On the Corner

Things I still don’t understand about the Army

by Robert Docter – 

I can’t figure out why we do certain things—why we have certain policies and don’t have others. The rationale often escapes me. I don’t think I’m overly thick—I just can’t figure out the thinking behind some actions and some inactions. Maybe if I understood I would be less likely to criticize those actions.

Possibly, you will be able to help me.

Recognizing that public opinion casts the Army as a major player in dealing with matters of economic and social justice I don’t understand why we shrink from opportunities to exercise our powerful public good will on behalf of the poor and poor in spirit in this society.

We seem to pick a less than courageous path when it comes to advocacy.

Our commitment to matters of social justice seems shallow. Even with the potential of a very loud voice we keep the power low when it comes to advocating points of view on critical matters. Maybe it would help if poor people even knew that “someone cares.”

I’m not suggesting we engage in political or partisan activities—or even in lobbying on behalf of particular pieces of legislation. I know there are potential problems for us in this arena. The Army is, after all, a church with a tax-exempt status that allows it to avoid paying taxes and provides tax deductions for its donors. In section 501.3.c, the Internal Revenue Code restrains churches from “substantial” engagement in activities relating to such matters as attempting to influence legislation or supporting specific candidates. The term “substantial” has been interpreted to mean as little as five per cent of the church’s total activities. Nobody seems to know exactly what it means.

Please note: This code provision does not restrict us from speaking out on general matters of social justice or moral principles. I wouldn’t want the Army speaking out on political matters—endorsing candidates—trying to influence specific legislation. I would like us speaking out on what life on skid row is like—on the sin of racism—on the pain of homelessness—on the advantages of church attendance for family development—etc. and etc.

When we gave up on the open-air meeting we virtually ended our public pronouncements on any matters. Silence itself sends a message. By remaining silent on any controversial issue or ethical dilemma we communicate endorsement of the status quo.
Are you still there?

Here’s another one. We do a remarkable job working one-on-one in helping people in need. Our national position statement on Economic Justice states: “All people have a right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, and to decent working conditions.” Do we hold true to that statement even with our own employees? And in this era of “welfare reform,” is the wage structure truly “just?” Can a single parent—no longer getting any AFDC support—make it with two children, no child support from a deadbeat dad, and provide housing, food, clothes, transportation, and childcare—all on a minimum wage? I don’t think so. The position statement goes on to add: “The Salvation Army believes that certain societal structures can perpetuate economic injustice and is committed to seek constructive changes in those structures wherever they exist.”

I’d like to make that commitment a little more visible.
There—I’ve got some of this off my chest—I feel relieved—but still confused.


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