This year’s Red Kettle Campaign has begun, the annual Christmas fundraiser that helps The Salvation Army collect money to meet human needs in local communities across the country. Each year’s campaign brings heightened media attention to The Salvation Army, particularly regarding its beliefs and practices.
In particular, we face such questions as: How does The Salvation Army help people in need? Are we a church? Perhaps most important, is the organization truly committed to serving all those in need?
The Salvation Army is a Christian organization, founded by a small group of people in London in 1865 to serve those who were suffering. They were fueled by their love of God and their belief that God was leading them to do his work on earth. The only qualification to receive help from The Salvation Army was to have a need. That has not changed in more than a century.
We serve nearly 30 million Americans in need each year, from a variety of backgrounds. We do not pick and choose whom we serve based on religion or any other factor, and no one should ever be turned away in need.
The Salvation Army has doctrine and beliefs that help guide members of the church in life and on a daily basis. Many people have questioned why The Salvation Army holds certain positions on issues such as homosexuality. This issue has created misunderstandings and confusion about The Salvation Army. This in turn has led many to think that the Salvation Army judges others and denies them services or employment. None of this is true.
The Salvation Army believes that all people are equal, regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor, including race, gender and ethnicity. We firmly oppose the vilification and mistreatment of any member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, just as we oppose the mistreatment of anyone. Any such incident is in clear opposition to all established Salvation Army policy.
Indeed, this promise is emphatically laid out in our organizational mission statement, which says: “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.”
The Salvation Army is founded on Christian values and biblical standards, and those in need receive our assistance each year through a broad array of social services, which include food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter for the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children.
Many wrongly believe The Salvation Army lobbies the federal government to deny equal opportunities to people with beliefs that differ from ours. For more than a decade, The Salvation Army has not engaged any lobbyists, nor does the organization have any lobbyists working on its behalf nationally to lobby for particular laws or to deny liberties to any American. This is not within The Salvation Army’s moral fabric.
Notably, The Salvation Army employs more than 64,000 people from all backgrounds across the country. Employment for holders of those positions, who include social workers, senior care providers, program administrators, athletic coaches, counselors and chefs, is based solely on how well applicants meet job requirements. Only for employees within The Salvation Army that hold religious responsibilities, such as the 3,500 Salvation Army officers who are ordained ministers in our church, do we seek those whose faith and values are consistent with our theology. In that, we are no different from any other church in America.
The Salvation Army hires the best candidate for a position and offers employee benefits to all, equally. The Salvation Army adheres to all relevant employment laws and provides for domestic-partner benefits accordingly. We offer benefits to all employees and do so in much the same way that other companies and private organizations provide them.
The people who work for and volunteer with The Salvation Army aim to serve others in need, to work with people and not against anyone. Over the years, The Salvation Army has demonstrated a consistent ability to work with and alongside individuals and organizations that may not always be in agreement with our theology. They support us with time and financial resources because of a common cause and commitment to serve people in need. Like Jesus, we strive to love the unloved and be compassionate to all — even when we disagree theologically. When we serve those in need, we are serving him.
To act in any other way would contradict the very reason The Salvation Army was founded.
William Roberts is national commander for The Salvation Army.