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What is the Salvation Army?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Salvation Army is a Protestant Christian denomination and an international charity which has become famous around the world for its work in the social services. This Christian denomination is run much like a military, with individuals being referred to as “soldiers” and ranking officials in the organization being given military titles like “General.” This organization is intended to provide social services to the needy while also practicing Christian evangelism, encouraging people to deepen their bonds with Christ and promoting a life of Christian service among its adherents.

This organization was founded in 1865 by William Booth in London, England. His decision to focus on people like prostitutes, child laborers, and thieves allowed the Salvation Army to flourish without directly competing with other evangelical Christian sects, and his extremely efficient, military-like organization quickly made the organization a major charity.

Funds for the works of the Salvation Army are obtained through charitable donations, sales at the organization's famous thrift stores, and grants from governments and other charity organizations. The organization regularly holds charity drives, especially during the winter holidays, when its employees dress up as Santa Claus and stand in department store parking lots asking for offerings.

Social services are provided by this charity to a wide variety of needy individuals, including elderly people, individuals struggling with substance abuse, and the homeless. The organization has soup kitchens, residential housing facilities, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers to provide services, and it is also involved in disaster relief around the world. Salvation Army bands march in parades all over the world to raise awareness about the organization, and people in almost every country benefit from this organization.

Soldiers in the Salvation Army commit to refrain from consuming alcohol, tobacco, and illegal substances. They are expected to contribute directly to the works of the Church, and can participate in a wide variety of ways, from leading Christian youth groups to practicing in Salvation Army hospitals. Members of the general public are always welcome at services, and the organization provides charity to all people in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, or ethnic origin.

The charity has sometimes attracted controversy. In the 1800s, it was opposed by many brewers and pubs because sellers and manufacturers of alcohol thought that the Salvation Army was bad for business. The Salvation Army was also involved in strike-busting activities, which attracted the ire of labor organizations, and it continues to draw attention due to its clout and method of organization. At one point, the Russian government even accused the it of being a “paramilitary organization.”

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon358961 — On Dec 14, 2013

How can I get help for Christmas? All he wants is clothes.

By anon357390 — On Dec 03, 2013

I am in need of one time help with power bill and my electric heater. I live in old house with old windows and my central unit it out. I'm unemployed in North Carolina. I've never been this desperate. I have no idea where to go.

By anon299979 — On Oct 27, 2012

I have a daughter with three children. One is out of work and the others are at school. I do help as much as I can. I am 70 and on a pension.

Her central heating is a mess, so she has no heat. It is so cold in her house. We did contact warm front, but because she is at work and gets 16,000 a year, they can't help her. If she relied on the state she would get loads of help. We had a quote from british gas and they want 6,000 pounds. She could not afford the monthly payment. Is there anyone out there to help her or advise us?

By anon130628 — On Nov 29, 2010

To anon117270: My uncle and his kids are living with me and I found Toys for Tots. go to the location and sign up for the benefits. At least then they get christmas right? I wish you the best of luck, same to all of you.

By anon117270 — On Oct 09, 2010

i am staying with a friend. i have three children and we have no place of real residency. I'm trying to get a home for stability and all them have a birthday in october, november and december, then we have christmas. i feel like I'm fighting a losing battle. can anyone help us.

By anon65151 — On Feb 11, 2010

i don't know where to turn. i have a baby and am in need of finding help to furnish a house to make our home. we have nothing and no one to help us.

By anon51247 — On Nov 04, 2009

i am concerned about this family. A mother and three children who do not have a shelter or food to eat. this is like a god send to them. my heart goes out to them.

By anon35683 — On Jul 07, 2009

I am serving the people religiously spiritually, I am in need of a motor vehicle for transportation to reach out to the people and help them spiritually, can I find some help to buy a motor cycle. where can I search one.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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