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Sunday, June 16, 2013

1929 – The Salvation Army in Crisis –Hereditary or Not?

(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])

The issue of succession is difficult and dangerous to negotiate; organizations have collapsed in chaos and nations have been engulfed in war because of competing claims for the seat of power. For William Booth’s fledgling organization, The Salvation Army, the issue had been settled with its 1878 constitution and augmented by the 1904 addendum.  The General retained the authority to appoint his (or her) successor by placing the name in a sealed envelope to be opened after death or retirement.

Bramwell Booth became the second General of The Salvation Army following his father’s death in 1912.   William left a letter for his son filled with words of a father’s advice and counsel to his son now taking over his role as General of The Salvation Army.  In particular he left some words of “general direction as to the selection of a successor.”[ii]

He encouraged his son to seek God’s will in prayer in this most serious task and to seriously consider the importance of this decision.  He also listed a number of qualifications to look for.  His successor should be “an officer in good standing… an enthusiastic Salvationist…healthy and vigorous…” and etc. etc.

But, he went on, it would be best if these attributes could be found in a direct descendent.  “Now it will be good if these qualities, or any considerable number of them, meet in the direct heir of the General for the time being.  That is if the best man for the position happens to be the son or daughter of the General himself, or should they meet in any prominent member of the family”[iii]

And, William Booth – who was a controlling autocrat in life – continued from the grave to try to control the course of his organization.  He wrote to his son, “You will follow the general directions just given as to the selection of your successor.  So far as I at present know the Army, I think in the first instance your choice should fall upon Herbert…”[iv]

That is, Herbert Booth, one of Bramwell’s younger brothers. Keep it in the family.

This wasn't, necessarily, the stated policy of The Salvation Army.  As early as 1910, the Salvation Army Yearbook had affirmed that, “The succession to the position of the General is not in any shape or form, hereditary, nor is it intended to ever to be so.”[v]

Publically – the policy was that the best qualified individual (man or woman (and this was always an important point for William Booth)) was to be appointed.  Privately – Booth maintained the same – but that it would be better if this individual were part of the immediate family…

Ambiguous?  Yes.  But I see this as another example of Booth’s autocratic (and maybe even tyrannical, at times) control of his organization.  I keep writing the phrase “his organization,” and it very much was HIS organization.  He ruled.  He decided. He ordered and the soldiers obeyed. 

I think that this emphasis on keeping it in the family (as much as possible) is an example of Booth straining to control his beloved Salvation Army – to keep it  as close to himself as he could, even in death.

[i] Larrson, John 1929: A Crisis that Shaped The Salvation Army’s Future Salvation Books, London England, 2009.
[ii] Page 44
[iii] Page 45
[iv] Page 45
[v] Quoted on page 48

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