An Exercise in Self-Deception

The Salvation Army in Australia is in the midst of an historic journey. Since 1880 the Army has been active in this country, doing all it can to see God’s Kingdom come and his will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. For much of that time, for functional and practical reasons, there have been two territories; Australia Southern and Australia Eastern. Earlier this year it was announced that this would change. The two would become one. As at 1 June the Australia One project was launched and work was begun on joining the two territories together into one unified structure.

This move excites me. Not just for the practical reasons, but for theological ones as well. This has the potential to be a symbol of unity to the rest of the Army and, indeed, the world. A symbol of how two different things can come together to form something new and, through that new thing, reform society. This can be a symbol of the incarnation; that moment in time and space when the divine and human were united in an eternal bond and through that union, in the very person of Jesus Christ, new creation was birthed. Not just replacing the old creation but born there in the midst of it, and it has been growing and building towards its ultimate conclusion ever since. That moment to come when all of the old shall become new and everything will be recreated and live under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Seen in that light the Australia One project is very exciting.

On the 17th September General Andre Cox and Commissioner Silvia Cox were guests at a special meeting that took place in Adelaide to install Commissioners Floyd and Tracey Tidd into their leadership roles for the new, unified Australian territory. I enjoyed watching the meeting online, as did many other people I’m sure. Commissioner Floyd Tidd, in his message, captured the thoughts above very succinctly when he said:
“For us, one plus one does not equal two. One plus one equals new.
Just prior to the meeting there was “March of Witness.” The march was led by the General and the Commissioners, with the Melbourne Staff Band and Sydney Staff Songsters following along. In the age of social media photos and videos of this were quickly shared online.

Here’s where things got weird.

A hatless Commissioner Sylvia Cox responds to comments
Comments began to be made about women not wearing hats. This was quickly, and hilariously, mocked by others who saw the absolute stupidity of such comments. I’m not going to comment further on #hatgate here. But then other comments were made and largely ignored. Comments that applauded seeing the Army marching on the streets again. Others lamented the fact that it’s not done as much as it used to be.

This concerned me more than the hats.

Here’s why.

In the background of the videos and photos online the vast majority of the people observing this march were other Salvationists. Most of them were taking photos or videos, presumably to retain the memory and share it with friends. This is all well and good but then we couple this with the fact that promotions for the meetings included warnings that seating was limited and so people were actively discouraged from attending in person. Online participation was the preferred option.  

Now I concede that these observations are made from afar. I was not there and I didn’t see more of the march than what was published online. Here’s my concern, though. This was labelled a “March of Witness.” This isn’t a new name. In fact, it’s one we’ve used for years but I have to ask, “what are we witnessing?” and “to whom are we witnessing?” With no one watching other than ourselves and no room for anyone else who might have seen this spectacle and wanted to find out more, what was the point of this march? In the past the March of Witness was a deliberate spectacle that drew a crowd so that you could present the gospel to them. Where was the crowd here? And if, in fact, they did come what would it say to them to have them if they were turned away at the door?

Furthermore, the comments on social media reveal that there is still a nostalgic longing for the days of the past. People remember the days when the sight and sound of The Salvation Army Band marching down the street was common place and long for the return of that method. The problem is, of course, that this method has become increasingly difficult to undertake by virtue of the decreasing number of bands, their respective sizes and the age and physical ability of their aging members. That stark reality, though, is ignored when you view the past with rose coloured glasses. Nostalgia can warm the heart. It can also blind us to the present.

Now I want you to review that event, even if only in your mind. Take off the nostalgia glasses and view this event in terms of its effectiveness. Did it work? Did it achieve the purposes for which we set out for from the beginning? For whatever purpose the March of Witness was conducted without greater evidence of its effectiveness it has to be labelled as an exercise in self-deception. It was not witness. It was propaganda. It was telling ourselves, not others, that we’re still marching… to our own meeting… that others can’t fit into.

Now that’s a harsh reality to face, so just take a moment to consider it. Disagree if you want to but do try and reflect seriously and maturely about what we do and why it is that we do it. Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human need in his name without discrimination. If it’s not doing that then stop it and do something that is. It is, and has to be, that brutal.

I want to propose an alternative “march of witness.” One that, I think, would begin to demonstrate the “newness” of the way forward. Instead of marching people in, march them out. Line the band up (somehow) at the exits to the hall, get them to play a march and send everyone present out into the world to be The Salvation Army in their community. Prior to that, equip them with a simple resource (a “tract wrapped up in a sandwich”) that they can use wherever they go. Something that will be simple and effective and enable them to connect with people in their world. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Again, in his message, Commissioner Tidd said the following. “I’m less concerned with who attends our Corps from the community and more about how our Corps attends the community.” If that’s true, and I think it is, then a march of witness that focussed on getting our actual people out of their seats and into the world would fair better than one that is focussed on getting hypothetical people out of the world and into our seats.

It would be messy. It would be challenging. It would be difficult. It might mean we’d have to skip afternoon tea. But it would remind us of what it is we’re meant to be – a mobilised Army of Christians committed to the belief that all of us have a role to play in God’s mission, not just the band, and each of us is responsible for the part we have to play in our part of the world.  

As far as I’m concerned the problem with most Salvation Army uniforms is not the lack of hats, it’s the lack of dirt. Phil Wall once suggested that at some point in our history we marched off the battle field and onto the parade ground. It’s time to march back out there. 

Comments

  1. Yes! I love it. Thanks Adam for you challenging, but wise and prophetic words to us. We must be internally inspired to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken world, and find new ways to reach people in today's day and age.
    God has a new history to forge with The Salvation Army. I'm loving the fact that I get to be a part of it. Praise Jesus.
    God bless you mate.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well said! We're making efforts to take our witness to the streets in north Seattle. It's beyond time for us to move outside our citadels and back into the neighborhood.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes, we re called, by God, to work on a battleship not a luxury liner. Hence the armour in Ephesians. We are to proclaim the gospel, preserve the gospel and live the gospel. I fear that is why we think that we need something new because not many are studying the word of God according to 2 Tim.2:15 and are falling into the trap of seeking the counsel of the ungodly.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well said Adam. Thank you always for your thoughtful and well presented thoughts. I was privileged to be part of this March, and can I tell you, many of the general public stopped to watch and listen. Even some workmen up on a scaffolding beside a building were capturing it on their phones! As I marched, my heart felt good and I thought "why do we complain when we are asked to do this sort of thing?" People often comment to me that they don't see the army out in the streets much anymore and they miss it. You have definitely provided "food for thought"

    ReplyDelete
  5. Eerily similar to my thoughts at the time as I watched the livestream and saw the pictures posted on facebook with commenters celebrating the march of witness. I fully agree with your thoughts, in regards to #hatgate - I could imagine Booth challenging Salvationists: "if I could get one more soul saved by wearing the tallest, strangest hat I could, then I would wear it!"... of course he did wear the biggest top hat in The Salvation Army and quoted something quite similar (and more absurd), but the emphasis was on the passionately innovative spirit, not the act itself. If we're going to do a march of witness, it should be the most excellently exhuberant witnessing to the gospel we can possibly muster... or not done at all.
    Keep up the prophetic challenge, it fires up passionate debate - which is far better than an Army sleeping complacently. ��

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eerily similar to my thoughts at the time as I watched the livestream and saw the pictures posted on facebook with commenters celebrating the march of witness. I fully agree with your thoughts, in regards to #hatgate - I could imagine Booth challenging Salvationists: "if I could get one more soul saved by wearing the tallest, strangest hat I could, then I would wear it!"... of course he did wear the biggest top hat in The Salvation Army and quoted something quite similar (and more absurd), but the emphasis was on the passionately innovative spirit, not the act itself. If we're going to do a march of witness, it should be the most excellently exhuberant witnessing to the gospel we can possibly muster... or not done at all.
    Keep up the prophetic challenge, it fires up passionate debate - which is far better than an Army sleeping complacently. ��

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes. The Salvation Army has missed many opportunities to connect with the public and this women's hat issues has again presented as evidence that The Salvation Army members so often behave in a manner that is cult-like, rather than in a community-engaging manner.
    When The SA had full exposure as the beneficiaries of a comedy benefit show a over 15 years ago, Norman Gunston had the brass-band break into INXS' Suicide Blonde, and a uniformed young woman removed her bonnet - to the delight of the public, but to the horror of other woman Salvationists. The bandsmen and this young woman were disciplined for their actions (arranged BTW by the SA's own public relations department.) However it was the young woman who received abusive letters claiming she had let the SA down, and consequently she wants nothing to do with the SA today, having been the victim of such unfair treatment from the leaders and the general membership.
    This was the defining moment when The SA lost the connection with generations X, Y and the (future) Millennials, add to this the scandalous showing of how The Salvation Army was revealed to have acted in the recent Royal Commission into child sex abuse, and these social groups, who do happen to support (other) charities well, now choose NOT to support The Salvation Army.
    I feel its time that The Salvation Army owned up that this uniting of territories is a financial decision as much as anything else that they may be promoting as the reason. It's also high time that The SA stopped believing in the many myths that it has propagated over many years, and realise that it has lost the support of the public:- church closures and poor Red Shield Appeal takings support this, and that in general and for all the effort, not many people actually do want to join the SA at full soldiership commitments. Also, for all the cost, very few people actually do join the SA in any one year. Billy Graham is reported to have said over 40 years ago that the back door of the SA (letting people out) is wider than its front door (letting people in.)
    I'm glad that you use the word "deception" because the general membership of the SA has been deceiving itself on its own methods and effectiveness of what it still likes to call its evangelical mission, and it's time the SA in Australia re-invented itself to become a strong, confident community-based organisation again instead of the insular, self-serving, comfortable social-club one that it has become.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good job, Mr. Couchman. I absolutely and wholeheartedly agree. We could have used this opportunity to proclaim the Gospel boldly to the public. Sadly, I think we've forgotten that sinners are dying.

    Capt. Matt Kean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...however Matt Kean, it is my very point that The Salvation Army has isolated itself from the community by retreating into it's military-mimicking subculture and also by calling anyone outside of it a "sinner" and presuming that they are "dying." Jargonistic language, such as that which you have used is just further evidence of the cult-like nature of people in the organisation, and proof that The SA has a long way to go to reconnect with a community that does not feel that they are either sinners or dying. Instead the SA should give opportunities to those members of the community that can, to volunteer in SA facilitated programs that assist the core groups that it does help, which is those in need. And to stop calling those potential volunteers and those who receive help "sinners who are dying."

      Delete
  9. Maybe overstating the significance of this being called a march of witness, more like a March I did many times in the military showing a presence in a particular town/city. Love the idea of bands marching people out of the building, of course to do that you will need a band!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nailed it! "A March of Presence" - makes much more sense :-)

      Delete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well said! Not being privy to the workings of the Salvation Army down under I can't say how that March of Witness was organized. I do know the March of Witness last summer at the Congress/150 year Anniversary/Boundless participation was by "invitation" only. All others were encouraged to line the route. Perhaps it was the same thing here? Yet that brings up even more questions perhaps discussed at a another time.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Well said! Not being privy to the workings of the Salvation Army down under I can't say how that March of Witness was organized. I do know the March of Witness last summer at the Congress/150 year Anniversary/Boundless participation was by "invitation" only. All others were encouraged to line the route. Perhaps it was the same thing here? Yet that brings up even more questions perhaps discussed at a another time.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Some good things to consider. Thanks for setting them forth.

    More and more resources of all kinds are expended on activities and ministry that focuses inward, rather than reach those we are called to reach with "soup, soap and salvation". Maybe it is not the same everywhere, but enough that it begs some questions.

    Just for your own consideration . . . maybe you have this covered:

    Does the reality of your ministry and service match up with what you tell the donors? Not in fine print legalese, but in plain meaning. If not, why not? If not, fix it now.

    Is there any aspect of your local ministry you would be hesitant to have published on the front page of your local paper? Are you pursuing your calling with integrity and purpose?

    Do you and your Corps welcome the Whosoevers of your community as Jesus would - or are you concerned that "too many of those people would upset the Corps"?

    Are there any contracts, agreements, programs, commitments, etc., etc., you have entered into on behalf of the Army, that suffer from a lack of transparency or integrity? If so, how can that be the kind of witness that draws people to the Lord?

    We must collectively do better . . . unless you happen to have this all worked out; well then you can help the rest of us!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Are we on the verge of a crisis?

The story of my honeymoon... 10 years on