Smile Politely

How Do They Get Away with It?

You’ve seen them out there standing in the cold, ringing their bells. Maybe you’ve even dropped some coins into their red kettles. The Salvation Army bell ringers are even more ubiquitous than the billboards that announce, “When you put money in our kettle, expect change.”

What I want to know is how do they get away with it?

After all, The Salvation Army is a church. I wonder how many people (particularly non-Christians) who drop their change into those red kettles know that they are supporting a church whose mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

Without discrimination? I wonder how many gays and lesbians drop coins into the red kettles of an organization that states its belief on homosexuality as:

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.

The Salvation Army does a heck of a lot of good things in our community. They run a homeless shelter, a social services office and a thrift store. They sent their canteen to provide food and water to the firefighters during the recent fire in downtown Champaign. They recently had a coat drive so folks can keep warm this winter. And currently they’re running a Toys for Tots program so needy kids get something for Christmas this year.

The Salvation Army is able to do all of those wonderful things in large part because of their yearly red kettle campaign. But the red kettles are successful because The Salvation Army is perceived (or has cleverly branded itself?) not as a church but as a charitable organization that does, indeed, do a lot of good.

But in the end The Salvation Army is a church and one not without its share of bad theology and prejudices.

So I guess when we’re coming out of the grocery store and we see one of those bell ringers, we have to weigh the pros and cons. There’s no doubt the money we drop in the kettle will go to a lot of good causes. But it will also be supporting an organization that, much like all of us, is imperfect.

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