Despite Its Good Deeds, the Salvation Army Has a Jewish Problem
When it comes to helping people — whether those who’ve struggled through hurricanes and earthquakes or more personal catastrophes such as alcoholism or drug addiction — very few institutions can hold a candle to the Salvation Army.
Without question, the Salvation Army saves lives. And for that reason, I have always put money into the red kettles on my way out of the grocery store during Christmas season.
That is about to change.
A friend recently alerted me to the church’s statement about the Jewish people — and I am filled with grief that an organization that does so much good can promote the notion that the Jewish people have collectively forsaken God and are no longer in His care. But that’s what the Salvation Army says in black and white, right there on its website.
In a statement titled “Reaching Jews With the Gospel,” the Salvation Army declares that “Israel has largely forsaken its place within the care and special purposes of God.” The text goes on to state:
It is the privilege and responsibility of the Christian Church and Christians everywhere to ‘go and make disciples of ALL nations’. In the face of ready acceptance or of stubborn obduracy the Christian Church must continue to fulfill its mission. The Jews are part of this mission, and we recognize that the Great Commission is not fulfilled before the gospel has been presented in a meaningful way also to the Jews.
Like a lot of Christian churches, the Salvation Army is committed to the Great Commission that calls upon Christians to share the faith with everyone — but the Jews especially. The focus on converting the Jews is troublesome because when Christians who express a particular desire to convert Jews are frustrated in their desire, their disappointment can turn to hostility very quickly.
Martin Luther said nice things about the Jews when he hoped they would convert, but when they did not, he helped lay the ground work for their destruction with the hateful essay, “The Jews And Their Lies,” which called for Jews to be punished because of their refusal to accept the Christian gospel.
Five hundred years later, we see a similar theology is afoot — in the writings of the Salvation Army no less. The Salvation Army’s statement does not declare that the Jews are singularly obdurate or stubborn, but the use of these phrases in a document calling for their conversion has troubling overtones that simply cannot be ignored.
Ironically, in the same document, the Salvation Army encourages its members to share the Gospel with Jews by reminding them “of the continued place of the Jewish people in the divine plan of redemption,” and by fighting antisemitism “in society in general” and “in the Church specifically.”
If the Salvation Army truly believes that the Jewish people have a “continued place” in the divine plan of redemption,” then why does it declare that “Israel has largely forsaken its place within the care and special purposes of God”?
And if the Salvation Army is truly interested in fighting antisemitism, why does the church hold up the Jews as in singular and special need of conversion?
The Salvation Army’s statement raises an important question: Is Christian opposition to antisemitism principled, or merely instrumental? In other words, is Christian opposition to Jew-hatred rooted in a desire to convert them later, or is it rooted in a principled opposition to hatred of all types?
The Salvation Army will do well to investigate the writings of Gerald McDermott, editor of The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land. In this book, McDermott argues that God’s promises to the Jewish people endure, and that Jews still have a role to play in His plans for humanity.
Hopefully, the Salvation Army will rework its theology regarding the Jewish people and continue to bless the world, just as the Jewish people have done throughout their history.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His opinions are his own.