By Sandy . . . Ah, it’s winter. Christmas and Hanukkah are approaching. Half the country has snow on the ground, and all the kids in the other half wish they did. Christmas lights, excited shoppers, special church services, and general joy and goodwill abound.
Oh – and the homeless. The cold, the poor, the shunned. Thank God for winter shelters – except when God turns His back on some who are most in need.
In Amarillo, Texas, where it does indeed snow every year, the nighttime temperatures for the next ten days will be at or below freezing, and history indicates that will be the case for months to come.
The Salvation Army has sprung to the rescue, as they are wont to do. They take the “Salvation” part of their name very seriously –except when it comes to those who for any reason whatsoever are listed on a sexual offense registry.
Craig Stockstill is director of social services at its Amarillo center; he says everyone is welcome –almost. “ ‘Really one of the only restrictions we have put in place are registered sex offenders cannot come into the shelter and people who are a danger to themselves and others wouldn’t be allowed to come into the shelter,’ said Stockstill.”
Refusing everyone registered as a sexual offender is not a policy exclusive to Mr. Stockstill or the Amarillo facility; this seems to be a general Salvation Army policy, one about which I have previously blogged under my Shelly Stow pseudonym. I called it an atrocity then, and it is an atrocity now.
The Salvation Army prides itself on being a Christian organization. Salvation through Christianity is on an individualized and personal basis. There is no “group” salvation. You are not saved because you are on a membership list as a Methodist or Lutheran or Catholic. You are not saved because you come from a church-going family or your father is a minister. You are saved based on your individual faith.
How then can the Salvation Army, that Christian organization, deny salvation from hunger and sub-freezing temperatures and physical misery and sometimes death based on something as all-inclusive and generalized as being on a sex offender registry? Where is the individualization? Where is an acknowledgment of everything that research shows about the extremely low risk of registrants living in the community committing new offenses and that almost all new offenses are committed by those not on the registry? Where is the recognition that some on the registry had non-contact offenses, some have lived offense-free in the community for decades, some were put on the registry for a single offense committed when they were children, and some were and are innocent.
Where is even the lip-service to the words of its Founder, “Come unto me, all of you . . . ,” and “As much as ye have done to the least of these, my brothers . . . ”? Where is the acknowledgment that those championed the most by that Founder would today very possibly be on a sex offense registry and not allowed into a Salvation Army shelter?
Also excluded are those “dangerous to themselves or others.”This seems logical. But how are they determined? Is there a “dangerous” list? Do they have a “D” on their foreheads? Do they emit a radioactive glow? Or are they determined individually by looking at their individual records and a judgement call made for each individual?
Why are those on the registry not so determined?
If they are judged, by the criteria set for all, to be dangerous to themselves or others, then exclude them.
To do so based on any other criteria or standard is the rankest of discrimination and the total antithesis of the very foundation of the faith which the Salvation Army claims as its own.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.