Dear Salvation Army, reconciliation is a beautiful thing.
We seek it for our soldiers, we preach it from our pulpits, but do we truly live it?
I have heard it said that we as people are quick to expect forgiveness when we have been wronged, but what about when we have performed the misstep, what then? How quickly do we respond to the hurt with the seeking of forgiveness and reconciliation? It can be likened to the parable that Jesus told about the unforgiving servant who had just received forgiveness for a huge debt that he owed. You would think that he would go home with great relief and treat others the same way he had just been graciously treated, but instead he returned the favor by harshly treating someone who was in his debt. (Matthew 18:21-35)
My fellow Salvationists, we can be so good at distributing grace to the stranger, but to those within our ranks, at times that grace is missing. One might say that because we operate within an authoritarian leadership model, one has come to expect harsh treatment amongst the ranks…let me ask you is this how Christ led his disciples? Of course not! Let me clear the air, there is no excuse for leaders who lord their power over those they have been given authority over. Eventually they will receive the same kind of treatment that they have doled out. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying and take it to mean that I am directing this conversation solely on Divisional and territorial leaders, as a matter of fact, dear Corps Officers, you ought to be very mindful of the power you have been given in your current appointments too! How you treat your soldiers ought to be the way that you desire to be treated as well!
Let us prick this very vein of conversation today in order to arrive at a very important destination – Reconciliation!
I have heard some very sad tales of officers and soldiers leaving our ranks because they felt that they were no longer welcome and/or specific people, who had an ounce of power made then feel powerless and useless. Perhaps I should interject here and compare our attrition rates with those awful circumstances mentioned above and wonder aloud if we are not self-destructing because a minority of people were given power and they horribly misused it?
Proverbs 13:10 says, “Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” Perhaps some of us need exactly that today. I am most certainly not the one who ought to give it, for I am just as imperfect as the next soldier…but I do feel led to offer just three helps upon the road to reconciliation today that I feel our Army should consider.
Instead of paving over the pain and pretending those hurts are not there…
Instead of turning our backs on those who have left our ranks for any number of reasons…
Instead of ostracizing, criticizing, and gossiping…
Here are three very simple suggestions for ALL of the Soldiers in our Army both high in rank to the adherent considering soldiership.
1 Admit to the wrongs
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” -Proverbs 11:2
Are we so haughty in our hearts that we are above admission of guilt and wrong-doing?
Do we fear that we will lose credibility and our place of power amongst the ranks if we admit our missteps?
Could it be that in order for us to truly move forward as an army and in our mission, we have to humble ourselves so that He might lift us up? (James 4:10) This “humbling” includes owning our failures both corporately and individually. If we wish to seek failure and loss of mission, then keep sweeping the sin and guilt under the rug as we think no one will ever notice. But if we wish to experience fulfillment of mission and victory over sin, then we have to admit our sins and failures before God. Yes, admit the wrongs, but don’t remain or live there, for to do so will lead to certain disillusionment and disgrace. We merely stop there to own our failures…but remember He will lift us up when we discard pride and put on humility.
2 Atone for the Wrongs
I firmly believe that one of the cruxes of our army today is the willingness to forgive the shortcomings of prospective believers and new believers than it is to forgive the shortcomings of “the saints”. We treat soldiers who have fallen more harshly than we would ever treat a stranger…why? Because they should have known better? Are we not still susceptible to the lures of temptation and sin even if we don on our uniforms? Galatians 6:1 says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Did you catch that last part? It says “GENTLY”. All too often we are more harsh with fellow soldiers and officers, so much so that we have driven some away from our ranks, and they will never set foot in a corps ever again because of the pain we have caused them. How do we atone for such a thing? How does the Army move past these wrongs? The true authoritarian, devoid of faith, would simply relocate that officer (if it was an officer involved)…they move them to a less desirable appointment or far away from the blight that was caused…but is that really what a Holiness movement ought to do, assuming we still carry that mantel and title within our hearts as a mission?
I am not naming any specific situation, I am simply pointing out what a true authoritarian model of leadership would do. Within this strict sense of this model, true authoritarian leaders are to never be questioned or opposed because to do so would unravel the very fabric of the organization’s identity. This model can often be on display from the corps setting all the way to IHQ. This is not to say that all leaders portray this model, but perhaps because of it, there have been times that wrongs were done and then swept mercilessly under rugs in the attempt to forget and not to forgive. If we as Christ-followers wish to travel the path of reconciliation, we have to own up to our wrong doings and stop sweeping. The truest form of bravery, sincerity and grace is found in making peace when you were the one who once sought war; To attempt to mend the broken that you once broke. The bigger man or woman, the truest leader amongst us is one who admits and makes the attempt to atone for wrongs done to others especially those amongst (or formerly amongst) our own ranks.
3 Seek Reconciliation:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” -Matthew 5:23-24
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” -Matthew 5:9
Reconciliation doesn’t just happen once, it happens as often as there are wrongs to be righted. I recall a time when I harbored anger towards a person in my corps and on Sunday morning I had to preach while that person was in the congregation. I remember how my words felt like heavy weights that I could not lift, let alone speak. How can I be sincere with my fellow soldiers if I had not sought to mend that which was truly broken in my heart and in that particular relationship at the time? Was I at fault? Absolutely, and it took every ounce of my courage to swallow my own pride and need to be right and make every effort to fix that relationship, only then would we be able to move on. Once that was accomplished, it was like a large exhale had been released within our corps.
Dear fellow Soldiers, perhaps the reason your corps or your spiritual journey has been halted is because there is reconciliation that needs to take place. Swallow your pride and seek it out, stop holding your breath of guilt and shame…exhale it in relief as you seek to mend the broken. The hardest place to do this is with your fellow soldiers and officers with whom you hold animosity, pain and perhaps shame. Holiness is dead if we are not able to offer grace towards one another. Holiness is dead if we cannot admit, atone and reconcile both as individual travelers and as fellow sojourners.
Something more for the Army to ponder today.
To God be the glory!