One of the interesting stories in Salvation Army history is about Samuel Logan Brengle. Through a series of events Brengle was attracted to the Army to the point of desiring to become an Officer within its ranks. Here’s how David Rightmire has recounted this story in his biography of Brengle, Sanctified Sanity (pg 18-19).
Brengle arrived at the International Headquarters of The Salvation Army in
on June 1, 1887, to a lukewarm reception by William Booth. The Founder was not impressed with this new recruit, believing him to be of the "dangerous classes" (i.e. a man of education and culture) and hence unable to submit to Army discipline. Sam expressed his belief that the Holy Spirit had not only sanctified him, but had led him to offer his life in service within the Army. Brengle convinced the General of his sincerity by expressing his desire to join the ranks in order to minister self-sacrificially to the poor, stating: "I knew my only way up to heaven was by going down to the lowest of the low." He had passed his first test but was sent to be interviewed by the Chief of the Staff, Bramwell Booth. Once again, Brengle was labelled a member of the dangerous classes and warned not to waste his time in joining an organisation that he would probably leave in a year or two. Not to be rebuffed, the candidate persisted until Bramwell agreed to let him in on a trial basis. London
Following this comes the famous moment when Brengle was sent to the Training Garrison at
It’s a great story, and one I’ve heard told numerous times. It says a lot about Brengle, the man. It suggests that he was willing to humble himself in the light of how Christ had humbled himself for all of us, for the sake of the Kingdom.
Yet, I want to look at this story from a different angle. In fact, I want to ask some questions. Firstly, about William and Bramwell Booth.
- What does this say about William and Bramwell Booth?
- What does this say about the value of “education” and “educated people” to them? (NB: Brengle only had a BA, and a partially complete Divinity degree).
- What were they afraid of?
- What would be the problem if Brengle did, in fact, give one or two years good service and then left?
These questions interest me more than ones about Brengle himself. Further to this, given that we continue to recount this story in our mythology, and often its told to cadets or those considering officership, there are further questions relating to us today?
- What does this say about The Salvation Army as an organisation and the way we treat our own?
- Might this be labelled as “humiliation”, and if so do we consider that an appropriate method of training, either then or now?
- Do we still consider “education” or “educated people” as the “dangerous class”? If so, why?
- What does this say about ourselves with regards to our values and so on?
- Why is “obedience” so important a characteristic of an Officer that we would tell this story as an example of how it was obtained?
As someone involved in education at the moment, and continuing to pursue formal studies in theology, the questions regarding the place of education and educated people in the Army interests me the most. The reality is education causes people to think. In fact, it trains them in the art of thinking. For theological education and Christians in general terms, the task of theologising, as John Webster has suggested, is in itself a holy task. It is the art of thinking like Christ.
So is this important?
So what’s the problem?
Well, consider the military. Consider all the things you’ve seen (and perhaps done) with regard to the training of new recruits in the armed forces, or even emergency services like the police. When the drill sergeant says to the person who’s just had their first ‘buzz cut’ – “drop and give me twenty!” – they know full well not to seek clarification on defining the word “drop”, or reach for their wallet to pull out a twenty-dollar bill, and they definitely do NOT ask “Why?” We all know what would happen then!!!!
The military relies on a chain of command from the top down. The military also relies on obedience from the bottom up. If that doesn’t happen people die. It’s that simple and it makes sense. As a result, because of the purposes of the military they “train” first and only later “educate”.
So, I think this is where the conflict comes about for The Salvation Army. I think this is where the Booths assumed that Brengle (and other educated people) would be dangerous. ‘He’s been trained to ask “Why, sir/madam?” We need people who will say “Yes, sir/madam!”’ The Booths trained, they did not educate.
I don’t intend to criticise William and Bramwell at this point. They were who they were, and did what they did in the historical circumstances that they were in. Their educational philosophy was based on the assumption that they were in a battle and training needed to prepare people for that battlefield. But there’s some big questions for us as a movement today, particular as it relates to the place of education within our movement.
“What are we training for?”
This question is one of educational philosophy. Do we want people to come out the other side saying “Yes, sir/madam!” or “Why, sir/madam?” or a combination of both? Is there a place for both? Should we do one after the other, and if so, which order is appropriate? If we go for obedience first, at what point is it acceptable for someone to go from “Yes, sir/madam!” to “Why, sir/madam?” Note, too, that these questions apply not just to the training of Officers, but to the training of Soldiers as well. The terminology of “training” and “education” in itself is very significant here. Historically we have “trained” (“Yes, sir/madam!”). Do we now also “educate” (“Why, sir/madam?”)?
I realise that I’m asking a lot of questions here, but I think they’re worthy of being asked and wrestled with. Perhaps it’s my personality. Maybe, I’m not a “Yes” man but a “Why?” man? I guess the armed forces even have “military intelligence”. Is there a place for that in our movement as well?
I’d be interested in your thoughts.