Between the Salvation Army's bell-ringing Santas and thrift-store empire, people often forget that the international group "is actually a Christian church organization with many conservative tenets and a military-style structure," says Zach Ford at Think Progress. And recently, Maj. Andrew Craibe, the media relations officer for Australia's southern territory, reminded us of that fact by agreeing on-air with two gay radio hosts that the Salvation Army believes gay people "should die." The group quickly scrambled to clarify Craibe's remark — after all, the Salvation Army's mission is to "preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination" — but this is hardly the Salvation Army's first run-in with the gay community. Here, a look at the influential charity's challenging history with homosexuality and gay rights:
Former Methodist minister William Booth founds the Salvation Army in London, giving his religious mission a military structure and trappings, including its own flag, military-style uniforms, hymns, and ranks
The Salvation Army sets up shop in the U.S., Australia, and Ireland
The Salvation Army collects signatures for a petition to stop the New Zealand legislature from decriminalizing homosexuality. The Homosexual Law Reform Act passes anyway.
May 1, 2001
An internal document from the Salvation Army says the charity has a "firm commitment" from the Bush administration for a national regulation shielding it and other religious charities from city and state laws barring discrimination against gays and lesbians, The Washington Post reports. The Salvation Army never discriminates in who it serves, says senior official George Hood, but being forced to hire gays "really begins to chew away at the theological fabric of who we are."
July 11, 2001
The Bush administration turns down the Salvation Army's request
The Salvation Army threatens to leave New York City if Mayor Michael Bloomberg enforces a new ordinance requiring all groups with city contracts to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of employees. Bloomberg, who opposed the ordinance, doesn't enforce it.
Feb. 14, 2006
The New York State Court of Appeals upholds Bloomberg's right to ignore the ordinance, leaving future enforcement decisions to the discretion of whomever is mayor
The New Zealand branch of the Salvation Army apologizes over any remaining "hurt" from its prominent role in trying to stymie the Homosexual Law Reform Act 20 years earlier
Nov. 21, 2011
Bil Browning at The Bilerico Project promotes a drive encouraging gay-rights supporters to give their holiday donations to other charities that don't "actively discriminate against the LGBT community"
June 21, 2012
Maj. Andrew Craibe, the Australian Salvation Army spokesman, goes on the radio program Salt and Pepper, where gay hosts Serena Ryan and Pete Dillon ask him about his organization's assertion in its official Salvation Story: Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine that practicing homosexuals "deserve to die." "So we should die," Ryan tells Craibe, who replies: "You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief."
In a statement, the Salvation Army "sincerely apologizes" for Craibe's "miscommunication" and the "serious misunderstanding" of the group's beliefs. The scripture in question "is not referring to physical death, nor is it specifically targeted at homosexual behavior," says Maj. Bruce Harmer of Salvation Army Australia. Instead, the church believes that "no human being is without sin, all sin leads to spiritual death (separation from God)," and that "it would be inconsistent with Christian teaching to call for anyone to be put to death."