Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ringing Up the History of God's Soldiers Looking Back and Ahead, These Books Chart Shifting Concepts of God,

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ringing Up the History of God's Soldiers Looking Back and Ahead, These Books Chart Shifting Concepts of God,

Article excerpt

RED-HOT AND RIGHTEOUS: THE URBAN RELIGION OF THE SALVATION ARMY By Diane Winston Harvard University Press 253 pp., $27.95

The casual bookstore browser might not expect a history of the Salvation Army to be illustrated by a picture of Mae West.

But there she is, with Cary Grant, in a shot from the 1931 movie "She Done Him Wrong." Grant played a Salvation Army officer, and West played an underworld chanteuse whom he tried to woo and win back to the side of virtue and wedlock. This is only one surprising example that New York University scholar Diane Winston identifies of the Army turning up in popular culture - and particularly in New York City. "Upon arriving in New York in 1880," she writes, "The Salvation Army staked a claim to city life as no religious group had done before.... A living metaphor bent on territorial conquest, its members regularly occupied city thoroughfares. Commanded by Holiness theology to transform the secular world into the Kingdom of God, Salvationists marched up the avenues and down the boulevards - even raiding brothels, saloons, and dance halls - in pursuit of lost souls. Their 'Cathedral of the Open Air,' a figurative canopy spread over the city, turned all of New York into sanctified ground." This book, written from the perspective of an outsider, though an obviously admiring one, is full of interesting bits, such as the history of the Christmastime red kettles and a discussion of the coffee and doughnuts Salvation Army "lassies" distributed to World War I doughboys as a form of "secular communion." But the book also explores much broader cultural history, such as how the Salvationists' pursuit of lost souls engaged them in many of the major issues of their day: economic development and social justice, for example. …

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