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How Will 2020 Impact The Salvation Army Of The Next Ten Years
by Roy Snapp-Kolas

 

The events of 2020 have brought to the far above surface issues that have been below surface or just above surface in The Salvation Army (TSA), at least in the West, for some time. The answers that are being given and will be articulated by the coming leaders of  TSA in the next few years will impact the future evangelistic thrust of the movement in one direction or another over the next ten years and beyond.  I offer four issues for which further responses will likely be necessary and which will shape The Army going forward.

 

1) Secularization - Charles Taylor, in his book “A Secular Age”, defines the secularism of our modern age as “a move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed, unproblematic, to one in which it is understood to be one option among others, and frequently not the easiest to embrace” (p. 31).  We now live in such a world in the West. The Salvation Army, however, became prominent and respected when the West was still culturally Christian.  The public at large had little trouble supporting a Christian organization that provided charity to all those in need (although the public was not as enthusiastic about TSA’s evangelistic methods at times). The last culturally Christian generation is dying off, while the increasingly secular subsequent generations are not as supportive of a Christian organization.  TSA has depended on the public support to indirectly fund our evangelistic efforts.  What will we do?  Redirect our spiritual resources towards social services (that increasingly depend on government contracts that have become more plentiful during the pandemic)?  Streamline spiritual services so as to be less expensive (this seems to be the approach advocated by Major Court)?  Or, something else?

 

2) LGBTQ - While secularization has been on the move in the West since the 17th Century, it really picked up steam from the late 1960’s going forward.  And, it has become associated with sexual libertinism.  This sexual liberation movement has also included those expressing themselves in other than male/female relationships.  These have come to identify themselves as sexual minorities that needs their rights protected and who demand equality in society.  This view is now widely accepted in the West, including some (many?) among those of the younger generations that identify as Christian.  However, this view is at odds with TSA requirements for soldiership and officership, which is guided more by a traditional sexual morality that understands LGBTQ sexual behavior as not God’s intent for intimate relationships.  The pressure from the larger secular culture is that religious groups change their stance that more aligns with that promoted by LGTBQ advocates or be labeled as “phobic” towards sexual minorities.  The Salvation Army has faced this, even though TSA does not discriminate in general hiring practices or in the delivery of services against those that identify as LGBTQ.  Should TSA, however, also move in the direction of approving/allowing LGBTQ practicing persons as soldiers and officers?  Or, should we continue with the traditional view?  There will be a price paid either way.  I will observe (as someone that holds to the traditional view) that those identified as evangelical who moved away from the traditional view also have tended to move away from an emphasis on personal sin, salvation and holiness in their understanding of the Christian faith.  I find it difficult to believe that TSA will be able to continue with its eleven core doctrines (and an emphasis on personal evangelism) if there is a move away from the traditional teaching on sexual morality. What will TSA do with this issue?

 

3) Racial Equality - Slavery, Jim Crow and systemic injustice are critically important to understand and acknowledge as part of the history of the United States.  And, it must be acknowledged that this system of oppression was interwoven into a supposed Christian culture.  The unrest during the summer of 2020 revealed the degree to which racism remains unresolved.  This is something that everyone should be able to observe, but can be especially challenging for old white guys like myself.  I want to believe that we are further along the path towards some semblance of racial equality than maybe we really are.  I state this as someone who was engaged in multi-racial ministry all of my adult life and who pastored a predominantly African-American congregation for most of my ministry.  I wanted to believe there were ongoing signs of greater equality, and I believe that there are signs of such, but clearly more intentional work remains to be done.  I do believe that The Salvation Army in my neck of the woods had not done enough to develop soldiers and officers, even though a good percentage of our social services work is among Black Americans.  I have seen some changes in this area in my years in TSA but more concerted effort needs to be directed towards this moving forward.  My main caveat in regards to this is the use of Critical Race Theory as foundational for future understanding of racial inequality.  Critical Race Theory (which is subsection of Critical Theory) tends towards being a totalizing hermeneutic looking for power imbalance. I know of at least one (albeit liberal) seminary (Union Theological Seminary in New York City) that uses this approach for understanding the Bible.  I do not see how seeing everything through the lens of power imbalance can align with the evangelistic message outlined in TSA’s eleven core doctrines.  I think that this Theory can be helpful in possibly pointing out blind spots for old white guys like myself, but I would want to hold on to personal sin, salvation and holiness as critical to our evangelistic efforts (while advocating for greater equality as part of bearing witness to God’s kingdom). How will TSA move forward on this issue?

 

4) Christian Nationalism - A misdirected (in my opinion) response to secularization has been Christian Nationalism.  This was especially on display recently at the U.S. Capitol in an extreme form, but it has a larger, less extreme, presence in the United States.  Christian Nationalism is a wedding of the Christian faith with a particular country to the point where patriotism is almost the same as one’s religious faith (or maybe is one’s religious faith).  For reasons beyond the scope of this little writing, evangelical Christianity has become identified with Christian Nationalism in the United States.  I believe this identification is overblown, especially by those who would want to reject evangelicalism no matter what, but there is enough truth to demand a response from those that would want to assert evangelicalism while rejecting Christian Nationalism.  The Salvation Army is an evangelical denomination.  See our Mission Statement.  Also, our eleven core doctrines place us within an Evangelical Wesleyan Holiness tradition.  To be evangelical is to assert the authority of scripture, the belief in personal sin, the existence of hell, the way of salvation is only through Jesus’ death on the cross, the need for repentance and faith, and the call to holy living, among other things.  The Salvation Army is about those things. But, we cannot be Christian Nationalists because we want to win the world for Jesus (and we are in 130+ countries).  The temptation may be to disavow being evangelical, but will with that disavowal also come a move away from our eleven core doctrines (in actual practice if not on paper)? What is the best approach to affirming that we are in the evangelical fold while disavowing any affiliation with Christian Nationalism?

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

   

 

 

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