the salvation army: WTF!?

Despite the role Salvation Army bell ringers have in iconic Christmas scenes – and who among us hasn’t put an ol’ Washington or two in the kettle – I’m rather bothered by the militaristic theme behind the charitable organization. Army? Salvation? Sounds like the zeal to march on the world and gain converts, which isn’t entirely a stretch:

“The Salvation Army has a devoutly religious mission, rooted in its founding in 1865 by an evangelical protestant minister (and former pawn broker) named William Booth, whose early motivation was to convert poor Londoners — and eventually prostitutes, gamblers and alcoholics — to Christianity. Recognizing that his followers needed more than just religion to improve their lives — and that the way to attract the destitute was the provide services — Booth provided meals, clothing and other assistance to his early converts. He was famous for saying, "Nobody ever got saved while they had a toothache." The quasi-military name "Salvation Army" was given to the charitable church in 1878 — Booth had been known as its "general" even before that — and the first U.S. chapter opened around 1880.” (Source: Time)
Regardless of how harmless the Salvation Army may be, I’m wary of military analogies – it encourages flawed reasoning. After all, armies conduct war. If it were called the Salvation Corps, the impression would be different.

In any case, an item in the news came to my attention and I’m just gobsmacked: a Salvation Army officer is facing dismissal over his choice of fiancée. Apparently, officers are only allowed to marry other officers due to expectations that they live and breathe the Salvation Army. Captain Johnny Harsh of Oshkosh, Washington, was suspended from his leadership position after he became engaged to a nurse he met through an online Christian dating website.
“Harsh was suspended from his position as leader of the Oshkosh Salvation Army after he announced his engagement to a woman he named only as "Cia." Harsh's first wife, Capt. Yalanda "Yoley" Harsh, a Salvation Army officer, died suddenly of a heart attack in June. A few months later Harsh said he met Cia, 56, a nurse, on a Christian online dating Web site.

‘I prayed and told the Lord, I can't stand being single. Can you please give me a woman on the outside and inside,’ said Harsh. He said it was love at first sight. ‘One word describes her. Wow.’

Harsh said the organization's rules regarding marriage are outdated, unfair and must be changed, but he doesn't want his personal situation to harm the Salvation Army.”
This is exactly how institutionalized religion can become a detriment to individuals - in terms of freedom, personal fulfillment, and even basic humanity. These are not “divine” rules, but organizational rules that work to keep people in the fold. But Harsh knew what he was getting into, and his first wife, who died of a heart attack, was indeed an SA officer. And his call for people not to stop giving to the charity, which is only second to the United Way, goes a long way from making this exposure a personal vendetta.

For my part, however, I’ve come to realize just to what degree the Salvation Army is really a Christian organization, complete with doctrines of original sin, the holy trinity, heaven for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, and so on. The question is, to what extent does supporting their considerable charitable work a reinforcement for their religious and organizational beliefs?

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