Disclaimer

The views, comments, statements and opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily represent the official position of The Salvation Army.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Self-denial - what's it about?

I really like The Salvation Army's Self-Denial appeal. I think it's an incredible valuable missional tool and spiritual discipline, but at times I wonder what we think it's about. I'd like to suggest that there's at least two components to the Self-Denial appeal. The first is the most popular amongst the average Salvationist, the most likely topic of a sermon, and certainly (in my Territory) the most common amongst the advertising material. I call this first part the "external injustices" that Self-Denial funds seek to address. The first part is addressing the social injustices that exist in the world. This has been clearly pushed in the past through the Self-Denial advertising. It is seeking to address the needs of the people who The Salvation Army ministers to throughout the world. The poor, the prostitute, the trafficked child, the unfair trade for impoverished farmers, the one stuck on the street who resorts to crime in order to survive. These are all valid and necessary reasons for giving to the Self-Denial appeal because those injustices do exist and The Salvation Army was raised in order to address them, and bring full salvation to the whole world - including salvation from suffering in this world. The problem is, though, that these images and needs are also being shown by other organisations in their Television commercials all the time - e.g. World Vision, UNICEF etc. The basic theme of these advertisements on TV is...
  1. Show a hungry child (or similar "need")
  2. Raise a sense of guilt in the viewers mind
  3. Give the viewer and opportunity to relieve the guilt asking for money.

Perhaps that is an unfair and brutal summary, but I think it's pretty close.

The danger with this form of advertising alone is that the viewer becomes desensitised to the guilt and needs more and more images in order to become moved enough to give again. In the end it just stops working. In my opinion, Self-denial advertising has followed a similar pattern to that described above. As I see it, though, there is another part to the Self-denial puzzle that is not shown. The Self-Denial appeal is not the same as other appeals because it is motivated by love, not guilt. It is a spiritual exercise for the giver, the receiver and the ones responsible for distributing the funds. It's not just about the needs of the recipient, but those of the giver and the distributor (in our setting those Salvationists in Self-Denial assisted territories) as well.

This leads to the second component of Self-Denial. This, I think, will be less "popular" because it requires some serious self-reflection. It requires us to look at ourselves and ask the hard questions. This component is about addressing the "internal injustices" that the Self-Denial seeks to address.

The second part is addressing the social injustices that exist within the Army itself. From my point of view a recognition of this problem has been lacking in advertising material in the past. Perhaps because we don't see it as being a good motivation for giving, maybe because we don't want to recognise that this is, in fact, a problem. Maybe it's just me, I don't know. For me the issue here is this...

  1. There are Salvationists in the world who are desperate to minister to people in need. This is my brother and sister in Christ.
  2. These Salvationists are limited by lack of necessary funds - that's an injustice.
  3. I have an excess of funds just because of where I was born and where I live - that's an inequality.
  4. I therefore have the opportunity to give out of love for my fellow Salvationists through the Self-Denial appeal.

The injustice that exists within The Salvation Army is the fact that there are some territories with an excess of funds and some operating in extreme poverty. This is the second injustice that the Self-Denial Appeal exists to address. Giving to the Self-Denial appeal is a non-violent protest against the inequality that exists within The Salvation Army. Saying to God and to others "I will go without what I 'want' so that others can minister to those in 'need'." This, to me, is the real "faith" aspect of Self-Denial and in giving with this attitude I am believing and trusting God that this inequality will be addressed.

There is also a direct Biblical example of this and this passage has been the one that I have used to encourage people in my corps to give in the past. 2 Corinthians 8 talks about the giving of the Macedonian church. A very poor church who still gave and gave and gave. (I think it also needs to be highlighted that every territory gives to Self-Denial, even those who receive the funding. I'm not sure everyone knows that - just an aside). Paul writes to the Corinthian church to encourage them to give also. Verse 13-15 are the crucial verses that relate directly to Self-Denial...

"Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality , as it is written: "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little."

If you read the whole passage there's not one reference to the needs of the people who will be ministered to with this money. It's all about this giving being a spiritual discipline because of the grace that has been shown in Jesus Christ (vs9). I would love to see the Self-Denial advertising take a different approach in the future that really encourages people to give out of a response to the grace of God that he has shown us. You may disagree with me, or not. I have taken this approach in both my own corps leadership and in other places where I've had the opportunity to speak in regards to Self-Denial. On every occasion I have seen a positive response to this "spiritual" motivation.

As I said at the outset, I love the Self-Denial appeal. I welcome it. I think we should do more of it. Why? Because those who would follow Christ must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow him. May the biblical goal of 'equality' be achieved in Jesus name.