Salvation Army Is More Than A Goodwill Group

December 17, 2000

Source: The Washington Post

On December 17, 2000, The Washington Post reported that "for many Americans, the Christmas season is incomplete without the Salvation Army's ubiquitous red kettles, tinkling bells and brass bands urging harried shoppers to remember the needy. Some know that its dependable track record of serving the poor and afflicted has led Americans for the last eight years to give it more money than any other private charity--$ 1.4 billion in 1999 alone. But few people realize that the Salvation Army is an evangelical Protestant denomination of more than a million members in 107 countries, with its own creed, ordained clergy, seminaries and spiritual mission: 'To preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.' 'I sometimes think people think we mushroom out of the ground at Christmastime with a kettle and a bell and go underground at Groundhog Day," said Lt. Col. Tom Jones, the denomination's spokesman at its national headquarters in Alexandria. 'And that's absolutely not the case.' The Salvation Army's military structure signals that it is 'a fighting force, constantly at war with the powers of evil,' according to a church manual. Thus, its London-based world leader is known as 'the General,' its clergy are 'officers,' its members 'soldiers.' The Salvation Army newspaper is the War Cry. In this country, 472,000 people consider themselves Salvationists, Jones said. But only 125,000 of them are soldiers who have signed the church's Articles of War, which require them to refrain from alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography and the occult; 'uphold Christian integrity' in all areas of life; and always 'show the spirit of Salvationism.'...A higher level of commitment is expected of Salvationist officers like Richard and Janeen McConniel of Springfield, who are among the church's 5,000 U.S.-based ordained clergy members, recognized by the red-backed 'S' on their lapels. Officers give up all outside income and live on a salary from the church, which also provides them with a furnished 'parsonage,' a car, medical insurance and a pension. With benefits, an officer couple generally makes $ 30,000 to $ 50,000 annually, Jones said. Officers may marry only other officers, and if they divorce, both lose their 'commissions.' On call 24 hours a day and regularly transferred to new locations, officers also follow detailed regulations on everything from how to win a soul to how to write a letter and court a prospective spouse...Founded in 1865 in London by Methodists William and Catherine Booth, the Salvation Army has a simple theology of 11 doctrines. It does not have sacraments or communion and is nonliturgical, meaning there are no prescribed rules for its worship services. The first Salvationists in this country arrived in New York in 1880. Initially, their street theater and marching bands--meant to draw attention to their salvation message--earned disdain from other Christians. Their original intent was to convert everyone they met to Christ, but Salvationists found that people most appreciated their social welfare programs. In response, the church toned down its overt proselytizing and concentrated on doing good. Diane Winston, author of a 1999 book on the denomination, Red Hot and Righteous, said much of the Salvation Army's widespread appeal among Americans of all faiths is due to the fact that 'they don't emphasize their evangelical identity. They don't hide it, but neither do they emphasize it. It's sort of hidden in plain sight.' Today, the Salvation Army runs a national social welfare network that assisted 33.5 million Americans in 1999 and employs more than 43,000 people, most of them nonmembers, according to spokesman Jones. The Christmas kettle tradition began in 1891 when Joseph McFee, a soldier in San Francisco, grabbed a big crab pot, hung it from a tripod and posted a sign: 'Fill the Pot for the Poor--Free Dinner on Christmas Day.' He collected enough to feed more than 1,000 people, and as the kettle tradition spread, 'Keep the Pot Boiling!' became the Salvation Army's Christmas slogan. Last year, its kettles, including about 200 in the Washington area, brought in $ 84 million. There are 10 Salvationist 'corps' in the area, and their worship services are regularly attended by about 800 people, according to Lt. Col. William L. Crabson, divisional commander of the Salvation Army in the District and its surrounding suburbs...The McConniel children, who all play a musical instrument, reflect the balance that Salvationist families seek between the sacred and the secular. Despite the austere lifestyle chosen by their parents, the children say they appreciate life in the Salvation Army."