Marching On

published on 7 Feb 2015

I was interviewed recently by Salvationist magazine’s Captain Andrew Stone about growing up in Cape Town at a time when South African lives were segregated through apartheid, as well as my thinking about The Salvation Army in the UKI Territory. Below, I share some of those reflections for those who are not readers of the Salvationist magazine. (However, a visit to Salvationist’s web page will provide details of the 3 January 2015 edition which features the interview.)

I was aware of apartheid when I was growing up because there were some places we didn’t visit - certain beaches, swimming pools and parks. But that was the extent of apartheid from my perspective because we had a good life in a tight-knit family. However, when I went to teacher training college, I began to understand that apartheid is an evil, not just an inconvenience. It was intrinsically evil because of the way it graded people. I began to discover it was an unjust system and that awareness began to affect me as a Christian.

I had thought Christians should be non-violent, non-confrontational and show love regardless. It was easy to behave like that when I was growing up in a little bubble, but when I was exposed to the suffering caused by apartheid, I struggled to reconcile my beliefs with the reality of the South African situation.

As a student in 1976, I became involved in the student uprising, protesting alongside my fellow students. I wanted The Salvation Army to speak out as other churches were doing, and I was party to meeting the Territorial Commander of the day to do urge him to do so, but to no avail.

To this day, I think we made bad choices as a movement in South Africa. We didn’t do well when it came to speaking up against apartheid – it’s something we must reflect on. I believe that, even though my experiences happened years ago, they still shape the person I am today and my view of the role of Christians and the Church.

My background makes me aware that you can become complacent; that you can see and yet not see or choose not to see; that we need to think about what we see, observing with insight. I still feel that The Salvation Army is too quiet as a church - that we are too accommodating. Too often we don’t challenge authorities about unjust decisions for fear of "rocking the boat".

We also need to address inequalities in our movement. There is something intrinsically wrong when the Army has the majority of its members in the developing world but the majority of its international leaders are Western. There is nowhere in the West where there is a non-Western leader, whereas there are several non-western territories and commands with western leaders. (People will say that I am a non-westerner in leadership of the UKI, but I have a Western worldview.)

Such an anomalous situation suggests that, either our leadership training is at fault or there is something wrong with the way we choose our leaders. It needs to be addressed if we want to maintain credibility as a movement concerned with social justice.

After almost two years of leading in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, I am concerned about our cultural imbalance. We are too white and middle class, which means we have to be intentional about the way we reach out to other cultures. At the moment we have no strategy to reach out to Eastern Europeans, but they are here in their droves. We are not addressing that challenge. That is not to mention the other ethnic groups who have been here for years without our having any success at reaching out to them. We need to do much better at this aspect of mission.

That said, our corps (churches) are doing more to reach out and meet the needs of the communities around them. Corps have become focused on local mission and have become needs-based. The need of the community determines the way in which many corps drive mission. There’s a sense of belonging to community and not being separate from it. That’s very encouraging. Community must be at the heart of our mission and our mission must be at the heart of community.

If we are focused on mission, God will bless the Church. That’s what happened in the book of Acts. They were faithful and the Lord added to the Church. However, I acknowledge that carrying out mission is a challenge and that some challenges can come from within the Army itself and the bureaucracy and administration required by the organisation.

We administer ourselves to death! Often, mission is taking place despite of, rather than because of, the administration. Our founder, William Booth, would never have got to where he took the Army if he had been as risk-aversive as we are today. We have to put more focus on faith. If a mission initiative is started, it must not be seen as a risk, but as taking a step of faith. We need to reduce the number of processes and the number of protocols that can hinder people who want to get on with mission. We say our officers are called to carry out ministry, so let’s trust them to do it.

However, it’s not only officers I want to see called and energised to take the gospel into communities and change people’s lives for the good. One of our challenges is for more people to get really involved in the work of our ministry and not just act as ‘pew-warmers’. Possibly the biggest challenge we have is for individual Salvationists to believe passionately that they exist to bring in the Kingdom. I support adherency because it gives a place to somebody who may not otherwise have a connection to the Army or to any other church. However, I also believe that an army needs soldiers.

I want to promote soldiership because I believe it is a radical expression of discipleship. Soldiership is more than the church requires for you to be a member. To be a member in the universal Church you have to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But in soldiership we say we want more.

Discipleship is radical and we want to demonstrate a radical expression of that discipleship. We want to commit our lives unconditionally. The Army is not just about marching on a Sunday; the Army is about people being deployed where God has placed them and making an impact and a difference where they are. Soldiers are called to live out what we profess wherever we find ourselves.

With this aim to build an Army of mobilised soldiers, empowered and equipped for mission, I have great hopes for what I would find if, after this appointment, I were to come back and visit the territory. I would hope to find an Army that was still visible. I want to come back to an Army that understands its role is not to look after itself but exists for people; that we are focused on mission and, because of that, we are growing.