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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cowardice in The Salvation Army

I am often dumfounded by my denomination, confounded by my co-religionists. I am surprised that in this organization, this movement, this church–which was born in a moment of defiance–seems now to be unable to handle anything but unquestioning obedience and seeks to stifle any voice of dissent within its ranks.

By 1861 William Booth, then an evangelist for the Methodist New Connexion Church, was becoming something of a nuisance to the leadership. William (and his wife, Catherine) felt especially drawn to the work of an evangelist–to preaching the gospel, especially in the poorer quarters. Both of them.  Catherine’s preaching was a source of contention; women were not widely accepted as appropriate ministers of the gospel. But William (and Catherine) insisted that they could best serve the church as evangelists, rather than as circuit-ministers.

 “The question now presented itself forcibly to their consciences, as to whether they were justified in submitting any longer to the jurisdiction of a handful of persons, who were obviously influenced by unworthy motives in denying them a position of greater usefulness” (Booth-Tucker 391).

In May of 1861 the Methodist annual conference met in Liverpool, England. Booth’s case was addressed, and his request to be assigned as an evangelist was met with much opposition–much of which seemed motivated by personal animus and by a dislike for Catherine’s aggressive preaching. When Booth’s request was denied, one of their friends proposed a sort of weak compromise, but…

“This was more than Mrs. Booth could endure. She had been sitting at a point in the gallery from which she and her husband could interchange glances. It had been with difficulty that she had restrained her feelings hitherto while listening to the debate. But at this stage she was overcome with indignation. She felt that Dr. Cooke had sacrificed their cause in the interests of peace rather than righteousness. But for his suggested compromise she believed that they would have carried the day with a triumphant majority.

“Rising from her seat and bending over the gallery, Mrs. Booth's clear voice rang through the Conference, as she said to her husband, “Never!"

“There was a pause of bewilderment and dismay. Every eye was turned towards the speaker in the gallery. The idea of a woman daring to utter her protest or to make her voice heard in the Conference produced little short of consternation. It was a sublime scene, as, with flushed face and flashing eye, she stood before that audience. Decision, irrevocable and eternal, was written upon every feature of that powerful and animated countenance. Her "Never!" seemed to penetrate like an electric flash through every heart” (Booth-Tucker 412).

In that act of defiance the Salvation Army was born. How much did the Methodist New Connexion lose in failing to hear and to accept the voices of William and Catherine?

Years later, Catherine Booth describing this event wrote: “I believe that cowardice is one of the most prevailing and subtle sins of the day. People are so pusillanimous that they dare not say 'No,' and are afraid to go contrary to the opinions of others, or to find themselves in a minority” (Booth-Tucker 409).  Today, the sin of The Salvation Army is still that–cowardice- an unwillingness to face contrary opinions, an unwillingness to hear dissenting opinions without knee-jerk condemnation.

And this is not really a new problem for us. It has been with us all along. In a letter to the second General (and son of the founders) Bramwell Booth, George Carpenter (who would later himself become the leader of the international Salvation Army) wrote:

“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).

And 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)

How many valuable voices are we losing when differences of interpretation are treated as expressions of heresy and when those officers and soldiers who have differing interpretations of scripture are told that they should leave the Salvation Army?  Are we unable or unwilling to learn from our own history?

Booth-Tucker, Frederick, The Life of Catherine Booth. Fleming H. Revell Company, New York. 1892.
Carpenter, Stella.  A Man of Peace in a World at War. Australia. Privately published. 1993.


  1. "How many valuable voices are we losing...?"

    Too many.

  2. Excellent read and sadly too accurate!

  3. It would appear that today if you speak out of turn or do not comply to the norm you are pushed out, kick to the curb and frozen out. With the hope that others do not hear anything which could make them think for themselves.
    Over the last couple of years I have witnessed and been the victim of the SA's actions that have ostracised people who are if a different opinion.
    The SA might try to silence the single voice but into days world technology it's getting harder for In the coming years I can see an even greater decline in support for an.organisation who won't care for its own and hides behind the past accomplishments because it's current activities has some huge holes in it.

    1. If calling Sin for what it is ...Sin and God's own words says and warns all " thou shalt NOT" what is there to interpret ? Never forget the words of Catherine Booth when she said and warned ..." when the Church and World can jog along comfortably together, you may be sure there is something wrong" God was never tolerant of sin nor should anyone else. As the world and flawed human beings will colour,paint and make you believe that under the name of diversity,tolerance we of the church are to allow and tolerate Sin in and with in it's walls...if that is done then that church,corps or fellowship becomes in God's eye an "apostate" church and what did god say he was gonna do to them ? But it is your free will choice to make isn't it ? One can and go do ministry God's way..or your way but never forget there are "consequences" So who here has the spiritual spine to stand before the foot of the cross and say Here Jesus ...this is for you !! God Bless General Cox & God Bless The Salvation Army Steve Henderson -USA South,Carolinas Division

    2. This, Steve, is an example of what I described above. You've already all but convicted me of some heresy without any discussion, without reason, without cause.

    3. i did not such thing sir..if a stop sign says stop you freely choose to ignore it ? If so there are consequences as there not ? If any denomination that is and operates under God's word and god's word says ( and not myself) thou shalt not they your problem is you are trying to "justify" your( or anyone elses for that matter) willful disobedience to God and his word ..then do be prepared to pay the price. As a human being i have never met if you fell over and died tomorrow as a human being I nor the world could give a flying fig that you are dead and gone. But and IF you were a follower& believer & serve Christ, then I'd be deeply sadden and I and many comrades would be praying for your loved ones. But for me to sit back and in the name of diversity,tolerance and open my arms wide to anything God has called "Sin" ..then sir i will not nor would the Booth's in closing i say this...God will not discuss,nor reason ( as he did with several OT Prophets) nor allow Sin or sinners in his presence...You need to willing to go and do as Jacob did ...and wrestle with God until he either blesses you or condemns you as he did with Cain for slaying Abel. So go and plead for understanding and support from a humanistic and emotional point of view but in the end ..(2Ch 25:4) But he did not kill their sons, but as it is written in the Law in the book of Moses, where Jehovah commanded, saying, The father shall not die for the sons, nor shall the sons die for the fathers, but every man shall die for his own sin.
      So still want to try and paint up,dress up Sin and say it's okay ? The Choice is can take your life and run up to Jesus like a child running home all excited with a good report/grade card from school and say here it what i did for you...or you can as the Apostle Paul reminded us all (Gal 5:24) But those belonging to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts.
      So the choice is yours to live a life God through Christ desires or you go on your own way ...I wish you well & good health ! (1Ti 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among nations, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.

    4. If I've understood you, (and I'm not sure I have) you've determined that I am attempting to justify my willful disobedience,and that I'll be condemned. And you've done all this without any evidence.

      I'm sorry, Steve, but future posts like this will be deleted.

    5. Steve, I'm confused by your post. When an unrepentant sinner dies...good riddance "we don't give a flying fig" and when a believer dies we are saddened and pray for the family? It seems that our hearts should break when a soul is lost and rejoice when one is promoted to glory.

      I'm also unsure about your premise that God will not allow sin or sinners in His presence. After the fall, God still came to the garden, looking for the sinners. He didn't hide from them, they hid from Him. He sent His son to a world full of sin and sinners and in Job he had a dialogue with Satan.

      Finally, the original post wasn't about sin, but about an authoritarian leadership style. When Catherine said "Never!" she was probably sinning in the eyes of the assembly at the time since Women are to be silent in church.

      Anyway, good post, Jeff.

  4. Lost me and my family. This is so on point. This is one of the main reasons I left.

  5. what is it the Army is not willing to allow difference on? I feel you want to say more but beat around the bush here. How is the Army loosing people what over?

    1. Alcohol, tobacco, lgtbq. Worship style, uniforms. Inability to adapt to the 21st century. Being stuck in Victorian England.

  6. Interesting that you choose to delete posts that are contrary to what you 'believe'...

    1. Not posts that are contrary to what i believe, but posts that are particularly trollish, or consign me to hell and perdition without cause.

      but I do thank you for your comment, and take it as a word of caution to be as fair about it as I can.

  7. Jeff, I am unsure of your position in the Army, be it soldier, officer, adherent or an occasional visitor, but if you are any of the first three, please read the covenant you have signed before your God. I dont agree with everything the Army does, certainly, but I uphold their right to do so.
    I don't care if it seems too "Victorian" but I do care if it's worldly. I agree with Mr. Booth (and Steve Henderson). A church that agrees with the world has a problem. We should never fit in....never. To take a stance against those things the world has called good yet are biblically forbidden is only the right thing to do. I will, I must defend God at all costs.
    I am an Envoy and have led a church for 15 years in the same appointment. I have not always agreed with all of the decisions the Army has made in my tenure with them, but if ever they accept with open arms, sin into the church, I will leave.Immediately. If those who desire to sin openly, with no hint of repentance, want to leave the Army, so be it. I for one, would not desire to be associated with a church that would not encourage people to repentance, and welcome sin into the camp. I hope you, too would see that this is only right.
    By the way, those who post anonymously are cowards, like making a public statement, for all to hear, wearing a bag over your head. Do you not have the courage of your convictions? At least Jeff is unafraid to stand up for his beliefs. Thank you for posting this, Blessings to you and yours. I will be praying for you.

    1. David - I am a Major in the Central Territory USA. I remember my covenant, and have not deviated from it.

  8. Jeff you can call me trollish all you want...but i do stand on what i matter how anyone whether they be a Major,CSM or a TC justifies allowing sin in god;s house and in one's life is asking for trouble...and as for condemning you...all of us do a very good job condemning ourselves and need little help or assistance from others..again i wish you well Major...and in closing I leave you this reminder ...from the Apostle Paul (2Co 5:10) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive the things done through the body, according to that which he has done, whether good or bad.
    Be Well as you crucify your flesh daily in your walk with Him
    Steve Henderson
    USA South
    Carolinas Divsion

    1. Please take note that I did NOT call you a troll or trollish. I said that posts that are trollish will be deleted. Words mean something. I try to use them carefully.

  9. Thanks for this. I love what the Army is and does. I love our commitment to minister to and advocate for the least and the lost, the outcast. There's a lot about the Army that I don't like, but I still have hope that we can continue doing the most good for the people in the most need. -a soldier, USA Central Territory

  10. Jeff,
    Your article contains a number of very good observations. Unfortunately, it also seems to set up something of a false dichotomy by asserting that The Army rejects criticism or those who pose inconvenient questions.

    I think that it is important to specify on what topic the point of controversy focuses upon, rather than making a blanket statement (unless the blanket statement actually reflects your personal experience).

    For example, consider a situation in which an Officer personally decided that their firmly held beliefs required that they now reject the existence of the Holy Trinity, as described in the 3rd Doctrine. When compared to another situation in which the Officer asserts a personal view that individuals should never be accepted as Senior Soldiers, until they reach the age of 21. In my personal opinion, the first example would be an issue that would require additional inquiry to ensure that there is no misunderstanding in the theological position held by the Officer. If facts and circumstances clearly confirm that the Officer has rejected the 3rd Doctrine, I do not see any way that he could be retained as Officer or Soldier, nor would it seem logical for him to even want to continue in a Church with whom he has such a clear conflict.

    The second example - involving the age of becoming a Senior Soldier - would/should be considered completely different. Although there may be administrative or procedural conflicts between the Officer's practice and Territorial directives, seeking understanding would be the logical approach by the Division or Territory. It may be that local conditions warrant the Officer's position. There could be many reasons, but it is not a foundational issue.

    The third type of conflict would present the most difficulties and opportunities for unresolved conflict - that of Scriptural interpretation, as it applies to Salvation Army theology. Looking once again at the doctrines, consider how many of them are subject to different meaning, based on the interpretation of Scripture. While some of the issues seem to be well settled, there are also others that some officers would assert may be subject to alternate interpretation. When the difference in interpretation results in the Officer conducting themselves in a manner that is in conflict with generally accepted standards and practices for Salvation Army Officers, theological and philosophical conflicts tend to bring about explosions.

    My personal opinion is that, regardless of the emerging perspective on doctrine, theology or practice that the Officer asserts, I believe that it is reasonable that we conduct ourselves in a manner consistent with settled doctrine and practice, while advocating for change. While our covenant as a Pastor is with God, we have also entered into a mutually-beneficial commitment & relationship with The Salvation Army. As an ethical matter, it would seem to be in conflict with that commitment to intentionally act in a manner contrary to generally accepted doctrine and practice - while still accepting the benefits flowing from the relationship.

    Tough concept to communicate in a written monologue, but I hope the differences are reasonably clear. Life remains a challenging journey, filled with continuous learning and growing understanding!

    1. Thank you for your comments -

      It is your third type of conflict that I intended to describe. Too many times in my own experience, and in the experience of other officers/soldiers that I know personally, an interpretation of an issue is taken to be THE definitive interpretation of the Army and anyone suggesting otherwise is described as less than faithful, or told to leave the Army.


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