“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” 1 Cor 13:1
As we head into the Holiday Season, there is no doubt that we’ll see more than one red kettle outside a storefront with a Salvation Army volunteer ringing a bell alongside, cheerfully asking for our spare change to help the less-fortunate. Whether you drop in some cash or find yourself “all tapped out”, you’ll most likely at least smile and say Merry Christmas to the bell-ringer.
Unfortunately, in the early days of the Salvation Army, her “soldiers” weren’t offered such pleasantries. In fact, the so-called “Salvationists” faced brutal persecution in the streets of London. The barkeeps and brothel owners resented the Salvation Army for converting their customers and putting them out of business!
“All over the country Salvationists were faced with angry mobs who used ammunition in the form of dead rats and cats, tar, rocks, rotten vegetables and even burning coals and sulphur to show their hatred of the new movement. In one year alone (1882) 669 Salvationists were brutally attacked.“ (http://www.stlsalvationarmyarc.org)
However, as the faith of her members began to bear fruit, the perception of the Salvation Army slowly began to change and opposition began to fade. According to the Salvation Army’s website,
“…[by early 1900] The Salvation Army had served 27 million cheap meals, lodged 11 million homeless people, traced 18,000 missing people and found jobs for 9,000 unemployed people…”
“…when people began to see the value of the Army’s work and the beneficial effect on the lives of those who responded to the gospel message, attitudes changed. Now active in all five continents The Salvation Army has gained universal respect and loyalty. Persecution has been replaced with friendly banter and the Army is held in high esteem by people from all walks of life…” (http://www.stlsalvationarmyarc.org)
The Church in the United States can learn much from the early history of the Salvation Army. We see that love is what opens doors and closes divides. Love softens hearts and changes minds. As we face more criticism than ever before, it would be wise to remember that the best response to persecution, the only God-approved response to persecution… is love.