I’ve been listening to this little NPR show about The Salvation Army, having picked up on it from a Tweet by my good buddy, J D Blundell.
As a Salvationist I found myself troubled on a few points:
First off – even at this busiest of seasons in The Salvation Army calendar – it’s important that you have a genuinely representative voice speaking on your behalf.
It’s probably safe to assume that author Diane Winston is a friend of The Salvation Army, but I didn’t get the feeling she was an authoritative voice or even fully up to speed on all of the details of some of the situations being discussed.
Secondly, although Winston’s assertion that
“Theology is not big in the Army. I mean, once you get past that they're rock-hard Bible believers, it's what they do that really counts”is not wholly without foundation, it’s a way too simple assessment of our relationship with theology. More needs to be said by solid representatives who speak from an authentic and global viewpoint. I’m certainly not qualified to do so, but the statement is unsatisfactory, and needs way more unpacking.
My next worry was Winston’s assertion that
“The Army is a fundamentalist Christian group”.I baulked at this description of the movement.
To me that seems way less than accurate and open to erroneous interpretation. The word “fundamentalist” comes loaded with meaning and puts us in a largely negative place, which seems to be at odds with what we really are at our heart.
Fourth up, there’s the hot potato of The Salvation Army’s various recent “controversies” that have been played out largely on the internet.
We’ve been hit hard – really hard - online, and opinions have become more embedded about who we are and what we believe. Blog posts have fed on blog posts (some are so off the hook, it’s scary), and the viral nature of it has allowed fact & fiction to merge into a fuzzy mess on the web and other media.
In relation to The Salvation Army supposedly being anti-gay, it is a label we’ve been saddled with in the last few years – I think unfairly, but I can see why it’s happened.
It seems in the US we’ve become public enemy #1 for many of our brothers and sisters in the gay community, and for me this is a great source of sadness.
(Check a few more thoughts on the subject here)
As a movement, our stance on the sexuality of members is reasonably small c conservative, pretty much in line with the Anglicans, Methodists etc in the UK, most Protestant denominations in the rest of the world etc. It’s also not exactly one of the big issues which define us, though. There are many many more significant barometers for measuring The Salvation Army’s corporate persona.
I say this, not to defend our position, just to say it’s not unique to The Salvation Army. I think the reason we’ve got the anti-gay label goes back to the fact that we are a Church…but we are also – particularly in the US - that a Social Agency that employs people – all kinds of people.
As a 46 year old man who’s been involved with the SA my whole life, I can barely remember hearing any negative teaching about homosexuality from our platforms and pulpits. (Although I have heard preachers preach about being welcoming to gay men and women, and exhortations for us to be ashamed of ways we may have failed to be inclusive). I have heard plenty of preaches about our responsibility towards the poor and the marginalized though.
In my own experience, I have almost always seen all people treated with kindness, love & grace, although I’m beginning to wonder if The Salvation Army needs to find a gracious, informed, global – rather than exclusively North American – and most of all Christlike response to the kind of hammering we take periodically
As far as I’m concerned we’re called to love God, and love others.
I guess my final point of concern about the broadcast may be the one many fellow Salvationists will struggle with. I’m becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the word “Evangelical”, not because I have issue with being evangelical (with a small “e”) about my faith, but rather that I am becoming nervous of the connotations that come with being labelled “Evangelical” with a large “E”. I don’t want to be burdened by the notion that somehow we as a movement become attached to or aligned with a particular political word view that is too closely associated with one political party, or locks this international movement of which I am part to a North American mind set.
Don’t get me wrong. I am huge fan of the US and its people. I really am, but it’s wrong for people to look at The Salvation Army as a wholly American institution. To do so creates an erroneous impression of how the Army globally & locally thinks, breathes and lives.
It’s wrong too to closely associate our movement with any particular political worldview. Salvationists come from all sides of the tracks politically and within the local context they find themselves in.
Most of all, we need as Salvationist to see ourselves and be seen as people who follow the way of Jesus.
HT to SAYNETWORK for the pic