Red Hot and Righteous

Founded in England by William Booth in the late-nineteenth century, the Salvation Army, a revivalist organization of the Holiness Wesleyan tradition, which was organized with a quasi-military framework, made its way to the New World. In 1880, with bands playing, church flags flying, and dressed in their spiritual uniforms, the Salvation Army proceeded to gain ground throughout the United States as a culturally acceptable charity. Says author Diane Winston, who is no “Salvationist” herself, “Examining the history of the Salvation Army reveals significant shifts in the ways Americans understand themselves, their society, and their ideas about faith.” Like the Red Cross, the YMCA, and other structured organizations of good-works, the Salvation Army found acceptance in capitalist America, by its aggressive help-thy-neighbor theology.

In spite of the Salvation Army’s flamboyant appearance, which could have marked them off as a crackpot cult in the American mind, the Army became part of the American imagination. They were the positive subject of magazine covers and Broadway plays. Their pragmatic methodology to problems and their outgoing marketing techniques appealed to nineteenth century business people. Their work against poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, and prostitution established them within the liberal activist tradition, while their Evangelical theology, family orientation, and Bible literalism appealed to conservative America. The Salvation Army became as American as a Santa Claus eating an apple pie, their Christmas kettles resounding with American good cheer.

In Red Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army Winston offers a balanced, well written overview of the Salvation Army, showing how this tambourine troop was able to effectively interact with the religious, business, entertainment, and philanthropic establishments without succumbing to the politicized theological categories which polarize contemporary life.