In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with New Frontier, General John Larsson commented broadly on matters pertaining to the internationalism of the Army, issues in officership—including positions assigned to married women officers, the importance of the Army’s holistic ministry and expressions of our social conscience. He began by offering his impressions of the West.
“This territory seems very ‘alive’—very spontaneous and exciting,” he said. He commented on the “energy” he felt within the leadership and within soldiers and friends. He noted that he always insisted on being able to spend time with those who attended his meetings and to speak to as many as possible in the aisles and hallways of any auditorium in which he is scheduled.
In exploring the impact of the West on the international Army, he turned quickly to its impact on his predecessor, friend, and lyricist for his music, General John Gowans (Ret.). “I believe he found the American years in the West very enriching,” he said. “You do things somewhat differently here,” he observed, “and territories around the world—especially in the United Kingdom—are embracing some of the approaches to ministry you have developed. With your ‘corps community centers’ you have great potential and much demonstrated success in joining the Army’s social ministry with its worship ministry.
“The American territories really pioneered this union,” he noted. “While the founders of the Army saw the importance of this social and spiritual link, the social work in Britain developed as an entirely separate entity. It was its own territory with its own commissioner as territorial commander, and officers in the ‘social wing’ saw themselves as completely apart from those in ‘field’ appointments.”
Larsson provided an example of the U.K. Territory’s growing commitments to holistic ministry in its publication of extensive studies that the Territory commissioned the Henley Group to undertake. This non-Army research entity was asked to examine the state of a number of important social justice issues within Britain in order to increase awareness by political and religious decisions makers of some important social issues. Three reports have been made. They concerned: The Paradox of Prosperity—issues related poverty; The Burden of Youth—problems of young people today; and The Responsibility Gap—the tensions arising from values of individuality with responsibilities related to community.
“We need to speak out on matters of social conscience,” Larsson stated. “Sometimes we are too cautious.”
While recognizing the significant growth of applications to become Salvation Army officers in many areas of the world, Larsson was asked to comment on the declining numbers in many countries whose population is primarily Euro/white. “It’s difficult to know actual reasons. I suspect there are many—many of which could be unique to the individual. One might offer a guess that recognizes the increased interest on the part of these Army youth to find their avenues of ministry in employment rather than officership. Many have increased education and find opportunities in the Army as well as other employment.
Women officers have always had important roles in the Army. Two of our past Generals have been women. Both were single. In discussing the roles of married women officers Larsson said: “We need to look back 10 to 15 years on this question. We mustn’t lose sight of the tremendous change during that period. Now, every married woman officer has a distinct appointment. Formerly, that was not the case. More and more around the world, couples assigned to corps appointments find the names of both husband and wife identified as ‘corps officer.’ Interestingly, in the U.K. Territory those names are listed alphabetically in the Disposition of Forces.
Commissioner Freda Larsson, wife of the General, who participated in the interview, observed that the issue primarily concerned opportunities for leadership by those married women officers who desired it. The General then reported that in a number of territories around the world the wife has a major leadership appointment with the husband assigned a different responsibility.
In commenting on territorial leadership responsibilities from an international perspective, Larsson stated: “There has been a sea-change at IHQ. The next picture of the High Council will have a very different look—including officers appointed to International Headquarters. Today, there are many more territorial commanders serving in territories indigenous to their own culture. Here, he observed, the International Secretaries and the Under Secretaries bring broad multicultural representation.”
In concluding the interview, Larsson observed: “Everyone would like the Army to be perfect. We’re not—and we will never be perfect. But God is the great preserver, and He preserves those parts of our effort that move us most effectively toward His goals for us.”