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Mac attack

Fast-food heiress strikes one for Christian charity

Issue: "History speaks," April 1, 2006

Are you ready for an uplifting story about gambling interests and large sums of money passing quietly from corporate types to Christian types? I am. That cocktail is usually combustible, as in the Abramoff-Reed scandal. And although falls from grace can only be explained so far before we hit the wall of the "mystery of iniquity," we should have known from Bible history that when you mix God's people with the devil's, the former will tend to get corrupted rather than the latter getting ennobled (Deuteronomy 20:16-18).

So it's not every day you hear of a happy tale to the contrary, like the Joan Kroc--Salvation Army news that quietly transpired on Feb. 9 while you were busy drawing diagrams tracing the routes of gambling money from the Coushatta tribe through dummy organizations to Ralph Reed's consulting firm. That's the day $57 million from the late McDonald's heiress was donated for the building of a community center in poverty-plagued Camden, N.J. The figure is a fraction of the total $1.6 billion Ray Kroc's widow left to the Christian agency you associate with large red kettles and doleful bells at mall entrances during the Christmas season. Even Mr. Abramoff wouldn't call that chump change.

Where does the gambling come into this story? Tangentially but interestingly. It was a gambling-related incident that first caught my eye about the Salvation Army, till then a mere cultural fixture of my childhood, familiar but unfamiliar, and, for all I knew, neither an army nor about salvation.

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A man in Florida hit the jackpot and perhaps expected a pat on the back when he offered $100,000 of it to his local Salvation Army. The church organization turned it down, a spokesman explaining: "There are times when Major Damon [the Salvation Army head in Naples, Fla.] is counseling families who are about to become homeless because of gambling. He really believes that if he had accepted the money, he would be talking out of both sides of his mouth."

Talking out of both sides of your mouth is what the Abramoff-Reed scandal is about, and what the Salvation Army has assiduously avoided from its inception. That inception was in mid-1800s London, where a pawnbroker's son with little schooling, William Booth, converted by the Wesleyans at age 15 and set afire by their soul-winning zeal, launched out to bring the gospel to Nottingham's teeming poor. In 1878 the East London Christian Mission became the Salvation Army, and Booth announced, "The Christian Mission has met in Congress to make War. It has organized a Salvation Army to carry the blood of Christ and the fire of the Holy Ghost into every corner of the world." He even posted "Articles of War," which every officer subscribes to down to the present day.

Now soldiers are required to be one-track-minded: "No soldier gets entangled with civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him" (2 Timothy 2:4). An officer in the Salvation Army agrees to full-time employment; in the military-style organization, he forswears moonlighting and freelancing.

The closest the Army ever came to ambush by the worldly forces of greed and sexual faddism was a close shave in California when its Western command (the Salvation Army in America is divided into four regional Territories) momentarily caved to pressure to grant domestic-partner benefits to its employees. At stake was $3.5 million in public funding that would be forfeit if the Army refused to go along with San Francisco's domestic-partnership law.

But to the rescue came a posse of Christian soldiers, notably James Dobson, and Salvation Army national headquarters overturned the regrettable decision. As in that ancient battle against the Amalekites, a Moses' weakening hands were held up by Aaron and Hur so that "his hands were steady until the going down of the sun" (Exodus 17).

And that is my uplifting little story of large sums of money passed from corporate types to Christians, and large sums of money refused when acceptance would mean ethical compromise. The moral is that with a little help from our friends and fellow soldiers in the army of salvation, we keep our eyes on the prize and avert the ignominious fate of a once-nobly-purposed organization like the YMCA reduced to an exercise gym.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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