Fact Check

Did a Salvation Army Official Say That Homosexuals "Deserve to Die"?

A 2012 interview with a Salvation Army official fanned the flames of controversy over that organization's stance towards homosexuality.

Published Sep 22, 2013

A Salvation Army official stated that homosexuals "deserve to die."

In mid-June 2012, gay pop star Darren Hayes made comments critical of the Salvation Army's stance regarding homosexuality, referencing that organization's position statement on the subject:

Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.

Likewise, there is no scriptural support for demeaning or mistreating anyone for reason of his or her sexual orientation. The Salvation Army opposes any such abuse.

In keeping with these convictions, the services of The Salvation Army are available to all who qualify, without regard to sexual orientation. The fellowship of Salvation Army worship is open to all sincere seekers of faith in Christ, and membership in The Salvation Army church body is open to all who confess Christ as Savior and who accept and abide by The Salvation Army's doctrine and discipline.

Hayes called for a boycott of the Salvation Army, tweeting that it was "Important for gay people to know the true position of the Salvation Army when considering who to donate to." In response to the attention focused on the Salvation Army by Hayes' comments, a few days later LGBT journalists Serena Ryan and Pete Dillon interviewed Major Andrew Craibe, a Salvation Army Media Relations Director based in Australia, for the radio program Salt and Pepper on Melbourne radio station Joy FM.

During that interview, Serena Ryan asked Major Craibe about the Salvation Army's Handbook of Doctrine, which includes reference to a Biblical passage that the Salt and Pepper hosts maintained was condemnatory of homosexuals and called for them to be punished by death. An excerpt from that interview which was widely circulated on the Internet prompted a great deal of controversy for seemingly showing that Major Craibe agreed with the concept that Salvation Army doctrine called for homosexuals to be put to death:

Ryan: "If I go and I read that [Handbook of Doctrine], and I connect with my [homo]sexuality, then that says, according to the Salvation Army, that I deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?"

Craibe: "Well, that's a part of our belief system."

Ryan: "So we should die."

Craibe: "Well, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that's our belief."

(Many transcripts of this interview slightly altered its wording to make it read as though Major Craibe and his interviewers were specifically talking about gay parents rather than gays in general.)

We note here that this controversy is based on a good deal of interpretation rather than literal explanation. The Salvation Army's Handbook of Doctrine does not specifically condemn homosexuals and call for them to be put to death; rather, the Handbook of Doctrine includes some passages that cite a portion of the Bible (Romans 1:18-32) which some sources interpret as including those concepts. But interpretations of the referenced portion of Romans vary widely, with various theologians and writers arguing that it condemns anything from homosexuality to child sexual abuse to all non-procreative sex.

Nonetheless, the backlash from the Salt and Pepper interview with Major Craibe prompted the Salvation Army to issue a "response to questions raised about [the] interview" which offered an apology for the "miscommunication" and included the following answers about the Salvation Army's stance on the subject of homosexuality:

Question: Do Salvation Army full members believe, as per the Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine, that practising homosexuals should be put to death? Why, or why not?

Salvation Army members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment. The Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine does not state that practising homosexuals should be put to death and, in fact, urges all Salvationists to act with acceptance, love and respect to all people. The Salvation Army teaches that every person is of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.

Question: Why include in your handbook the Romans text from The Bible, which indicates that God insists that homosexuals deserve to die?

This is a misunderstanding of the text referred to. The Scripture in question, viewed in its broader context, is not referring to physical death, nor is it specifically targeted at homosexual behaviour. The author is arguing that no human being is without sin, all sin leads to spiritual death (separation from God), and all people therefore need a Saviour.

Question: Isn't this inherently anti-Christian, to believe people should be put to death?

The Salvation Army acknowledges that the response in the interview has led to a serious misunderstanding of our teaching and that clarification should have been given during the interview. The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of all human life and believes it would be inconsistent with Christian teaching to call for anyone to be put to death. We consider every person to be of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.

Question: Do you feel you owe an apology or explanation to all those gay and Lesbian volunteers and people your organisation supports?

The Salvation Army sincerely apologises to all members of the GLBT community and to all our clients, employees, volunteers and those who are part of our faith communities for the offence caused by this miscommunication.

This item is often circulated online in tandem with an image showing Salvation Army bell ringers posing with a sign reading 'Gays Not Allowed.'

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.