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How should we feel about one who steals from Salvation Army?
The last I heard, law officers were still tracking down places a Salvation Army bell ringer might have set up his kettle to collect money for the needy.
Unfortunately, he himself was the designated needy.
That’s right. Some guy used his mama’s good name and the Salvation Army’s good reputation to collect a few bucks for himself. I don’t know if he smiled and said “God bless you” when someone dropped money into the red kettle, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
The man — we’ll call him Judas — came across as a true disciple when he showed up at the Salvation Army office in Gainesville, Ga., using his mother’s maiden name so that a criminal background check would not reveal that he was a convicted felon. His mama’s name cleared beautifully. So with a kettle, a bell and an apron, he was ready for business.
The last place he was seen — before he was arrested — was at a Walmart in Acworth, Ga., ringing his little bell. Acworth is a little out of the territory.
After Judas was caught, he had no comment. But several folks did. Some of them wanted to ring his bell.
Which is understandable, because the Salvation Army does so many good things. Ask veterans of World War II who came to their aid when they needed it. The Salvation Army. Ask victims of Hurricane Katrina who was quietly helping while the federal government was fiddling around. The Salvation Army. Ask the truly needy who is there to hand out warm clothes when the temperature drops below freezing. The Salvation Army. Ask who has a warm bed for the homeless, food and toys for children and families, help with rent and utilities, help for the unemployed. The Salvation Army.
Ask who says “God bless you” and means it when someone drops even a coin into a red kettle at Christmastime. The rest of the paid workers and volunteers of the Salvation Army.
So it’s no wonder that several folks want to ring Judas’ bell.
But then I talked to Lt. Matt Cunningham, commander of the Salvation Army post that hired Judas. “What would Jesus say about this situation?” I asked him.
“You know, we see Jesus say a lot of things about the guilty,” he said. “I believe that justice should be brought to the situation. But I also believe that this guy, when he’s sorry, deserves forgiveness. … When he feels bad for doing his crime and he is truly sorry, I fully forgive him. And if he came to my front door asking for help, I would treat him the way Jesus would treat him. That’s what we’re all about.”
And that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about giving, not taking. It’s about honoring, not dishonoring. It’s about forgiving — and being forgiven.
Surely, even Judas knows this. And, as the lieutenant said, if he’s truly sorry, he should be forgiven, too.
Even a deceptive disciple can be forgiven.
Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.