Clifton comments on today’s Army


by Robert Docter – 

COMMISSIONER SHAW CLIFTON spoke recently at the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps’ annual retreat.

Commissioners Shaw and Helen Clifton, territorial commander of the United Kingdom territory and territorial president of women’s ministries, revealed strong commitment to Salvationism, extensive biblical knowledge, and a warm, open, and inspiring willingness to relate to any and all during the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps’ annual retreat at Camp Mt. Crags.

In this, their first official visit to the West, he presented a clarity of message sprinkled with rich humor that often brought home important moral and spiritual truths. Both spent considerable time getting to know members of the culturally diverse congregation. Quiet moments of individual conversation with old and young alike became part of each of their days.

During his presentations and his interview with New Frontier, Clifton drew from his years of experience on five continents—Britain, Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand, and the Eastern Territory of the United States. He is a lawyer and has served as legal counsel to the international Army. He is a gifted speaker with strong commitments to the Army’s basic ethos and ethic.

“We face a major question today—that of keeping our nerve and being what we are in the face of declining membership in many parts of the world. There are many voices calling for a rethinking of the soldiers’ commitments—suggesting that soldiership has had its day—even rethinking The Salvation Army itself—changing our name.

Staying relevant.

“I don’t subscribe to these views,” Clifton said. “It’s still possible to be completely ourselves as a Salvation Army and remain culturally relevant. I’ve never understood arguments suggesting that to be culturally relevant we have to be something else. I suspect that if we were more ‘Army’ we’d do even better.”

In examining types of healthy change he’s observed, he mentioned the rise of indigenous leadership across many cultures and the greater contributions of women officers and women Salvationists. He also admires the increased creativity and flexibility in programs that express outreach efforts.

In discussing the changes in High Council membership—the body that elects the next General of the Army—he observed that he would like to see it expanded even more with representation from our future leaders and even allowing some non-officers to be present, at first in an observer status.
Speaking to people today.

He expressed admiration for the US model of cross-cultural ministry. About this he stated: “We need to be more intentional. The Army in the UK can learn much from the cross-cultural work of the Army in the United States,” he said.
“I like to hear the Army speaking to the issues of the day. The Gospel has something to say to the way society orders itself. We’ve allowed the skill of going into the public arena to diminish. But in Britain, the Army is on television a lot with interviews about social issues, coverage of our social centers, and our unique presentation of Christian music.

When asked if he saw the Army in the fundamentalist tradition, Clifton said: “We are not fundamentalists in the sense of being blind fanatics insisting that we have the only right view and thrusting others aside. We respect the views of others both in the church and outside the church, but we do understand the radical nature of the Gospel. We say the Gospel will change you completely—change the very foundations of a person from Satan to Christ.

“We are not unthinking ‘literalists’ when it comes to scripture. William Booth always encouraged Salvationists to be thinking Salvationists,” he said.
A journey with James.

Clifton’s commitment to matters of social justice was highly evident in a full morning’s look at the epistle of James. In exploring aspects of wealth and poverty, he noted that scripture has “a bias to the poor.” He stated, “wealth is morally neutral” and identified three tests for wealth: (1) how it is gained; (2) how it is used; and (3) what place we hold it in our hearts. He noted that Jesus was born into nothing and had nothing. He reminded the group that the Army itself was started among those who had nothing.

In looking at what he described as the “heart of the epistle, ” he examined the essential union of faith and works. He noted that while we can’t be saved by works, what we do in life is a test of the validity of our faith in action.

He explored James’ comments on the “tongue”—which Clifton identified as our “betrayal”—the test of the genuineness of our religion. He defined it with a higher meaning relating to all forms of communication and thought patterns. “The Gospel transcends all cultures,” he said. “We’re not to ignore culture. We must be sensitive to it, but not swallowed up by it.”

In examining what Clifton described as the “heart of the epistle”—James 2: 14-26—he illustrated the Army’s historic call to social action as indicators of strong faith. While we can’t be saved simply by our work—what we do with our faith tests its validity. Action is essential. He spoke of William and Bramwell Booth’s strong commitment to social action on behalf of the poor and the disadvantaged and saw it as a foundation for the Army’s ethic and identity.

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