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Monday, June 17, 2013

1929 – The Salvation Army in Crisis –Bigger than the General

These are a few of my thoughts as I’ve been reading former General John Larrson’s book -1929: A Crisis that Shaped The Salvation Army’s Future [i]

People change.  The pressures and joys of life are constantly affecting us – changing our attitudes and our responses.  Sometimes for the better.  Sometimes for the worse.   And organizations (which are made up of changeable people) change over time as well. 

Bramwell Booth – son of The Salvation Army’s founder, William Booth, was beloved by Salvationists around the world.  When he became the Army’s second General after the death of his father, the Army cheered.  He’d been with them from the beginning, serving at his father’s side.  They knew and respected him.  And though he may not have had the same impetuous imagination as his father, he shared the same zeal for the Army’s mission and purpose.

And yet, in the years after he became the head of the Army in all its functions and responsibilities, Bramwell changed.  He became increasingly controlling and overly sensitive to perceived slights; he interpreted dissenting opinions as disloyalty, and sent officers who displeased him to “the freezer.”  He further alienated officers and soldiers by promoting members of his own immediate family.
Bramwell was much like his father, and led the Army in much the same way – but, like people, organizations change.

William Booth was a towering individual, full of zealous fire and intensity.   He believed that he and his fledgling organization would bring about the jubilee, millennial reign of Christ on earth.  And while the Salvation Army was a relatively small force, he could act as the single ruling authority in every regard.   But the Army was growing and expanding, increasing its work and influence.  The Salvation Army became bigger than the General, bigger than even William Booth himself.

And while Booth may have been a controlling autocrat – there were times that he could recognize the fact that the Army was bigger than he was.  His daughter, Evangeline Booth, recalled how her father once said to his children, “The Army is not mine! It is not yours!  The Army is God’s and it is the world’s!”[ii]

The Army was bigger than the General.  And the officers and soldiers began to grow uncomfortable with idea that the General would be entrusted solely with the power and authority to appoint his (or her) successor – especially a General who seemed intent on promoting his own children. 

Bramwell  was approached by many Salvation Army officers (including his sister, Evangeline Booth, who was the Commander of the Salvation Army forces in the United States) to consider making changes to the Salvation Army’s constitutional documents – to limit the power of the General in this regard, and to establish a system by which a High Council would appoint the new General  (both in rank and in laudatory articles in Salvation Army publications.  .

Bramwell was reluctant  - no… Bramwell was unwilling to make any changes to the constitutional deeds (despite the fact that his father had changed them several times himself…).  And concerning a High Council to determine the General, he wrote,  that potential appointees would be in danger of having to rely on currying favour with the council in order to obtain or retain their positions.[iii]   Which was a rather ironic statement coming from the General who sidelined officers who expressed disagreements or dissatisfaction with his leadership.

But the Army was bigger than William, and it was bigger than Bramwell and it would change…

[i] Larrson, John 1929: A Crisis that Shaped The Salvation Army’s Future Salvation Books, London England, 2009.
[ii] Quoted on page 113
[iii] Page 86


  1. Has the army changed though?
    A few years ago while working for the Salvation Army in London they went through a time of redundancies. I remember several staff grumbling that many job losses had happened, yet one man had his job reinstated... the son of general John Larsson. Who knows whether this was true, but if true, just confirms what my officer parents believed about the army protecting their elite.

  2. Thanks, Anonymous (whoever you may be...). I'm sure that nepotism still infects the Army to some degree. Sometimes for good. Sometimes for ill.


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