JAC Online

Biblical, Theological, and Historical Foundations
by Colonel Janet Munn


“Justice is power performing the work of love.”

Paul Tillich


“Speak truth to power.”

The Quakers


Two women officers of The Salvation Army, one from Pakistan, one from India, spoke to us, two women officers of The Salvation Army, one from the United States, one from the United Kingdom: “Don’t forget us. Please, don’t forget us.” And we never will. Having shared life together daily for eight weeks, we understood each other—our stories, idiosyncrasies, joys, and pain. These women from South Asia had found a place of emotional safety in our short-term Christian community, allowing them freedom to express for the first time the oppression and injustices they and many other women are enduring, specifically because they are female.


My ministry context in recent years has involved sharing daily living in close community, for eight weeks at a time, with Christian leaders from a wide variety of nations. I have found that assumptions devaluing females are present in Western contexts as well as in developing cultures. Cultural norms and practices that are antithetical to the gospel remain widely accepted and unchallenged even among Christians, including Christian leaders. In fact, I have become aware of a recurring pattern, throughout the systemic structures of many Christian organizations and denominations, of gender inequality.


This project will attempt to discover the extent to which leaders in The Salvation Army value gender equality. To inform that exploration, a transformative hermeneutic must be applied to the Christian Scriptures, to kingdom theology, and to church history. Specifically, biblical application must be made regarding an


understanding of the image of God in humankind, as well as a fuller understanding of Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom of God and its implications for male/female relationships. Additionally, clearer theological insight regarding the gospel of the kingdom and holiness within that kingdom is essential and particularly needed for those who wield power within Christian organizations and denominations. Further, greater cognizance of the history of Christianity, and particularly of The Salvation Army and its antecedents, is vital in order to rightly respond to contemporary contexts and challenges.


This chapter will explore, in section one, a biblical hermeneutic of power, gender, and the kingdom of God. This will be followed in section two with an examination of theological perceptions of power with respect to gender and the kingdom of God. Finally, section three will study the antecedent influences upon the formation of The Salvation Army relative to the participation of women in leadership.




Underlying the biblical foundation section of this chapter is an assumption that proper engagement with Scripture can bring about transformation of individuals and communities. This addresses the need for a transformative hermeneutic, an approach to biblical interpretation that has the potential to change the community of believers into one more authentically redemptive.


Power, Gender, and the Kingdom of God


Three Scripture passages are considered that address the topics of power, gender and the kingdom of God. The first is Genesis 1:26-29, with particular emphasis on verse 27: “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NLT). The New Living Translation (NLT) is used here due to its more inclusive use of “human beings” compared to the “mankind” of the NIV. Gen. 1:27 is examined within the context of the creation narratives, with specific focus on the image of God as reflected in humanity and the potential in Christ for the fullness of that image realized in Christian community.


The second text to be considered is Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV). This brief passage, with its description of the new community established in Christ as an in-breaking of the kingdom of God, is studied in the light of its relationship to Gen. 1:27.


The third passage is the parable told by Jesus of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. The themes developed from this passage reflect the larger context of Luke’s Gospel and once again illustrate the in-breaking of the kingdom of God: the struggle by the powerless for justice (18:2-3); the images of God implied in the parable (18:4-5); and the necessity of relentless perseverance, fueled by the imagination of what can be, until justice is meted out—a manifestation of the kingdom (18:1, 3, 7). This treatment of Luke 18 demonstrates a hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures as a means of individual and community transformation.


Humanity: A Theophany


A great deal of attention has been given to the study of Gen. 1:27. This brief verse offers a fascinating and important window into the identity of humankind:

“So God created human beings in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.”

Gen. 1:27 (NLT)


The verse has a chiastic structure, which places “the image of God” at the center, thereby stressing the importance of the concept, as does the repetition of “image” (Hartley 2000, 48). The concepts expressed in Gen. 1:27 in terms of the imaging of God and the dignity of all of humanity as bearers of that image are unique in the context of the ancient Near East.


There is one way in which God is imaged in the world and only one: humanness! . . . God is known peculiarly through this creature who exists in the realm of free history, where power is received, decisions are made, and commitments are honored. God is not imaged in anything fixed but in the freedom of human persons to be faithful and gracious. (Brueggemann 1982, 32)


“Humankind is the locus of divine presence and, as such, it should be highly cherished” (Herring 2008, 494).


Further to the structure of Gen. 1:27, in the Hebrew language the placement of the phrase “male and female” before the verb adds emphasis to it, thereby establishing two things: first, that every male and every female is made in God’s image; and second, that “in the essence of being human there is no qualitative difference between male and female” (Hartley 2000, 48).


Spencer makes the valuable point that the image of God is a double image. Therefore, males and females together are needed to reflect God’s image. The contextual significance for the image of God is displayed in relationships. The interrelationship between male and female symbolizes the interrelationship within God. Male and female are needed to reflect God’s nature (Spencer 1985, 21). Hess’s study of Gen. 1-3 corroborates Spencer’s conclusions. He points out that the image of God defined in Gen. 1:27 as male and female reveals that “the most important distinction between human beings and all other life on earth is a distinction that is shared by both male and female” (Hess 2008, 8).


The Image of God and Power


The language of Gen. 1:27 not only gives insight into the dignity of humanity as bearers of God’s image and the necessity of both genders in that image bearing, but also shows the significance of humankind’s image bearing in community. In the Hebrew text, the human is first spoken of as singular (“he created him”) and then as plural (“he created them”). Human beings are individuals but are also a community before God, a community including both males and females. Human beings in community mirror God’s image to the world (Brueggemann 1982, 34). These image-bearing humans, male and female, are immediately given authority for the rest of creation, being assigned by God to “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over. . .” all creatures (Gen. 1:28). Interestingly, Keen sees in Genesis 1 an anticipation of the advent of Jesus as the revelation of the fullness of the image of God:


Adam and Eve were called into being as a hope that opens to the coming history of the fullness of God with us. That is precisely what the history of Jesus is. Therefore, it is to this that they are essentially related; when God created Adam and Eve, it was to the coming Christ that he looked. (Keen 1998, 138)


Thus, Jesus as the image of God (Col. 1:15; Hebrews 1:3) significantly informs an understanding of the assignment given to humankind in Gen. 1 as divine image bearers with delegated divine authority. Jesus’ image-bearing example teaches that divinely empowered image bearers are not to grasp at such privilege (Phil. 2:1-8) but, instead, exercise power as God does by creative self-giving, for the sake of others (Mark 10:43-44). “There is nothing here of coercive or tyrannical power, either for God or for the humankind” but rather a costly demonstration of the Divine caring for the world (Brueggemann 1982, 32, 34).


As Jesus models a new disclosure of God, so he embodies a call for a new human community. The idea of the “image of God” in Gen. 1:26-29 and in Jesus of Nazareth . . . is an explicit call to form a new kind of human community in which the members, after the manner of the gracious God, are attentive in calling each other to full being in fellowship. (Brueggemann 1982, 34-35)


Whatever Happened to Eden?


Most scholars agree at least on the ’spiritual equality’ of males and females as stated in both the Old and New Testaments, most specifically in Gen. 1:27 and Gal. 3:28. Some, however, limit the notion of gender equality to the spiritual arena, and understand these texts as irrelevant to temporal equality.


For example, in interpreting the earliest chapters of Genesis and their instruction as to God’s intention for gender at creation, Perriman references Gen. 3:9, stating, “We should take note of the fact that the man retains both precedence and prominence throughout the creation narrative. It is Adam to whom God calls in the garden” (Perriman 1998, 177). The conclusions reached by Perriman from his interpretation of Scripture include language of male dominance and power and, by implication, subservience and weakness for females.


Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza describes such a religious view as patriarchy, not just in the sense of an “androcentric world construction in language but a social, economic and political system of graded subjugations and oppressions” (Russell 1985, 127). The practical implications of such a patriarchal hermeneutic can be seen in an essay by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, based on her work in shelters for battered women. The essay is entitled “Every Two Minutes: Battered Women and Feminist Interpretation.”


Frequently women with strong religious backgrounds have the most difficulty in accepting that the violence against them is wrong. They believe what they have been taught, that resistance to this injustice is unbiblical and unchristian. Christian women are supposed to be meek, and claiming rights for oneself is committing the sin of pride . . . I have found that most social workers, therapists and shelter personnel view religious beliefs as uniformly reinforcing passivity and tend to view religion, both traditional Christianity and Judaism, as an obstacle to a woman’s successful handling of abuse. (Russell 1985, 99)


The hermeneutical conclusions from the early chapters of Genesis reached by Perriman in support of female subjugation in the temporal realm can readily fuel the kind of acceptance of oppression and abuse described by Thistlethwaite. Perriman’s conclusions are difficult to reconcile with the sacrificial, self-giving example of the exercise of power understood in Gen.1:27 and in Jesus’ witness, which the text anticipates. Further, they are incompatible with the double image of gender mutuality central to Gen. 1:27.


In contrast to Perriman’s view, Bilezikian presents a hermeneutic of the creation texts that celebrates the full humanity of woman. In interpreting Gen. 2:23, Bilezikian notes that Adam acknowledges the woman’s participation in the fullness of his own humanity.


She was God’s ultimate achievement, taken out of man and made in God’s image, the fusing of human beauty distilled to its graceful essence with mirrored divine perfection, the sudden present that caused the man to marvel in a whisper, ‘At last!’ (Bilezikian 1999, 33)


Bilezikian defends the male-female images of God of Gen. 1:27 by insisting that a proper hermeneutic of the creation texts demonstrates that ideas of a hierarchy between man and woman were completely absent in God’s creation design (1999, 35). In that “[male domination] resulted from the fall, the rule of Adam over Eve is viewed as satanic in origin, no less than is death itself” (Bilezikian 1999, 58).


Kingdom of God, Come!


Gal. 3:28 brings into focus the kingdom of God as a new world order. The Apostle Paul asserts the theme of the kingdom of God breaking in with his pronouncement in the form of a threefold affirmation: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is understood to have been an early Christian baptismal confession, the locus of which is “in Christ” (Jervis 1999, 106). Having been raised a devout Jew, prior to his conversion Paul himself was likely to have given daily thanks to God, along with other Jewish males, that he was not a Gentile, not a slave, and not a woman. It is interesting to note that this prayer was not an indication of contempt for Gentiles, slaves, or women per se. Rather, the prayer of gratitude was expressed because Gentiles, slaves, and women “were disqualified from . . . religious privileges which were open to free Jewish males” (Bruce 1982, 187).


But the Christian baptismal confession of Gal. 3:28 declared that a new world order had begun, that the kingdom of God had come. In that kingdom Christians gained a new identity that “transcended all typical social distinctions and the moral distinctions that resulted from such social differentiating” (Jervis 1999, 106). In Christ, one’s primary identity is no longer defined in terms of ethnic, social, or gender distinctions.


There is a striking detail in the language of Gal. 3:28 that commands attention. In the Greek text, the first two phrases of the affirmation are symmetrical: “Jew nor Gentile” and “slave nor free.” However, the third phrase stands out because it reads literally “male and female.”


The phrase exactly echoes the Septuagint of Genesis 1:27: God created man “male and female.” Perhaps early Christians chose this phrase deliberately so as to signify that in baptism a new creation occurs (cf 2 Cor. 5:17), one that redefines even the most basic features of the original creation. (Jervis 1999, 106)


In both the creation account of Gen. 1:27 and the new creation declared in Gal. 3:28, the language of “male and female” does not emphasize their distinctiveness from each other, but their union in reflecting God’s image. Of course certain gender differences remain; these are not abolished in the new creation. But “in Christ” something new has happened, the kingdom has come, and the old divisions of the fallen world order have come to an end (Bruce 1982, 189; Longenecker 1999, 159).


The Gospel of the Kingdom


The Gospel of Luke has been called the “Gospel of the Outcast” (Witherington 1990, 52) and of the poor and marginalized. Luke clearly displays a special concern for women, “who were the most marginalized group in the first century, and for those who existed at the bottom rung of Jewish society” (Card 2011, 13). Luke’s Gospel contains many incidents in which the contributions as well as the needs of women are remembered. Among them are the stories of Mary and Elizabeth (1:39-56); Anna (2:36-38); Peter’s mother-in-law (4:38-39); the widow at Nain (7:11-17); a hemorrhaging woman and a dead girl (8:40–53). Luke also attributes to Jesus a number of parables that are replete with female perspectives and experiences, such as the woman using yeast in making bread (13:20-21), the woman searching for her lost coin (15:8-10), and the widow before the unjust judge pleading for justice (18:1-8). The inclusion of these women in the Gospel of Luke, studied with a hermeneutic of liberation, emphasizes the contribution of women as “exemplars of poorness and lowliness before God that finds expression in barrenness, widowhood, spiritual or actual neediness or service to the poor” (Kopas 1986, 192).


The parables just cited are set in the context of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God in Luke 11-19. The coming of the kingdom in the Gospel of Luke is expressed in the attention given to women, and these parables are seen as exemplary of the nature of the coming age (Wink 1992, 132). In fact, Jesus treated women as he did because “the restoration of women to their full humanity in partnership with men is integral to the coming of God’s egalitarian order” in the kingdom of God (Wink 1992, 134).


The Struggle of the Powerless for Justice


"In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'” Luke 18:2-3


Jesus tells a parable of a widow in need of justice facing an unjust judge. In Jesus’ day legal cases were always a matter of a judge deciding to vindicate one party or the other (Wright 2001, 212). Such judges were usually appointed by Herod or the Romans and were notorious for their corrupt practices, particularly the expectation of bribes (Barclay 1953, 230). The widow in this case is without resources of any kind and has no hope of ever extracting justice from such a judge. She is a symbol of all who are poor and defenseless in the face of injustice (Barclay 1953, 231; Card 2011, 202).


Kopas asserts that the parable of the persistent widow succeeds perhaps better than any other in “uniting the themes of equality and oppression” (Kopas 1986, 200). The widow is virtually powerless in that she has no status compared to the judge or in relation to others who would plead with him. Yet, “despite her lowliness in society she recognizes a deeper claim to recognition” (Kopas 1986, 200). Reid describes this parable as one that “shatters stereotypes and highlights the power of the seeming powerless” (Reid 1996, 194). Widows such as Ruth, Tamar, and Anna join the woman in Luke 18 as women of action and persistence who are a vital part of the biblical story. These women challenge assumptions of widows as poor and helpless; they demonstrate assertiveness in their willingness to take critical action for justice and salvation (Reid 1996,193).


This paradox of strength and weakness is intrinsic to the kingdom of God and manifest in the essential nature of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven, like a woman with yeast (Luke 13:20-21), comes not in power and glory but in “hiddenness and insistent, gentle influence on people whether they know it or not” (Kopas 1983, 199).


The Image of God—As Judge or Vulnerable Widow?


"Finally [the judge] said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!'”

Luke 18:4-5


The theme of the vindication of the powerless is a constant one in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth continued this identification of the chosen of God with the poor (Russell 1985, 100). How closely Jesus’ teaching allows for his own identification with the poor is another question.


There is a wide variety of opinion among scholars as to the most appropriate way to interpret the position of the widow of this parable. Augustine allegorized the persistent widow as the church. Some contemporary scholars identify her in relation to the individual believer. Others view her as embodying all who are oppressed and need to continually fight against systems and structures of subjugation (Snodgrass 2008, 454). Each of these can offer a helpful perspective and have legitimacy in the context of particular life circumstances.


There is also more than one way to interpret the role of the judge in the parable. The traditional interpretation is that the judge represents God, not in the sense of one who corrupts justice, but in the sense of one who holds supreme power and authority (Wright 2001, 212; Barclay 1953, 231). Others would see this portrayal of God as itself oppressive. Some view the judge as embodying oppressive structures of injustice that cannot withstand the relentlessness of the coming kingdom (Scott 1989, 187).


Reid sets her interpretation of this parable in literary context, noting that in each of the previous two Lucan parables—the kingdom of God likened to a woman with yeast in Luke 13:20-21 and to a woman searching for a lost coin in Luke 15:8-10—the woman represents God. In the context of Jesus’ kingdom teaching in the Gospel of Luke an entirely different understanding emerges, namely, that the image of God is represented by the widow.


Here is an unexpected twist in the parable. That God would be relentlessly pursuing justice is not a new image of the divine. But that God is more akin to a victimized widow than a powerful judge is startling. She embodies godly power in the midst of apparent powerlessness. Followers of Jesus are invited to take up the same stance: to draw on the power of weakness to overcome death-dealing powers. (Reid 1996, 192)


Kopas adds further hermeneutical insight from the Gospel of Luke: “[the female] image is of the God of compassion who brings good news to the poor, does not break the bruised reed or extinguish the smoking wick, and gives hope to those who wait in darkness” (Kopas 1986, 202). She also sees in the women portrayed in these parables from Luke the image of God communicated in simplicity (Kopas 1986, 199). Such an approach to hermeneutics offers a redemptive message to the poor and powerless people of the world as well as a tempering message to the powerful ones.


Relentless Perseverance Fueled by Imagination


“There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.' . . . And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” Luke 18:3, 7


The powerlessness of the widow in this parable is beyond doubt. It seems unlikely that she would have been able to offer a bribe to the judge, or that she had other human support or advocacy. Her case looked hopeless. After all,


Judges have two principal motives to show justice . . . a healthy fear of God . . . a deep respect and concern for humanity. This judge had neither of these qualities—had no reason to “do justice.” But the persistent widow is about to help him find a new reason. (Card 2011, 202)


The woman’s only asset was her persistence (Witherington 1990, 53). And in the kingdom of God as illustrated by Jesus in this parable, her persistence was enough. In teaching this parable Jesus not only demonstrates a concern for a widow, but even the implication that this woman’s conduct—persistent, relentless, importunate, annoying perhaps—was a model to the disciples of divinely affirmed behavior, including for women (Witherington 1990, 63). It is difficult to imagine a stronger endorsement of the widow’s persistence than that given by Jesus.


From this text and interpretation Reid challenges contemporary believers, both women and men, “to courageously face death-dealing powers and persistently demand justice” (Reid 1996, 194). Similarly, Wright offers a helpful hermeneutical approach that calls for persistence in challenging the status quo, practices that need to be challenged with the new thing that has happened and continues to happen through the entrance in the flesh of Jesus Christ into the human story. Such must be challenged and at times confronted with the redemptive word of Scripture (Wright 2005, 121-123). The widow’s relentless persistence is essential in this regard.


The promise of the coming kingdom included vindication of the powerless:

Israel’s god would vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night. His vindicated elect (18:8) however, would be a group one might not have expected: not the official or self-appointed guardians of Israel’s national life, but those who cry to their god for vindication. They would be the forgiven ones. Humble in the present, they would be exalted in the future on the day when Israel’s god acted. (Wright 1996, 366)


In the Lucan parables, Jesus features women as exemplary of the nature of this coming age. The widow of Luke 18 is iconic in her persistent challenge of injustice—injustice meaning anything out of line with the perfect will of God. “Injustice is sin, systems, powers and authorities that damage the world. Injustice is greed, desire and harmful practices and beliefs that diminish people and society" (Roberts and Strickland 2008, 14).


An Imaginative Hermeneutic


Bilezikian addresses persistent intentionality in recreating a redemptive biblical hermeneutic, stating that


It will require nothing less than a systematic effort of deprogramming, designed to purge the Christian mind of abusive interpretations of portions of Scripture that should have been left alone when not understood, and the vulgar popular stereotypes that such misinterpretations have reinforced. (Bilezikian 1999, 210)


The Lucan pericope considered here expresses the potential of a refusal to give up on a vision, an imagination of justice restored. How is it possible to remain persistent in fighting against injustice, to continue to believe for something better? Engaging the Scriptures in such a way that creative use of the imagination is involved makes it possible to see beyond what is to what could be. In the context of the Gospel of Luke specifically, Card asserts that “a parable demands the use of the imagination . . . we too must learn what it means to read, to perceive, to understand the Bible with our imaginations” (Card 2011, 11).


Several scholars have used the term ‘imagination’ in addressing issues of hermeneutics and justice in the post-modern context. For example, Brueggemann describes within each person a “zone of imagination that stands between the input of the text and the outcome of attitude, belief and behavior” (Brueggemann 1993, 61). This, he argues, is an essential factor in the human capacity to change through engagement with biblical texts. It is this sort of hermeneutical imagination that is needed to face and challenge oppressive and exploitative practices (Brueggemann 1993, 62).


Brueggemann offers an imaginative conception of the ultimate effectiveness of a biblical understanding of various kingdom paradoxes. “It is that candid reality of weakness and gentleness that will in the end permit the undoing of an abusive, fearful world of the self-sufficient and the formation of a new counter-world of genuine humanness” (Brueggemann 1993, 32). Card describes life in this kingdom as becoming “a slave to the impossible” (Card 2011, 40). Faith leads to perseverance in the struggle and the imagination necessary to prevail, the same spirit portrayed by the persistent widow:


What is unbelief but the despair, dictated by the dominant powers, that nothing can really change, a despair that renders revolutionary vision and practice omnipotent . . . Faith entails political imagination, the ability to envision a world that is not dominated by the powers. (Myers 1988, 305)


Jesus’ purpose in Luke 18 is to teach his disciples to persist in prayer, an endeavor of imaginative faith. Wink links such persistence with challenging oppressive forces through prayer:


Intercessory prayer is spiritual defiance of what is in the way of what God has promised. Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one apparently fated by the momentum of current forces. Prayer infuses the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of the present. History belongs to the intercessors who believe the future into being. (Wink 1998, 173)




This biblical foundation section has endeavored to address oppression stemming from an inadequate or inaccurate biblical hermeneutic. A hermeneutic of the kingdom of God is needed that is essentially Christian feminist and deeply imaginative.


The three scripture passages studied included Gen. 1:26-29 with an examination of the image of God as reflected in humanity and the potential in Christ for the fullness of that image in male and female together. The second text considered was Gal. 3:28 and the new community established in Christ as an in-breaking of the kingdom of God explored in relation to Gen. 1:27 and Luke 18:1-18, the third passage examined. Specifically, Gal. 3:28 was examined as a threefold early Christian baptismal confession understood as representing the new creation in the kingdom of God in which previously held social categories of separation and domination become irrelevant. Particular focus was given to the categories of male and female in the new creation.


Luke’s Gospel was studied as an expression of the gospel of the kingdom. This in-breaking of the kingdom as witnessed in the Gospel of Luke includes the struggle by the powerless for justice (18: 2-3), the images of God implied in this parable (18: 4-5), and the necessity of relentless perseverance, fueled by the imagination of what can be (18: 1, 3, 7).


These three passages provide key hermeneutical themes with relevance to matters of the image of God, power, gender, and the kingdom of God. The kingdom themes of strength in weakness, power exercised in sacrificial self-giving, and God’s identity with the vulnerable were developed throughout. The mutuality and synergy intended for the genders as understood in the creation texts were explored, as were some feminist interpretations of the parable from Luke 18.





The theological foundations section of this chapter approaches the themes of power, gender, and the kingdom of God, from the varying perspectives of Christian thought and tradition. The use of power by those who self-identify as Christians has left a varied and contradictory legacy. To this day, some Christian denominations and organizations offer theological justification for male domination within religious hierarchies, resulting in diminution of the full image of God as displayed in both genders. This examination will commence with a theological discussion of power and the image of God as reflected in the dual male/female image, and the image of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.


Power, Gender, and the Kingdom of God


Clearly, any Christian theology of power must be profoundly formed by Christ’s own example as He inaugurated the kingdom of God. A truly Christ-formed theology of power must manifest itself in personal holiness and societal transformation with regard to gender relationships as a demonstration of the kingdom of God breaking in. This principle applies most particularly to the use of power within the church. These issues are taken up by means of a focus on power and a theology of the kingdom of God.


Interwoven throughout is consideration of Wesleyan holiness theology as it relates to the kingdom of God and power as this is the theological tradition of The Salvation Army—the context for the project reported on in this paper.


Theology of Power and Divine Image


A classical theological conception of the omnipotence of God includes the power of creation, governance, and teleological completion (Case-Winters 1990, 39, 172, 201). This is in alignment with most orthodox Christian creedal statements, including Salvation Army doctrine number two, which states: “We believe that there is only one God, who is infinitely perfect, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of all things, and who is the only proper object of religious worship (The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine 2010, xv).


Biblically, all power comes from God and belongs to God (Matt. 26:64; John 19:11); God’s power upholds the world itself (Heb.1:3; Col. 1:17; Marshall 1995, 679). Calvin asserts that divine omnipotence includes not only the overall direction of human history but also the determining of all personal and particular details (Case-Winters 1990, 202). According to Barth, divine power is “independent, unconditioned and causative . . . never even partly dependent upon, or responsive to” any of its objects (Case-Winters 1990, 103; Davaney 1981, 48).


This theological understanding of divine omnipotence invites critique. Divine omnipotence, as asserted by Calvin and Barth, is understood as “power in the mode of domination and control” (Case-Winters 1990, 39). Wink perceives the danger of such power as representing “the Domination System” which he describes as “might makes right . . . the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion” known as “the Domination System” (Wink 1992, 16-17). The “Domination System” is best understood as what the Bible describes as “world,” “aeon,” and “flesh” (Wink 1992, 49). While at times attributed to God, these ways of exercising power are in contradiction to the example of Christ himself and God’s intended “domination-free order,” which Jesus came to establish in the kingdom of God (Wink 1992, 46).


The theological view of divine omnipotence propounded by Calvin and Barth is perceived as having a male bias that has historically resulted in destructive social consequences of “oppression, exploitation and violence” enflamed by divine attribution (Case-Winters 1990, 172-173). Another criticism of the Calvinist position, then, is that it excludes the female image of God drawn from the creation narrative of Gen. 1. Primary or exclusive emphasis on masculine divine imaging of power communicates, at best, a secondary position for females (Case-Winters 1990, 218).


The image of God portrayed in Gen 1:27 reveals the necessity of both male and female to reflect the divine image in the world. The intention is neither masculine nor feminine as normative, but rather a necessary co-existing of both in an egalitarian order (Wink 1992, 47).


What we need are images that encompass the positive aspects of both [male and female]. . . . The issue of sexist language in our God-talk goes far deeper, then, than matters of simple justice and fairness to women. What is at stake is a veritable revolution in our God-images. Nothing could be more crucial, because our images of God create us. (Wink 1992, 48)


The egalitarian order referenced here was inaugurated through Jesus Christ as the unique expression of the divine image and the holy example of a right use of power.


Divine Power in the Image of Christ


Divine power, particularly as revealed in Jesus, “liberates rather than subjugates,” and thus is an expression of divine love (Lipp, Huber, and Stobbe 1999, 311). A theology of power must allow for God to restrict his freedom to act, for love’s sake. “God shows power, not by asserting himself against us, but by the act of turning precisely to the creature that rebels against God” as demonstrated in Jesus’ self-sacrifice (Mott and Tilleman 2012, 312). This is a distinctly different theological perspective on divine omnipotence compared to that of domination and control, as conceived by Calvin (Case-Winters 1990, 39). It also relates to the biblical concept of justice, which seeks not only to alleviate suffering but also to deliver from the power that causes it (Mott and Tilleman 2012, 27).


Lipp and colleagues offer insight regarding power and freedom demonstrated in Jesus. “In the incarnation of the Son and his path to impotent suffering on the cross, we are thus to see an act of divine freedom and divine power” (Lipp, Huber, and Stobbe 1999, 311). It is evident that in Christ’s exercise of power, relations of superiority and subjection have lost their primacy:


God’s power is always rooted in love, not pride; it is rooted in redemption, not conquest; and it is rooted in concern for the other, not the self. It is humble, not proud, and inviting, not rejecting. Its symbol is the cross, not the sword. This is why [God’s power] is seen as weakness by the world. (Hiebert 1994, 238)


Jesus Christ reveals the Father, and thereby radically alters any theological understanding of divine omnipotence by demonstrating “power operating in divine relationship and through divine intention” (Van Rheenan 2000, 777). Jesus brings into being a new order, an exercise of power transformed by faith working by love, that is “free even in the face of death and hence it can dare all for which it can be responsible to God. It can defy superior force, because it still accepts even ruin as victory” (Rahner 1973, 408-409). This new order is called the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God offers a radically new picture of divine power (Lk 4:14; 5:17; 11:20-22).


The Kingdom and Power


The kingdom of God is viewed by some scholars as the first and most essential dogma of the Christian faith, in that it is both the gospel Jesus preached and the new state of things he introduced (Snyder 2001, 61; Green 2012). The New Testament concept of the kingdom of God is as the reign of God, the redemptive rule of God (Grudem 1994, 863-864; Green 2012). Such language: “kingdom,” “reign,” “rule;” is the language of power.


With the coming of this kingdom something new has happened, particularly in relation to power. This kingdom comes in the person, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rahner 1981, 402; Marshall 1995, 680; Hiebert 1994, 235). In Wright’s language, “Jesus came to launch God’s new creation, and with it a new way of being human . . . God’s kingdom was bursting into the present world” (Wright 2010, 116). It is a kingdom, a reign, bringing freedom—the rule of God that brings liberty (Moltmann 1989, 78), which Wink describes as “God’s domination-free order” (Wink 1992, 299). This clarifies why Jesus’ words and actions, which introduced the kingdom of God, were particularly good news to the poor, those who were powerless and thus vulnerable to mistreatment by the powerful (Mott and Tilleman 2012, 12; Rahner 1981, 401). This kingdom, ushered in by Jesus, cannot be established by force, “but only by its proper means: by suffering, self-giving love” (Wright 2010, 98). Hence, the use of power, in its usual sense, has been turned upside down by the coming of this kingdom.


The Kingdom—Personal and Social


This upside-down kingdom has significant implications that are both personal and social in nature. Grudem contends that Christians can experience in this life something of what God’s final kingdom reign will be like: “They will know some measure of victory over sin, over demonic opposition, and over disease. They will live in the power of the Holy Spirit who is the dynamic power of the coming kingdom” (Grudem 1994, 864). Wright goes a step farther, “Precisely because God is the God of creative, generous, outflowing love, his way of running things is to share power, to work through his image-bearers, to invite their glad and free collaboration in his project” (Wright 2010, 67).


Snyder is concerned that a theology of the kingdom have application in contemporary society. For example, he argues that Barth’s theology of the kingdom results in an overemphasis on individual rather than communal response and societal impact (Snyder 2001, 72). Similarly, Bultmann’s theology of the kingdom of God is criticized for “retreat[ing] into the hearers’ interiority,” (Heltzel 2008, 455), with significant questions raised as to societal relevance:


Has Bultmann lost the very thing that made the kingdom of God relevant in the first place: namely, how to achieve God’s kingdom in the sociopolitical reality of history? If the social and communal dimension of the kingdom is localized in an individual’s interior struggles, and if human responsibility is reduced to an attitude toward the unknown future, has not the kingdom of God become merely a solipsistic disposition? (Heltzel 2008, 455)


The implied disconnection of the kingdom of God from society in the here and now is untenable for Snyder and Heltzel.


Willard and Simpson place strong emphasis on the personal, individual effect of the breaking in of the kingdom. They call this a revolution of character, pointing out that the power of the kingdom manifests itself first inside the human heart—but that it then results in transformation of social structures. “Such transformed people bring the presence of the Kingdom and the King into every corner of human life by fully living in the Kingdom with him” (Willard and Simpson 2006, 13-14). This fullness of the kingdom Moltmann understands to be the “restoration of all things” (Muller-Fahrenholz 2000, 186).


Wink points out that Jesus’ own life demonstrated the possibility of “a total reorientation within . . . and a total reorientation without” (Wink 1992, 162). He emphasizes the necessity of change in personal conduct in the kingdom, anticipating that by itself it will upset the conventions of social power. This is exemplified in Jesus’ words regarding tax collectors and prostitutes entering the kingdom of God ahead of some religious leaders (Matt. 21:31). “Apparently Jesus’ God is interested in one thing only: whether we behave in a way consistent with the divine order that is coming” (Wink 1992, 168).


Kingdom Power in Society


John Wesley’s kingdom paradigm is not one of passively waiting for a future hope but, rather, recognizing that while “the final eradication of evil and establishment of righteousness will only take place at [Christ’s] return,” the church “must prepare for [his] appearing with Kingdom deeds,” thus the need for activism in social justice and mercy (Cubie 1983, 103).


The kingdom of God is present and future, personal and corporate, is inaugurated by and present in Jesus Christ. This kingdom represents a reversal of the power dynamic, whereby God shares power with the citizens of the kingdom. This is especially good news to the oppressed, and therefore has significant relevance for females, who suffer the most among those who are oppressed.


In Wesleyan kingdom theology there is no disconnect between conversion, sanctification, and the process of social transformation (Hynson 1988, 47). The kingdom of God involves individuals freed from sin by the sanctifying power of the Spirit and also from the relationships and conditions in which they live (Moltmann 1989, 293). Wesley recognized that “the Gospel must simultaneously be individual and social” (Bundy 1988, 12).


Salvation Army founder William Booth developed a similar holistic understanding of holiness:


For William Booth, especially in his later theology, the one true sign of the Church was participation in the work of redemption, both personal redemption and social redemption leading ultimately to the establishment of the kingdom of God. This work was fundamentally connected to Booth’s doctrine of holiness because he believed that only a holy people could accomplish a holy work and achieve a holy goal. (Green 1989, 56)


E. Stanley Jones’ theological development offers an interesting example of evolution from an individualistic American view of the kingdom (Bundy 1988, 5) to one recognizing social responsibility and seeking societal redemption:


Jesus believed in life and its redemption. Not only was the soul to be saved—the whole of life was to be redeemed. The kingdom of God coming on earth is the expression of that collective redemption. The entrance to the kingdom of God is by personal conversion, but the nature of that kingdom is social. The kingdom of God is the most astonishingly radical proposal ever presented to the human race (Jones quoted in Bundy 1988, 10).


The outworking of the kingdom of God in society will include “justice to others on the personal, social and societal levels” (Cubie 1983, 100). This of course includes a radically different community of females and males.


The Gospel of the Kingdom


Not only does Wesley understand that power is available to the individual believer to respond to the Gospel and to resist sin, but also that power is at work in the church corporately, power to radically impact society. Because Christ is king now,


“The church may resist evil powers in the sure promise that its work in the world will be crowned with grace and, finally, glory . . . Wesley's theology makes conversion the rite of initiation into the kingdom, and sanctification the pilgrimage through the kingdom on earth until the glory of heaven is reached” (Hynson 1988, 52, 54).


Believers are thus freed from the will-to-power of the unregenerate and empowered, rather, to live for God and for the good of others (Hynson 1988, 54; Cubie 1983, 102). This is the domination-free order preached by Jesus in which we see “a single unifying theme: a vision of the liberation of all humanity” (Wink 1992, 45).


The gospel of the kingdom of God is more than a future hope, valuable as that is. It is a gospel of Jesus’ liberating message that offers a “context-specific remedy for the evils of the Domination System” (Wink 1992, 49). “Context-specific” indicates that the coming of the kingdom on earth as in heaven is for now. It is meant to demonstrate the presence of God in his people, male and female. And that these people, as male and female, would relate to one another in mutual honor and submission, even as is demonstrated in the godhead. This is to be a sign of the kingdom of God breaking in.


Wesley’s theology of the kingdom of God is one of power, power given by God’s grace, power to respond to the Gospel, power not to sin. Further, this is divine power in human communities given in order to oppose injustice and oppression in society and cultural norms and forms that are in opposition to the reign of God. This is to include power in the grace of God to resist sexism and discrimination against females, and power to transform structures that stand against God’s kingdom breaking in.


The gospel of the kingdom was never intended to be kept personal and private; in fact, it cannot. The reality of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God indeed brings about personal transformation, and that is intrinsically linked to transformed conduct in community, thereby proclaiming the coming of the kingdom in the wider society. This new order is demonstrated in relationships between males and females in defiance of the prevailing Domination System of the world.


Kingdom Power in the Church


Cubie points out that emphasis on societal transformation has often been either neglected or attempted through the use of force by the church, thereby negating kingdom principles and understanding of Christlike use of power (Cubie 1983, 101). He applies the term “anti-Christ” to anything that opposes the kingdom of Christ (Cubie 1983, 101). This includes efforts by those with power in the church to create unity through force, use of violence or deceit, and oppression of others (Cubie 1983, 106). All of these demonstrate a failure in love, which is the ethic of the kingdom of God.


Jesus sets the example of

the power of the powerless, the judgment of the one who did not come to judge and the wrath of the Lamb who did not come to condemn but to save. His power was that of sacrificial, self-giving love, and must be manifest in those who are his. (Cubie 1983, 107)


The power and authority of believers individually and as a community flow from the kingdom of Christ. In other words, all rule in the church is legitimized only by Christ’s own kingdom rule and should be modeled after his example.


True unity in the church is not about organizational or hierarchical unity, as these invite temptation “to fulfill one's personal vision of the Kingdom by coercing others into it” (Cubie 1983, 108). Kingdom unity transcends loyalties of politics, economics, and culture, recognizing the manifold ways in which the kingdom comes. What each is called into is the liberty and unity of love (Cubie 1983, 109). The ideal of kingdom unity challenges the so-called hierarchical unity that William Booth demanded of his troops, outshines it in reflecting the unity of the godhead, and is potentially demonstrated by women and men portraying the divine image.


Temptations abound within the church to use coercion and to establish one’s own “kingdom” or vision. There must be recognition, even suspicion of “all autonomy of power” (Lipp, Huber, and Stobbe 1999, 312). The power of God in the kingdom is “irreconcilably opposed to any form of divisive self-assertion or request for power on the part of any individual or group” (Rahner 1981, 401-402). These are to be recognized as “anti-Christ” (Cubie 1983, 106), submitted to accountability or controls, and rejected as legitimate means of accomplishment. Wesley’s optimism and confidence in the power of God over sin did not lead to the absence of accountability, but to greater accountability, in the form of class meetings and other similar means (Henderson 1987, 13).


A theology is needed to assist in distinguishing between a secular model of the use of power and the right use of power available through the Spirit within the people. And such a relevant “theology of power must refuse, then, to demonize power or to glorify impotence. Instead, it must develop criteria for responsible handling of ecclesiastical, political and social power” (Lipp, Huber, and Stobbe 1999, 314).




Theological views of divine omnipotence must be profoundly formed by the revelation of Jesus Christ and His example of the use of power as self-sacrificing for the sake of others and rooted in love. Further, a theology of the Divine image that includes both the masculine and feminine serves to inform an egalitarian understanding of human community in general and the new community in Christ in particular.


This new community in Christ is to demonstrate the coming of the kingdom of God by means of its unconventional relational power dynamics, in which those whom society would exclude are welcomed, the weak are empowered, and the powerful humble themselves, resulting in a domination-free order. This theological understanding of power in Christian community assumes the transformation of all social relationships, most particularly relationships between males and females.




The history of Christianity reveals a stunning polarity in the use of power with regard to personal holiness, social responsibility, and gender equality. On the one hand, it was Christians who launched the Crusades and the Inquisition, slaughtering large numbers of Muslims and Jews. This legacy also includes the New England witch hunts of the 17th century, 90 percent of whose victims were female (Isherwood and McEwan 2001, 37). On the other hand, throughout the centuries, it was in no small part Christians who established hospitals and universities, promoted literacy and education for the masses, and fought to abolish the African slave trade. Christians have long defended the rights of women, children, and the poor (Campbell and Court 2004, 44, 48-49).


From this wide scope and contradictory witness of Christian history this section of the paper narrows its focus to the antecedents influential in the formation of The Salvation Army and its early history relative to the participation of women in leadership. This examination is intended to provide a basis for comparison of current Salvation Army practice with historical practice and offer a context for review and analysis of contemporary Army leaders’ views with regard to gender equality.


Power, Gender, and the Kingdom of God


Specifically, early practice of The Salvation Army is considered in light of its spiritual ancestry in the Wesleyan revival of the 18th century and of the pervasive influence of the holiness movement that grew out of that revival. Particular attention is given to Catherine Booth’s significant role in promoting women in leadership. An exploration of the effect of the Salvation Army’s military structure on its use of power and the authoritarian stance of co-founder William Booth round out the section.


Early Influences


From the days of the early church fathers as shown in the patristic writings, Green argues, there has been an emphasis on the correlation between personal holiness and social responsibility, bringing significant societal benefits. “One such example of this is found in the success of Christianity with equalizing women in society” (Green 1977, 28). These three emphases, personal holiness, social responsibility, and equality of women, were foundational in the practice of The Salvation Army.


An influence on The Salvation Army in its earliest years in terms of inclusion of women in ministry leadership was that of the Quakers.


Booth found himself at the head of a rapidly growing movement badly in need of local leadership and funds. Women flocked to The Army, and Booth . . . used women in the entire range of Army work . . . almost from the very beginning. Catherine Booth, an extraordinarily intelligent and capable person, spearheaded this reform. The Quaker example proved, again, helpful and encouraging in this regard . . . It is clear that the early Salvationists repeatedly made eager use of the Quaker example in employing women in the Christian ministry. (McKinley 1977, 49-50)


McKinley makes explicit the Quaker precedent and influence upon both Catherine and William Booth with regard to females in ministry. The unity of conviction on this point between Catherine and William was sufficient to overflow into their own practice within their marriage and into their leadership of the newly established Salvation Army.


“The greatest breakthrough in opportunities for women to proclaim the gospel came with the Wesleyan revival in England in the eighteenth century.” So asserts Malcolm in Women at the Crossroads (Malcolm 1982, 111). Green states that, resulting from the influence and example of John Wesley’s mother, Susanna Wesley, women descended from early Methodism have enjoyed greater opportunities for leadership in the church than women in other denominations (Green 2012). These would include all subsequent expression of Methodism, such as the Wesleyan Church, the Church of the Nazarene, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and The Salvation Army.


In terms of John Wesley’s influence upon The Salvation Army, it would be difficult to imagine a stronger statement than that of co-founder William Booth:


I worshipped everything that bore the name Methodist. To me there was one God, and John Wesley was his prophet. I had devoured the story of his life. No human compositions seemed to me to be comparable to his writings . . . and all that was wanted, in my estimation, for the salvation of the world was the faithful carrying into practice of the letter and the spirit of his instructions. (Booth-Tucker 1892, 74)


Booth left the Methodist church while still a young man and established The Salvation Army, infusing his Wesleyan theological roots with a renewed evangelistic zeal and a fiery passion for social justice.


Rader argues that the holiness movement itself championed women’s rights and female equality. Specifically, “Phoebe Palmer exercised extensive influence in the struggle for women’s rights . . . it was the evangelicals, and principally those of holiness persuasion, who championed the cause of female equality in church and society” (Rader 1977, 86). Palmer had a singular influence on Salvation Army co-founder Catherine Booth (Green 2012).


Confronting the Culture


Given that the personal holiness espoused by the various Salvation Army antecedents was consistently expressed in terms of social responsibility, it was perfectly congruous for The Salvation Army to involve itself in politics, even controversially so, on behalf of vulnerable young girls. The Army played a major, very public role in the successful campaign to raise the age of consent in Great Britain in 1885 from 13 to 16 years old (Hollis 2013, 200). By such action, The Salvation Army established itself early on not only as a movement where women could preach and lead in spiritual ministry, but also as a powerful advocate for the rights of women and girls in the wider political arena, willing to confront the hypocrisy of the surrounding Victorian culture.


The values of The Salvation Army stood in marked contrast to those of that culture. Within the holiness movement itself and The Salvation Army in particular, there were strict standards of a puritanical holiness lifestyle (Murdoch 1985, 99). Further, in Victorian England, women were generally not empowered to lead; rather, they were marginalized and restricted to the separate sphere of domestic life.


Yet Read cites the popular culture of the day as one formative influence on The Salvation Army: “Freed from constraints of outdated and irrelevant ecclesiological and religious practices the founders looked to the world for models and methods that would assist them in their God-given mission” (2006, 559-560). Read’s assertion is a surprising one; however, it is evident that the Booths saw no contradiction in taking from the popular culture whatever could be utilized to advance the mission of The Salvation Army (Maddox 2008, 5). With regard to women’s rights this sometimes landed the Army in closer alignment to secular feminist activists than to conventional church practices and sensibilities.


Nevertheless, Victorian English culture and the early Salvation Army were at odds with each other in countless ways. With regard to gender roles, the differences were extreme. In Walker’s view, The Salvation Army “disrupted and refashioned gender relations in many facets of its work . . . as Salvationist women challenged and resisted the conventions of femininity and enhanced women’s spiritual authority” (Walker 2001, 2). In claiming the right to preach, women “disrupted a powerful source of masculine privilege and authority” (Walker 2001, 2). Walker concludes, “Virtually no other secular or religious organization in this period offered working-class women such extensive authority” (Walker 2001, 2). Consequently, The Salvation Army has an unusual and significant history of advancing women’s rights in relation to the surrounding culture, be it popular or religious, in many parts of the world.


Catherine Booth


Murdoch gives much credit to Catherine Booth, co-founder of The Salvation Army, for the significant inclusion of women in leadership from the start.


Catherine Booth recognized women's powers of intellect and innate equality and elevated them to clerical parity with men. Although Catherine Booth did not break new hermeneutical ground in her discussion of scriptural support for the ministry of women, she did, through her public advocacy, force the introduction of thousands of working-class women into the ranks of ordained clergy. (Murdoch 1984, 348)


Murdoch used U.S. census statistics for the decades 1880 to 1900 to discover the percentage of U.S. clergy who were female. In 1880, the year The Salvation Army arrived in the United States, the percentage of female clergy was .225. By 1900 the percentage had grown to 9.2 (Murdoch 1984, 349). The Salvation Army was a major contributor to this increase. Catherine Booth was the primary formative influence on The Salvation Army in this regard (Murdoch 1984, 349).


The influence of Catherine Booth on William Booth can hardly be overestimated, and without the synergy between them on the matter of women in leadership, The Salvation Army would not have its place in history as a significant vehicle of ministry and leadership for tens of thousands of women (Murdoch 1984, 348). Interestingly, the female/male mutuality in leadership demonstrated by Catherine and William Booth is a historic illustration of the dual image of God explored in the biblical foundations section of this chapter. Further, their shared vision and example of gender equality in marriage and mission gave powerful witness to the kingdom of God and to the holy imagination necessary to envision this new community, as explored in the theological foundations section of this chapter.


As The Salvation Army developed and formalized its own identity, it issued important foundational historical statements relative to gender equality. First, from The Constitution of the Christian Mission, which changed its name to The Salvation Army the following year: “Godly women possessing the necessary gifts and qualifications shall be employed as preachers . . . and shall have appointments given to them . . . and they shall be eligible for any office” (Christian Mission Magazine, 1877).


Further, from Orders and Regulations for Salvation Army Staff Officers:

One of the leading principles upon which the Army is based is the right of women to have the right to an equal share with men in the work of publishing salvation to the world ... She may hold any position of authority or power in the Army from that of a Local Officer to that of the General. Let it therefore be understood that women are eligible for the highest commands—indeed, no woman is to be kept back from any position of power or influence merely on account of her sex ... Women must be treated as equal with men in all the intellectual and social relationships in life. (The Salvation Army 1895)


The “Lydia Phase”


In her studies of various religious groups, McKinnish Bridges has identified what she calls the “Lydia phase” (McKinnish Bridges 1998, 333), which Shade helpfully describes as a period in the early years of a developing movement in which women begin in positions of leadership, as was true of Lydia the key person in the establishment of the church in Philippi (Acts 16). With time, the very women who were founding leaders in the church are “relegated to secondary roles in order for the movement to gain cultural legitimacy and to diminish the feminizing effect of women’s leadership” (Shade 2012, 4).

The irony of widespread, significant female leadership in The Salvation Army being a “Lydia phase” that came to an end for the sake of cultural legitimacy is obvious in view of the previous insights of Read (Read 2006, 559-560) and Walker (Walker 2001, 2) regarding the perceived unseemliness of the early Army’s actions relative to its cultural contexts. Those actions ranged from the use of unconventional (in the view of the established church) secular methods for the acceleration of Army mission to defiance of conventions of the wider culture in the interests of that same mission. Further, the initial “feminizing effect of women’s leadership” was such that in many towns nearly all the pubs went out of business because “the whole population had gone to the ‘Hallelujah Lasses’!” (Hollis 2013, 264). Yet, Eason’s research reveals that a shift from the “Lydia phase” did indeed take place in The Salvation Army within the first few decades of its existence. By the 1930s, it was evident that the percentage of females in leadership was relatively minimal (Eason 2003, 151).


The Military Structure


The Salvation Army was birthed in the mid-19th century, when many popular British heroes were generals and soldiers (Read 2006, 357). Without a doubt, this is one reason why The Salvation Army adopted military forms and terminology (Read 2006, 357). Nonetheless, females found themselves welcome and readily deployed in service, in mission, and in leadership in this army.


In view of the military structure of The Salvation Army, it is not surprising to learn that it was “founded upon the principle of implicit obedience . . . the principle of voluntary subjection to an absolute authority” (Jewett 1999, 51). William Booth stated emphatically in his remarkable work, In Darkest England and the Way Out, “The first condition of that service is implicit unquestioning obedience. The Salvationist is taught to obey as is the soldier on the field of battle” (Booth 1890, 250). McKinley goes further in asserting that William Booth “regarded dissension . . . as ‘the very poison of hell’” (1977, 51). It is noteworthy that some of the more rigid and autocratic sentiments expressed by William Booth came years after the death of Catherine Booth, who predeceased him by 22 years. One can only imagine the degree to which the ongoing involvement of Catherine in leading and forming The Salvation Army might have contributed to a more balanced use of power.


In contemplating the influence of the military metaphor and the expectation of unquestioning obedience, questions naturally arise as to potential dangers to the less powerful: namely, women. There is increasing recognition that the church has historically expected women to be self-sacrificing: some would argue, more so than has been expected of men (Isherwood and McEwan 2001, 37).


In The Salvation Army in the United States, married women officers do not receive a paycheck in their own name. Thus they have no employment record with the U.S. government, leaving them quite vulnerable should they leave Salvation Army officership and/or should their marriage fail. These married women are expected to sacrifice a basic dignity that is offered without exception to male officers and also to single women officers. This Salvation Army practice illustrates the point made by Isherwood and McEwan as to the church’s expectations of women, as well as the unintended but real abuse of power in the military structure against the very women who energize its mission. Further, it contradicts the historical principle of the organization: personal holiness and social responsibility resulting in particular concern for the just treatment of women.




The Salvation Army historically experienced explosive growth in no small part as a result of the active involvement of tens of thousands of (mostly young) women in its mission. The release of these women into ministry was born out of the influence of other Christian traditions, both ancient and relatively recent, and was motivated by both theological and practical impulses, largely spearheaded by Catherine Booth. The guiding principle was personal holiness leading to social responsibility and resulting specifically in advocacy and action for the equality of females. Further, the historical interaction between this burgeoning movement and 19th century British culture, while largely antagonistic, was also synergistic, with each contributing to the development of the other.


The challenge of consistently acting in accordance with the proclaimed principle of gender equality was apparent early on in Salvation Army development and remains today. The Army’s military structure has historically proven efficient in numerous contexts, with an army of human resources willing to be deployed anywhere in the world to advance its mission. However, with the military assumptions regarding power come the potential for a misuse of power, particularly with regard to gender equality.









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