Singing the songs of justice

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Salvation Army delegates gain international perspective on social welfare.

Kate Booth, La Marechale

Forty-five Salvation Army delegates—from 20 territories and commands and International Headquarters—attended the recent 33rd International Council of Welfare Global Conference in Tours, France. The delegates are all involved in social and community ministries, and included Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan, director of the Army’s International Social Justice Commission, and Major Allie Niles, Western territorial social services secretary. The conference focused on social work, social protection and social development and provided an international perspective on these issues.

“The Army has been involved in social justice issues from the very beginning,” said Niles, “and I’m grateful to be a part of an Army that continues to be involved. The early Army made an important impact on the world of their time, and so can we. It is important for all of us as officers, soldiers, employees and supporters of the Army’s work to be involved in these issues at this crucial time in the world. We can and should; in fact, we are called to make a difference.”

After the main event, a three-day Salvation Army conference took place, exploring issues of social justice in the context of Christian social service. The conference theme was “Singing the Songs of Justice,” and MacMillan, in her keynote address, challenged delegates with the question, “What song is The Salvation Army singing today?”

MacMillan said she has begun to see injustice as a world separated from itself—scarcity amongst plenty—and she examined The Salvation Army’s current approach to issues of social justice and how its focus has changed over time. Early on, social services and social work were the main thrust of social justice. Now, however, the view has “broadened to macro socio-economic issues with an emphasis on social protection, development and globalization.” Recent emphases have centered on emergency services and human trafficking.

Social justice as a family mandate
Members of The Salvation Army recognize themselves as a family, sharing beliefs, attitudes and qualities. With social justice as a family mandate, Salvationists are called “to challenge unjust structures and support vulnerable communities.”

How might this stance affect the Army’s reputation? Historically, Salvationists answered the call to action without fear. In France in the late 1800s, Kate Booth—La Maréchale—faced criticism and imprisonment during her efforts to establish The Salvation Army there. “Her tenacity…reached levels of aggressiveness where police were often called to Salvation Army events in the interest of public order,” said MacMillan, who then wondered if today, “does a Salvation Army social justice stance feel to some like the reputation risks are too great?”

Later, she declared, “Social justice does not sit in the world with a clean and pressed uniform with its mouth shut.”

Realizing who we are
MacMillan urged Salvationists to realize the triune balance of who they are, which includes faith, mercy and social justice. “Social justice interprets faith and mercy with deeper questions resulting in a relevance of approach. Social justice for God is not an attribute or personality trait; it is the essence of who God is, developed in his embodied gospel.”

For the Social Justice Commission, and all Salvationists, the challenge is to ask the tough questions—why and why not. “Asking ‘why’ sometimes means doing less and asking ‘why not’ develops service that builds a capacity beyond our own capabilities. It becomes the discovery of transformational results as God himself dares with us.”

Millennium Development Goals
A major focus of The Salvation Army conference was the Millennium Development Goals—eight goals developed by the United Nations, which are “the most ambitious commitment that world governments have ever made to fighting poverty. The first goal is to reduce absolute poverty and hunger in half by 2015. The next six all focus on causes and consequences of poverty. The final goal is to develop a global partnership for development. “Yes, kindred connections of oneness,” MacMillan said.

MacMillan noted that the goals fix our attention on a startling world of injustice. Salvationists, she believes, would agree with Paul in Romans 12:2 that combating injustice involves “change from the inside out.”

“Social justice gets inside the horror and brings it out,” said MacMillan. “God brings out the best—motivating our personal development, leading to aspiring change by bringing out the best in others.”

– Compiled by Karen Gleason from an international news release and notes from Commissioner M. Christine MacMillan.

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