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Abandonment, exclusion and compassion

Ed. note: The following is General John Gowans’ keynote address for The Salvation Army’s International Summit on Poverty, “Poverty and The Salvation Army – The Call to the Excluded.” To ‘attend’ the conference online, go to

Before The Salvation Army was born, its calling, its destiny, was already identified. Its founders, William and Catherine Booth, were already clear as to which part of the population they were principally sent. Passing a crowded East-end of London public house with a wide open door revealing its crowded tap-room crammed with poor and soon-to-be-penniless people, William whispered to his son Bramwell (then only a lad)… ‘These are our people. These are the people I want you to live for and win for Christ.’

Who were these people he claimed so passionately as his own? They were The Impoverished. They were ‘Les Miserables’ of his time. William felt called to The Excluded. He named them ‘The Submerged Tenth’. Their poverty was the agent of their exclusion, the source of much of their misery, the nourishment of a great deal of their godlessness.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE WELL FED. How could they be anything else? They had no regular work and could depend upon no regular income. To make matters worse they had many mouths to feed.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE EDUCATED. Their poverty kept them out of school and it denied them the serious training they needed to follow a proper trade.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE HEALTHY. They were compelled to live in unhealthy places on an unhealthy and totally inadequate diet. They were never allowed to cross the threshold of the doctor’s house.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE FORTUNATE. No opportunity for escape from their outcast condition was ever offered to them. They were given no chance to better themselves.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM SOCIETY. They were treated as people of no consequence, as if they did not exist. For the most part they were ignored by the respectable and the comfortably off.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE INFLUENTIAL. They were not allowed to influence the world around them except perhaps by disorder and riot. They were often inarticulate people and often they were silenced altogether.

THEY WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE CHURCH. They had not the right clothes to wear. They had not the right vocabulary to participate in its worship. Many of them could not read the prayer book. Often, if they summoned up enough courage to enter a church they were not encouraged to return. The faithful did not know how to handle them and they were made to feel unwelcome. When the young William Booth ushered a small army of the people he was trying to help into his own church he was reprimanded by the elders. If he must bring them, then he must keep them out of sight.


There were others at work and they thanked God for every one of them, but the people called Salvationists ‘wedded’ themselves to the excluded. They dedicated their lives to the business of raising the ‘submerged tenth’ by God’s help and offering them salvation both physical and spiritual. They were fanatics but they were holy fanatics. They were determined to fight the conditions that created ‘exclusion’ to which society in general preferred to close its eyes. They were determined to include the excluded or die in the attempt. The God of mercy and compassion could not refuse to help them and he did help them.


We have only to open our eyes to know that they exist in every part of the world and in great numbers. Poverty exists still in all its forms.


We have to admit that some Salvationists seem to have forgotten them. It is possible for one of the excluded to visit a Salvation Army meeting or fellowship and not feel welcome. In some corps no effort is made to reach let alone serve the ‘submerged,’ which incidentally now is more than ten per cent of the population of many countries.

But The Salvation Army as a movement has not deserted its calling. It still invests a great deal of its resources, both human and financial in the war against exclusion in its varied forms and not without some success. Social institutions, programs and projects of many kinds across the world testify to this. In addition more and more corps are reaching out to the deprived and the excluded. The Army’s concern for the impoverished of every kind is very acute in some places and its tears for ‘the outcasts’ still flow. But…


It will help us to do more and to do better if we do it more intelligently. Certain major principles need to be accepted:

PRAYER MUST BE MATCHED WITH ACTION. If it is true that ‘Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees’…it is also true that Satan trembles much more when, having said his prayers, that same ‘saint’ rolls up his sleeves and sets out (God helping him) to answer them.

TO HELP THE EXCLUDED WE NEED TO BE WITH THEM! Nothing can be done at arm’s length. We must get alongside the impoverished whatever form their poverty takes. The old time slum sisters not only worked in their districts but they lived in them. They did not live at a distance and drive in every day. Is nobody called to this kind of dedication any more?

REMEMBER, THE BEST WORKERS FOR THE EXCLUDED ARE THOSE WHO WERE ONCE THEMSELVES EXCLUDED. We must mobilize every one of these precious people. They know what it’s like to feel left out. They know the vocabulary of the excluded. They recognize the symptoms of the disease and they know what is needed to bring healing.

PREVENTION IS AS IMPORTANT AS CURE. The best way to stop exclusion is to never let it start. The best way to do this will be with the excluded child. We ignore the children at our peril and theirs!


If we are to achieve anything among the excluded we must personally include them…in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our programs, in our lives, in our hearts, in our Army and hardest of all, in our homes. The excluded are hypersensitive …they can tell a fake carer miles away. A fake inclusion is worse than useless. The victim of it is doubly wounded.


Christ of compassion grant the people called Salvationists a fresh baptism of compassion. Make us genuine carers for the impoverished. Help your Salvation Army everywhere to recapture a passion for the poor and the determination to integrate the excluded in your name.

P.S. And what I pray for your Army, Lord, I pray for myself!

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