News of McDonald's matriarch Joan Kroc's record-breaking $1.5 billion gift to the Salvation Army is little more than one week old, but already pundits have begun speculating about the dawn of a new era for the Army. Best known for its change-collecting bell ringers and innner-city relief work, the Salvation Army must now adapt to heightened public scrutiny and a radically altered fundraising paradigm.

Despite a seemingly obvious name, the Salvation Army's mission as an evangelical church is less known than its charitable work. However, its mission statement leaves no doubt: "The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination."

Still, observers have begun asking about the impact Kroc's super-sized gift will have on the Salvation Army's Christian convictions. Contrasting the modern Salvation Army with founder William Booth's nineteenth-century vision, the Los Angeles Timesdeclared, "Religion is no longer as strong a component of the organization's mission, but services are still held." This statement incited a strong response from a senior Salvation Army official. "Commitment to a Christian faith is what defines us and keeps us focused in the multitude of opportunities that are a part of the Salvation Army's daily work," Commissioner Linda Bond said. Yet if history is any guide, their future will be fraught with new trials and enticements.

Death by respectability

In early nineteenth-century America, there was no such thing as a wealthy Methodist. Circuit-riding preachers and other itinerant ...

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