The Salvation Army, best known for its red kettle donation stands at Christmas, has released a racial reconciliation curriculum urging its members to apologize for past racial misdeeds.
In “Let’s Talk About Racism,” the evangelical organization declares: “[A]s we engage in conversations about race and racism, we must keep in mind that sincere repentance and apologies are necessary if we want to move towards racial reconciliation. … Perhaps you don’t feel as if you personally have done anything wrong, but you can spend time repenting on behalf of the Church and asking for God to open hearts and minds to the issue of racism.”
Church members are told: “We recognize that it is a profound challenge to sit on the hot seat and listen with an open heart to the hurt and anger of the wounded.”
The evangelical group claims a church membership of nearly 2 million globally. In the United States, the organization maintains 7,600 “centers of activity” and says it helps 23 million American families a year. A financial report shows the group raised 59% of its $3.3 billion in 2020 revenue from “direct public support.”
Col. Janet Munn, Salvation Army minister and co-director of the organization’s International Social Justice Commission, led the team that developed the discussion guide. The commission is a “strategic voice to advocate for human dignity and social justice with the world’s poor and oppressed,” the organization said.
Based in New York City, the commission is part of the Salvation Army‘s international headquarters in London.
It released the guide to the organization’s four multistate U.S. territories in May to facilitate teaching and discussion about racial issues, and to Salvation Army installations around the world.
Col. Munn said in an email that the Salvation Army is not imposing the discussions as “mandatory” practices at its worship centers, “although some territories have planned a systematic release of the resource, moving from the territory to [diocese] for their use.”
Asked whether the Salvation Army was concerned that a public perception of “wokeness” might impact fundraising, Col. Munn replied: “The purpose of the resource is to encourage gracious, courageous conversations on the subject of racism, which requires becoming aware of some of the history of racism within the U.S. in particular. In that regard, the pain and brokenness that people experience in relation to racism is the key focus and motivator throughout. The resource is for Salvationists rather than [the] wider public and does not represent any change in doctrine or practice.”
The group has always worked across racial lines, and some of its most successful church installations were in minority communities. In 2006, Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither, who said they were the first interracial ministerial couple in the Salvation Army‘s U.S. ranks, were appointed national commanders at the group’s headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
George Floyd, whose death last year while in Minneapolis police custody sparked global protests and national introspection, was a Salvation Army employee two years before he died. He worked at the local Harbor Light Center, an adult rehabilitation program, in 2017 and 2018.
Voddie Baucham, a Baptist preacher who serves as dean of theology at African Christian University in Zambia, said the Salvation Army might be engaged in “virtue signaling” with the document. Mr. Baucham attacks critical race theory as a Marxist idea in a 2021 book, “Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe.”
But theologian Owen Strachan, author of “Christianity and Wokeness,” said “the evangelical community may affirm what The Salvation Army has said — at least some elements of it — because they’re predisposed to follow the cues of culture.”
Mr. Strachan, director of the Center for Public Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, added that while “the American past has sin in it,” such an acknowledgment does not mean the Christian church in this country is founded in sin.
The Salvation Army, founded in 1865, officially entered the U.S. in 1880 when a contingent of seven “Hallelujah Lassies” and one male commanding officer landed at Castle Clinton in Lower Manhattan to “open fire” in bringing a Gospel message to the underclasses.
“Go for souls, and go for the worst,” was founder William Booth’s injunction to his “troops.”
The Salvation Army‘s message of redemption for the down-and-out swept the country. In the early 1900s, the group’s disaster relief work after a hurricane in Galveston, Texas, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake earned it respect from federal officials. During World War I, Salvation Army ministers — “officers,” in the group’s parlance — served doughnuts to the troops and gained respect from the soldiers, who came to be known as “doughboys.”