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Does the Salvation Army Actually Make the Needy Pray to Jesus For Their Handouts?


We know the Salvation Army is hiring this holiday season. But the charity is best known not as an employer, but as a provider of disaster relief aid, food and clothing to the homeless and needy, and prisoner rehabilitation. As such, just last week we wondered aloud whether Sal’s can be excused for its very public anti-gay positions because it does so much good. And then comes this stark reminder: In performing all these good deeds, the Salvation Army also makes the needy folks who turn to it for help … pray with them. To their Christian god. You know, the Christian god who thinks your homosexuality is a sin?

Philadelphia writer Mary Shaw points us to her article last year that exposed the Salvation Army for being as much a Christian missionary as it is a do-gooder: “I have spoken with a number of people who have sought assistance from the Salvation Army in the past, particularly for disaster relief. I was told of how these people were preached to and forced into praying with the Salvation Army folks to their Christian God as a prerequisite for receiving services. If you’re Jewish, tough. If you’re Hindu, tough. Gotta pray their way, to their God, or else you’re not worthy of assistance. It’s quid pro quo. Gotta take advantage of people when they’re most vulnerable. Contrast this with the secular Red Cross, which just wants to help disaster victims, not save their souls.”

Meanwhile, it wasn’t so long ago that Sal’s was sounding just like a certain Roman Catholic Church entity: “The Salvation Army is also homophobic — so much so that they would stop helping the poor if it meant they had to respect equal rights for gays and lesbians. In 2004, they threatened to close their soup kitchens in New York City rather than comply with the city’s legislation requiring firms to offer domestic partnership benefits to gay employees.”

And things haven’t gotten any better, relays Shaw. She’s heard from a number of people on the receiving end of the Salvation Army’s services, and those who have volunteered there, including one who raised some serious questions about whether the money donated by regular folks was, uh, actually going to those most in need.

We’re not going to make any judgment calls about needy Americans, gay or otherwise, who turn to Sal’s for help when they absolutely need it. Sometimes just surviving the day — with food in your stomach and clothes on your back — trumps any notion of principle. But it’s time to sound the alarm on an anti-gay organization so entrenched in local communities that it will grow increasingly harder to effectively criticize it.