The Army’s ambiguous embrace?

Charles L. Glen. The Ambiguous Embrace – Government and Faith-Based Schools and Social Agencies. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 2000.

embraceCharles Glen has provided an extremely important examination of the relationship between government and faith-based organizations. It expands the work of Joe Loconte whose study, Seducing the Samaritan,(1997) focused primarily on Massachusetts while Glen explores the issue both nationally and internationally. The two books are further tied together by the inspiration and writing of Peter L. Berger, director, Institute for the Study of Economic Culture, Boston University.

Of particular interest to Salvationists are over 20 pages of material in which Glen is joined by Emily Nielsen Jones in order to examine the work of The Salvation Army, identified as “one of America’s most popular and active nonprofit social service agencies.” Together, they examine the organization’s cautious connections with government funding and hold it up “as an example of how to accept government support without abandoning its religious character.”

They recognize, however, that the Army’s popularity with the public and with government funders has not been without cost. “The stated mission of the Army has remained relatively constant over time, yet its social service wing has gradually evolved from a grassroots, personal ministry into a large, institutionalized operation increasingly detached from the religious life of its members.”

The book explores the Army’s social service roots from William Booth’s In Darkest England and the Way Out, through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire and World War I into a more professionalized approach to social service delivery. Seen as elements of the Army’s persistence as a faith-based organization are its quasi-military structure, its strong “sense of heritage and separateness, and its ethos of organized purpose.”

Glen recognizes that “throughout its history the Army’s vision has always been larger in scope than the limited resources of its membership could sustain.” He sees the organization as vulnerable to the “lure of doing more good” because of its large scope and high popularity.

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