By Robert Docter –
I wonder about the strength of our advocacy on behalf of those feeling the pain of social injustice. We seem quite timid–un-Booth-like–slow–unfocused–reactive. I wonder what inhibits our willingness to use the media more forcefully in a proactive manner to communicate a moral position. I wonder why we don’t have more involvement with state legislatures, helping shape positive legislation prior to passage and resist legislative action designed only to advance a special interest.
I know we’re probably doing more than I realize but somehow, it doesn’t come to public attention. Major George Hood, national public affairs director, has written a thoughtful paper on Advocacy in the Public Square. He raises some important questions and makes a number of good recommendations, one of which is crucial. He notes that “nowhere can you find an articulated set of core values for The Salvation Army either globally or nationally.” We need this or we will continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.
I add to this that nowhere do we have an established pro-active process for determining in a timely manner the content of our corporate comment. We need a process. If we can’t develop these factors, we’re going to fail in our ministry to some very important people.
Who speaks for the poor?
Who denounces social policies that maintain economic deprivation among significant portions of our population?
Who confronts the immorality of homelessness? Who seeks to care for and remedy the problems of the mentally ill among them — to address their needs, bind their mental, emotional, social and physical wounds — feed their bodies and souls — and address forcefully the conditions that keep people in that status?
Who stands to condemn racial injustice?
Who advocates for the disenfranchised and marginalized of society?
What voice sings out to confront oppression anywhere in the world?
Is it immoral to slowly erode life-giving aspects of the environment?
Is there such a thing as social sin — sins committed by an entire social structure against particular segments of that society?
I believe such sin exists.
Is there an organization poised more perfectly to confront social sin than The Salvation Army? Is there a logo known to mankind more trusted and more readily associated with right action based on the teaching of Jesus than the Army’s red shield?
Perhaps only one — the cross of Jesus Christ. Too often, however, it seems this vital symbol is used simply as a piece of jewelry.
Christ told the story of the Good Samaritan in response to a lawyer’s question on how to attain eternal life. The story reveals certain personality characteristics of the Good Samaritan common to those willing to leap from a bystander role and act with immediacy, skill and completeness in delivering aid to someone set upon by thieves. He reveals a strong sense of social responsibility; a spirit of courageous adventurousness; a willingness to be unique, different, and unconventional; a high degree of empathy for the destitute regardless of their racial or cultural orientation; and a strong commitment to social action. It is, however, not simply a story of one man helping another. It is a message requiring the same level of involvement on a broader scale where social injustice exists. Sometimes those “thieves” are found in community ordinances, state and federal law books, accepted customs of a population.
The Army’s intervention model to alleviate social ills tends to focus on one life at a time. It is a good model, but it does not preclude broader societal intervention. While it recognizes the essential requirement of holistic involvement, many of its intervention strategies fail to engage those burdened with social ills in a holistic manner.
This is not to say that every delivery of service should be accompanied with a Bible message — or even a Bible verse. Where an emergency exists — stop the blood — even if it’s hunger, or exhaustion, or ignorance, or psychological or physical pain. I believe, however, we fail in our mission if we perceive ourselves only as a social service delivery system managing individual cases. When the intervention links dedicated Christians with those who come to us for assistance it’s even better. But I believe we are also required to speak with a loud voice to elevate societal awareness of social injustice in our midst.
This is the model of William Booth.
Booth’s soldiers implemented his social service programs. This is how they built their corps. Moreover, Booth confronted social injustice on both individual and social levels. Where necessary, he marched on Parliament itself even organized sit-ins — working within the political arena to alleviate conditions imposed on his nation’s poor. He changed policies concerning the age of consent for teen-age prostitutes. He confronted unfair labor practices. He took on alcohol and illicit drugs. He never seemed to shy away from media attention when confronting a serious social problem — and he really got going when the going got difficult. He spoke out. He was quoted in national media. His voice was heard. He demonstrated on a broad social level all of the personality characteristics of the Good Samaritan.
What should be the content of our message? I believe we can answer that by simply examining the basic principles and values articulated by Jesus.
Everyone is my neighbor. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
We must not be morally mute. We must not be timid in speaking out. We must not inhibit communication of our message in the face of social injustice.
There are some who what where when details to work out. Let’s begin the process.