Church of The Red Kettle: Is God Just A Highly Effective Fundraising Tool? (Salvation Army Part Two)
“There is no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.” E. B. White
E.B. White’s observation of the obvious is assuredly the case when looking at the goings-on of The Salvation Army. Things get very complicated when trying to determine exactly what the Army is and exactly what truly drives them. While it cannot be argued that it isn’t zealously humanitarian in its ambitions, as we pointed out previously there is a very real sense in which adherents to Army doctrine may genuinely be motivated to perform good works – and many of them are, indeed, “good” – in order to maintain their own salvation. The “salvation” of the Army is tentative and unless one works at it, assurance of its efficacy is absent. Such is the faulty synergistic gospel to which the Army subscribes and – whenever it happens to – proclaims.
But, as White observed, things quickly become complicated when analyzing the Army. The Army is a church. It’s a denomination. It’s a charity. It’s an international relief agency. It’s a humanitarian initiative. It’s a government ally in corrections and rehabilitation services. The Army, according to its website, is engaged in the most high-profile categories of social need, from elderly services, human trafficking, hunger relief, homeless services, prison ministries to disaster relief.
Yet, fundamentally, the Army presents itself as a Christian organization and identifies itself as a church in the evangelical tradition.
Our mission: The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination. (Source)
Perhaps the most astute observation about the state of the modern church, including the Salvation Army – to the extent it might be considered a “church” – comes to us from John MacArthur. The most defining characteristic of the contemporary evangelical church, he says, is “a spiraling loss of confidence in the power of Scripture.”
With the Salvation Army, evidence for its disregard of Scripture is easily seen in such things as its faulty gospel with an insufficient God and a not-fully-atoning Savior, and its refusal to duly administer the Christ-commanded ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. While its confidence in the power of Scripture is glaringly absent, the Army does seem to exhibit full confidence in one thing in particular – the power of its coffers. The Salvation Army is a mammoth money-making machine. If fund-raising were a gift of the Spirit, the Army would be a demi-god.
According to Forbes listing of The 50 Largest U.S. Charities for 2015, The Salvation Army ranks second. Only $30 million shy of The United Way in the top spot (In case you didn’t know, the United Way is itself a major donor to and strategic partner with the Army. The United Way is also, by the way, a financial supporter of Planned Parenthood.) The Salvation Army raked in over $4.1 Billion in revenue during 2015. (By comparison, consider the 2015 Great Commission Giving program of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest evangelical denomination according to Pew Research Center. That reported total came in at just over $613 million from over 46,000 contributing, cooperating churches.)
(Some variations in list tabulations of charities exists. For example, according to an October 2016 report by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a source often cited by news media, the Salvation Army ranked 6th. Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund took the top spot, bumping out United Way.)
The Army’s revenue was twice that of Feeding America, the number three charity on the Forbes list. The combined 2015 revenues of Goodwill Industries ($927 M), the American Cancer Society ($840 M), the American Red Cross ($735 M), the American Heart Association ($546 M), Samaritan’s Purse ($467 M), and Save The Children ($448 M), for example, do not match the Army’s sizable footprint in nonprofit America. The “church” of the red kettle is a behemoth.
When thinking about church and wealth, what comes to mind but the Roman Catholic Church? According to a CNN Money report from September 2015, the Vatican Bank has over $8 billion in assets. Aside from the literally priceless art, artifacts and historic relics (How can a value be placed on such things as Mary’s Holy Belt, or John The Baptist’s Head, or The Tunic of The Blessed Virgin, or, indeed, the very Chains of St. Peter?), the decadent wealth of Rome has been, from the days of Tetzel’s indulgence-selling crusades, a long time source of angst among Protestants and even some Catholics. Still, the $8B figure is certainly not indicative of the actual net worth of Rome. Two sources give a clue to this. One report, from the International Business Times, states that, in 2014, the Catholic Church in America was generating upwards of $850 million per week from parishioner donations. According to a 2012 report in The Economist, the American Catholic Church operated an annual budget of $170 billion.
But considering the nearly two millennia which Rome has had in which to enrich itself through global expansion, illicit doctrinal indoctrination, and untold civil alliances, and though it’s unlikely to topple the opaque fortune amassed by the apostate of the Tiber, the much younger upstart church of the Salvation Army – it celebrated 150 years in 2015 – hasn’t done such a bad job in accruing fabulous financials for itself.
In the Salvation Army’s 2015 Financial Accountability Statement, the “church” claims total assets of $58.6 Billion, of which $2.7 billion are in cash or cash equivalents. Its Canadian operation is reported (by Charity Intelligence Canada) to have nearly another $1 billion in funding reserves, bringing the Army’s North American war chest total to nearly $4 billion on hand.
Where does the Army generate this revenue? There are multiple revenue streams that are, as E.B. White suggested in the opening quote, complicated to trace. Starting at the watch-dog groups seems to produce little clarity.
While there are various charity wwatchdog groups – the major ones are GuideStar, Charity Navigator, GiveWell, CharityWatch, and the BBB’s give.org, it appears that the Army, because of its religious affiliation, isn’t reviewed by most of them. The site give.org does give “Accredited Charity” status to the Army, with positive marks for the “Standards For Charity Accountability” that it reviews. The Army is unreviewed by Charity Navigator, and the entry from Guidestar is less a review than a summary of the services engaged upon by the Army that seems merely gleaned from its own website.
Because the Salvation Army is a non-profit religious organization, its annual reports it are not subject to scrutiny beyond its own internal oversight but they do provide information regarding the sources from which its magnificent revenue flows. According to the data from its website, the Army reports that 62% of 2015 revenue came from “Direct Public Support.”
While the iconic Christmas-time red kettle crusade may be the most visible fundraising initiative of the Army, it is merely one small marketing effort employed to fill the Army’s coffers. According to the Army’s summary of its “124th Red Kettle Campaign,” the 2015 revenue generated by generous-minded holiday shoppers totaled just over $144 million. But the holiday bell-ringers provide a well-placed, polished image of the Army to the general public and provide a “feel good” moment for the coin tossing kettle donor. (Oh, those seasonal kettle donations are not earmarked by the Army for Christmas-time aid to the needy; the donations generated by bell-ringing attendants – often by court-ordered “beneficiaries” of the Army, by volunteers, or by low-paid employees – go into the Army’s general fund.)
The Army hires professional marketing firms to assist in its ongoing pursuit of “direct public support.” One such firm, True Sense Marketing, generated $265,814 for the Baton Rouge Army office, being paid a fee of $73,999 – or nearly 28% of the haul – for its oversight of the fundraising campaign. Apparently, True Sense has found a major client in the Army, naming its own blog “The Ringer: Straightforward thoughts and insights from fundraising professionals.” (Financial data drawn from The Salvation Army – Baton Rouge 2014 IRS Form 990 Return – Source)
In addition to individual donations, which are solicited in every conceivable way – including direct mail and television advertising – the Army has enormous support from corporate donors. Walmart, Sam’s Clubs, Kroger, Harris Teeter, Papa Johns, Hanes, JC Penney, and Big Lots are a few notable supporters during the holiday season. Other corporate donors include Target (the retailer most recently newsworthy for its support of transgender bathrooms in its stores), FedEx, UPS, Entemann’s, Sprint, Macy’s Inc., Walgreens, and Hobby Lobby.
The Army’s image has been bolstered during the NFL season with the aid of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who is a vigorous supporter of the organization. Salvation Army ads ran during the Thanksgiving Day Cowboy’s game featuring yet another corporate sponsor, 7Up/Canada Dry. (In the event the Army actually paid the $300k-700k for the airtime – the going rate for a 30 second NFL broadcast commercial – one wonders why, only back in June the Army was getting headlines for having to close a homeless shelter in Peoria, IL due to a lack of “government funding.” The funding loss that precipitated the shelter’s close? $190,000.)
The Army reports that its second major source for revenue are from sales to the public. The organization operates 1,237 thrift shops around the nation. Reselling donated goods, the stores – and the collection/warehousing/distribution operations behind them – are often manned by laborers assigned to the Army’s rehabilitation work programs, often by court order.
While revenue flows through the cash registers of the thrift stores, it’s also hauled by the truckloads from the massive recycling operation behind the scenes. Items that are not store-worthy for resale are often sold for their scrap value, particularly items with metal content. It’s reported that laborers in some Army intake warehouses dismantle unsellable electronics for the metals, even clipping power cords from appliances to strip out the copper wiring. One insider reported that such recyclables are sold to scrapyards for upwards of $7000 per truckload. No doubt, this is a savvy profit-producing maneuver – free inventory that’s tax-deductible for the donor, and that’s either sold for full profit in a thrift store or is recycled for full profit.
Complaints from employees (a few random screen grabs are shown below) about store operations, management abuses, and disrespectful managers are replete. The Army reports that it employs over 65,000 people, so complaints are to be expected perhaps. Employees who are often court-ordered “beneficiaries” of Army programs report mistreatment, disregard, and, of course, “low pay,” a complaint responded to with the retort that the “rehab program” of the court ordered participant is a “work” program, not a “therapeutic” one.
The third substantial source of church … err … Army revenue is from the government. In 2015, the Army reports taking in over $352 million in government funds. Some of these funds are for the direct benefit of the Army, such as the $30,000 it received as a “green infrastructure” incentive when building its new city headquarters in Harrisburg, PA. Other grants pass through Army coffers for social aid programs it administers on behalf of the government, such as the $46,000 given to the Missoula, MT Army for its “winter shelter program,” or the unspecified amount provided to the Army in High Point, NC to help pay “your electric bill during hot summer months.”
It’s important to note that government grants to the Army are not pure pass throughs. That is, grants allow for the administering agency – in this case, the Army – to retain administrative and overhead costs associated with the agency’s implementation of the grant. A retention of 10% or more of the grant’s total value is not uncommon.
(While government grants to the Army are not “dollar for dollar” pass-throughs to their targeted recipients, neither are the public donations and corporate contributions. CNN Money reports that “The Salvation Army typically spends 82% of donations on aid.” Other notable charities? The Red Cross is at 91%; Feeding America is at 98%; Feed The Children is at 92%. World Vision is at 85%.)
Another credit to E.B. White’s “one thing leads to another” comment is gleaned from the Army’s entanglement with the government, particularly in its extensive “correctional services” efforts. In many municipalities around the country, the Salvation Army is utilized by civil courts to administrate rehabilitation programs such as “batterers intervention, anger management, and drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs.” The fines, penalties, or dues related to the court are often due payable not to the local magistrate, but to The Salvation Army.
To further consider are complaints of abuse by court ordered “beneficiaries,” a term used by the Army to reference those ordered to participate in its programs. Stories persist of the Army’s strong-arm tactics in commandeering a substantial portion – in some cases, 75% has been claimed – of social welfare benefits to which the individual might be entitled. In return for acceptance into the “work” rehab program, the lodging “beneficiary” is provided “three-hots-and-a-cot,” required to work at zero or below minimum wage, and forfeits a portion of their social welfare benefits, such as food stamps, to the Army. It is claimed that redemption of food stamps by the Army represents a significant portion of the food with which it reports to serve over 56 million meals per year, primarily to the over 10 million “lodgings supplied” it claims.
Now, pause a moment and remind yourself … the Salvation Army, despite what it does or what most people think it is, considers itself a church, a Christian ministry. To quote the Army’s third-person description of itself again … “Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
Consider your church, or your denomination, or any other evangelical denomination that you know besides the Salvation Army. Do you know any with such vigorous fundraising priorities? There certainly aren’t any that, for the frequently gospel-void and myopic focus of relieving temporal human misery, match the Army in money making effectiveness. Did your church get any government grants this year to help those in need in your community? Or, like most churches, did it simply pray and itself fund the outreach – hopefully (unlike the Army) replete with Gospel recitations – to the needy it sought to serve?
The Army finds itself unfavorably disobedient to Scripture’s teaching to be in the world but not of it. Paul warns the church “not to be unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14) with unbelievers. How valid, then, is “yoking” with the government to solicit funds for the purposes of social justice? Perhaps, like its presumptuous claim of divine exemption to disregard the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the church of the Army has presumed to operate on the assumption of a similar divine pass to permit its unscriptural alliances with the world and its reliance on secular entanglements to perform its “God-given” eternal mission.
In fact – not to argue the validity of Christians doing “mercy-based” acts of kindness in an unbelieving world – the New Testament gives ZERO examples of such engagement with the world to achieve social justice ends, alleviate human misery, or, even, of feeding the pagan poor. We are given the example of the New Testament church being exhorted by Paul to aid the famine-suffering saints in Jerusalem, but we read nothing of a campaign by the church to alleviate all hunger in the city. (See Acts 11:29, 1 Corinthians 16:1, Romans 15:26, for example. In fact, 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 9:15 is a rich testimony of Christian charity, borne of the “relief of the saints” in Jerusalem.)
Noble though they may be, acts of mercy and deeds of charity are not the Gospel.
“At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. …Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.” D.A. Carson
Though the unscriptural alliance of the Salvation Army with the world is evident enough, the fact remains enormous volumes of cash flow through it. While “the ends justify the means” isn’t a Christian platitude, the Army’s intentional secular alliances seem to employ such consequentialism. There is little ground on which to argue that the Army doesn’t do some temporal good, but the Christian’s first priority is obedience to God, who then determines – and most certainly will achieve – His ends. (Paul never applied for Roman grants to feed starving Jerusalem unbelievers … or believers.)
It’s to be expected that anything remotely Christian will be attacked by a pagan world spiraling ever deeper – as God releases His restraining mercy – into wickedness and depravity. Though the world today is quick to scream for tolerance, the culture defiantly refuses to exhibit this lofty trait when it comes to Christians or Christianity. (Of course, Scripture tells us such things will happen. Take a look at 2 Timothy 3:1-9, for example.)
The Salvation Army has not been immune to such attacks. But, how does it stand when the darkness attacks? Not well.
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38
In a legal case in which the option to stand firm for the gospel (such as the Army knows it) and the social mission to which it claims to be called of God, the Army chose to forego a firm stance on its Christian convictions and, instead, accommodate the secular demands of the prosecuting litigants against it. (Can it really be considered “persecution” when you end up giving in?)
The New York Times (and the Huffington Post and the New York Civil Liberties Union) reported on the case. “The Salvation Army on Tuesday settled a decade-old lawsuit that charged it with engaging in religious discrimination by requiring its government-funded social service employees to reveal their beliefs and to agree to act in accordance with the Christian gospel. As part of the settlement, approved by a federal judge in Manhattan, the Salvation Army will distribute to its New York employees who work in programs that receive government financing a document stating that they need not adhere to the group’s religious principles while doing their jobs, nor may they be asked about their religious beliefs.”
In addition to relinquishing their stand for their convictions, the Army also agreed to pay $450,000 to settle claims made against it for “proselytizing” by two “former employees.”
Why would the Army yield on its previously held convictions? Perhaps it was the threat of loss of nearly $188 million in grant money from New York government that persuaded them. The writer for the Huffington Post titled his article on the case, “The Salvation Army’s White-Flag Surrender to Secularism,” an apt summation perhaps, but a pathetic testimony for a supposed “Christian” mission in the world.
God may provide but the grant money was a sure thing. Besides, look at all the good we’re doing. One can just imagine the rationalizations of consequentialism going on in the Army’s HQ. The soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York would remain open thanks to the Army’s cowering while onlookers saw what really mattered most to these “Christians.”
The Army’s Tiber-like financial statement reports over $58 billion in assets. A significant portion of these assets are its vast real estate holdings. While the Army operates many different sorts of “missions,” from homeless shelters to group homes to corrections-related half-way houses, and though the value of these facilities is substantial, so too are their vast holdings of other commercial real estate.
While the National Headquarters of the Army in Alexandria, Virginia (pictured) may be valued at $9 million (according to the Alexandria Property Appraiser’s website), other state-based headquarters are equally as expensive. In Florida, the Army’s state headquarters in Lutz (shown below) shows a market value of just over $13 million. The 100,000 SF Texas headquarters carries a value of over $5 million, itself being only one of 53 properties owned by the Army in Dallas. In California, a block southwest of the Moscone Center in San Francisco is the $11 million Golden State headquarters.
But beyond the facilities operated for social services and the corporate facilities are the Army’s holdings in single-family, residential properties. These holdings are substantial. Two news articles, one from the East Coast, one from the West, feature prominently an investigation into these holdings in their respective cities.
The first comes from the Los Angeles Times. In that article, titled “Salvation Army is a residential real estate powerhouse,” the author writes that “In Los Angeles and Orange Counties alone, the charity owns 87 homes and condominiums worth about $52 million.”
A similar journalistic review of the Army, this time from the Tampa Bay Times, found an equally impressive portfolio. The article, “Salvation Army is part church, part charity, part business,” states that, “Few donors realize the Salvation Army owns a $12 million Florida headquarters in Lutz, a $3 million office complex in New Port Richey and dozens of homes in the Tampa Bay area – all part of a largely tax-exempt local real estate portfolio worth about $75 million.”
Why the substantial residential real-estate holdings? Beyond the obvious “it makes good business and investment sense” response, these homes are for the use of Army officers. It’s a perk of officership. In the LA Times story, an officer whose day job in the Army found him overseeing a 54-bed treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts found him living in an Army-provided $1.3 million Santa Monica home.
The Tampa Bay article reports that “Officers, who are ordained clergy, live rent free in the homes, including some that cost as much as $300,000. The organization provides them with cars, health insurance, furniture, and Internet service. It even pays the homeowners’ association dues.”
“And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20
Though Army officers are not themselves getting wealthy for the service they render to the organization – the typical salary is around $36,000 annually – the Army itself, under the auspices of helping the needy and promoting the gospel, is amassing a fortune. And when the general public discovers this, the initial shock is quickly overcome by distaste and consternation.
“I just have a problem with them standing out there with their kettles at Christmastime and people putting their hard-earned money in there when they own millions and millions and millions of dollars of real estate. … It just doesn’t look right. I don’t like it.” (Source)
Both the LA Times and The Tampa Bay Times cite Daniel Borochoff, President of CharityWatch (formerly known as the American Institute of Philanthropy) in response to the recognition of the Army’s vast real estate assets. “They want to be able to project an image that they do this dedicated work for peanuts.” (Source)
“It creates an appearance issue because John Public thinks, ‘I give the Salvation Army my hard-earned 50 bucks and it’s going to go to this fancy home I can’t afford to live in.” (Source)
(Worth noting is that The Salvation Army is not among the “Top Rated Charities” in any category ranked by Charity Watch. “Groups included on the CharityWatch Top-Rated list generally spend 75% or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve, have met CharityWatch’s governance benchmarks, and receive “open-book” status for disclosure of basic financial information and documents to CharityWatch.” SOURCE)
In 2012, during an interview on an Australian radio broadcast, an officer (who is, don’t forget, an ordained minister) responded to a question which left the clear impression to many that the Army believes that “gays should be put to death.”
(Just for grins, compare that to this leading Southern Baptist pastor who suggested not that gays should be put to death, but that those opposed – on Biblical grounds – to his church’s gospel-void, affirming embrace of homosexuals should be put to death.)
Nevertheless, the Army officer’s comments created a whirlwind of outrage. The Army was quick to offer a clarifying apology stating that “The Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine does not state that practicing homosexuals should be put to death and, in fact, urges all Salvationists to act with acceptance, love, and respect to all people.”
(Aussie salvo apologies are nothing new, apparently. The Salvation Army, again in Australia, issued an apology in 2006 related to 500+ claims of child abuse occurring over numerous decades in its Children’s Homes throughout the continent. Though no longer on its website, the archived webpage of the Army’s “response to child abuse allegations” may be found HERE.)
But the effective headline of “Salvation Army Thinks Gays Should Die” did, itself, not die with the apologetic response. The photo-shopped graphic shown above has been extensively shared across social media. Now, nearly five years later, the Army website continues to feature an “About Us” link which directs to “The Salvation Army and The LGBT Community” page. The pithy comments distinguish the Army’s discrimination-free position among “The People We Serve,” “The People We Hire,” and “The People Who Support Us.” All three groups find embrace of and acceptance by the LGBT community.
The Army’s comment about “The People We Hire” is – for a “church” with the self-touted mission to proclaim the gospel – particularly curious. “The Salvation Army embraces employees of many different faiths and orientations. Our hiring practices are open to all, and we adhere to all relevant employment laws, providing domestic partner benefits accordingly.”
This “church” hires people of “many different faiths?” Hmm. And it also “provides domestic partner benefits?” If you’re in a Scripture-obedient church, you probably won’t be able to find these practices repeated at home (or touted as Biblically valid, either.)
The Army’s aggressive response to appear “pro-gay” is perhaps best seen in Australia where the contentious issue of an anti-bullying program for schools is being hotly debated. Called the Safe Schools Program, it is less an anti-bully initiative than it is an effort to indoctrinate Australian children into LGBTQ acceptance. The website for the effort, SafeSchoolsCoalition.org, features the tagline, “A Public-Private Partnership In Support of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Queer and Questioning Youth.” In complete support of this initiative, which offers such curricula resources for youngsters as “Growing Up Queer” and “OMG I’m Queer,” is none other than the Salvation Army. (More about this issue can be found HERE. H/T: Dianne Snider) The Army’s statement of support can be read HERE.
The Army & Abortion
To many, no doubt, the Salvation Army has a seemingly morally palatable statement regarding abortion. It uses such favorable phrases as “all people are created in the image of God,” “human life is sacred,” “responsibility to care for others … including unborn children,” and “life is a gift from God … we are answerable to God for the taking of life.”
But, reading further, the Army’s statement makes clear that, in certain cases, it is pro-abortion, a position that may sit well within liberal churches, but certainly not within Bible-believing ones. “The Salvation Army believes that termination can occur only when carrying the pregnancy further seriously threatens the life of the mother; or reliable diagnostic procedures have identified a foetal abnormality considered incompatible with survival for more than a very brief post natal period.”
The Army’s statement continues. “In addition, rape and incest are brutal acts of dominance violating women physically and emotionally. This situation represents a special case for the consideration of termination as the violation may be compounded by the continuation of the pregnancy.”
While the internet is replete with warnings about the Salvation Army’s support for abortion, including from Catholic-oriented websites (See HERE or HERE, for example) there is no direct evidence (that we could find) of monetary support from the Army to Planned Parenthood. Many web and news sources cite a subscription-only service, Life Decisions International, a pro-life watchdog organization, that has placed the Army on its “dishonorable mention list,” not because of its outright financial support to Planned Parenthood, but for “troubling connections” between the two.
A couple of interesting associations do exist. As previously mentioned, one of the revenue sources for the Salvation Army is United Way, which claims a neutral stance on the issue of abortion. United Way is also a monetary donor to Planned Parenthood.
(A 2015 list of United Way chapters donating to Planned Parenthood is HERE. This 2015 article from LifeNews.com looks at United Way’s defense of its funding for Planned Parenthood. This 2016 article from The Daily Signal also features a look at the United Way’s pro-abortion donations.)
Given the billion-dollar stature of the Army in the world of philanthropy, it’s not surprising that some of their resources go to procuring high profile fund-raising agencies to help them maximize their “help the needy” revenue appeals. It’s already been established that the Army is eager to abandon Scriptural commands for the church to avoid worldly entanglements, so retaining a high-powered secular consulting group is hardly an issue for them.
Enter The Bridgespan Group, itself a non-profit organization with its own mission: “We work to build a better world by strengthening the ability of mission-driven organizations and philanthropists to achieve breakthrough results in addressing society’s most important challenges and opportunities.”
Bridgestone’s list of clients for whom they provide “strategy consulting” includes Planned Parenthood Federation of America and The Salvation Army. The question, perhaps, is … would your church be comfortable having its name alongside Planned Parenthood on the client list of a church-paid consulting group? How far does “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14) actually go, one must ask.
American Christianity and politics don’t – at least from the evangelical church point of view – have a wall of separation. Particularly in the latest presidential election has the evangelical industrial complex come out in full political swing, anointing the perhaps previously un-anointable. So arguing that the church in America should stay out of politics might find one defending a lonely position. But what every evangelical would likely agree on is that, whatever your political proclivities, you should never be deceitful about them.
That simply wouldn’t be Christian. Yet that is what the Salvation Army seems to have done, at least in one statement.
In a response written on the website of the Salvation Army Northern Division clarifying the organization’s stance on the LGBTQ issue, you will find the following statement. “It is not The Salvation Army’s practice to spend funds on lobbying. The Salvation Army is apolitical and concentrates its resources on providing relief and compassionate care to those in crisis.” (Source)
Hearkening back to a Clinton-esque form of defensive rhetoric, your understanding of the Army’s statement may depend on what the definition of “apolitical” is. If you take the straightforward meaning of “apolitical” to be “not interested in or involved in politics,” then you’ll find the Army – an evangelical, self-proclaimed “church” – to be engaging in outright deception.
How can this be? Because the Salvation Army is anything but apolitical.
In the 2016 election cycle, though mere pittances compared to the sizable check writing ability it has, the Salvation Army made numerous contributions to numerous campaigns. The top recipient? Bernie Sanders. Runner up? Hillary Clinton. Ted Cruz came in a distant third. (Source)
Now, to clarify, these political donations were made by “individuals and affiliates” in the name of the Army. But, considering that officers swear an oath of allegiance to the Army that includes, among other things, the affirmation to “abstain from alcoholic drink. tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult, and all else that could enslave the body or spirit,” it seems likely that if the military-like command of the Army wished to restrict such political activity in its name, it could easily do so.
For the 2016 election cycle overall, the evangelical church that (again, allegedly) is The Salvation Army gave 83% of its political contributions to Democrat candidates, who, as we know, happen to be quite “pro-LGBTQ” and “pro-choice.” Outranking Sanders and Clinton in total Army political donations was the DNC Services Corporation, the acronymic corporation of the Democratic National Committee. The Army gave 14% to Republican candidates for office.
Is God just a highly effective fundraising tool for The Salvation Army?
When taking a broad look at The Salvation Army, there is much about which to be concerned – if you’re a Bible-informed believer. As a church, it knowingly violates many clear commands of Scripture – no baptism, no Lord’s Supper. As a church, it willfully entangles itself with the world in order to fulfill its “mission from God,” but is equally ready and able to relinquish its presumed faith-focused commitments when challenged with the loss of funding because of those beliefs. Though enjoying the tax advantages of a non-profit church and the polished image of a charity that helps attract countless Christian donors, it yields to secular demands when potential financial loss as a result of that faith-based image seems to loom. While employing thousands, it rewards them with low pay and promises of eternal security for obedience while it rewards itself with a staggering portfolio of immense assets. It claims the Bible as its guide but is eager to promote culturally-palatable positions on homosexuality and abortion. Though it claims to be disengaged from politics, the Army consistently allows affiliates to align it with, most often, left wing agendas that many within evangelicalism would find worthy of anathematizing.
It certainly seems that, for all its noble claims, the modern Salvation Army has discovered that God, even in a faithless world, is a terrific marketing tool. And when He’s not, they’ll skip the Deity and just point to their work … “Doing the most good.” For all the temporal good it may do, the success of the Army seems less a function of obedience to God than it does to a well-orchestrated marketing plan that relies on deft image management, professional consulting, and savvy profit-building business plans.
As E.B. White said, one thing does always lead to another. In the Salvation Army, it seems, it always leads to one particular place – its coffers. But the one thing that it hardly ever leads to is the gospel … and that is simply because … The Salvation Army is not a church.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]
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