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Nov25TueHow our fifth doctrine offers hope for a broken world. November 25, 2014 by Major Ray Harris
A few months ago my wife and I went for a walk in downtown Winnipeg. It wasn't a particularly scenic route, but it was highly symbolic. Cathie and I joined about 30 others to walk from the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights to the Holocaust Memorial on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. Dr. Stefan Carter led the walk as a way to keep memory alive. As a young teen in the summer of 1942, he was taken from the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, and sent to an internment camp. “The authorities pushed me one way and my mother another way. I never saw her again.”
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The issue of human worth and dignity is at the heart of so much tragedy in human history. How can we value people so little that six million European Jews were killed and more than 1,100 indigenous women and girls have been murdered or are missing in Canada? The Salvation Army's fifth core conviction helps us respond to these current questions: We believe that our first parents were created in a state of innocency, but by their disobedience they lost their purity and happiness, and that in consequence of their fall all men have become sinners, totally depraved, and as such are justly exposed to the wrath of God. Let's explore the biblical grounding of this doctrine and then put it into conversation with the 21st century.
This doctrine holds two biblical convictions in tension. First, humanity was created in the image of God: “Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness' … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them … It was very good” (Genesis 1:26-31 NRSV). Thus the early chapters of Genesis portray God addressing humanity, and humanity responding in turn. Since it is “not good” that the man Adam is alone, human community is important to being fully human. Because both man and woman bear God's image, neither can be dehumanized. Lastly, humans have a vocation to exercise stewardship over creation, not to exploit it. The second conviction expressed in this doctrine introduces the tension: humanity's mistrust and disobedience of God pollutes our relationships and our world. Humanity is fallen, lost, wounded, broken, mistrusting and fragmented. We are made in the image of God, but we are sinful. This is both the heart and the tension of this core conviction.
The undermining of human dignity takes different forms in the 21st century. Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar empire. It reaches into families around the world—at least 2.5 million persons are being trafficked globally. This treatment of women and children violates their worth and dignity. Human trafficking also expresses the way human sinfulness becomes systemic, or in biblical terms, embodies the “principalities and powers of the age.”
Pornography is a closely related form of dehumanization. It is estimated there are more than four million porn websites, with teenagers being the largest users. One director of porn films describes his actresses as “a throwaway commodity in a throwaway world.” The reasons why women become involved in this “industry” are complex, but the consequences are destructive. In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges writes that pornography “extinguishes the sacred and the human to worship power, control, force and pain. It replaces empathy, eros and compassion with the illusion that we are gods.” The God of the biblical story is not indifferent to this darkness: humanity is justly exposed to the wrath of God.
The Salvation Army's communal life and mission takes its cue from this doctrine. Conscious of our own sinfulness, we respond to God's grace by viewing all peoples as created in the image of the triune God. Because of this we honour the dignity of people with dementia, care for those with disabilities, respect those of different race and ethnicity, see the image of the divine in those of different sexual orientation and refuse to treat people as commodities, because we know that God's grace cannot be reduced to a commodity. In a sinful world we seek to express the human dignity born of God's grace. With all persons. This conviction matters!
Major Ray Harris is a retired Salvation Army officer of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. He lives in Winnipeg where he plays trombone in the Heritage Park Temple Band.
Convictions Matter, Major Ray Harris' new book, is available at store.salvationarmy.ca, 416-422-6100, firstname.lastname@example.org. For the e-book, visit amazon.ca.