Youth Spell Out New Methods (Mar. 3, 1997)

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