Tackling a complicated dilemma

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mission boxBY ROBERT DOCTER – 

A number of recent events hold promise and challenge for the Army’s relationship with government.

First, the U.S. Supreme Court’s most recent decision concerning church/state relations made it clear that it was all right for the government to fund faith-based charities as along as the charities’ actions in the programs funded were not “pervasively sectarian.”

Second, the passage of “welfare reform” legislation in 1996 made it clear that welfare recipients had to find work. Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was ended. This legislation also included “charitable choice” language which encouraged the use of federal funds for faith-based programs within the Supreme Court guidelines.

Third, an ever increasing number of cities around the entire country began drafting ordinances similar to San Francisco’s “domestic partner” law. While these local laws have much in common with San Francisco’s law, they are far from identical. The laws dictate that any company or organization contracting with the city must provide a similar benefit package for domestic partners as is provided for married couples.

The Army nationally receives around $274 million in government funds annually, which is roughly 15.6% of the Army’s annual income. The West receives close to $60 million. Those dollars support programs which touch the lives of millions.

Commissioner David Edwards, Western territorial commander, has asked that these challenges and opportunities be discussed in a very open manner.

Some critical questions.

  • How long has the Army used government funding in support of its programs? What types of programs has the government tended to fund? How has this funding affected our mission focus in these programs?
  • How does The Salvation Army preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ?–how are we “moved with compassion”? Is it done only with words — with actions–with both–separately or together?
  • Is the M1 portion of the Army’s Mission Statement more important than the M2 portion? Is the reverse true? Are they truly “seamless” — one and the same?
  • What does the Mission Statement phrase “without discrimination” mean? What does the phrase “in His name” mean?
  • Is it possible for the Army to separate its love for others, its acts of charity, from the reason it feels compelled to offer that love without becoming “pervasively sectarian”?
  • How do we maintain integrity with our own values and still meet the ethical obligation of our identity to help society’s weak and marginalized when governmental entities, requiring church-state separation, become the primary service delivery contractors and seek to partner with us for the delivery of the services we have historically provided?
  • When large amounts of government funds pour into a faith-based agency that cannot separate its commitment to Christian social justice from its devotion to Christian love, is it a true gift designed to enlist compassionate action to aid the poor or a “Trojan horse which could end up in either the imposition of religious tyranny or the secularization of the church”? (Sherwood)
  • Is it completely true that one who “accepts the king’s shekels must also wear the king’s shackles”? In a democracy, are these “shackles” (government regulations and restrictions on how funds are used) necessarily bad? What policies and boundaries need to be in place to determine if the regulations supporting heavily funded government program require the Army to sacrifice a portion of its mission focus?

These are only some of the questions with which the Army’s leadership is wrestling as it confronts the challenges and opportunities of using governmental resources while still maintaining integrity with our basic creed.


A dilemma involves a situation that limits choices to only two opposing courses of action both of which have conflicting moral imperatives based on two different values.

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy cites Plato’s classic example:

A man borrows a weapon from his neighbor promising to return it at his neighbor’s request. One day the neighbor, in a fit of rage, asks for the weapon back apparently with the intention to kill someone. The man is faced with a dilemma: if he keeps his promise, then he will be an accessory to a murder; if he refuses to return the weapon, he violates his promise.

The man cannot do both. He must choose. Let’s assume he will not make the choice simply on the matter of personal preference, but, instead, will choose on the basis of some objective consideration. He believes, therefore, that one of the courses of action lies within the scope of his “true moral duty.” He has, then, an obligation to make that his choice.

Different individuals, using varying points of view, will begin the process of resolving the moral dilemma in different ways. Individuals who accept a Christian view of social justice begin the process by first identifying the basic values in conflict within the dilemma. In the example above, the dilemma’s values involve life vs. promissory contract.

Second, a Christian approach would seek to measure the moral consequences of the choices once the values are identified. In doing this, the Christian attempts to use relevant criteria based on the loving and just character of God and the “mind of Christ” to determine the highest intrinsic good.


First we talk to him in prayer. We explore our thoughts and feelings about the opportunities and challenges of the Army’s relationship to government. We thank him for the opportunity to live and work in a free, compassionate nation interested in social justice and the well being of its citizens. We examine in depth any selfish motivation for initiating the relationship. We stop talking long enough to listen to his voice.

Next, we turn to any guidance we might find in the Bible. David Sherwood, writing in the Journal of Christians in Social Work, states: “When we turn to biblical guidance in regard to the content of justice we do not find exhaustive, prescriptive rules which cover every possible social situation (though many have tried to force the Bible into such a mold). What we find, first, are theological principles — (equal worth of all persons created in the image of God, moral agency including both freedom and responsibility, community responsibility for basic welfare); second, we find rules for areas of human life (the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount); third, examples of codes and structures in particular cultures (the Levitical/Deuteronomic law); and finally, examples of prophetic justice and denunciations of injustice.”

We need to guard against translating scripture and trying to impose absolutes based on a contemporary interpretation of a single biblical statement taken out of context. Sherwood expresses it this way. “The problem with trying to make exceptionless absolutes out of every rule we may find in scripture is the same problem we have with trying to find simplistic rule-based answers to any question. In real life situations legitimate moral principles and rules come into tension with each other and we have to exercise judgment regarding how to weigh and apply them in the situation. We find ourselves having to balance such things as individual liberty on the one hand and protection of either the total community or those within it unable to protect themselves on the other. In true dilemmas, rules may helpfully guide judgment, but they cannot simply prescribe. Doing justice requires character-driven judgments regarding what best maximizes love and justice in a given situation.”(Sherwood, 1993)

Sherwood then highlights three basic building blocks which are particularly relevant to social justice in a pluralistic society. They are:

“1. The inherent worth of all persons.

Regardless of any cultural, racial, social or mental differences we may have, there is a fundamental equality of all persons in terms of our worth and basic human rights. This worth is not earned or based on personal attributes or status but is founded on our creation in God’s image and God’s demonstrated character. Biblically, we are told that “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34) and we are called to do the same.

“2. Moral agency: freedom and responsibility.

Those who wish to abridge human freedom and impose values on others will not get real comfort or support from scripture. From the beginning to the end scripture treats human beings as moral agents, having both the capacity and responsibility to make meaningful choices, act in the direction of those choices, and bear responsibility for both choice and action. However, the scriptures do not absolutize human autonomy and freedom. Although Christianity supports the value of personal liberty it balances this value with the understanding that our freedom is a gift from God who has ordered the moral universe. We are not ‘our own law.’ Rather we are stewards — accountable to a higher law.

“3. Responsibility for the ‘common good’ — especially the poor and oppressed.

The biblical emphasis–Old and New Testament–consistently connects justice to the treatment and care for the marginalized–widows, orphans, aliens, the poor. According to the Bible, “To become just, a society must bring into community all its weak and defenseless ones, its marginal ones, giving them voice and a fair share in the goods of the community.” (Wolterstorff, Nicholas [1995] Justice and Peace. In The new dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology.)

Sherwood concludes: “So Christians should understand that the moral imperative to care for the good of all persons, regardless of who they are and to do justice with a special concern for the ‘least of these’ is a duty grounded in the character of God. Social justice is a real moral claim on us, an imperative, something that we really ‘owe’ to one another. We are motivated to love and do justice not by fear but by grace.”


And so, after examining inherent values within contradictory choices — after seeking to determine the mind of Christ in the character of God — we must decide.

Individuals may make individual decisions. Corporate decisions are the responsibility of the leadership of the group. In the case of the Army in the United States, that responsibility is vested in the Commissioners Conference at which the West is represented by Edwards and Colonel Phil Needham, territorial chief secretary. Both Edwards and Needham have examined this process and have sought to include you in it. Moreover, they have both identified principles they perceive as crucial in guiding the Army’s relationship with government into the twenty-first century.


The Army Government – Special Report

The Army Government – Special Report

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Advancing The Salvation Army In A Faith-Based Environment

Advancing The Salvation Army In A Faith-Based Environment


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