Dear Salvation Army, The Shunned

I have written a little bit about this topic before:
Officership, A Calling for a lifetime?

But…
It’s an assumed notion.
Something that we do not generally speak of in our Army, and yet it dates back to our founders, William and Catherine Booth.  What of the shunned?

What do I mean  by ‘shunned’ you ask?
In Booth’s day some disagreements led to the departure of family members from The Salvation Army.  William considered this to be abandoning the cause.  Our founding general in a very real sense shunned these family members and no one was to have anything to do with them.  It didn’t just end there, however, for when family members (not Ballington Booth he is buried in New York) did not please the family with their choice of ‘leaving the work’, were in essence even shunned in death and were not allowed to be buried with William and Catherine Booth at Abney Park cemetery in London.  Some of these members are buried in the same cemetery but there was explicit instruction as to not allow them to be facing William and Catherine.

I seriously doubt (I hope) that our Army “shunning” doesn’t go that deep today, but it is still present.  It is in the unspoken glances.  The momentary intake of breath when a former officer is seen.  The look of uncertainty as to what to say.  “How have you been?”  “What’s new with you?“…these pleasantries just don’t seem to cut it.
shun
Perhaps there is a disconnect between commonalities now…sometimes.
The accepted methods for “dealing” with those who have left the work varies.  Some soldiers and officers are very compassionate and display grace and love and sensitivity in such situations.  Others do not.

The Hypocrisy:  
It is rather easy to chalk all who have left “the work” as abandoners of the faith. But are they?  Do you really know this?  Or, do we sometimes make hypocritical judgement of situations and circumstances that we know nothing about.  I would call that ignorance at the very least.
shun1
Others would simply say “well they knew what they were getting into when they signed their covenant as an officer…”  Well, “yes” and “no”.  I am sure many who have signed the covenant have done so with the best of intentions.  Many who have committed to the cause at that time thinking this was all that they wanted to do in their lives.  There were some who, I am convinced, didn’t truly know what they were getting into even after the rigors of Officer’s training.  You see the real world begins following the service of appointment.  The real world doesn’t look much like the bubble that is training college.  It isn’t the college’s fault…they do their very best to prepare us, but some training has to take place in situations that have many variables and consequences other than a grade in a class.

I think we ought to be careful of hypocrisy in our Army when we rush to judge those who have decided to make difficult life decisions that do not include Officership anymore.  It isn’t black and white, right and wrong.  Life, unfortunately has more color schemes than these.  The assumed notion that all officers who have left or are leaving are due to sin issues or terminations is also hypocritical and ignorant.  Opportunities come to some former officers and they choose to leave to pursue something else.  There is life after officership believe it or not.  There are other ministries as well other than the Army ministry.

We partner with pastors in almost all the communities that The Salvation Army is in…what if that pastor is a former officer?  Can we say “well they weren’t truly called?”  Um…no we can’t.  In fact how dare we say something like that.  Who are we to judge the lives of others, especially if their decision had nothing to do with sin or moral failures.

Questions: 
Do we actively shun people who have left the work today?
Do we shun people subconsciously in the way that we act around them?
Have we closed the doors on people because of their decision to leave the work?
Is it our place to cast judgement?
Is there life outside of officership?
Is officership a calling for life to all?

I do not presume to have all of these answers… but I do know how I feel when I hear these very sad stories of officers who have chosen to leave for many different reasons and the lack of support and/or negative responses they have received which has felt like public shunning.  Does it happen to all who have left the work?  Of course not.  Should shunning happen at all?  Absolutely not…so why is it still lingering?  Why do we glance a precursory judgmental stare at former officers?  Why the stigma?

Sometimes I wonder if we have missed the point as we attempt to reach those who are marginalized when from time to time we are marginalizing former comrades and fellow soldiers of the army.

All I know is that if we conduct ourselves with grace, love, compassion and understanding even if we do not completely understand we can stave off this “shunning” persona in our Army…but it’s going to take some time.

Just something more to ponder in our Army world.
To God be the glory!

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4 Replies to “Dear Salvation Army, The Shunned”

  1. I find it as difficult to know what to say when some leaves TSA officership as when there has been a death in the family. The difference is the knowledge of the causative situation … I know when someone dies; I do not usually know why someone leaves ‘the work.’ Thus, any lack of communication on my part is because of a personal feeling of awkwardness, not a judgment of the individual[s].

  2. I am relatively new (soldier) to the SA myself. The deeper I get the closer I see how deeply flawed the founding principles and principals were. Most of what I read published by the SA is hagiography. How can I love deeply but criticize within boundaries?

    1. Mark, one thing I would remind you is that it isn’t your job to change minds of people and doctrines of churches. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

      To love deeply is a gift from God, and the Bible lays out for all how to show that.

      To criticize within boundaries is to humble yourself and don’t overreach yourself. As a Lieutenant my criticisms go to my divisional leaders in a conversation. I would suggest as a soldier your criticisms go to a corps officer via conversation.

      As far as teaching the Bible. I do it as best I can by my calling to God according to Scripture. I would recommend the same approach to a soldier.

  3. Bobgregg101, I like your thought. As officers, we know that our worlds are saturated with the work (meaning others). This whole thing is flawed. There are many reasons people leave. When you go, you step out of the Army world as we know it. It doesn’t always mean that someone is shunned; just means that worlds are different, and require mutual effort to remain on speaking terms. I can say that I’ve never been instructed, by leadership, to shun anyone who left the work. Just a thought.

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