Salvation Army's Donors Withdraw Support in Response to Racial 'Wokeness' Initiative

As The Salvation Army launches its Red Kettle Campaign this holiday season, some of its long-time donors are withdrawing their support from the 156-year old charitable organization citing its newly embraced "woke" ideology as the reason.

Of great concern to loyal supporters and faithful Salvationists is the initiative dubbed "Let's Talk About Racism." In a nutshell, its curriculum outlines the Christian church's alleged racial collusion and provides action steps to analyze and combat racism through an "anti-racist" lens while incorporating Critical Race Theory.

Definitions of institutional and systemic racism are included while real or perceived differences in life outcomes ("inequities") are attributable not to individual effort and other circumstances, but to discrimination. Sections address topics including police brutality, health care and Black unemployment linking such topics to "racial inequity."

That's troublesome for those who note The Salvation Army has been a leader in confronting racism long before the rest of the country and over five decades before the civil rights movement. And they're asking why then should members of an organization built by the Christian faith to actually assist people of all races in need, be repentant of behavior they never perpetuated?

Salvationists playing instruments
Some long-time donors are withdrawing their support after what they feel is a "woke" initiative within The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army band plays in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theater as a QR code is displayed on December 10, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images) Frederic J. Brown/Getty

"In my estimation, CRT is a Trojan horse taking in well-intentioned Christian enterprises that—because they care about justice and oppose oppression—naively promote the most serious threat to biblical Christianity I have seen in 50 years," wrote Christian apologist and radio talk show host Greg Koukl in a Facebook post earlier this month.

Entitled An Open Letter to The Salvation Army, Koukl prefaces the post by informing TSA that he is terminating his monthly donations and directing them to another organization. Koukl is also the founder and president of the Stand to Reason, a non-profit religious organization that "trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed defense for classical Christianity."

"There is a massive number of academics—Black and white, Christian and non-Christian, atheist and theist—who have raised the alarm against the aggressive indoctrination and, frankly, bullying of CRT—not to mention the racial essentialism inherent in the view, the false witness it bears against virtuous people, and the general destruction it continues to wreak on race relations in this country. CRT has set us back 50 years," he continued.

Koukl isn't the only one that's voiced his concerns over the new training created through TSA's International Social Justice Commission. It was last July that it was disseminated through emails, videos, devotionals and other materials to field officers serving poor communities across the U.S. by the organization's four territorial commanders.

Active officers in the Salvation Army's western territory were trained in matters of racial equity in a compulsory manner in January. The agenda for the Territorial Virtual Officers' Councils on Racial Equity workshop mirrored the "Let's Talk About Racism" resource put out by the Commission and was required of current officers.

General Brian Peddle, CEO of The Salvation Army announced the initiative in February through a video in which he said "it examines racism through the lens of scripture, church and world history and guides gracious discussions about overcoming the damage racism has inflicted upon our world and yes, on our Salvation Army."

"As we anticipate having courageous conversations about race please join me in working toward a world in which all people feel included, valued and loved on Earth just as they are in heaven," Peddle stated in the one-minute video.

But a commentary by author Kenny Xu published on the conservative news website The Daily Signal last month addressed what he described as the Commission "unhealthily mixing admirable human rights works with politically charged advocacy based in politics."

Xu, who is also the president of Color Us United—an organization that advocates for a race-blind America—noted terms that "echo both radical 'anti-racism' jargon and divisive teachings of critical race theory" in the materials prepared for The Salvation Army's more than 1.7 million members. It's terminology that Xu notes, "divides people into two camps: the oppressors and the oppressed."

"In some aspects, the materials are indistinguishable from the 'anti-racist' programs of any multinational corporation, or the expounding of critical race theory at a major university," wrote Xu, noting that "Let's Talk About Racism" accuses white Salvationists of being unable or unwilling to acknowledge their racism. He also noted its encouragement for whites to read Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist.

But as Xu reminds readers in his piece, "the Gospel itself is colorblind."

"Despite what the church's International Social Justice Commission says, ordinary members of The Salvation Army are committed to a colorblind perspective, and admirably so," he wrote, noting that faithful Salvationists recognize this. Xu also contends that an individual's perspective of social justice analysis doesn't necessarily correspond to the Christian ethic of individual salvation.

Xu questioned why the traditionally a-political Salvation Army would begin to promote such political and racial ideologies to begin with, which led him to organize a petition, co-written by Salvation Army captains and sponsored through Color Us United. It asks those to "stand against the insertion of politically charged racial ideologies into The Salvation Army's good work."

The appeal, calling for a revocation of the "Let's Talk About Racism" curriculum, currently has 12,200 signatures from members and donors rejecting what they consider a "woke script."

Originally founded in London in 1865 by one-time Methodist preacher William Booth and his wife Catherine, TSA is both a Christian church and an international charitable organization. Organized in an "army" structure with officers, soldiers and volunteers, collectively they are referred to as Salvationists who are called to serve both the physical and spiritual needs of the impoverished as their Christian faith dictates.

"Repentance solely for the fact that you're white, we don't think that's very productive," Xu told Newsweek, who also noted that 60 percent of those served by The Salvation Army are from ethnic minority communities. That's a statistic he told Newsweek he discovered by talking to Commissioner and TSA National Commander Kenneth G. Hodder.

"Here's the thing with the SA that's so crazy—these people spend their entire lives serving the poor," said Xu. "There is absolutely no reason to even suggest or insinuate repentance for their supposed complicity in racism."

Xu noted that after he spoke to Hodder about his concerns and current petition, the extensive "Let's Talk About Racism" guide (along with its diversity, equity and inclusion trainings) was moved from the first page of The Salvation Army's International Social Justice Commission site to a less visible page. In a November 4 Facebook post by Koukl, he noted it was now listed as a guide on the site's "Resources" page.

While Newsweek reached out to both Peddle and Hodder, External Communications Manager Joseph Cohen responded to questions regarding the initiative and corresponding petition.

Cohen said The Salvation Army has in no way changed its views or adopted any new ideology, like CRT.

"Our beliefs have always been rooted in scripture, and they still are. That includes our complete rejection of racism, which is in stark contrast to the biblical principle that we're all created in the image of God. We believe that, as God loves us all, so we should all love one another," said Cohen, noting the organization's international positional statement on the issue, which was created in 2017.

Cohen did recognize that TSA occasionally provides voluntary discussion guides to its people to prepare them to engage with others on various topics. In terms of racism, two such guides have been prepared through the International Social Justice Commission, he explained.

"But these voluntary discussion guides certainly are not required, and they never take the place of our Positional Statements," said Cohen. "For us, the Truth in scripture is always supreme."

Additionally, Cohen noted that The Salvation Army has gifted more than $200 million in direct financial assistance to help people stay in their homes in 2021. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the non-profit has provided more than $225 million meals, $81 million in utility assistance and $111 million in rent and mortgage assistance.

A Newsweek story published earlier this month noted that Americans gave more charitable donations to the United Way Worldwide and the Salvation Army in 2020 than to any other nonprofit focusing on direct aid, as reported by the Associated Press. Specifically, the SA raised $1.8 billion in 2020, an increase of 31 percent from the previous year.

Still, there are those inside the organization that are finding it challenging to accept the incongruence between the organization's new initiative and its historically non-political stance.

"As so many oppose this within and without our ranks, why are we clinging onto it so tightly?" wrote active officer Captain Charles DeJesus of the Salvation Army's western territory, in a public Facebook post that he has since taken down.

In it, DeJesus, who is Black, asked Salvation Army leaders and influencers to get the organization back to being apolitical.

"I am directly calling upon you, without equivocation, to restore The Salvation Army's purely apolitical position and spirit of Blood and Fire/World for God Salvationism," DeJesus wrote in the preface of his post. "There are countless individuals who are working angles and schemes of racial justice and unity. For that reason alone, why are we so fixated on this, the environment, DEI initiatives, and other things that make us indistinguishable from academia, humanism, and other things that appear partisan?"

DeJesus also removed a corresponding follow-up video message he made to his initial post.

Meanwhile, Newsweek talked to other donors, who are at the very least questioning the Salvation Army's entree into "woke" territory with some, like Koukl, going so far as to pull their support entirely.

One such concerned donor is a longtime former chairman of the organization's advisory board and current national board advisory member Mary Theroux.

"I have a real problem with that website and the resources that are suggested readings—to my mind they do not accord with what I've seen at the SA," said Theroux, who has spent more than 25 years in a governing role.

"They're silly notions that are not going to resolve the disparate conditions of people." Rather, Theroux said there are concerted actions people can take rather than "spending a lot of time and effort in training or gnashing of teeth."

"I don't think it advances real solutions and real solutions are needed," added Theroux. "Jargon like systemic racism and whiteness being a sin is a smokescreen for correctly diagnosing the problems and addressing them in a meaningful way that will resolve them."

That's while another long-time supporter expressed his dismay in an email thanking Xu for his recent piece and sharing his own letter to Salvation Army leaders.

"I have been a faithful supporter of The Salvation Army for many years. My parents were supporters when they were alive, and they passed that down to me and my siblings. It was always a joy to see the red kettles around the holidays, as well as to hear of the efforts of TSA in helping the poor and those affected by disasters," wrote Richard N. Nakano. "Now I have noticed TSA has taken a turn to the far left politically, championing and virtue signaling such 'woke' policies as LGBTQ 'rights' and CRT. I am very disappointed the TSA has turned away from its Christ-centered mission, and is now embracing such un-Christian, world-centered views."

Nakano went on to write, "Until the TSA admits its error, denounces these woke views and turns back to its original foundations, I will NOT support it—financially or otherwise. There are other Christian organizations I can send my donations to, just as deserving and NOT politically subservient to the woke mob."

Xu, who re-iterated that his goal is for the Salvation Army to release a statement renouncing CRT in its racial equity push, said he felt a duty to speak out against it and for those who otherwise couldn't speak for themselves.

"If you truly believe that racism is evil—you need to get rid of CRT, which is a racist ideology, assigning certain characteristics to one race and some to others," said Xu.

Added Theroux, who noted the most valuable thing to her while working with the Salvation Army is the learning she's seen "on the ground" by the officers who model Christ's love and action all the time.

"They look at individuals and truly see every one of us, whether you're a board member or someone in need—they do not see the difference between us. That's what's been so personally valuable to me," said Theroux, noting she doesn't see "wokeness" at the level she's working at. "What I see are people who have dedicated their lives."

"The Salvation Army I know is doing extremely good work, given that I do have concerns about this messaging I see," she added. "Again, I love the Army and I don't want to see it hurt. It's like when you have a friend and they're doing something silly—you feel the need to correct them."