On the Corner
BY ROBERT DOCTER –
AN OPEN LETTER
To General-elect Larsson and all of us
First of all, CONGRATULATIONS. And thank you for being willing to step into the most taxing and stressful position in the Army. Your soldiers around the world are with you. Together, we walk in faith, believing firmly in the unique position in Christendom held by this organization we love so dearly. Half of our numbers are first-generation Salvationists – new to the culture of the Army – new to its ethic and ethos. Most of them haven’t conceptualized the Army’s distinct identity as a branch of the Christian church.
Here are a few questions to ponder.
How will we insure that every participant/soldier/client/volunteer in a Salvation Army program will have an opportunity to grow spiritually as a result of their connection with us?
How will we maintain our uniqueness and foster its continued development in the cause of Christ?
Who assumes what roles – in the church – regionally – nationally -internationally?
How should those roles be defined?
Does our historic structure continue to meet the needs of the 21st century?
In an age of increased professionalism, how can we maintain the “seamlessness” of our multiple program goals?
Recognizing the importance of the role of the officer, how can we modify the selection process for officership to encourage and accept more talented applicants and to educate more fully those who already serve us in this capacity?
I suspect you have thought of even more.
Confronting the danger of being perceived as presumptuous, I offer some words for you and for the rest of us as we make this journey together.
“You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.”
Nelson Mandela spoke these words on the occasion of his inauguration as President of South Africa in 1994. They are fitting words for all of us, but especially, today, for The Salvation Army’s newest General.
You are our international leader. We are not a large church, but we are not small. There is nothing like this Army anywhere in the world. I pray that you will not perceive your elevation to this position as a short-term, interim appointment. It is not your role to maintain the status quo. You are our leader. Inspire us toward continued spiritual growth.
I suspect some of the Cardinals who voted to elevate Angelo Roncalli to the papacy might have perceived him as simply an interim leader due to his age. If so, they were mistaken. As Pope John 23rd there was nothing interim about him. He was a man for the ages – wrote some memorable encyclicals and organized Vatican II that dramatically altered the course of the Catholic church.
Roncalli might have said with Mandela: “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around us.”
This Army has a responsibility to serve the world. We must have a voice to help our world explore aspects of some crucial issues. It must have a strong moral tone, not of condemnation, but of pointing a way to right action.
Within our own membership, we must attack complacency and build a strong sense of pride in the Army.
We must become more multicultural as a world by working to become more sensitive in our own communities concerning the values, attitudes and belief systems of our neighbors.
The pillars of our policy must be constructed from the basic material of our ethic.
We must preach Christ by revealing Christian love.
We must articulate our commitment to human rights for all. No person is out on the margin of life. No person is excluded from the love of God. We must reach out to all and confront the unfortunate attitudes within all of us that push us toward exclusionary judgmentalism.
We must articulate the meanings of justice, peace and love in a manner that allows them to be essential ideas in guiding our relationships with others.
We must find ways to stimulate economic development in the world. We must be the church of the poor. And for those of us who have achieved a measure of material affluence, we must be challenged toward greater acceptance of those less fortunate.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
God be with you.