12/23/05 — Salvation Army: It’s always there in time of need

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Salvation Army: It’s always there in time of need

Associated Press religion writer Richard N. Ostling had an interesting article recently about the Salvation Army. It was enlightening, encouraging — and in some respects disheartening.

The Salvation Army probably is second to none in public respect for its service to people in need.

In times of local, national or international disasters, it seems that the Salvation Army is the first on the scene. Whether it is providing food and shelter to a homeless derelict, or ministering to the masses whose homes have been wiped out by floods or earthquakes, the Salvation Army is there.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Army served 4.8 million meals. Local, state and national governments and agencies have come under fire for the way they responded to the Katrina crisis. But not a word of criticism has been directed at the Salvation Army.

According to the Associated Press story, the Salvation Army aided 34.5 million people, spending $2.6 billion, in the past year alone.

Sources of its funding run the gamut — from coins dropped in kettles manned by volunteer bell-ringers, to United Way campaigns to bequests from the estates of people who have been impressed with the Salvation Army’s good works. The latter includes a one-time gift of $1.5 billion from the estate of Joan Kroc, widow of the founder of the McDonald’s food chain!

But while the Salvation Army’s record of public service continues ever to strengthen, the organization is experiencing problems from within — and from the outside.

The number of Salvation Army officers — who are ordained ministers — has dropped by almost one-third in the past five years. Over the years they have come from within the organization. And not only is membership in the Salvation Army going down, so are the numbers enrolling in its officer training schools.

Being an officer in the Salvation Army demands a special kind of dedication and sacrifice. For example, the AP story mentioned a man and wife who have served as Salvation Army officers for 42 years. Their combined salary is $33,000 a year, plus housing and other benefits.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is under fire from its flanks. A little more than 10 percent of the Army’s income comes from the government. Civil libertarians have insisted that the government should not provide funds for an organization whose stated mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to meet human needs in his name.”

It also is being sued for alleged religious discrimination in employment.

But despite all its problems, the Salvation Army is experiencing a sustained and increasing level of public trust, admiration and support.

Indeed, when campaigns such as the United Way are being conducted, the Salvation Army and its fine services are among the showcase examples of the importance of support from individuals and businesses in communities throughout the nation — and beyond.

Published in Editorials on December 23, 2005 9:19 AM