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The Salvation Army

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Salvation Army red kettle outside a Michigan supermarket.
Christ died for
our articles about

Icon christianity.svg
Devil's in the details
Blood and Fire
—The war cry of the Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is a Protestant Christian denomination famous for its quasi-military structure and the red buckets and bells at Christmas. It was founded by William and Catherine Booth in the nineteenth century to act as "God's Army" and bring people to salvation. They are part of the Holiness movement. The Salvation Army has just over one and a half million members worldwide.[1]

The Salvation Army is known for its charitable works, but due to the group's massive institutional homophobia and transphobia, many LGBT activists and their allies recommend not giving to the Salvation Army.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]


The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 in London, specifically to bring "God's Salvation" to the masses. Their focus at the time were the social outcasts, alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes -- populations which were not ministered to by London's formal churches. By 1903 this sometimes meant locking people in to a compound and forcing them to listen to sermons, thus preventing them looking for work.[10]

In Australia, they're so good at the charity thing that they have tremendous public respect and are media favourites for soundbites on social justice issues (since they deal with the people who fall through the welfare net). To the point where people forget they're not a church-based charity, but a church that does charitable things, and sometimes the difference is important.[11]

Despite the organization's cult-like tendencies and discriminatory policies, (see criticism), local Salvation Army branches have programs such as the Backpack Program, which provides meals for children on the weekends.[12] In 2012, the Salvation Army operated 566 temporary group homes and 74 permanent resident facilities, served 57,833,281 meals, and 9,931,654 "Lodgings Supplied."[13]


Anti-IWW activities[edit]

In the early 20th century, the Salvation Army clashed with the radical Industrial Workers of the World labor union. During IWW protests outside factories during strikes, Salvation Army bands would be sent in by owners and play over them, attempting to drown out their members' chants or songs. Joe Hill wrote many of these IWW songs, and in one, The Preacher and the Slave, he satirized them as the "starvation army", part of a general attack on ministers who promised a better life in the hereafter, rather than working for it now (summed up with the famous "You'll have pie in the sky when you die" line).

Child abuse in Australian orphanages[edit]

The Salvation Army acknowledged in an apology that many of its orphanages and children's homes in Australia had "rigid, harsh, and authoritarian" environments. Numerous cases of child abuse, sexual assault, and rape were reported from the 1950s through the 1990s.[14]


The Salvation Army officially maintains that homosexuality is a "sin" and that gay people should be celibate and has refused charity money or assistance to gays. George W. Bush exempted the organization from anti-discrimination laws despite it receiving federal funding. They also threatened to move out of New York City after a city ordinance ruled that all organizations receiving funding from the city would be required to pay benefits to the spouses of gay employees. A state court ruled that Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not have to enforce the ordinance. As a result, a number of LGBT activist groups have boycotted the Salvation Army.[15] In 2012, an Australian Salvation Army official called for all LGBT people to be "put to death", during an interview discussing the Army's manual Salvation Story: Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine.[16] A number of Australian celebrities and groups have called for a boycott of the Salvation Army.[17][18] In November 2012 a representative was lying about their position.[19]

However they do seem to be reforming their position slowly - they no longer have a direct position about homophobia up on their website and the UK branch clarifies that their current mission statement of meeting need without discrimination includes without homophobia.[20] The attempt at reform seems to be genuine, with one obvious gesture being that in November 2013 they removed links to ex-gay ministries from their website.[21]


In December 2008, after the death of Jennifer Gale, The Salvation Army was reported to have turned her away.[22] Marti Bier, the aide that claimed Gale had been refused, later clarified that she had confused the story and stated "I think I was trying to call attention to the problem of trans-women accessing services".[23]

BDSM and sex trafficking[edit]

In 2010, the Salvation Army's Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking messaged a sex trafficking listhost to personally attack a BDSM activist, who they accused of attempting to "foster an acceptance of bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism."[24] That does seem right in line with the difficult time many people seem to have understanding the concept of informed consent.

Satanic paranoia[edit]

In 2010, the Calgary-based branch of the Salvation Army declared that it would not distribute Harry Potter and Twilight toys donated to the organization because it conflicted with their Christian beliefs. However, instead of just donating the toys to a different organization, the Salvation Army just chucked them in the garbage.[25]

Cult-like behaviour[edit]

The Salvation Army requires that officers in the Salvation Army only marry other officers, and throws people out for breaking this rule.[26]


A common but unfounded criticism of the Salvation Army is that its bell-ringers take a cut of the donations. It's true that some bell ringers are paid employees, but they aren't paid out of the donation box. In addition, many of the employees are hired from homeless shelters and halfway houses.[27]


During the 20th century, both state and religious-run children's homes in Australia participated in the mass removal of Aboriginal children from their parents, families and communities. This mass removal is now known as the "stolen generations". Although Aboriginal children were removed from their parents for a number of reasons, once institutionalized they were subjected to assimilationist policies and racist abuse. Salvation Army institutions participated in this policy: prominent survivors include the late actor Jack Charles and musician Kutcha Edwards.

In April 2021, the Salvation Army released an "internal racism guide" called “Let’s Talk About Racism”. In the guide, the organization discourages “colorblindness” and encourages staff members to “apologize for being white.”[28] This caused a stir social media with many threatening to withdraw support for the organization. They released a statement in November 2021 defending the guide but announcing its withdrawal because of the ensuing controvery.[29]

External links[edit]


  1. Salvation Army
  2. Don't donate to the Salvation Army and Don't donate to the Salvation Army ≠ Don't donate to charity, Dan Savage
  3. Scratch the Salvation Army Off Your Charity Lists, Everyone, PZ Myers
  4. Why you shouldn't donate to the Salvation Army Bell, The Bilerico Project
  5. Don't give to the Salvation Army, Feministing
  6. Don't give to the anti-gay Salvation Army, Zinnia Jones, Freethought blogs
  7. Why I Won't Give to the Salvation Army, Alas! A Blog
  8. Why the Salvation Army doesn't deserve your money, Prose before Hos
  9. Do NOT donate to the Salvation Army, Democratic Underground
  10. People of the Abyss Chapter 11, Jack London
  11. Why I Won't Give to the Salvation Army, Alas! A Blog
  12. Grace Place: Backpack Program, The Salvation Army
  13. The Salvation Army: The Salvation Army 2012 Service Statistics , The Salvation Army
  14. The Salvation Army Says Sorry for the Abuse, Sydney Morning Herald
  15. Sounding Quiet Dissent About a Holiday Perennial, New York Times
  16. LGBT People Should Be Put to Death, Says Aussie Salvation Army Major, Truth Wins Out
  17. Australian pop star calls for Salvation Army boycott over anti-gay stance, GayStarNews
  18. Salvation Army Hopes Gays 'Up and Die', Vital Voice
  19. Stephanie Miller apologises for screwing up, Daily Kos
  20. UK Salvation Army Non-Discrimination policy
  21. Truth Wins Out Press release
  22. Rest in Peace Jennifer Gale, TransGriot
  23. Gale Rumor Untrue, The Austin Chronicle
  24. Salvation Army Attacks Sex Positive Activist Through Its Human Trafficking E-Mail List, Clarisse Thorn
  25. PZ Myers, Scratch the Salvation Army off your charity lists, everyone., 9 December 2010.
  26. Salvation Army leader to lose job for violating marriage policy, the Christian Post
  27. Kettle Chits, Snopes
  28. Monique Lopez, Salvation Army defends guide some believed asked white donors to apologize for racism., 29 November 2021.
  29. The Salvation Army's Response to False Claims on the Topic of Racism., 25 November 2021.