Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Sally Army - viewpoint

Regular visitors to my blog space will know that I have already written about the Refugee Crisis in Greece  and  also the subject of Food banks and so I will  leave links to those for you to seek the blogs too if your interest is piqued by the subjects. after learning about Paul’s experiences in the next instalment of the series.

Rather than follow the episode through chronologically, I thought I would start the blog with the most contentious area in the hour long programme., which was Paul’s  questions  to The Commissioner , the highest ranking officer in the Salvation Army; about the Salvation Army’s membership and the strict way membership is controlled, excluding certain behaviours  and so members of society is actually a sobering part of the programme.

The answers Paul gets in relation to  Homosexuals becoming soldiers are very stark, that it is just not something that aligns with the rules of enlistment. It saddens me. I think had he have chosen to Paul, would have been a wonderful addition to the Ranks, but it got me to thinking so I did some research on the more negative things thrown at the Sally Army and have penned this subjective and personal sidebar to the blog series;  focusing on my reactions to some of the complaints levelled  at the Sally.

In the interests of fairness , I picked three random articles from the Internet to see what was being laid at The Sally Army’s Door and it at first reading it  seems to be pretty damning stuff.

The Largest component appears to be the suggestion that there is a particular condemnation of the LGBT community and that they claim that Homosexuals should die. A particularly damning article was doing the rounds just before Christmas on Facebook. 

Now I find this area exceptionally tricky myself because I became a Christian relatively late and had spent extensive time whilst at college, in the company of Gay,Lesbian  and Bisexual people and several remain firm friends even today,  so the passages about Men not lying with another Man always cause a pangs in  my conscience  because I could never judge or condemn for What I consider to be not choices, but just a part of their make up.

I balance this by just examining the core teachings of Jesus and the Bible that says that not a single human being is without sin in the eyes of God, but that through attempting to model Jesus, we go some of the way in repaying the debt that Jesus paid in the Cross for each of us sinners. 

When you look at what Army literature actually says there is no singling out of LGBT at all  and that it is all behaviours  that affront God, which  are potentially stopping the path to a closer and more meaningful relationship with Him and so lead to Spiritual “Death”

We each have behaviours that go against the teachings of the Bible, some of us even exhibit behaviours that go against the of the law of the land. Each are fully cognisant of their areas of weakness even if the do not openly own up to them. We are in fact just flawed creatures. I would not presume to judge anyone for their humanity and actually when you get down to the nitty gritty neither does the Salvation Army. 

Salvation Army members do not believe, and would never endorse, a view that homosexual activity should result in any form of physical punishment. The Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine does not state that practising homosexuals should be put to death and, in fact, urges all Salvationists to act with acceptance, love and respect to all people. The Salvation Army teaches that every person is of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved

There is not a questionnaire at the door of services that decrees if you are homosexual, a thief, a drunk or have a violent temper that you cannot come inside, in fact you will find that the Salvation Army is welcoming to all , in particular those on the fringes of society.

Do they set a standard for their  officers? Yes! which is why the training appears to be so extensive.  It would seem that smoking and Drinking are a No No, but then all Religious groups set criteria or rules of some kind  for their leaders and trying to set a higher standard for yourself seems a reasonable thing in of itself if you are trying to set an example.

 If you are trying to help people out of addictions it would seem hypocritical to be  preaching about self control and self respect whilst puffing on a ciggie or quaffing a can of Lager, but if you are a volunteer at the sharp end, a little empathy or experience can be a valuable thing.

Respect for any  person’s moral position starts by examining their standards surely? When a person is then representing a faith organisation they should thus try to conform to the intrinsic values of it’s teachings, but as Humans God knows we are not infallible. Which is why the lady at the youth house does not wear the uniform so as not to sully the “ articles of war”

It does not stop her doing the good works of the organisation or from attending worship services, but her integrity prevents her donning the uniform as a smoker.

Let us not forget that the Salvation Army is not actually a religious denomination it is a faith based Charity that runs church services for the community.. Yes they seek to save souls, but to my mind they also put their money where their mouth is and roll up their sleeves and take action to help the meek and the vulnerable however they choose to live their lives.

Whilst I believe that The LGBT community are being excluded unfairly, I can see to some extent why the rule is there. No church is perfect or else we would not have need of one in the first place, humans are flawed whenever they gather in groups , even in the name of God!

The second argument I found was that  the Sally Army is involved in the despised  workfare scheme introduced  by the British Department for Work and Pensions.

Workfare requires jobseekers to undertake "work experience" for up to 30 hours a week over four weeks. The work is unpaid and the experience of uncertain value, but failure to complete a placement means forfeiting benefits. The argument in the Guardian article I found is that Workfare is coercive and  of dubious legality, in that those enrolled on the scheme can't reclaim docked benefits. 

The guardian terms this as a  moral swamp, but it's one the Salvation Army claims to be getting involved out of Charity not for gain. 

"As a locally-based church and charity, devoted to serving God and showing unconditional Christian love to all, we offer support to help people become job-ready, to get a job and to stay in work," says a statement on the Salvation Army's website. "As such, we are involved in the work programme…" 

The Guardian  reporter states that the second part of that statement doesn't follow from the first: the Salvation Army could help people become "job-ready" in any number of ways that don't involve workfare.

“It could offer interview coaching and support with applications. It could provide volunteer (rather than compulsory) work experience placements. It could do so many things that don't make it complicit in a scheme that undermines both the autonomy of individuals in need and the underlying principles of the welfare state.”

I would argue they already do. I think the Salvation Army are working within the parameters of the DWP schemes because it means folk still get their benefits. 
They will be more the cognisant of the effect that being on a low income has when benefits are cut and their involvement in soup kitchens and Foodbanks  help to counteract benefits sanctions.

Voluntary work is worthy and why much of the good work the army does comes about, but it does not always instil good working practices in younger participants looking to use it as a stepping stone  into  work. For youngsters with no previous work experience, the compulsory nature of the scheme actually mirrors the realities of working life, if you do not attend, you do not get paid. 

I know of one young man in my personal sphere who would have given up the job search ages ago had it not been for the compulsory nature of these schemes. A regular truant with no qualifications at school level, and  a serial further education college student, he has very few life skills and no work experience at all. Without compulsory work experience he has little chance of finding gainful employment.

The argument is that participants will feel less worth for having been “forced” to work within the scheme, however if I were to be looking to any organisation for instilling a feeling of worthiness and value within society, it would be the Salvation Army as it has a proven record of this  in all it’s areas of work.

I would also argue that their work with Young homeless in particular, is a additional layer of support for the jobless, they encourage study and develop talents already inherent in youngsters as evidenced in the second show on the Paul O’Grady programme.

The biggest problem I see in the current jobless numbers is the fact that young people are being disenfranchised because the older generation is having to remain in work after retirement age to supplement income into old age, so entry to work is just harder for all young people. This is not a problem with how the Salvation Army or even the Government apply the scheme, but how the Economy is shaping the make up of the workforce. 

Much of the criticism of Salvationists seems to come from the historical treatment of indigenous peoples in Australia or poor monetary management in the USA . Both are nations where super churches and uber pastors seem to have cashed in on Christianity as a business and these misdemeanours are not the result of British HQ edicts, but of local leadership issues in countries that have adopted the Salvation Army; but applied their own standards of behaviour in the development of the church abroad..

Local British citadels are much more intimate in their running and practices with a larger presence in Northern areas where Brass Bands are more accepted and familiar so recruitment from these areas remains more fluid. 

The issue of the cost  of purchase of band instruments seems to have been used to condemn the movement and this  to my mind seems wholly inflated  and a little unfair when I look at the size of my local band and the state of their instruments. Even if the figure of 25% expenditure from donations is correct which I highly doubt,  Army concerts earn good money which  can be shown to be being spent on local projects and are a part of British Culture as well as the Christian landscape in this country. 

I see no difference in the expense of musical instruments and the cost of large scale building of churches in other denominations or the expenditure on the pomp and circumstance of high church Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches worldwide.

I know that all organised religions have their bad apples and undoubtable people acting under their auspices will have strayed far from the tenets of the ideas of the Booths, but I truly believe the demonstrable good that is done by the Salvation Army far outweighs any outdated application of doctrine, business administration errors or other claims of ill treatment in Hostels of the past.  

Modern problems have seen a modern approach by Salvationists who still seek to pull up their sleeves  and where good hearted people are there can only ever be Goodness in response.

Come back again soon to find out more about Paul's experiences in Greece and meeting folk reliant on Foodbanks.

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