I don't mean to brag, but I make a mean cupcake. And my cookies aren't half-bad either. I actually enjoy baking so I am sometimes pressed into service by family members in need of bake sale items for various organizations and causes.
Last fall, Baby Brother's Ex-Wife asked for donations for The Salvation Army bake sale. I've baked for them before, at BBEW's request, despite my uneasiness with some of the church's teachings and my deep reservations about the local organization's fiscal management. Because of these concerns, I had long since stopped dropping spare change in the Salvation Army's holiday red kettles.
Being the diligent overthinker that I am, I had sometimes wondered if donating my time and homemade buttercream frosting to an organization at odds with many of my own beliefs constituted a kind of hypocrisy--delicious hypocrisy, but hypocrisy, nonetheless.
I reasoned that I wasn't really supporting the church, I was supporting some of my nieces and a nephew, who have all been involved in and enjoyed church activities over the years. Besides, the voice in my head went on as I piped frosting swirls atop dozens of cupcakes, the Salvation Army is more than a church, it is a charitable organization--the local corps runs a food pantry and has an extensive program to provide food and gifts to needy families at the holidays, among many other things.
Surely those positives outweighed any perceived negatives. And, after all, it was just a couple of trays of cupcakes and a plate of cookies--my participation (or lack thereof) would not make a crucial financial difference.
A few weeks after my goodies had been delivered and sold, I was with a resident of the halfway house where I work when we walked past a Salvation Army red kettle bell ringer. The resident mentioned something he had recently read about the Salvation Army's vehement stance against same-sex marriage and about its discrimination against homosexuals who either sought aid or employment from the organization.
That a Christian faith-based organization would be against gay marriage came as no surprise--even the fact that they would prefer not to hire or promote gay men and women seemed to me obvious, if not necessarily acceptable. Believing as strongly as I do in the separation of church and state, I tend to embrace a broad definition of the words "religious freedom." Though it's a bit of a tangled mess in my mind, I could see how the church, being a religious entity, might be permitted an exemption from the fair hiring practices that apply to secular employers.
When it comes to denying aid or (as I discovered in my later reading) making that aid conditional upon a gay couple separating, we're in a whole other area--not only is that morally reprehensible, in my opinion, it's also downright un-Christian. Worse still, was the fact that The Salvation Army had not merely issued a statement against legalizing gay marriage, but was actively campaigning against legalization of gay marriage in the United States and around the world. Have I mentioned my passionate interest in the separation of church and state?
The concept of religious beliefs--Christian or otherwise--as legislation is
terrifying to me and I feel it should be terrifying to people of faith as well. If
your beliefs can be codified into laws so, too, can any other belief
system. It continues to baffle me that most Christians who persist in pursuing
religious-based legislation are the same ones who are so deeply appalled at the
affects of religious-based governments in the Middle East, for example. The
problem is not which religion controls the law, it's that any
religion controls the law. Your right to practice your own religion comes from
exactly the same place as my right not to practice any religion--to
weaken one right is to weaken them both. The concept of separation of church and
state, rather than being a threat to our nation is one of the key elements of
its success, in my opinion.
I believe that legislation should exist to protect people and property from quantifiable harm--not to forward any particular group's moral teachings. In the case of gay marriage, perhaps you find homosexuality immoral or same-sex relationships icky or "unnatural," but being offended is not the same thing as being harmed. In the case of marriage inequality, it is clear that the measurable, quantifiable harm is being done to couples and individuals who are being denied financial and legal protections that other Americans enjoy.
So, back to those cupcakes...in the immediate aftermath of leapfrogging around the internet reading article after article on the subject, I determined that I would not bake another morsel for the Salvation Army church. But, as my initial ire cooled a little, I kept thinking about the fact that, despite an abysmal record in the area of gay rights1, the Salvation Army does make a positive difference in the lives of many, many people. Does the good still outweigh the bad now that I know more about the organization's stance on homosexuality and human rights?
Obviously, no organization is perfect and whenever we give of ourselves or from our pocketbooks to a charity, we may be unknowingly supporting things we would never choose to support. I am curious, my bloggy friends, what sorts of research you do before donating to a given cause? What formula do you use to determine the worthiness of an organization that will benefit (however minimally) from your money or efforts?
For my part, I've decided the moral cost of donating to an organization which actively works to prevent equality for a segment of society is too high for me. I will respectfully decline the next time BBEW asks for donations for The Salvation Army bake sale and I will explain why.
I will not, as First Niece2 suggested while she and Hubby and I were mulling all this over, make trays full of cupcakes with gay pride symbols such as rainbow flags for The Salvation Army to sell at their next bake sale. But I can't say I won't be tempted.
1. A.K.A. civil rights for people who happen to be gay.
2. Not one of the nieces involved in The Salvation Army church or activities.
[I welcome dissenting viewpoints regarding issues raised in this post, but please express those viewpoints respectfully so that I may respond respectfully as well. Hate and nastiness will not be tolerated. If you are interested in more information about The Salvation Army's record on this issue, this article is a good place to start.]
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