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The Salvation Army's Red Kettle of Trouble

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It's that time of year again. Outside the shopping malls and supermarkets we encounter the bell-ringing representatives of the Salvation Army, dressed in paramilitary uniform, with their big red kettles, begging for a share of our holiday dollars.

And, as I do every year, I will ignore them.

Not because I am selfish or stingy. In the past few weeks, I have contributed a healthy sum in end-of-year donations to the non-profit agencies that I choose to support.

But I choose not to support the Salvation Army.

My reasons? Read on.

First let me say that the Salvation Army has done some good work in the past in providing assistance to the poor, the addicted, and the marginalized.

But their methods are not ones that I approve of. The Salvation Army has a long and disturbing history of religious coercion, abuse, and intolerance.

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. (In the interest of full disclosure, I personally received help from the Red Cross when my apartment building burned down in 2001. They were extremely helpful and compassionate, and expected nothing in return.)

As if the religious coercion isn't enough, the Salvation Army has also been implicated in a number of cases of alleged sexual abuse, ranging from molestation of child members of the Salvation Army's Red Shield swim team in Seattle to pedophile rings that operated out of Salvation Army run orphanages in Australia and New Zealand. (Yes, they like to "spread the love" worldwide.)

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.

Another fact that many people are likely unaware of is that the Salvation Army is technically a church as well as an openly Christian charity. As such, they are certainly entitled to promote their church's dogma and operate their organization accordingly.

But I will not support it with my hard-earned money, especially given the organization's disturbing history, coercive methods, and unchristianlike intolerance.

So please think twice before tossing your spare change into their red kettle of trouble. Do you really want to support this with your hard-earned cash?


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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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