Between now and Christmas, The Salvation Army has an opportunity to restore faith with members and donors who feel betrayed by an internal curriculum drawing on critical race theory and “anti-racism” teachings that they view as divisive and historically inaccurate, a leading critic of the training material says.
Called “Let’s Talk About Racism,” the document has become a source of controversy, sparking a nationwide petition drive demanding that the faith-based charity rescind it. The petition, organized by Color Us United, a nonprofit devoted to “colorblind” principles on race, has pulled in more than 16,000 signatures to date.
Kenny Xu, president of Color Us United, told The Daily Signal in an interview that he thinks The Salvation Army has until Christmas to restore the organization’s reputation and reestablish faith with outside donors and supporters as well as its own rank-and-file members.
“One of the key rules of an apology I’ve learned in all my communications and public relations classes is that you have to do it fast,” Xu said. “They’ve already said they are withdrawing the curriculum for appropriate review. This means they are coming out with a replacement.”
“We want The Salvation Army to make a statement that recognizes and honors America’s commitment to colorblind principles,” he said. “We want them to state America is not a racist country. We’ve even offered to help them craft a statement.”
The Salvation Army, which is both a Christian church and a popular charity, responded to some of The Daily Signal’s questions in a short email just before 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“As we affirmed on Nov. 25, The Salvation Army has never said America is an inherently racist country, and we would never do so,” Joseph Cohen, external communications manager, wrote in the email.
Cohen did not directly answer a question on whether the organization would “just say” that America is not a racist country, as Color Us United demands. Instead, he pointed to the first answer.
‘Unequivocal Donor Fallout’
In a survey conducted Dec. 6-8 for Color Us United, pollster Scott Rasmussen’s RMG Research asked 1,200 registered voters whether they are donors to The Salvation Army and whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the charity.
Describing The Salvation Army’s pivot to a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program” that “presents the view that America is a structurally racist society,” the survey asked whether respondents would be more or less willing to donate to the charity. Fully 32% replied that they would cut back on donations.
In an online press conference Tuesday, Xu said the survey results showed “unequivocal donor fallout” from the “Let’s Talk About Racism” curriculum. The percentage of respondents who said they had an unfavorable impression of The Salvation Army rose from 11% to 41% after they learned of the material, he said.
One survey question asked: “Generally speaking, do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Salvation Army?” In response, 5% said “unfavorable” and 6% said “very unfavorable.”
The survey then asked: “Knowing that The Salvation Army is training members in the belief that America is a structurally racist society, do you have a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of The Salvation Army?”
In response, 23% answered “very unfavorable” and 18% answered “somewhat unfavorable,” Xu said.
The Daily Signal had sought comment Monday morning from David Jolley, communications director for The Salvation Army’s national headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. Jolley had not replied as of late Tuesday afternoon, when Cohen, the external communications manager, responded.
In his email, Cohen dismissed the survey results, writing:
The Salvation Army remains focused on its mission of serving those in need without discrimination during this holiday, but it is disappointing to see a poll that uses such patently false information in its questions, such as stating that The Salvation Army’s “new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program presents the view that America is a structurally racist society.” That is simply not true and misleads the public.
‘We Apologize for Any Confusion’
Kenneth Hodder, national commander of The Salvation Army in the United States, rebutted Color Us United’s allegations that it promotes critical race theory in an interview with CBN News on Dec. 3, the day after The Daily Signal reported on those allegations.
“The Salvation Army today is the same Salvation Army that people have known since its inception 156 years ago,” Hodder told CBN News, an outlet of the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network founded by televangelist and political commentator Pat Robertson. “We endorse no theory, no philosophy other than that found in the Scriptures.”
That same day, The Salvation Army posted a 1-minute video on YouTube in which Hodder asserts: “We’re not asking anyone to apologize for the color of their skin.”
“We apologize for any confusion The Salvation Army has caused on this,” Hodder adds in the video. “But right now, there are lots of people who need our help. They need your help. So join us in meeting human needs in Christ’s name without discrimination.”
Color Us United launched what it calls the #JustSayIt ad campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets, calling on The Salvation Army to declare that “America is not a racist country” and to acknowledge the nation’s commitment to colorblind policies. The ads began appearing last Thursday.
Monday morning, The Daily Signal had asked The Salvation Army’s Jolley whether the charity planned to issue an apology about the curriculum by Christmas, as Color Us United demanded, and whether it had any comment on the ad campaign.
In his email late Tuesday afternoon, Cohen indicated that The Salvation Army had offered a sufficient apology.
“The Salvation Army has already addressed this issue numerous times and apologized for any confusion we have caused here,” Cohen wrote, referring to Hodder’s brief video Dec. 3.
In a press conference two days earlier, Xu had presented evidence that he said indicates that the “Let’s Talk About Racism” curriculum remains in place despite The Salvation Army’s statement that it had withdrawn the material pending a review.
“The evidence shows that the curriculum is totally embedded throughout their system,” Xu said. “They are trying to get more power over their officers, and their diversity, equity, and inclusion office has the authority to veto any curriculum it does not view as satisfactory.”
Xu said Color Us United would provide this “documented evidence” to anyone who emails him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He said the evidence includes what the nonprofit describes as The Salvation Army’s “mandatory DEI training” dating to February, “surveys on internal racism to propagate racism narrative,” and institution of diversity, equity, and inclusion officers with broad authority to shape the church’s narrative.
The Salvation Army removed the curriculum from its website Oct. 29, Xu told The Daily Signal. The material previously was available here.
The Daily Signal acquired copies of individual sessions that make up the initiative.
Session One includes definitions of individual, structural, and institutional racism that claim whites are the beneficiaries of discriminatory policies. Session Two makes the case that the larger Christian church, as well as The Salvation Army itself, have been infected with racism.
“The Salvation Army is still a cherished organization, and this is the season of forgiveness,” Xu said Tuesday. “Color Us United is waiting.”
Christian Watson, spokesman for Color Us United, said during Tuesday’s press conference that a “grassroots groundswell” is building against The Salvation Army’s race curriculum. He said Color Us United also would begin to pursue and expose “woke companies” that embrace critical race theory and anti-racism teachings.
Passages in Question
The Daily Signal asked Xu to specify passages of “Let’s Talk About Racism” that he believes endorse critical race theory and the concept of anti-racism. He gave these examples:
—Page 2 contains this sentence: “What has not changed is that racial groups are placed into a hierarchy, with White or lighter skinned people at the top.”
This statement is critical race theory “in a nutshell,” Xu said. “Racism is directly embedded into the foundation of society.”
—Page 4 includes the heading “What We Hope to Achieve,” under which are these words: “Develop action steps for continued personal and corporate growth towards a posture of humility and anti-racism.”
—Page 9 includes working definitions of racism, Xu said, with this definition of racist policy “most clearly inspired” by critical race theory: “any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.”
Also of note, Xu said, is The Salvation Army’s definition of structural racism as “the overarching system of racial bias across institutions and society. These systems give privileges to White people resulting in disadvantages to People of Color.”
More importantly, he said, the cited sources for definitions on this page are the 2019 book “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi and a 2020 article titled “Being Antiracist” posted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
—Page 37 includes a definition of the term “anti-racist” based on those sources, Xu said.
“Their definition is clearly biased in favor of the term, contradicting Hodder’s claim that they have not endorsed the theory,” Xu said, pointing to this section in particular:
fighting against racism. Being antiracist results from a conscious decision to make frequent, consistent, equitable choices daily. These choices require ongoing self-awareness and self-reflection as we move through life. In the absence of making anti-racist choices, we (un) consciously uphold aspects of White supremacy, White-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society. Being racist or anti-racist is not about who you are; it is about what you do.
—Page 38 defines the word “colonizer” by citing Tiffany Jewel’s 2020 children’s book “This Book Is Anti-Racist.” Subsequent pages also cite Jewel’s book, Xu said.
—Page 40 defines “intersectionality” and cites Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the scholars credited with inventing critical race theory.
—Page 43 asks readers to rate themselves on a scale based on how much they agree with the phrase: “I will take definitive action as an anti-racist in the future.”
—Finally, Xu said, pages 64 and 65 recommend dozens of books infused with critical race theory for further study, including Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist,” Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” (2018), and Eric Mason’s “Woke Church’ (2019).
‘Antithetical to Christian Ethic’
In a statement released Thanksgiving Day, just days after The Daily Signal began inquiring about the training material, The Salvation Army announced its removal from public view online pending “appropriate review.” The charity also disputed what it described as “false claims” about the text.
Xu, author of the 2021 book “An Inconvenient Minority: The Attack on Asian American Excellence and the Fight for Meritocracy,” is one of three full-time staff with Color Us United, which filed for nonprofit status with the IRS in May 2020.
Xu first exposed the “Let’s Talk About Racism” material in an Oct. 3 commentary in The Daily Signal. A contributor to The Daily Signal, he is a former intern with its parent organization, The Heritage Foundation.
Color Us United has said that about 300 of those who signed the petition are also officers or soldiers in The Salvation Army. The charity has 3,317 officers in the U.S. and more than 27,000 worldwide, according to its 2021 annual report.
Founded in London in 1865 as a Christian church, The Salvation Army is organized in a military-style structure that includes officers, soldiers, and other volunteers. Collectively, church members are known as Salvationists.
Gen. Brian Peddle, a Canadian who serves as CEO and international leader of The Salvation Army, announced the “Let’s Talk about Racism” discussion guide in May in a message on Facebook.
In addition to pursuing revocation of the “Let’s Talk About Racism” curriculum, the petition calls on The Salvation Army’s New York-based International Social Justice Commission “to publicly recognize that the suggestion that their membership ought to repent on ‘behalf of the church’ while well-intentioned, is antithetical to the Christian ethic of individual salvation.”
The International Social Justice Commission, formed in 2007 to serve as the church’s representative to the United Nations, has circulated written materials, podcasts, and videos as part of the “Let’s Talk About Racism” training curriculum.
The Salvation Army provides services in 131 countries, including to roughly 30 million Americans each year, according to the annual report. In the U.S., it counts about 56,000 employees, 430,000 members, and more than 2 million volunteers. (Not all volunteers are church members.)
The church’s stated mission is “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.” The army of Christian employees and volunteers considers itself to be “politically nonpartisan” in engaging with government agencies. The petition by Color Us United says its goal is to keep The Salvation Army “focused on its good works” while preventing it from “going woke.”
If his group collects at least 25,000 signatures, Xu said, it will show them to The Salvation Army.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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