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Who Is The Salvation Army?

The Chick-fil-A Foundation will no longer support the Salvation Army.  The fast-food chain said it was ending its support because it wanted to focus its giving in the areas of education, homelessness, and hunger.

However, many Christian activists say that explanation doesn’t make sense:  education, homelessness, and hunger are at heart of the Salvation Army’s ministry.  John Stonestreet of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview, called the decision “sad.”  Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative, was more direct, saying Chick-Fil-A “surrenders to LGBT bullies.”  (You can read MinistryWatch’s account of the Chick-Fil-A controversy here.)

So where does that leave the Salvation Army?

With the loss in Chick-Fil-A funding, some Christian leaders are saying rank-and-file Christians need to step up and fill the gap.  Ed Stetzer, of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, tweeted: “I’m deeply thankful for the work of the @SalvationArmyUS, men and women who care for the poor, marginalized, homeless, and more. I hope you will join me in supporting them on a day when they’re being so widely maligned and lied about. I am thankful for them and their gospel work.”

So what is that “gospel work” Stetzer mentions?  Here are a few facts about the Salvation Army, from the MinistryWatch profile of the ministry:

  • The Salvation Army began in 1865, when William Booth, an ordained minister with the Methodist New Connection, formed an evangelical group which preached to unchurched people living in appalling poverty within London’s East End. He was joined in that work by his wife Catherine.
  • Booth’s ministry recognized the interdependence of material, emotional, and spiritual needs. In addition to preaching the Gospel, Booth became involved in the feeding and shelter of the hungry and homeless and in alcohol rehabilitation.
  • Booth’s ministry, originally known as the Christian Mission, became The Salvation Army in 1878 when that organization evolved on a quasi-military pattern. Booth became “the General” and officers’ ranks were given to ministers.
  • The Salvation Army has functioned successfully within that unusual structure for more than a century. Its outreach has been expanded to include 103 countries and the Gospel is preached by its officers and soldiers in 160 languages.
  • The basic social services developed by William Booth have remained an outward visible expression of the Army’s strong religious principles. In addition, new programs that address contemporary needs have been established. Among these are disaster relief services, day care centers, summer camps, holiday assistance, services for senior citizens, hospitals and medical facilities, shelters for battered wives and children, family and career counseling, vocational training, correctional services, and drug rehabilitation.

The Salvation Army considers itself a Christian denomination in the Methodist tradition, so it does not release Form 990s to the public.  However, it reports about 1.9-million members worldwide, and it operates in 131 countries.

The Salvation Army has often been on the “front lines” in its work with the poor, working with governmental and other non-Christian social service agencies.  It is also visible each Christmas because of its “kettle drives” in public spaces.  That has put it in the cross-hairs of LGBT groups.

In 1986, The Salvation Army campaigned in New Zealand against the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986, which decriminalized homosexuality.  In 1997 San Francisco began requiring all companies doing business with the city to extend domestic benefits to same-sex partners of employees.  The Salvation Army had to withdraw from a $3.5 million contract it had with the city.  In 2004, the Salvation Army said that it would close operations in New York City unless it was exempted from a municipal ordinance requiring them to offer benefits to gay employees’ partners.  The City Council refused to make the exemption, but the city refused to enforce the ordinance, and the Salvation Army continues to operate in New York.

The Salvation Army issued a statement on Monday.  The statement read:

“We’re saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed. We serve more than 23 million individuals a year, including those in the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population. When misinformation is perpetuated without fact, our ability to serve those in need, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or any other factor, is at risk. We urge the public to seek the truth before rushing to ill-informed judgment and greatly appreciate those partners and donors who ensure that anyone who needs our help feels safe and comfortable to come through our doors.”


Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.