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Jun13ThuGeneral Brian Peddle's vision for the worldwide Army. June 13, 2019 by Geoff Moulton
This month, General Brian Peddle, together with Commissioner Rosalie Peddle, World President of Women’s Ministries, will provide leadership at the B.C. Congress and Commissioning of the Messengers of Compassion Session of cadets. When they last visited the Canada and Bermuda Territory for the Canadian Staff Band’s 50th anniversary weekend, Geoff Moulton, editor-in-chief, sat down with the General to ask him about his first seven months in office.
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How does it feel to be back in Canada on home soil?Home is a place that, when you go there, they’ve got to let you in! (laughs) Coming home is always great—it’s seeing familiar faces and places that you are accustomed to. I come home to Canada and I’m embraced, welcomed. Yet there are many people who don’t have the privilege of home. Millions in our world today have been displaced with no identity, so it’s reminded me of the value of home.
How has your Canadian identity shaped your leadership style?
Canadians are distinct in the world. We’re our own people. I would trace that influence to my formational years in Newfoundland, where leadership in a community, church and family were important. I saw many examples of people who led with structure and made things happen.
Through my Salvation Army connections, I’ve been greatly influenced by the opportunity to lead in a variety of settings across Canada. I credit the executive leader training that was available to me through Simon Fraser University. I still use these frameworks of fair process, understanding my current reality and leading consultatively with a desire to create good outcomes. Of course, I’m still learning how to be a good leader, and enjoying the influence of many people around me.
The Canadian Staff Band is celebrating its 50th anniversary. How has the band’s influence been felt in your life and in the life of the territory?
As a former territorial commander, I was told that the Canadian Staff Band was mine. I think that’s because the band serves the territorial leadership so well. During our time in Canada and Bermuda, the band stood with us on a number of occasions, enhancing territorial events with that sense of commitment and service.
I was never a band member—I came to the Army just a bit too late. But banding in the Canada and Bermuda Territory, and around the world, is an incredible asset. God has given music to The Salvation Army. The Canadian Staff Band continues to make a valuable contribution because the band members know what it means to be committed and to serve. Out of their giftedness, they add something special to the DNA of the Army in this territory.
Since you’ve become General, what has surprised you?
There have been many surprises. (laughs) I’ve been an officer for more than 40 years, but what has surprised me most in this role is the privilege of seeing the Army in some of the 131 countries where we are active. For example, Salvationists might ask, “Why is the Army in Kuwait?” But I visited a safe house we run there that rescued 22 young women and I know why. I went to Pakistan where we have 50,000 committed Salvationists in an environment where it’s not easy to be a follower of Christ. Across the border in India are 370,000 Salvationists—one quarter of The Salvation Army’s membership! Again, the atmosphere is not always friendly toward Christians. So I’m surprised at the incredible resilience of the Army around the world, whereas you and I have relative ease in practising our faith. I don’t take for granted that these people are faithful.
You’ve been called “the 21st General for the 21st century.” What does that mean?
I respect the past, but I have more of a forward view than a rear view. I build on what people have laid down as foundational for the Army, and when I say I can stand upon the shoulders of those who’ve gone before me, that’s about foundation, but it’s also about being able to see further.
The deeper meaning in that quote is that we have to be innovative, we have to be relevant, we have to figure out how we interpret rock-solid truths in a language and in a context that people can rely on today. It’s about having an expectation that the message and mission of the Army will move forward in the generation that we are leading now, and for generations to come.
Commissioner Bill Luttrell, when he was Canada and Bermuda’s territorial leader, used the tagline “Forging a Path to the Future.” We’re not going back. We can’t do everything the way we did it. So how do we embrace a new reality? We must continue to be cutting-edge.
In January, you issued a global Call to Mission. What is the nature of that call and how can Salvationists play their part?
The depth and breadth of that call is significant. It was released formally in January, but the call had been settling in my heart ever since I drove away from the High Council election. I was very conscious of the fact that the Army would need to hear from me and from God. I needed to put some words around what that message from the Lord would be for my time leading the international Army. I found myself turning to Deuteronomy 10: “What does the Lord require of you?” The question was asked of Israel, and it weighed heavily upon me, personally.
I believe the Army needs to BE READY and positioned to do what God is asking us. It’s about our prayer lives. It’s about living a holy life. It’s about being battle-ready. People need to be introduced to faith now.
We must also BE ENGAGED. We can’t be in this world and hide behind anything that takes interest away from the core mission of the Army to win the world for Jesus.
Lastly, we must TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. God has called and commissioned us. He’s created us with a certain DNA. We have a bias for the poor. We’re interested in those who have no voice. We don’t want to see the marginalized further marginalized. And so, Salvation Army, let’s stand up and take responsibility for the mission that God’s given to us.
In other interviews, you’ve alluded to reviewing the Soldier’s Covenant. How do we keep soldiership relevant and engaging? What changes may be coming?
It’s not so much the Soldier’s Covenant that needs addressing. The Articles of War, as we call them, and the “I Will” statements, craft out our values, a way of living out our Christian commitment as Salvationists. I think these are rock-solid.
The initiative that International Headquarters is undertaking is the rewriting of the Soldier’s Orders and Regulations. They’re linked to and unpack the various “I Will” statements, so they help us ask, What does it mean for us to value this or value that? How do we live that out?
Soldiership is not a rite of passage. It’s not even about membership in The Salvation Army. Soldiership must be reconfigured and recrafted and presented to our people as a call. A call to serve. A call to identify with a lifestyle. You’re not going to be forced to do it. And you won’t be any less a person by not doing it. But I would wager that you’ll be a better soldier if you’re responding to a call that comes from the heart of God to you.
In our territory, more than 50 officers are retiring this year and only 13 will be commissioned. Are we facing a crisis of leadership?
When I was territorial commander in Canada and Bermuda, I knew this year was coming because we could project the retirements. The numbers are valid and concerning, so the territory has a responsibility to be vigilant as it looks at those realities. As the General, I see that reality replicated in other territories. But what’s astounding from my perspective is that worldwide we currently have 17,465 active officers, more than we’ve had in the last 30 years. We are commissioning more new lieutenants now than at any time in the last 20 years. So we have an international resource, but we have to start asking, How do we deploy them, both in their homelands and internationally, to meet the needs of leadership around the world?
Can you foresee a day when we will bring more officers from overseas to serve in Canada?
I hope so! I thank the territorial commander for sharing Canadians with the world, but how do we mobilize people to also come and share ministry responsibility in Canada? We have places in the world where we can’t train officers because we can’t place them, so candidates are being held back. We have other places where we’re only training one session. It’s not that there aren’t appointments; we just can’t sustain them in the field. When the Canada and Bermuda Territory puts its hand up and says, “We might not have enough officers in the coming years,” maybe the international Army can help with that.
How do we address the financial disparity between Western territories and the developing world?
There are strategies. I want to remind people that this disparity exists in the wider world—it’s not just a Salvation Army issue. The Salvation Army is trying to create a reasonable equity in a context that is not marked by equity.
We are engaging territories around the Army world in a conversation about moving toward self-support. In some respects, we’ve created a dilemma of dependency around the world. William Booth said he didn’t want to start a religion that was going to be too expensive for the people. In some ways we’ve done that. So, it’s about understanding how to be the best and the most equitable Army where we are.
But we also have an incredible international helping hand, a helping mechanism through Partners in Mission and other projects. We help around the world, we build schools, we fix buildings and we support people. We have to keep doing that kind of thing, being careful to work in partnership with a receiving land.
Where have you seen signs of hope and examples of the “spirit of the Army” in your travels?
Twenty-two of the countries where we serve are on the watch list of the 50 top countries for persecuted Christians. Even getting a visa to travel there is not easy, no matter what rank I have. So, I’m inspired by the fact the Army’s growing in those oppressed environments—and not only growing, but they constitute a large share of Salvation Army membership. God is faithful, even when the circumstances seem daunting.
Your recent article in The Officer magazine (“Have We Got it Wrong?”) noted that we haven’t always lived up to our reputation on gender equality. Can you explain?
We’ve not done as well as the general public would pat us on the back for. The accolade needs to be qualified because I am working in a male-dominated Army. There are relatively few female officers in positions of influence when it comes to leadership and policy. So we have to change our culture. Sixty percent of officers are women. We are missing out on their leadership, their contribution, and the Army is poorer because of it. After 153 years as a movement, we’re trying to draw a line in the sand and say, “What can we do to mitigate against that? What courageous steps do we take?” There is an IHQ task force that will be engaging the Army world.
When I wrote the article for The Officer magazine, it also became clear to me that the issue isn’t just the officers. Salvationists have to grapple with how to accept others regardless of gender, as far as the leadership piece is concerned. I hope it becomes a dialogue that we’ll all participate in, and perhaps in another decade, we’ll be a little further down the track than we are at the moment.
When more than one third of Gen Z (people born after 1995) in North America identify as non-religious or atheist, how are we positioning ourselves to effectively reach that generation?
That generation needs to be acknowledged, and we have to understand why they’re voting with their feet. We can’t protect The Salvation Army’s future by relying on the longevity of our current membership. There’s no future in living longer.
Soldiership is not a rite of passage. It must be reconfigured and recrafted and presented to our people as a call.Your numbers are reflective of Canada, and in some countries the numbers would creep even higher. As the church, the body of Christ, we have to repent for betraying trust—we’ve not always been faithful. A lot of young people’s departure from the church is based on the fact that they don’t trust us anymore. But they still need to hear the truth, they need to see integrity and authenticity, they need to see service without discrimination and with love. They need to see a Salvation Army that’s fully engaged in the things that matter in the world, including the social justice agenda.
On a worldwide level, I see contingents of young people who are still passionately committed to The Salvation Army. On one front, the statistics of Gen Z or millennials bother me, give me a pain in my heart. But on another front, this doesn’t steal my optimism, because these same people are looking for something worthwhile, looking for a cause, looking to belong. Maybe it’s an opportunity for The Salvation Army to front up and say, “We can help you with that.”
What words of encouragement do you have for Salvationists?
I’m back to the Call to Mission. We need a Salvation Army that’s ready to serve; ready to put it on the line to engage with neighbours, friends and communities; ready to engage in a way in which you don’t leave your faith at home. Faith is a factor in living. You don’t walk away saying, “Well, it’s not my responsibility.” You may be the only person that has a Christian faith that they will meet today or this week, so take responsibility.
Costly compassion is not something you put back in the drawer when you go somewhere. You take it with you. It’s not a Sunday thing. We must enable our people to be fruit-bearers in the world, day-by-day. I want to see a Salvation Army that’s invigorated, that believes in its mission, that still understands it. Each of us is redeemed for a reason, and must be committed to the cause of Christ. Everything else is window dressing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.