In late June, my hometown of Minot, North Dakota, received devastating news: the Mouse River, which flows through the city’s valley, would crest at a record level, breach the levees, and inundate thousands of homes. My childhood home, in which my mother still dwelt, lay four lots from the river. It would be lost.
I had just relocated to Bismarck, two hours south, and I found myself thinking our family’s move providential. With the help of some redoubtable cousins and uncles and their trucks, we raced against the raging river’s clock and were able to rescue most of mom’s material things before the sirens finally sounded, signaling the imminent drowning of the valley.
And drown it did. The waters flooded roughly four thousand homes, to say nothing of businesses big and small, and displaced twelve thousand souls. We have been doing what we North Dakotans do best: we sucked it up, put on a brave face, prayed, and helped our neighbors. Generations of survival on the frozen prairies have trained us well. Not only has the disaster been mitigated by a million unrecorded acts of charity; my childhood friend, the actor Josh Duhamel, has been tireless in his efforts to focus attention on Minot and raise funds for relief. But it is still a mess: as winter sets in, many are living in FEMA trailers, many are living with family, many have winterized what remains of the shells of their homes, and many simply have moved on.
Organized charities, especially the Salvation Army whose bell ringers and red buckets are ubiquitous during this season, have offered immense help. Family and friends in Minot praise the Salvation Army to high heaven; what I hear is that they’ve done more and remained longer than other charities (although others have certainly done much good as well). The Salvation Army drove hot meal trucks around the area bringing lunch and supper to people cleaning up their houses. They set up a site on their church parking lot for people to come and help themselves to bottled water, cleanup kits, cleaning supplies, food items, and all kinds of items that companies donated to them, no questions asked. They gave everyone in the flood zones a voucher for $250 to gas their vehicles and to buy any items they might need at Wal-Mart and a local gasoline chain. In obedience to the words of their Lord, the Army has gone the extra mile.
It was with concern, then, that I reacted the other day when Facebook and Twitter lit up with reports that the International Social Justice Commission of the Salvation Army had signaled its approval of abortion under certain limited circumstances. The Army’s Statement of Position on abortion affirms that “all people are created in the image of God and therefore have unique and intrinsic value,” that “Human life is sacred and all people should be treated with dignity and respect,” that “The Salvation Army accepts the moment of fertilisation as the start of human life,” and that “life is a gift from God and we are answerable to God for the taking of life.” But then the Statement gives three situations in which induced abortion is permissible: (1) When “Carrying the pregnancy further seriously threatens the life of the mother”; when (2) “Reliable diagnostic procedures have identified a foetal abnormality considered incompatible with survival for more than a very brief post natal period”; and (3) in cases of rape and incest.
In response, Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and prolife activist, has expressed the concerns of many: “Good organizations become ‘infiltrated’ by forces that promote abortion, the breakdown of marriage, sexual immorality, etc. They come as wolves in sheep's clothing and appear to be harmless and even helpful. Then they begin to reveal their true or basically untrue colors. This is sadly maybe what is happening to the Salvation Army. Not for sure, but maybe.”
Indeed, the Salvation Army’s incoherent position results from the Statement’s implicit utilitarianism and consequentialism. King is thus right to be concerned that this Statement might open the door wider. In fact, otherwise worthy charities have caved on the issue of abortion. United Way chapters donated $1.9 million to Planned Parenthood in 2008; in 2007 Amnesty International ended its policy of abortion neutrality and decided to support abortion in the usual cases; and it appears the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is on the verge of taking similar action. With regard to the Salvation Army, we have cause to be uneasy.
Many of my friends have expressed a “Not-One-Dime” attitude in response. I want to suggest, however, that this response is precipitous and unwarranted at present. The Salvation Army remains one of the most efficient and effective charities, and, unlike many other charities, remains Christian and so will hear what Christians say to it. Better to pray for the Army, and to consider contacting the Army’s International Social Justice Commission with respectful words about the absolute sanctity of innocent human life from, in the Army’s words, “the moment of fertilisation.”
UPDATE: Salvation Army USA Upset by Intl Group’s Abortion Stance
Leroy Huizenga is Director of the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. His most recent article in First Things is “The Collins Bank Bible.”
Salvation Army International Positional Statement on Abortion
Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission
BBC, Amnesty International Ends Abortion Neutrality
C-FAM, Is the Red Cross About to Declare Abortion a Human Right?
LifeNews, United Way Sent $1.9 Million to Planned Parenthood in 2008
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