THE SALVATION ARMY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

This Social Justice Paper, written by Lieut-Colonel Karen Shakespeare, was presented at the International Doctrine Council of the Salvation Army.

Present at the Doctrine Council for this event were: Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan and Dr James E. Read of the International Social Justice Commission. The paper was written with pre-discussion on social justice concepts with Christine MacMillan and Jim Read.

It is encouraging to see The Salvation Army highlight social justice as an agenda item of the Doctrine Council.

M. Christine MacMillan


“Fulfilling the Great Commission in the 21st Century.”
Outworking of the Response – Social Justice

The Salvation Army and Social Justice:

If you had visited The Salvation Army at Nunhead in South London on the evening of  20 August 2008 you would have been invited to enjoy fair trade chocolate whilst watching the film Amazing Grace and subsequently learning something of the realities of the slave trade in twenty first century London. You would also have been invited to return your chocolate wrappers to one of the young people who were hosting the event, easily recognisable in their blue (fair trade) T shirts bearing the message “Justice, Mercy, Humility”, so that they could use them in their efforts to convince the local shopkeeper of the value of selling fair trade confectionery.

A few days later, on 26 August, in New York, the official opening of The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission in the presence of distinguished guests marked the commitment of The Salvation Army at the highest level to “give strong and articulate support to social justice initiatives by Salvationists around the world” (Clifton 2008:3). The Commission is designed to give a “renewed, modern focus” and provide a “previously missing element of intentional coordination across the 115 lands in which currently we work” (Clifton 2008:2).

For The Salvation Army, whether it is the local worshipping community or the international administration, social justice is rooted in faith, and characterised by action, particularly on behalf of the oppressed. A holistic approach to salvation suggests that Christianity must address not only the spiritual and the physical aspects of people’s lives, but also the societal norms, traditions and policies that militate against, or prevent, wholeness for every individual. 

Therefore

“Justice is making life right for others. Justice means working for the dignity, respect and God-given rights of all people…” (Singing the Songs).

I have chosen to use the model of the Wesleyan wind chime (Chilcote 2005) as a lens through which to explore the relationship between The Salvation Army and social justice.  Whilst acknowledging the foundational role of scripture to both theology and Christian praxis it also allows interaction with secular reason, the tradition of the wider church, and the experience of The Salvation Army and affirms the belief that, ultimately, it is the wind of God’s Spirit that has, and will, inspire and energise God’s people, so that songs of his justice will be sung and heard in our world.   

This series of papers has explored the themes of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). The divine imperative demands a response which is both personal and corporate as all peoples are drawn into the Kingdom that Jesus has proclaimed, and inaugurated. The model of prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples included the petition “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Matthew records that Jesus, in his final instructions to the disciples, commands that they work for that coming, until the eschatological climax at the “end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). A holistic reading of these verses suggests that the outworking of the response to this command reaches beyond the confines of church disciple-making, vital though this may be, to prophetic word and action, particularly with, and on behalf of, the poor and oppressed, so that justice can be restored. Put simply, the disciples of a just and righteous God have no choice but to pursue justice and righteousness in their personal, social and political lives.

Scripture

The first of The Salvation Army articles of faith describe scripture as foundational to both Christian belief and Christian living

“We believe that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.” (Salvation Story 1998:ix)

Therefore any discussion of The Salvation Army’s commitment to social justice must begin from our understanding of scripture and of the personal and corporate response that is required from the people of God.

The self-revelation of God through the Bible establishes justice as the foundation of God’s character; a justice that is revealed in love and mercy (Psalm 89:14). The creation of humanity in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27) not only implies the worth of the individual, but also a requirement that humans beings too are just, loving and merciful, so that when God chooses Abraham to establish his people, the task is to “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Genesis 18:17-19). The Hebrew word tzedakah, here translated as righteousness, is in fact a description of social justice, combining the notions of charity and justice in a way that implies the creation of a society in which “everyone has a basic right to a dignified life and to be equal citizens in the covenantal community under the sovereignty of God” (Sachs 2002:114). It is a description of the way things are intended to be and any form of injustice denotes opposition to God’s will. 

However, the fallen nature of humanity also calls forth from God a justice that brings healing. The effects of sin lead through social injustice to broken lives and communities and it is only through hesed, the relational, faithful and covenanted love of God, that justice can be restored (Isaiah 9:7, 1 John 1:9). Set within an eschatological frame, justice becomes a sign of the reign of God in which the goal is the reconciliation and restoration of the human community, bringing people into “right relationship with God, themselves, others and the environment” (Groody 2007:27). Biblical justice is therefore an act of faith and hope which looks forward to “the restoration or establishment of God’s just ordering of things” (Forrester 2001:197).

In the Old Testament the tension between the “now” and the “not yet” is most clearly seen in the words and actions of the prophets who constantly remind the people of their obligation to be a model of God’s justice in the world and of their failure to fulfil this requirement (Isaiah 56:1, Jeremiah 23:5, Ezekiel 45:9, Micah 6:8).

In the New Testament, the coming of the Kingdom of God is the key theme of Jesus’ message. His “manifesto” in Luke 4:18-19 is expressed in terms of the social justice that will be the evidence of the God’s reign (c.f. Isaiah 42 & 61). “This is a message of salvation-as-reversal, of status transposition, of insiders becoming outsiders, of grace for unexpected people” (Green 1995:86). It is a message in which God’s justice is re-asserted. In him, the Kingdom is inaugurated and the redemption he offers affects the whole of creation, including social structures as well as human hearts. (Colossians 1:20)

So the followers of Jesus are commissioned to work towards the fulfilment of the Kingdom, with justice as a central reference point (Groody 2007:23), and for the church, including The Salvation Army, justice is not only social justice, but Kingdom justice. It is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in human society, the substance of religious faith, without which God and his purposes remain unknown (Donahue in Forrester 2001:197). Social justice should be the natural consequence of living out God’s plan for the world. The justice of the Kingdom is the outworking of God’s covenant love for humanity and the church is required not only to speak about justice, but to work prophetically for its coming to a broken world.

“Those who know that God will one day wipe away all tears will not accept with resignation the tears of those who suffer and are oppressed now. Anyone who knows that one day there will be no more disease must actively anticipate the conquest of disease in individuals and society now. And anyone who believes that the enemy of God and humans will be vanquished will already oppose him now in his machinations in family and society. For all of this has to do with salvation” (Bosch 1991: 400 italics original).

The Biblical narrative continually emphasises that the people of God have a responsibility to the poor, however poverty may be defined; social justice is not an option, but is a requirement of God’s people as they work to fulfil the great commission. It is not possible to obey “everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20) without working for social justice, even when it is difficult and costly. There is a place in the Kingdom for all, no one need be excluded, and in the Kingdom we are all our brother's and sister's keepers. Jesus summarised the commandments; love God and love your neighbour as yourself (Matt 22:37-39).The love given to others must be a reflection of the unconditional love demonstrated by God throughout the Bible; a love defined by grace and right relationships and not by just deserts, by human worth and not by human status, by costly giving and not by self interest.

The Biblical account of social justice provides a “divine rule of Christian faith and practice” which, whilst not unique to The Salvation Army, resonates in a particular way with our theology, tradition and ethos. The commitment of the Founders to the spiritual salvation of the poor and marginalized was eventually supplemented with provision for “the relief of temporal misery” (Booth 1890: preface) which has shaped the movement’s focus and actions throughout its history.

Reason

Whilst The Salvation Army “at all times will be overtly and explicitly Christian” (Clifton 2008:4), it is willing to engage in intelligent and sensitive networking with secular agencies in the cause of social justice. Therefore an appreciation of a non-religious concept of social justice will enable us to understand the motivation and priorities of our partners.

In classical philosophy, justice is seen when each person, group or social institution receives what is due to them. It is one of the four cardinal virtues which are essential to both a good person and a good society (Plato 1955:174), and can therefore be described as a “meritorious dimension of social relationships” (Wolterstorff 1995:15). The assumption is that a just person will pursue just social relationships and therefore contribute to the development of a just society.

This notion has been developed in the concept of human rights and responsibilities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (www.un.org/Overview/rights.html) provides a foundation and a goal for the philosophy of many agencies and organizations. Human rights are viewed as a pre-requisite to the development of a just and peaceful society, providing a framework for justice and a “common standard of achievement” (www.un.org/Overview/rights.html) which is to be respected, taught and progressively pursued. Article 1 is foundational;

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Despite the fact that the Biblical witness to humanity created in the image of a just and loving God gives reason for human value which goes beyond the scope of the document, this statement resonates deeply with a Christian understanding of the worth and dignity of every human being, creates common ground and makes space for working together in the cause of global social justice.

The Declaration echoes the classical moral concept of a just society as that in which each individual, group or social institution receives what is due to them. Some philosophers argue that this implies that the rights of one individual or group will necessarily place legitimate obligations on another individual or group, so that obligations and rights are the converse of each other. This notion of moral responsibility for the welfare of others serves to appease some of those for whom the language of rights appears to encourage and express “an individualistic way of thinking which is deeply alien to the Bible” (Wolterstorff 1995:16).

The Report of the United Kingdom Commission on Social Justice (1994) argues that social justice as an ideal can be defined in a hierarchy of four ideas; that  “the foundation of a free society is the equal worth of all citizens”;  that  “everyone is entitled, as a right of citizenship, to be able to meet their basic needs for income, shelter and other necessities”; that “self-respect and  equal citizenship demand more than the meeting of basic needs; they demand opportunities and life chances”; and that to achieve the above, society must recognise that “although not all inequalities are unjust, unjust inequalities should be reduced and where possible eliminated (1994:18). Although echoing the language of human rights, this definition suggests that social justice is concerned with fairness according to entitlement, but it is not clear how, or by whom, inequalities are assessed.

Ultimately, although it is important to identify common ground with the language of reason, Christian theological ethics are not rooted in those rights to which people are entitled, nor in the concept of fairness as the heart of a decent society” (Forrester 2001:204). Christian justice is rooted in God's righteousness and his desire to give in love. So we do not get what we deserve, but receive the gifts that God offers.

Similarly, the people of God are called to reflect his character. Christian social justice must be therefore motivated by love and will therefore always be generous justice. It is not based on what is deserved, or what is due by right, but what is gifted in love. Reinhold Niebuhr recognises a tension between love and justice, arguing that the flawed nature of humanity will always lead to imperfect justice. “In so far as justice admits the claims of the self, it is something less than love. Yet it cannot exist without love and remain justice. For without the “grace” of love, justice always degenerates into something less than justice” (Niebuhr 1957:28). Nevertheless, the imperfection of the execution does not absolve the Christian of the obligation.

This means that Biblical justice, and therefore justice for the Salvation Army, is not only an issue of human rights, but also of grace. Quite often, in secular terms, we need to go beyond the "rights" of people if we are to give them that which in our eyes could be considered "just".  The story of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) makes little sense in terms of rights or fairness and can only be interpreted in the context of God’s grace.

Tradition

Whilst there is no doubt that the notion of social justice is fundamental to the Christian faith and should shape its interactions in the world, the history of the church demonstrates that the relationship of the church to the socio-political context has often shaped its response. 

Christian history suggests that during the earliest days the Church was outside the structures of society, a marginal people with no political power, unable to address inequities. However, Christian teaching subverted the accepted norms, so that a runaway slave was encouraged to return to his master who would now view him as a brother, (Philemon 12, 15) marriage relationships were re-defined (1 Peter 3:1-7) and Jew and Gentile found a common centre (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:11-18).

Over subsequent centuries the church became respectable, an institution of society
linked to the dominant voices of the prevailing culture. In the West, from the period of Constantine to the beginning of the modern era, state and church shared a common responsibility for the life of the people. The church’s influence provided a sure foundation, particularly in matters of law, education and medicine. However, it can also be argued that the close relationship between church and state has sometimes compromised the Church’s ability, or motivation, to work for social justice and social reform, and like the ‘court prophets’ of the Old Testament who tempered their prophecy to suit the mood of the time (Jeremiah 14:13), the church has failed to critique the prevailing wisdom.

The trend to viewing Christianity as “spiritual” religion, concerned primarily with preparation for the next world, rather than redeeming the injustice on this earth began with Augustine and persisted through the reformation. “The world was evil and unredeemable and changing its structures did not really fall within the sphere of the church’s responsibilities” (Bosch 1991:401).

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the differentiation between the public world of facts and the private world of values resulted in the marginalisation of Christian voices in public life. The church’s involvement in society was often limited to acts of charity- social service. However, any involvement in issues of social justice was often deemed to be interference in matters that were outside the purview and understanding of the church.

However, in the twentieth century, for some German Christians, colluding with the state, or taking refuge in a spiritual or private faith was not a possibility in the face of an increasingly oppressive political regime. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison

“Some seek refuge from the rough and tumble of public life in the sanctuary of their own private virtue. Such men however are compelled to seal their lips and shut their eyes to the injustice around them. Only at the cost of self-deception can they keep themselves pure from the defilements incurred by responsible action…..The responsible man seeks to make his whole life a response to the question and call of God” (1953:15-16).

Ultimately, the reflections of German theologians as they sought to make sense of their particular context began to challenge the self-understanding of the church in its relationship to society.

A meeting of Roman Catholic Bishops at Medellin, Colombia, in 1968, marked a further turning point, by acknowledging “that the church had often sided with the oppressive governments in the region, and declaring that in the future it would be on the side of the poor” (McGrath 2001:115). The subsequent rise of liberation theology and its commitment to action in the cause of a more equitable society, although not without its critics, placed the church firmly in the public arena and working for social justice. 

In the North American evangelical church two “mandates” of redemption, spiritual and social, had been distinguished as early as Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and in The United Kingdom for John Wesley (1703-91) social action and social reform were integral to the life of salvation and holiness (Robinson 2004:41). However, according to Bosch (1991:403), a gradual shift towards the primacy of evangelism took place. Nevertheless, in this arena also, during the 1960s a renewed interest in social concern began to emerge. The 1974 Lausanne Covenant summarised the change of mood,

“The message of salvation implies also a message of judgement upon every     form of alienation, oppression, and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist” (quoted in     Salvation Story 1998: 137-138).

As the paradigm shifts again, social justice has become of focus of the societal agenda. The pluralism of the post-modern mood allows for difference and diversity.

Globalisation and technological advance have served to raise awareness of social inequity. The needs of the poor and marginalised are known and acknowledged more graphically than at any other point in history. There is an increasing mood of responsibility for the world in which we live, both in the church and in society. The church has the opportunity to once more to become a strong voice for social justice by “articulating norms of faithful discipleship alongside competing world-views” (Graham, Walton & Ward 2005:138). It will not be the only voice; but it can be heard, it can do effective work. Its response can model the logical outworking of the   great commission and in so doing work towards the building of a truly inclusive, socially just, Kingdom community. In this, it will no longer speak from the safety of the prevailing powerbase, but prophetically, from the margins, as a stranger in a foreign country, “resident aliens, an adventurous colony in a society of unbelief” (Hauerwas & Willimon 1989:49).
 
This brief, incomplete and primarily Western history may lead us to uncomfortable conclusions which the church, including The Salvation Army, cannot avoid. Perhaps there have been times when, from our position of weakness, we have been unable to act. But perhaps we have also failed to act because of our comfort, our respectability. Sometimes, we may have been content to think about a promised future hope and have too readily accepted the injustice of the present, and sometimes we have offered charity but not justice.

The Salvation Army has strong traditions that have shaped our self-understanding and theology; two are particularly relevant to the area of social justice- a call to the marginalized, and a culture of activism.

The roots of the movement in the East End of Victorian London, coupled with the social awareness of William and Catherine Booth, have ensured a historical commitment to the poor and marginalised throughout our history. From its beginnings The Salvation Army was always a “neighborhood religion” growing within urban society and led by local people. It both belonged to and challenged Victorian working class culture.  Pamela Walker writes that “while the clergy found it difficult to bridge the chasm of class and culture that divided them from their flock, the mission’s converts could not help but address family, friends, and work mates when they preached in the streets” (Walker 2001:60).

Booth was deeply influenced by the theology of John Wesley, for whom “social righteousness”, that is caring for the needs of the poor and seeking to combat the social structures which cause deprivation (Ryan & Ryan 2004:50), was essential to the holy life. However, although he is known to have welcomed the very poor into his local Methodist church as a youth, much to the chagrin of the congregation, history records that it was not until in1888, returning home late at night and seeing the homeless men sleeping under the London bridges that Booth truly recognized the need for The Salvation Army to act. Although the primacy of the gospel remained paramount, Booth acknowledged the role of economic poverty in jeopardizing the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being of the poor.  He became convinced of the value of “social work with salvation results in view” (Sandall 1955:6). In 1890 “Darkest England and the Way Out” which outlined comprehensive plans to combat a wide variety of social ills of the time, was published and consequently the mission of The Salvation Army to serve the suffering received new focus. The transforming power of the gospel was proclaimed and enacted in evangelism and social action. Phil Needham writes “In reality, one cannot hear the message of the Kingdom without personally confronting the one in whom it is present, and one cannot receive the Kingdom without confronting its implications for the world into which it has come and still comes” (Needham 1987:63). 
 
In many senses we would claim to be a prophetic tradition both in terms of theology and practice. In its earliest days The Salvation Army stood outside the orbit of social and political influence. Using methods and techniques that appealed to the unsophisticated poor, it was viewed by some as a vulgarisation of Christianity and as of no consequence. However, this did not lead to inaction. The importance of a visible, lived faith with a missional focus has shaped the development of the organisation and its response to the social situation in which it operates. John Coutts writes “It would seem that the Army is at its best when confronted by a tangible social evil that it can get its teeth into” (Coutts 1977:85).

The pursuit of social justice became a feature of the Army’s response to societal need.  In the United Kingdom, contributions to the public pressure led to the reform of the Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885. Similarly, in Japan, working with a Methodist minister, Rev. U.G. Murphy, and other Christians The Salvation Army raised public awareness of the prostitutes held in brothels against the payment of excessive “loans”, eventually resulting in a change of law. During the first year, 1900, 12,000 young women obtained their freedom. 

In 1891 the establishment of a match factory in London enabled The Salvation Army to contribute to the reform of two social injustices; the danger to employee health caused by the use of yellow phosphorus in making match heads and the underpayment of factory workers.
 
In the early years of the twentieth century reform work among the “criminal tribes” of India received government praise and approval. In response to a request from the authorities in 1908, settlements were established and individuals were educated and taught to work. Eventually, the “criminal tribes” ceased to exist and were absorbed into the general population.

During the Second World war some Salvationists in occupied countries found opportunities to seek justice through the resistance movement. One such was Captain Theo Krommenhoek of Doesburg in the Netherlands.

The eventual closure of the penal colony in French Guiana known as Devil’s Island owed much to the efforts of Commissioner Charles Pean and other French Salvationists. Although concerns had been raised as early as 1918, it was not until 1945 that The Salvation Army was eventually entrusted with the task of repatriating the last of the liberated men. During this time, social welfare had been operative, and through his writing, Pean had influenced governmental policy and the decision to close the settlement. 

However, we need to acknowledge that as The Salvation Army has become more established, and in some countries, integrated into the fabric of society, it is also possible that, claiming a-political neutrality, we have preferred to work within the established norms of the culture, engaging in social service rather than speaking prophetically against the root causes of social injustice. With vast numbers of social service programmes throughout the world, we have, in some countries, been thought of as a social service agency rather than as a church whose involvement in social issues is an act of charity in its truest sense, giving in Christian love. Nevertheless restorative justice has been at work, as the dignity and self-worth of individuals was restored and renewed, and the commands of Jesus obeyed as the hungry and thirsty have been satisfied, the sick cared for, and the prisoners visited (Matthew 25:35-36). Despite this, some would say that we have grown old and have been judged accordingly. “If any blessing has departed from the Army, it is more likely over this abdication of our prophetic role than over anything else. In our youth, we innovated and customized. In our old age, we imitate and franchise” (Ryan 2001:37).

The history of The Salvation Army also records our failure to truly seek justice in the apartheid regime of South Africa. Despite a condemnatory statement by General Eva Burrows in 1986, it is evident that “professing a a-political stance, we used this to avoid the kind of protest for which the early Salvation Army was known” (The Salvation Army 1997). Although it was noted that this allowed freedom in ministry and the opportunity to offer help to some of those most severely affected, The Submission  by The Salvation Army to the Truth Commission (1997) noted that we did not “follow justice and justice alone” (Deuteronomy 16:20), choosing to remain silent when we should have spoken.  Here we see that pursuing justice for the future may jeopardise the possibility of acts of mercy in the present. It may be that to speak out is more costly than to keep silent.

Nevertheless Salvation Army teaching carries within it a clear, if not often developed, rationale for the pursuit of social justice.

Salvation Story, the official handbook of Salvation Army Doctrine, explains our position. “As members of God’s church we carry out God’s mission in Christ’s name in various ways, including…… by identifying and offering compassionate service to the poor and disadvantaged and by working with the oppressed for justice and liberty…. We are all engaged in mission to the whole person and the whole world through the power of the Holy Spirit “(1998:108-109). This theme is developed in the documents of the Spiritual Life Commission, convened in 1996 to “review the ways in which The Salvation Army cultivates and sustains the spiritual life of its people” (Street 1999:vii).  Salvationists are called to be

“…. people whose witness to the world is expressed by the values we live by, as well as by the message we proclaim. This leads to service which is a  self-giving for the salvation and healing of a hurting world, as well as a prophetic witness in the face of injustice” (Street 1999:53 my italics).

The prophetic witness is seen as ultimately a result of “…a commitment to the redemption of the world in all its dimensions- physical, spiritual, social, economic and political” (Street 1999:69) and the outworking of personal, relational, social and political experience of holiness. 

The Soldiers’ Covenant, a document signed by all who wish to be Salvation Army soldiers, contains the simple phrase “I will make the values of the Kingdom of God and not the values of the world the standard for my life.” The values of the Kingdom cannot be properly apprehended unless they result in the pursuit of social justice. For The Salvation Army officer the theme is developed in the words of the Officers’ Covenant and Commissioning ceremony with the promise “to strive to lead all persons to their only Saviour, and for his sake to care for the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, love the unlovable, and befriend those who have no friends”.  Living in obedience to the commandments of Jesus (Matthew 28:20) places upon the Christian the obligation to “bring good news to the poor…. release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18-19).

Experience

Despite the charge that we have grown old and “safe,” as The Salvation Army faces the challenges of the 21st century, it is evident that social justice is once more firmly established as a primary focus of our movement. A re-exploration of a rich heritage and an honest appraisal of the demands of true discipleship are resulting in a resurgence of interest in issues of social justice at all levels of the movement. Some would say that we have been re-called to our roots, to the prophetic heritage that made us distinctive and courageous enough to challenge the prevailing norms as well as the undercurrents of society. In the West, the reaction against individualism and an increasing sense of social responsibility contribute to a society that makes space for the prophet and the activist, even when their message is disturbing.

The vision statement of the United Kingdom Territory with the Republic of Ireland expresses succinctly the world-wide purpose. “We will be a Spirit-filled, radical, growing movement with a burning desire to: lead people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ; actively serve the community; fight for social justice.”

The establishment of the International Social Justice Commission will provide a major impetus and a point of international coordination. As “The Salvation Army’s strategic voice to advocate for human dignity and social justice with the world’s poor and oppressed” (Singing the Songs of Justice) it will speak on behalf of the powerless in the international public arena, particularly the United Nations and “assist the Army in addressing social injustice in a measured, proactive and Christian manner, consistent with the purposes for which God raised up The Salvation Army” (Clifton 2007). In addition, it will encourage and offer guidance to Territories throughout the world in addressing social justice issues in the local context.

For example, in recent years opposing the widespread evils of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation have become a core issue for The Salvation Army’s fight against injustice. Global in its scope, the twenty-first century slave trade flourishes in a world which thought it was long since eradicated. Throughout the world, programmes to raise awareness, to market fair trade goods and to care for victims have been established.  Advocacy at the highest levels is complemented by the work of local activist groups in the effort to secure justice.

The presence of The Salvation Army in 117 countries enables the development of a truly international perspective. However whilst acknowledging that we are a global organisation, we are also committed to responding to local needs. This dual focus is a strength, but also requires a nuanced understanding of contextual issues if social justice is to be pursued.  For example, involvement of United Kingdom Salvationists in the Make Poverty History campaign did not imply a particular political allegiance, as it would have done in the United States of America. A challenge for those who work for social justice in the global context will be the need to take account of the diversity of situations, whilst keeping in focus the Biblical mandate to seek justice. 

However, it is not only through the development of expertise or the setting up of programmes that social justice will be established. It begins when individuals take responsibility for living differently, offering a new model of being human as citizens of God’s Kingdom. The Church, including The Salvation Army, will only bring about justice when it lives justly, creating an inclusive, counter-cultural society in which all are offered a place and none are marginalized. 

This will include ensuring that social justice is modelled within our own organisation, in its structures and governance, in its worshipping communities and social programmes, in relationships between individuals and in the ways in which gender issues are addressed. If social justice is the outworking of discipleship and demonstrated in holy living, then it should be evident in all the interactions of Salvation Army officers and soldiers, whether internally within the organisation or in the world. 

Conclusion and Reflection

Isaiah 1:17 reads “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.”

Throughout its history The Salvation Army has “encouraged” and provided for the oppressed.  Through its social service ministries and community outreach it has developed expertise, instigated programmes and fulfilled its mission to “meet human needs in his (Christ’s) name without discrimination” (SA 2007 frontispiece). In this, it has obeyed the given command  

but a footnote in the Today’s New International Version reads

        Or “Seek Justice, I rebuke the oppressor”

The role of the prophet, as one who speaks forth the word of God, is therefore to challenge those structures which lead to oppression, marginalisation and poverty. If The Salvation Army is to be a prophetic voice in the 21st century it must continue to faithfully develop and expand its expertise in the area of social justice advocacy. “Prophetic voices are those which read the signs of the times in the light of the justice and love of God, and speak out against all which distorts or diminishes the image of God in human beings” (Galloway 2008: vii).

When The Salvation Army works for social justice, it is a sign of hope for the future. The Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus will ultimately be completed, but until that day, we work to establish signs of its presence in individual lives, organisations and societies and in so doing fulfil the great commission to bring all peoples under his rule.

However, ultimately the Kingdom cannot be built upon human rights alone, but only through grace. The Love that brought us into the Kingdom requires, not that we treat all exactly the same, but that sometimes a preferential option is instigated. A just outcome will not necessarily be that all have the same, or comparable, resources, but that each one has the resources they need in order to facilitate, and bring into being, their personal human flourishing.

The history of The Salvation Army records words of William Booth which have become familiar to Salvationists worldwide. They stand as statement of our commitment to social justice and a reminder this is not an optional extra for any Salvationist or Christian, but is foundational to our being and identity in Christ.

While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight - I'll fight to the very end! (quoted in Smith 123-124).

Karen Shakespeare
February 2009


Bibliography

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948  HYPERLINK "http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html" www.un.org/Overview/rights.html   

Begbie, Harold., 1920 Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army Volume 1. London: MacMillan and Co.

Begbie, Harold., 1920 Life of William Booth: The Founder of the Salvation Army Volume 2. London: MacMillan and Co.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich 1953 Letters and Papers from Prison.  London: SCM

Booth, William., 1890 Darkest England and the Way Out. London: International Headquarters of The Salvation Army

Bosch, David., 1996  Transforming Mission. Orbis

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