“Intelligence Agency” speaks for social justice

New Frontier interviews Commissioner MacMillan.

by Bob Docter –

Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan speaks at the recent National Social Services Conference. [Photo by Christin Davis]

“In a world of both light and darkness where no one forgets the past, The Salvation Army must live in between and touch both,” said Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan, director of the International Social Justice Commission (ISJC), in an exclusive interview with New Frontier during the recent National Social Services Conference in Chicago. “If we help achieve global justice we must maintain a firm fix on our identity and dare to shine a flashlight into the dark.”

MacMillan recalled William Booth’s desire to have an intelligence gathering operation in The Salvation Army; she sees the ISJC as fulfilling that role. Headquartered in New York, the ISJC works within the United Nations (UN), no longer as a non-governmental organization (NGO) but now with member status.

“This is something we have worked diligently to achieve, and we are now able to participate in conferences, other affairs of the UN as well as working with other member states,” MacMillan said.

Additionally, the ISJC now has Army officers appointed to Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi and Indonesia who work alongside both Army and UN personnel.

As the General’s advisor on social justice issues, MacMillan identified a dual role for the ISJC.

“With access to the Army’s infrastructure, people, programs and influence in 118 countries around the world, we have to be who we need to be both internally and externally as we move toward the achievement of our goals,” she said.

MacMillan also spoke frankly on some key issues.

“The governance of The Salvation Army speaks into a global family. Therefore, we must use that global voice to facilitate congress with the world. We need to recognize post-colonialism today and realize that nations are able to define who they are,” she said. “Indigenous commanders have to be a reflection both of their country and The Salvation Army. Our faith based value system must be relational and respectful.”

MacMillan was also recently named world spokesperson for Human Trafficking with the World Evangelical Alliance, an organization of 445 million Christian members, including The Salvation Army.

A strategic voice
The ISJC is The Salvation Army’s strategic voice to advocate for human dignity and social justice with the world’s poor and oppressed. Believing that everyone is created in the image of God but that global economic and political inequity perpetuates human injustice, the International Social Justice Commission exercises leadership in determining The Salvation Army’s policies and practices in the international social arena. Lamenting the abusive and unethical behavior imposed on vulnerable people in today’s world, the commission helps link The Salvation Army with like-minded organizations and other world forums to advance the cause of global social justice.

In pursuit of its stated purpose, the ISJC has established five measurable goals:

1. Raise strategic voices to advocate with the world’s poor and oppressed.
2. Be a recognized center of research and critical thinking on issues of global social justice.
3. Collaborate with like-minded organizations to advance the global cause of social justice.
4. Exercise leadership in determining social justice policies and practices in The Salvation Army.
5. Live the principles of justice and compassion and inspire other to do likewise.

Justice, faith and mercy
“To truly ‘rescue the perishing’ is to ask what is causing the injustice,” MacMillan said. “To the achievement of justice we aim to contribute faith and mercy. We also need to change the way we express them. Faith is a recognized conduit for creating world peace. When I think of justice, I think of freedom. That is an outcome of justice.

“It is interesting to speak with people who know nothing about The Salvation Army or faith,” MacMillan said. “Their questions speak to Jesus. We express Jesus when we are motivated by compassion and are willing to let go of self. Scripture is meant to breathe amidst the challenges of the world.”

Collaboration and partnerships
The Salvation Army is a vehicle for tremendous good. It is at its best when we respond to any kind of disaster. We don’t spend a lot of time discussing or questioning whether we should respond. We act. We hold back the vehicle when our need to be protective of denominational loyalty supersedes Christian commitment.

MacMillan firmly stated that the Army collaborates with other organizations because, “Justice must collaborate. The Salvation Army cannot always be the senior partner in relationships. Significant impact seldom comes from a single voice. Collective efforts can make a difference in imagining a better world. Some are still trying to understand this.

“The greatest example of an important collaborative goal has been the UN’s vision of The Millennium Development Goals to eradicate poverty,” she said. “The ISJC has embraced these eight goals as a key focus of its research, teaching, policy and coalition-building work.” The goals:

1. End hunger and extreme poverty
2. Universal education
3. Gender equality
4. Child health
5. Maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
7. Environmental sustainability
8. Global partnership

The Micah Challenge.
He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

The ISJC works with Micah Challenge, a global movement of Christians that aim to deepen engagement with the poor and to integrate social justice as an essential part of faith. To this end the Millennium Development Goals are now an opportunity to partner with influence in Christ’s name with a global strategy. At international headquarters, the program resources department works in collaboration with the ISJC and the Micah Challenge network. Together, they seek to live out scripture in practical ways, with values that embrace the requirements to produce Godly results.

“We work carefully to be culturally sensitive, but we challenge traditions that are disrespectful or violent,” MacMillan said. “Traditions like those in some countries that banish widows from the community leaving them vulnerable to rape need to be challenged when it creates human suffering.

“Human suffering can never be renamed tradition,” she said.

MacMillan has a history that well prepared her for this role, however, she did note, “This is the hardest job I have ever had. I cannot accomplish this single handedly. We have to live the principles of justice together. When taken on as a body, as a people the world will know and live in a socially just society.”

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