Since 1865, the Salvation Army, a Christian organization, has been dedicating itself to serving those in need. Their mission is to meet human needs in Jesus’ name without discrimination. With a rich history and global reach, the Salvation Army has become synonymous with humanitarian efforts and social justice initiatives. The Salvation Army’s mission of alleviating suffering and poverty has enabled it to have a profound impact on individuals, families, and communities around the world.
With a presence in over 130 countries, It engages in aid and development projects in impoverished regions, focusing on sustainable long-term solutions to break cycles of poverty and abuse. The organization offers a wide range of programs and services, including but not limited to, food and shelter assistance, healthcare services, addiction rehabilitation, disaster relief, and emergency response efforts. While most equate the Salvation Army with their social services and humanitarian efforts, they are also a Christian church with their own distinct doctrines and beliefs whose local congregations hold Sunday worship services.
The origins of the Salvation Army can be traced back to 19th-century London, England. It was founded in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth. William was a Methodist preacher. He and his wife were fueled by a desire to alleviate the suffering they saw around them. The urban squalor of the London landscape had sharp divisions between those with money and those without. It was a world where the poor were often oppressed with impunity and left without recourse when they were faced with rampant injustice and exploitation. There was also rampant immorality and crime that made it hard for healthy families to flourish. The Booths sought to bring the message of Christian salvation along with practical assistance to those in need of help, both spiritually and materially.
Organizational Structure and Services
The Salvation Army operates under a hierarchical structure modeled after the military, with ranks of commanding officers in charge of service members organized in local units. This formal chain of command allows for effective coordination and implementation of its mission. One of the Salvation Army’s primary objectives is to alleviate poverty and meet the basic needs of individuals and families. At the core of its operations are a set of fundamental principles, including the belief in the dignity and worth of every individual and the importance of providing assistance without discrimination.
Through its social services and community programs, the organization provides essential support to vulnerable populations. The Salvation Army is deeply committed to addressing homelessness and housing insecurity. They offer shelters, transitional housing, and assistance programs to help individuals find stability. They recognized that addiction and substance abuse are often prevalent in populations that struggle with the effects of poverty. As a result, the organization provides comprehensive substance abuse and addiction rehabilitation programs. These empowered individuals to get out of precarious circumstances and live more stable lives.
Disaster relief and emergency response efforts are also a component of the Salvation Army’s work. During times of crisis, the organization mobilizes its resources and volunteers to provide immediate aid, including food, shelter, and emotional support, to those affected by natural disasters or emergencies.
Religious Beliefs and Spiritual Outreach
The Salvation Army is a Christian denomination with a unique identity and a historically evangelical mission. The Salvation Army holds the same core beliefs as most Christian denominations. Followers of its teachings believe in the trinitarian God of Christianity, the saving power of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God, the necessity of repentance and faith for salvation, and the granting of eternal life to redeemed humanity after death. However, they do not have any sacraments or ordinances as part of their worship like other denominations. The Salvation Army does not require or perform baptisms or include practices related to the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. The denomination believes that God’s grace is freely available without the need for these rituals.
A Unique Denomination
The Salvation Army is a Christian denomination with a unique identity and an evangelical mission. Worship practices and religious activities are integral to the organization’s approach to changing lives and motivating Christian love and service. Local groups call themselves local “Corps” not churches and they call their meeting places “citadels” or “temples,” and their members “soldiers.” The ordained clergy are referred to as “officers” and wear uniforms similar to military dress that show their rank in the organization. Members are also encouraged to wear uniforms to worship meetings and public events where they represent the Salvation Army. Though they are not required and everyone is welcome at meetings however they dress.
Meetings at a Salvation Army hall on Sunday are open to all and have an informal atmosphere. Services do not follow a set liturgy, but generally include singing, Bible reading, giving testimonies, prayer, and an address given by an officer. Local corps often host other events during the week. These events range widely from youth groups, events for seniors and families, prayer meetings, and lunch groups. Locally organized bands and choirs have been a part of the Salvation Army’s outreach since its founding. Salvation Army brass bands and “songster brigades” often perform at public events for holidays and other celebrations.
Through spiritual counseling, pastoral care, and outreach programs, the Salvation Army aims to address the spiritual well-being of the people in their communities along with their physical and material needs. This holistic approach recognizes the importance of nurturing the soul while providing practical assistance, offering people, and communities a chance for lasting transformation.
Motivated by their understanding of the Christian gospel, the denomination has historically affirmed the equality and full participation of women and actively worked against class and race-based segregation in society. In 1915, Mable Broome was commissioned in Chicago as the first African-American Salvation Army officer. The Salvation Army is deeply committed to advocacy for groups who are marginalized by oppressive and unjust systems.
The organization recognizes the interconnectedness between individual struggles and systemic injustices and campaigns for equality and justice. Throughout its history, the Salvation Army has been involved in various justice-oriented campaigns. These include those focused on fighting human trafficking, ending modern slavery, advocating for the rights of marginalized communities, and addressing disparities in education and healthcare. Their programs and initiatives aim to rescue and rehabilitate victims. But they also raise public awareness and advocate for stronger legislation to prevent abuse of vulnerable populations. The organization often collaborates with other like-minded organizations. They use these partnerships to amplify their impact and effect change on a broader scale.
Criticisms and Controversies
As with any large organization, the Salvation Army has faced criticisms throughout its history. Some critics have raised concerns about the organization’s stance on certain social issues, such as LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights. In November of 2021, the Salvation Army was accused of promoting Critical Race Theory. This caused many donors to pull their support. Another instance was when the Salvation Army released a guide called “Let’s Talk About Racism.” Some claimed that this guide called on white individuals to apologize for racism. However, it is important to note that the Salvation Army has taken steps to address these concerns and adapt its policies to ensure inclusivity and respect for all individuals. Both of these, the guide and the training, have been redacted.
Countless success stories of changed lives and communities reflect the impact of the Salvation Army. Testimonials from individuals who have received support from the organization highlight the profound impact of its programs and services. From helping individuals overcome addiction and find stable employment to providing a safe haven for families experiencing homelessness, the Salvation Army’s work has made a tangible difference in the lives of many individuals.
The best example of the Salvation Army’s impact is the 2005 disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The Salvation Army’s response to Hurricane Katrina was tremendous. They spent a total of $157 million on response efforts. Some of these efforts include 8.2 million sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. They also provided emotional and spiritual care for 275,000 individuals. Additionally, 178,313 cleaning kits were provided through their relief efforts. Since its founding, the response to Hurricane Katrina has been the Salvation Army’s largest emergency disaster response.
The Salvation Army, rooted in compassion, Christian faith, and a deep commitment to social justice, serves those in need through its mission. The organization continues to make a significant impact on individuals, families, and communities worldwide. Understanding and supporting the work of the Salvation Army not only provides hope and assistance to those in need but also contributes to the pursuit of a more equitable and just society. Individuals can actively engage with the Salvation Army and contribute to the transformative work it carries out every day. The Salvation Army believes that when all people work together, they can create a world where all have the opportunity to thrive.