The Salvation Army - To Give, or Not to Give?
It's that time of year when you can't go shopping without hearing the familiar ringing of bells being rung by the person standing next to the hanging red kettle, wishing you a Merry Christmas, grateful for any change you might have. I'd always given to the Salvation Army, usually more than just a bit of spare change, but now that I've begun paying attention to some of the criticisms of the organization, I wonder whether I want to support them.
First things first, the Salvation Army does a lot of good. Their thrift stores are well known, as well as their help to the needy. Perhaps slightly less well known are their disaster relief, rehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters, as well as a few programs I'm sure I've forgotten. And let me also dispel a prominent rumor. The bell ringers don't take a cut from the red kettle (see Snopes).
But, they're not without controversy. Keep in mind, the Salvation isn't just a charity. They're a church. They take positions on issues that would otherwise have nothing to do with their charity work. Take a look at this page on their site:
They have positions on:
- Alcohol and Drugs
- Economic Justice
- Human Equality
- Human Trafficking
- Religious Persecution
Their positions are exactly what you'd expect from the religious right. For example, here's part of what they have to say about gambling.
The Salvation Army believes that gambling engages its participants and promoters in an exercise of greed contrary to biblical moral teaching. Gambling at best wastes personal resources, and at worst afflicts millions through a lifestyle of compulsive behaviors and destructive influences.
And just to show what they consider so bad:
Some examples of gambling include casino games, state lotteries, and betting on sports.
Moving on to something that's more of an active political discussion right now, here's part of their statement on homosexuality.
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.
And here's the beginning of their statement on marriage.
The Salvation Army affirms the New Testament standard of marriage, which is the loving union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is the first institution ordained by God (Genesis 2:24), and His Word establishes its significance (Matthew 19:4-6).
Now, if they just had position statements, as bad as they are, that would be one thing. But the Salvation Army actively works to support their positions. The most famous example from this country was when New York City passed the Equal Benefits Bill, requiring all organizations receiving public funds to provide the same benefits to "domestic partners" as they do to spouses. The Salvation Army threatened to quit receiving public funding rather than abide by the law, which would have in effect shut down the majority of their operations in the city.
Then, there are numerous local incidents - none which are officially supported by Salvation Army headquarters, but which are still rather widespread. Someone else has already covered this pretty well, so here's a link to their article on the issue:
Here's just a sampling of some of those local incidents:
- Refusing to help a gay homeless couple
- Disposing of Harry Potter and Twilight toys because they were against Christian principles
- Destroying books they disagree with
- Turning away a transgender woman who subsequently died from the cold
- Turning away children of illegal immigrants
Aside from how their positions affect their own charitable donations, here's an example of them trying to 'steal' money from another charity. When H. Guy Di Stefano died, he wanted his estate to be split evenly between 8 charities. One of them, Greenpeace International, was absorbed by the Greenpeace Fund between the writing of the will and Di Stefano's death. The money that was to go to Greenpeace International was going to go to the Greenpeace Fund, and none of the other charities had a problem with that, except for the Salvation Army. They argued that because it wasn't the same charity named in the will, that the money should be split evenly between the 7 remaining charities. An agreement was reached, and The Army's lawsuit was dropped.
And then, there's their cult like treatment of officers in their church. They can only marry other officers in the church. And it's not an empty threat. A few years ago, they did terminate an officer when he became engaged to someone from outside the organization.
So, what's a person to do? I think it's up to the person and how they're realistically going to respond. It's not as if the Salvation Army is the only game in town. There are plenty of worthwhile charities that don't have such horrible positions. My wife and I already donate to several charities, but I've decided to donate just a little more to make up for what I used to put into the red kettles.
But, I do think the Salvation Army does much more good than harm. So, if the only way you would donate would be to drop your change into one of their kettles, then don't hold back! Most of your money will go to helping people, and it's better than doing nothing at all. So in that case, go ahead and give the Salvation Army your spare change.