by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
As I was filing away papers and bulletins from past assignments, an item on my Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2013 folder caught my attention: the list of sponsors included the Salvation Army. I found this quite surprising since EAD is a veritable hothouse for revisionist Christian leftists. Oldline liberal Protestant lobbying arms, progressive Catholic orders (such as NETWORK of “Nuns on a Bus” fame), interdenominational advocacy organizations (like Sojourners and Bread for the World), and even the Unitarian Universalists all provided support for the conference. Primarily organized by the aging ecumenical organization Church World Service, the EAD offers a plethora of workshops and speeches that propagate incredibly partisan political positions on privatization, war, international relations, welfare, economics, and other policies international and domestic. Not only do participants learn about issues from a liberal religious perspective; they also actively lobby Congress on the last day of the event. This year’s focus was on the Farm Bill and “food justice.”
While all this is standard fair for IRD coverage, the Salvation Army is not. That organization generally strives to stay above the partisan fray. Instead of mere advocacy, the Army seeks to do. Nearly every community in the United States can attest to this practical approach and its tremendous effectiveness. It seems surprising that the Army would collude with liberation theologians and elite church bureaucrats.
Perplexed, I contacted the Salvation Army to find an explanation. I was put in touch with Ron Busroe, Community Relations and Development Secretary for The Salvation Army’s National Headquarters in the United States. He informed me that the Salvation Army “has been a part of [EAD] for a number of years.” Sponsorship only costs $250. “You’ll notice we’re the only evangelical group that’s a part of those, except for maybe Sojourners. Some people don’t think Sojourners is evangelical, but I do,” Busroe furthered, “We want to engage with as many voices as possible.” He thought that the Salvation Army’s sparkling reputation in practice “brings legitimacy to the table” (which happens to be occupied by vocal political activists). Busroe claimed that the Salvation Army joined its name with the EAD since faith-based nonprofits face threats from the current national budget cutting procedures. He mentioned concerns for tax deductible donations during the Congress’s sequestration.
Details remain unclear with this justification. First of all, EAD 2013’s focus was not on tax-deductible giving but on the Farm Bill, specifically protection for foreign food aid and SNAP food stamp programs. Second, a quick perusal of the speaker and workshop lists reveals that there were absolutely no official Salvation Army spokespeople. If the Salvation Army wants to voice an evangelical perspective on fractious issues, it certainly goes about that endeavor in a strange way—with no actual personnel on panels or offering speeches. Indeed, having reported on the event, I can attest to the world that the Salvation Army influence was minimal if non-existent. If the Salvation Army really had been a part of EAD “for a number of years,” it must have done so secretly. My 2012 EAD folder from last year’s conference fails to mention the Salvation Army as a sponsor.
It seems improbable that the Salvation Army could be skewing radically leftward. The organization has almost never been tied to the radical ideological commitments found at the EAD. If political sympathy is not the motivating factor, then what is? Political naiveté? Lack of foresight? No doubt this recent development will have many local Salvation Army supporters and members scratching their heads. Right now, sponsorship seems to hurt the Salvation Army rather than better the Ecumenical Advocacy Days.