Annual Reminder: Don’t Give Your Change to the Salvation Army

Why? Because despite what they say every time they’re caught doing something anti-gay, they are in fact anti-gay. Here’s my video on the topic, plus a close-enough transcript for those who want it!

When the Scientologists started their own navy, we laughed at them and called them a cult. When the Methodists started their own army, we gave them all our spare change, amounting to millions of dollars each year.

Yes, it’s the Salvation Army, often thought of in the US these days as a simple charity dedicated to eliminating poverty. In actuality, it really does satisfy many of the requirements of being an army:

1. uniforms
2. ranks
3. they hate gay people

If you ask them directly, of course, they’ll say that last one isn’t true. Just like the real military! For instance, after Major Andrew Craibe stated that the Salvation Army belief system included the belief that homosexuals should be put to death, the Salvation Army responded with a statement reading, “Salvation Army members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment.” Many people accepted this statement, despite the fact that it was proven untrue by the very incident to which it was responding.

The UK branch campaigned against the repeal of an ordinance that discouraged the “teaching of acceptance of homosexuality” by schools.

In 2003 SA worked with the Bush administration to make it easier for orgs to discriminate against gays, and they spent about $100,000 lobbying for Bush’s faith-based initiative.

In 2004 the New York branch of the SA threatened to close down rather than offer benefits to the partners of gay employees.

Just last month, Wayne Besen discovered that the SA was referring clients to gay conversion organizations. When he made it public, all links to the orgs were removed from the website.

So basically, the Salvation Army is virulently anti-gay in every way that they can get away with without letting the greater public know how anti-gay they are, because as the world progresses to a point where anti-gay discrimination is looked down upon, SA wants to keep both their dark ages belief and your nickels.

It’s amazing that SA is actually less controversial now than when they started. The org began in London in 1865 and at the time, their main goal was converting people to the new religion. Secondarily, they fought against the sale of alcohol, gaining them plenty of vocal opponents.

In fact, their more boisterous critics formed a collective known as the Skeleton Army, which would follow the Salvation Army around dsirupting their meetings, singing bawdy versions of their songs, and throwing animal bones at the proseltyzers. While the SA promoted the three “S”s: soup, soap, and salvation, the Skeleton Army promoted the three B’s: beef, beer, and bacca. They were considered rowdy, crude, and blasphemous.

I know you already love them, but they did go too far, unfortunately, sometimes creating riots that resulted in the deaths of several salvationists.

So I don’t suggest that you form a new Skeleton Army to fight the SA. Instead, just find something better to do with your loose change. Like give it to the homeless guy on the corner. Sure, maybe he’ll just spend it on beer, but you gotta love that irony. Plus, he probably won’t spend it on a lobbyist who hates gay people. Win win!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Rebecca, your points are well made. There is also the connection to the Methodists and ghastly failed experiment of Prohibition.
    Against that the SA gained great kudos in WW1 by being up there in the fr

  2. Ah, jeez,..typing in the dark again, sorry.
    …front lines delivering aid so in the minds of folks in Oz that kind of taps into the Anzac tradition and we are pushing shit uphill with our noses to counter that. I imagine the same happens in the UK, USA I don’t know – is it the same there?

    Ironically there is an SA ad on this very page!

    1. AFAIK the US has little to no memory of the SA doing any good works during wartime (though I’m fairly certain they did in the US). Instead, people who are critical of them are just pushing against the cultural understanding that they’re a good, accepted, safe charity and nothing more. Similar to Mother Theresa – people who had no idea what she ever did thought she was a saint, because that’s just the Way Things Are (TM).

  3. Seems pretty myopic to me.

    I have never heard of the Salvation Army asking folks in their food line if they are gay or not. There are a lot of fine organizations that do great things for others regardless of who they are or their sexual orientation even if they are organizationally opposed to homosexuality due to their religious beliefs.

  4. I had to explain to my son why we weren’t giving money to the people in the Santa suits ringing bells, who seem to be on every corner. And this is in San Francisco!

  5. I am embarrassed to say that I have been donating money, clothes and household items to the SA for all my adult life.. They appeared to do so much good for the marginalized and since I myself have never required their services took this benevolence at face value. Realized the SA is a religion but didn’t realize how malicious they really are, and that their primary goal is conversion. Recently a SA church goer told me in no uncertain terms “I was going to hell”, and much worse. because of my views… .Also met a woman who hates going to work because of bullying in her workplace which happens to be the SA!! From now on my donations will only go to organizations whose values and mission are the same as mine.

  6. Everything about this article is true except for one thing: the SA is not and NEVER has been affiliated in any way with the Methodist church . The SA founder, William Booth, left the Methodist church in 1861 and formed the SA in 1865 forming its own church. As a gay Methodist, it always upsets me when people get this wrong. Just because Booth was a Methodist Minister at one point in his life does not make the SA an extension of the Methodist church.

  7. Frankly, they lost me at “Salvation Army members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment.” If you say that to the people that do believe those things, it’s a good statement, but if you only make that statement in response to criticism of you? You did, in fact, support the murder of gay people by your silence. That you would stand up when people threatened your reputation but not the lives of gay people is unforgivable.

    Honestly? I support religious people that wanna have cross-sexual orientation relationships in the name of their religion. I support both kinds of gay marriage, provided that both parties are aware of the sexual orientation of their partners. Even people with anti-gay beliefs should be expected to take a stand against the murder of gay people, or they should be vilified.

    1. I have a problem with the phrase “any form of physical punishment” What about other kinds of punishment? Bullying, shaming, ostracism, not providing equal pay or working conditions, or turning a blind eye to such actions by others?

      Also, “both kinds of gay marriage”? 1) Marriage between gay* people. 2) Marriages where both partners are happy. :-)

      Or due you mean “marriage” and “civil union”?

      [*] which of course applies to any consenting adults, regardless of sex or gender or preferences or religion or lack thereof or skin color or any of the other arbitrary restrictions that have been enforced over the years.

  8. I’m pretty poor, live in a small town in semi-rural Ohio and am struggling. I have no car (I usually bike it everywhere, but it’s not possible in the winter with all the snow and I can’t go too far anyway), and rely on organizations like the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Clinic (No planned parenthood in my town) and the Salvation Army, who are always more then happy to help a pair of Humanists out. They have helped me and my husband out a lot. Especially, when we were out of food and not getting paid for a while.
    I understand not wanting to support them, but there are no secular alternatives for us here. I really disagree with a lot of what they believe, and the actions of the Salvation army stated in the video. But for people like us, there is no other option. I don’t feel bad taking from them, and I’m happy that people are giving to them. Because of that I had food.

    1. I think secular organizations would be on much firmer footing decrying the harms of religion if they spent as much time and money establishing and encouraging philanthropy as they do scoffing.
      All those controversial, insulting billboards would be more effective and useful if they were advertising homeless shelters or soup kitchens or food banks or clothing drives created by atheist and secular orgs.
      It’s the most effective thing they could do, if they really want to get the ‘good without god’ message across.

        1. Google ‘atheist charities’ and ‘secular charities’.
          Now google ‘religious charities’.
          Imagine you were looking to donate time or money to a particular cause.
          It’s not simple, but from the outside it looks like they’re more interested in festivus poles and taking down prayer banners than helping alleviate actual suffering.
          I know it’s not true that non religious people are less charitable, in fact there is some evidence that the irreligious are more likely to volunteer and donate. But it sure doesn’t look like that to the general public.
          I just think that a lot of the time and effort and money spent trying to change those perceptions are misguided at best, counterproductive at worst. I think you know the kind of publicity-seeking I’m talking about. It’s easier and flashier to fight politicized court battles and put up snarky billboards than it is to do charity work. It’s cheap. And it does nothing to back up the ‘good without god’ claim.

          And those stories made my blood boil, too. That’s some serious bullshit. As is the SA’s homophobia. Quit letting them have such a monopoly on helping! :)

          1. *by ‘quit letting them have a monopoly’, I was talking about orgs, not individuals.

          2. I understand, and I don’t think you can change small minds.
            It’s just difficult for those on the receiving end of charity to hear calls to stop giving, without an alternative for those who need that assistance.

          3. I think some of this goes to the giver’s motives as well.

            If you want to give to help and you don’t expect a thank you or any kind of reward you give to the charity whose message speaks to you, I think most people would fall into this category. But according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy survey the most giving happens in religious states… unless you take churches off of the list of charities, then the most is given in more secular states.

            There are many possible reasons for this but I believe it mostly is about convenience. Theists give to their churches, and those causes endorsed by their churches, because they are there every Sunday and are being reminded to give. I’m sure plenty of theists give to secular organizations without fanfare (and many might give to churches because they are doing actual good, with a food bank say) but how would you know. I don’t think Doctors Without Borders would speak to many theists (including some that already give) by adding “secular” to the front of their name, and I don’t think it is necessary unless we are playing a game of one-upmanship.

  9. Kyle, I see your point, but the Salvation Army can be viewed as Progeny of Methodist for the very reason that William and Catherine Booth were (local) leaders in the Methodist Reform Church to make a new th ing, the Salvation Army. It is true, though, that it is not the military wing of the Methodists. Also, their theology is methodist and it is mainly their methods that are unique. Importantly, they are not members of the World Methodist Council but they are ecumenically engaged with them (as are other major churches like the Papists and so on).

  10. There will always be some people in a large organisation, like the Salvation Army, who have bigoted views. However, please don’t forget all the good that the vast majority of members do for the dispossessed in society. The Salvation Army were the only people that held out a helping hand to me when needed it. No one asked me if I was gay, Christian or anything else. They just helped.

    1. This is one of the most disingenuous manipulation of Christian theology that I’ve seen in a while from LGBT – and to say I’m enraged that they’re doing it at the expense of a charity that does a great deal for the poorest of society is an understatement. They decided to quote Romans out of context in order to get a member of the Salvation Army to admit they “believe gays deserve death.” Of course, the book of Romans also says that everyone deserves death: “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23, “The wages of sin is death” – Romans 6:23

      None of the mentions of “deserves to die” in the book of Romans are about anyone actively putting someone else to death. They are an explanation of the original “cause of death” in the world. The faulty logic starts with the assumption that there’s a God and it goes something like this to arrive at the conclusion everyone deserves to die:
      1. There is a God.
      2. God loves people.
      3. Every person dies.
      4. There’s a God and He loves everyone but they die. Therefore they all must deserve death because a loving God wouldn’t allow someone innocent to die.

      The book of Romans isn’t about mankind putting one another to death in the slightest. It’s about why death exists and how “to attain eternal life with God” (the afterlife).

      I despise when other atheists feel the need to misrepresent a theology to bulk up their arguments for atheism. Atheism doesn’t need to slander anything to be true.

      I will continue to donate to the Salvation Army because decent people recognize the needs of the poor and homeless are a more pressing matter than whether or not gays can marry or serve in the military.

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