The bells are ringing everywhere you go, hurting your ears. In December the Salvation Army’s ringers stand at every store, hoping you’ll throw some money in their kettles. They’re a popular, well-regarded charity which I won’t give any money to. The reason is that I don’t support dishonest charities.
The Salvation Army is a church. I don’t object to that. I don’t object to charities run by churches. I object to churches that try to make you forget they’re churches.
There was a time when I contributed to the organization fairly regularly. Not large amounts, but something each year. Then I got a mailing in this envelope:
As you see, it displays a cross and the words, “He who believes in me will live.” That reminded me of what I should already have been thinking. The Salvation Army avoids mentioning its status as a church to the general public, then boasts about it to its regular supporters.
Salvation Army: Everybody is depraved
“He who believes in me will live.” Nice words? Not really. It says that if you want to live, i.e., not burn in Hell forever, you have to believe in Jesus. Are you an atheist? A Buddhist? A Jew? Then you don’t believe. You don’t get to live after you die, or more precisely you live in eternal torture.
The doctrines of the Salvation Army say that “repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, are necessary to salvation.” No Christian faith, no salvation. They affirm “the endless punishment of the wicked.” Can the worst person who has ever lived deserve endless punishment, let alone someone whose sole offense is not having the right beliefs? Yes, says the Salvation Army, because “all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God.”
Total depravity is a Calvinist doctrine. It holds that people are unable to do good on their own. We’re sinful in every aspect of our existence. Everything we do is sinful, in its motivation if not in its outcome. We can’t choose God; God chooses us. We might be able to do some good then, but only as divine puppets.
It’s a doctrine of contempt for the entire human race. Why should I give money to someone who says I’m totally depraved?
The Salvation Army is sneaky
As I said, there are religious charities I’ll support. Catholic Charities runs a food bank in my state. As far as I can tell, it’s well run, it doesn’t use food distribution to promote its doctrines, and it states clearly that it’s under the Catholic Church’s umbrella. When you give to the Salvation Army, you’re giving straight to the church, for whatever purpose it chooses.
The Salvation Army has often worked out partnerships with public schools and municipal activities who forget that it’s a church and they can’t legally give it direct support. Public schools, especially in Bible Belt areas, make work with this church a classroom activity. Government agencies can work with charitable branches of religious organizations, if they keep a proper arm’s length arrangement, but the Salvation Army doesn’t care much about such niceties. In 2014 it settled a lawsuit by New York State alleging it required employees working in government-funded social services to act in accordance with Christian beliefs and disclose their church membership.
When you give money to the Salvation Army, you’re promoting its doctrine of salvation for believers only. It runs camps to “use the elements of nature and the great outdoors as a setting to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
There are better alternatives
Even if these are ideas you believe in, I hope you believe in honesty as well. Wouldn’t you rather give your money to a church that doesn’t try to sneak the Gospel of Jesus Christ across?
If you don’t want your money to promote the idea that non-Christians will go to Hell, there are many charities that do good work without pushing such doctrines. Some of them are even run by churches, with a proper wall between their religious and charitable activities.
How many of the bellringers know they’re working for a church? I don’t know. As individuals, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. Most of them aren’t church members and probably don’t think you’re even partially depraved. They stay at their posts even if it’s chilly. They think they’re just helping people in need.
But there are better places to give your money.