Friday, November 9, 2001

The Salvation Army’s surprise announcement that it would offer domestic-partner benefits to its homosexual employees received unhappy reaction from some Christians this week.
On Wednesday, radio broadcaster James Dobson’s radio broadcast criticizing the Salvation Army’s policy change spurred angry phone calls to the Army’s national headquarters in Alexandria and its western division headquarters in Long Beach, Calif.
One phone operator at the Alexandria headquarters on Wednesday logged 704 calls, up from the usual 50 daily calls they receive.
“We had six lines going at once,” she said. “Every line was lit up. It’s been fun. I went home and fell right to sleep, I was so exhausted.”
Mr. Dobson insisted he wasn’t mounting an attack on the Army, a reputable charity and church founded in 1865 by William Booth in London.
“We would not disparage the good work that has been done by it for 100 years and continues to be done,” he said. “But I cannot remain silent when such an unfortunate policy has been handed down and supported at the highest level of that organization toward interests that have now overridden a century of moral integrity.”
Army spokeswoman Theresa Whitfield in Alexandria specified that only the western division is acting on the domestic-partners decision. The denomination’s western division office, which covers 13 states, did not return calls yesterday.
“They’ve given them the opportunity to make the decision to provide extended benefits,” Miss Whitfield said.
The policy change was approved last month to allow the Army to work with cities that mandate all subcontractors to supply benefits to domestic partners. Five Army commissioners approved the change at a national conference in Alexandria.
Nationally, 4,284 companies, governments and universities have offered or announced they would offer health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of their employees. In 1998, the Salvation Army had refused to comply with San Francisco’s domestic-partnership law and lost $3.5 million in contracts with the city.
Other cities and counties that have copied San Francisco’s law include Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Mateo County, Calif., and Seattle and Tumwater, Wash.
A statement issued by the Army says the group does not approve of same-sex unions but sees a difference between its officers and civilian employees.
The statement “in no way prevents the Army as an employer from providing a benefit to its employees,” the Army says. “While it refuses to place civil unions for gays and lesbians on the same theological footing as heterosexual marriage, the position statement implicitly acknowledges that such unions do exist.”
It added, “There exists a clear difference in how we deal with homosexuality as an employer and as a church in ministering to our followers.”
Mr. Dobson asked the Army to “pray about this and reconsider, because it will lead to similar decisions and compromises elsewhere.”

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