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Monday, March 30, 2015

Dealing with Disloyalty within The Salvation Army


Many things have changed in The Salvation Army since it began in 1865 but, as the expression goes, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  I have been reading A Man of Peace in a World at War–a biography of The Salvation Army’s fifth general, George Carpenter and it occurs to me that one of the things that has not really changed very much in all those years is the autocratic nature of our leadership.

Carpenter confronted this dealing with General Bramwell Booth (son of the founders, and second general).  Then (in the 1920s) the issue was of Bramwell’s preferential treatment of his children within the army, and his inability to receive constructive criticism without taking offense.  (Some of those problems are dealt with in General John Larsson’s book 1929: A Crisis that Shaped The Salvation Army’s Future.) 

A letter from Carpenter to Bramwell Booth is quoted in the biography:

“The Army is perhaps the last great public body to remain under autocratic government.  In most civilized lands a man may speak openly as he feels concerning public affairs and rulers-from King, President, Prime Minister down.  And so long as he avoids libel no one may penalize him for so doing.  Within the Army there is a settled belief that one may be a Salvationist of unimpeachable devotion, of ability and godliness.  But should he or she express views out of accord with the General…he or she is accounted disloyal and is in consequence discredited.  This has a most unwholesome influence and produces an evil of secret disaffection much more to be feared in its present and ultimate effects than outward disloyalty. (Carpenter 160)”

The crisis of 1929 resulted in a change in the way that one becomes the General of The Salvation Army – but it did not change the autocratic style of leadership within our ranks. Officers and soldiers are still expected to salute and follow without question or comment.   Dissenting opinions are not tolerated. Officers who have opinions that are at variance to those held by our leaders at HQ are labeled as trouble makers, as heretics, as divisive.  I know of officers who have been told to “seek other employment” merely because they endorse the inclusion of LGBTQI individuals within our ranks.  I, myself, have been told, on more than one occasion, that if I hate the Army so much then I should leave –because I’ve had the temerity to interpret our doctrinal statements differently than some other officers.    

How did General Bramwell Booth respond to (then) Colonel Carpenter’s letter? 

“My Dear Carpenter,
Your letter, which is a bomb! needs consideration before I see you.  But let me say at once that your difficulties (if that is the right word) are really moonshine. (Carpenter 161)”

Colonel Carpenter was then transferred from his appointment at International headquarters to Australia.  Even though a memo went out instructing officers that no one was to attend Carpenter’s departure several Commissioners, senior officers, and employees gathered to bid him farewell. (163)

Punishment appointments and sudden transfers based on personal enmity?  These things don’t still happen, right?  Yeah, right.



Carpenter, Stella.  A Man of Peace in a World at War. Australia. Privately published. 1993.

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