The Salvation ArmyArmée du Salut

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Pillar A
Foundation: Theological Imperatives and Accountability of Senior Leadership

We envision The Salvation Army’s theology on gender equity being expressed through the lived experience of all officers, structures and mission.

The Salvation Army marches to the heartbeat of God. Any deviation from it results in disorientation and loss of identity and mission. Our theological foundation must guide our vision, strategy and mission. We believe that the tenets of equity, diversity, justice and inclusion reveal the character of God and, as such, compel us to properly steward our most valuable resource—people. With that as our calling, we envision an organization where senior leaders are accountable for gender equity, are role models, support gender-equity-related initiatives and are gender equity champions. This pillar represents the foundation that drives the strategy and includes the rationale for the development of a strong gender equity mandate, which is aligned with The Salvation Army’s strategic goals and holds leaders accountable for setting goals and achieving results.

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Key Findings

Theology is the foundation of the organization. It shapes our belief system and ought to inform our practice. The interview responses illuminated the need to revisit and realign with the following theological themes, which will form the impetus of all succeeding recommendations: 

Theology of Reconciliation

Without a recognition of the hurtful and limiting experiences of the past, trust and enthusiasm for future changes will be limited. Any step forward, therefore; ought to include an acknowledgement of harm done. Said one interviewee, “As an organization we need to repent and lament before we move on. Our leaders need to listen and lament and embrace these hard stories.” Another said, “Please just hear us and receive our words and acknowledge our pain.” 1 Healing and restoration will require truth-telling and humble repentance.

[1] Interview data: “We need to listen to the deep pains and the great joys. We need to pay attention to the injured and those who are healing;” “It is important to listen to female stories and the female experience in our organization. I want people to stop minimizing my story.” 

Theology of Redemptive Power

Closely linked with reconciliation is the call to use power redemptively. It comes with the sober realization that power imbalances exist within our current system. Entering into The Officer’s Undertakings represents submission of officers to the organization, trusting leadership to be accountable to God for the power afforded them and to appropriately steward the officers’ holy calling in the context of covenant. We acknowledge that the Officer Undertakings is beyond the scope of our authority to revise, however, power dynamics emerging from its language and interpretation fall within the key findings from our officer interviews and therefore need to be considered (See Recommendations C6, C7). Upon entering into the undertakings, a significant and sacred trust is placed upon leaders. Leaders become the providers, and the rest of the officer force are the recipients of that provision, in a near parent-child relationship. Recognizing that a system is composed of “human beings standing together for something,”2 and acknowledging that people in leadership are susceptible to unconscious bias, it is hard to imagine how equity can exist in a system that lacks a framework of accountability to these ideals.

The recurring emphasis on compliance and obedience, which is tied to officers’ faithfulness to their spiritual covenant, leads to a loss of discernment as to what is appropriate or inappropriate when it comes to interactions with the organization in general and with those in leadership positions over them.3 It also deters any healthy critique of the organization or those in supervisory or leadership positions and vilifies those who choose to speak up for their personal needs. (For more detail, refer to Addendum Paper entitled “The Undertakings and Paternalism.”) Theologically speaking, this power entrusted to leadership is to be curated in a way that protects, serves and restores dignity.4 In a system where leadership holds such significant power over the lives of officers, and where leadership is male dominated, female officers are even more impacted by the power imbalance. Women interviewed spoke of the learned helplessness they experience under the current appointment system, as well as the lack of accountability for the oppressive and harmful actions of the past. “People who were my leaders hurt me, they shut me down, no one was held accountable and there was no one to turn to.” “We sit and wait as leaders whisper in secret about decisions directly impacting our lives.”5

[2] Dr. Diane Langberg, author of Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church

[3] This is not a new phenomenon within The Salvation Army. Peter Jacob Letkemann as a student at The University of British Columbia, wrote in his Masters of Arts thesis entitled The Salvation Army – A Study In Compliance, “Anyone reading Salvation Army literature, especially the writings intended for its own participants, will be impressed by the strong and ever recurring emphasis on compliance. Authority is ordained of God and obedience is blessed of God. Authority plus obedience equals victory. This is the formula of The Salvation Army and its theme runs throughout its literature, sermons and songs.” – pg 15.  Source: 

[4] “Jesus uses power to protect, to expose and to restore dignity. He calls his people to be in the world using our power under his authority, displaying his character by speaking truth, shedding light, and tending and protecting the vulnerable.” Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, Dianne Langberg, Ch. 12.

[5] Interview data: “I live in the tension between respecting the process of appointments, and not being able to input into our own lives and trusting God’s providence—learned helplessness;” “We need godly people who will lead from a place of servant leadership—gender aside;” “There is a subtle messaging in roles at THQ that the husband always has the more important role than wife—this subtle messaging permeates the oppressive culture at THQ.”

Theology of Equal Worth/Value

Men and women are each created in the image of God and thereby carry inherent worth, dignity and value. As a part of the church, the body of Christ on earth, The Salvation Army represents Jesus to the world, who consistently recognized and affirmed the uniqueness and value of each person. While the organization represents this well in its mission to others, the lived experience of women officers reveals this to be less than true in its internal relations with officer personnel. This is reflected in these statements by interviewees: “I have to come to realize that The Salvation Army didn’t understand me, didn’t see me, didn’t know me,” and, “There is a developed bias in our system. It is such a terrible feeling to have leaders look right at you and not see you.”6

[6] Interview data: “There are a few times when I feel as though I have been ignored by the organization.”

Theology of Mutuality/Oneness/Equality within Marriage

In the first creation story, in Genesis 1, both men and women are given authority and responsibility as co-leaders and co-stewards of the created world. In addition, marriages are designed to reflect the co-equality, oneness and mutuality of the Trinity, without hierarchy of power. The Salvation Army’s witness to egalitarian theology is rooted in proper interpretation of scripture and ought to inform practice in home, church and organizational life. (Refer to Addendum Paper entitled “Gender Equity: Aligning Egalitarian Theology with Practice.”)

As a cadet on a special weekend, they decided that I should stay home with my child rather than asking my husband and I what we needed—they sent my husband.

Interview data reveals a culture marked by headship theology that manifests in male authority and women in supporting roles. One woman shared, “There are times when the organization asks us not to be (a team), and to let him lead in places where it would be more natural for me to lead.” The expectations this places on how couples function at home, at church, and in appointments within the organization, act as barriers to the flourishing of women as individuals in leadership.7 One woman expressed, “At times it has felt as though I am treated as an associate officer to my husband who is the lead.” Another shared, “I have been discouraged by something I heard recently. A senior leader female said that her job is to be in support of her husband. It makes me sad to think about my future, that my husband will be offered opportunities, will be seen by the organization because he is a man. There are many days when I wonder why I became an officer.” Many women interviewed also testified to the added burden of being primarily responsible for household and parenting duties, an expectation that was not equally placed upon the husband. The stronger the teaching and modeling around co-leading and co-serving in every sphere, including the home, the greater the freedom and empowerment to do the same in the ministry space.

[7] Interview data: “Upon entry to CFOT where I was known as ‘Mrs.’ —my individuality was gone. I became wife, not partner—we were not equal.” 

Theology of Spiritual Gifts for Leadership

As a church, The Salvation Army has been endued with spiritual gifts among its people, gifts given “for the good of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The Army’s 16th general, John Gowans, once wrote, “Leadership is a gift of the Spirit in whom ‘there is no such thing … as male and female.’ To waste any gift or leave any talent buried seems to be a tragedy, according to the teaching of Christ.”8 In the covenant made in the Officer Undertakings, leadership is to “encourage officers in the use and development of their creative abilities.” Women officers report that the organization is not aware of, nor have they properly stewarded, their gifts. One interviewee shared, “My husband was the area commander, and I was not, but if anyone looked at us individually—our skills and our giftings—they would know that he is not gifted at administration, that it was me who was doing the administration, the finance, and my husband who was pastoring the congregation.”9

The individual, as well as the mission, cannot thrive until every effort is given to recognize and enable officers to walk in their giftings. “If God by grace gives the gift of leadership, let her lead well.” (Romans 12:8).

Right now I don't feel that our organization knows my giftings. I receve almost no opportunity to speak about what I am passionate about and share that with our organization.

[8] Gowans, General John. “Women’s Gifts should not be wasted.” The Officer. The Salvation Army International Headquarters, December 2000.

[9] Interview data: “There are default appointments—I have seen colleagues placed into these roles, even though they are not gifted or interested or passionate about Women Ministries they are put there-. This devalues the person and devalues the role of Women’s Ministries;” “I have been typecast in many of my roles—assistant to my husband, at CFOT personnel—it feels as though it was my gender that decided that;” “Right now, I don’t feel like our organization knows my giftings.”

Recommendations and Rationale

A1. We recommend that any new scope of work begin with an internally transparent acknowledgment of the broken or absent systems, and the harm it has caused, to be carried out within the officer group.

Salvation Army officers, and the system that supports them, cannot begin to heal until there is a formal acknowledgement from leadership. This acknowledgement is a critical first step in the process, because it will demonstrate sincerity and authenticity, and will invite women to openly acknowledge their experiences.

A2. We recommend a series of intentional actions to realign and clarify a confident distinctiveness and prophetic witness of egalitarian theology. This should be mandatory for all officers, beginning at the leadership level. 

General Peddle, in his 2021 introduction of the work of the International Gender Equity Task Force acknowledged, “There are biblical texts being used inappropriately. There are personal views that are inconsistent with Scriptural teaching. All of these need to be surrendered.”10

The actions for correction would include the following:

A2a. Bible study series that focuses on a “redemptive hermeneutic” of Scripture as a mission resource that promotes biblical literacy around the equality and empowerment of women for all spheres of life.

A2b. An audit and vetting of all current mission resource material used and recommended by territorial/divisional headquarters through an egalitarian lens.

A2c. A policy stating denominational funding for leadership, theology or biblical studies degrees cannot be applied to seminary education that indoctrinates its students in complementarian theology.

A3. We recommend an intentional campaign by Pastoral Services to educate and mentor couples on healthy and whole marriages based on the values of equality and mutuality. This should be developed with the influence of the Gender Equity Advocate and informed by research in gender equitable relationships.

Recognizing that a critical obstacle to realizing gender equity in The Salvation Army is the more personal nature of the marriage relationship, officer couples need appropriate and sensitive support to encourage and strengthen esteem of each individual within the married couple.11 Healthier individuals will be more readily able to encourage and champion the development and flourishing of his/her spouse. They will also be prepared to offer equal support in household and parenting duties. The task force acknowledges that there may be couples within our ranks who hold to a complementarian theology.  Not only does this belief system stand opposed to The Salvation Army’s official position (and is arguably a harmful ideology), this creates a challenging reality, not just for gender equity work, but for the organization pastorally speaking. It requires a sensitive approach to coaching these couples towards mutuality and balanced engagement in ministry.  This will also have to be viewed through a lens of accountability as ministry units sponsor two active officers financially, but yet may not be receiving the expected leadership output.  In addition, officer personnel shortages may require that each in the officer couple be expected to take up separate appointments in the future. 

This conversation needs to expand to include the recruiting process for married candidates, as well as the marriage enrichment seminars at CFOT.

We must affirm each other. I refer particularly to married couples who share the precious covenant of officership. We need more than a few good examples of husbands and wives sorting this out and offering the best of themselves. (I may be speaking directly to husband colleagues in this comment.)
—General Brian Peddle

We recommend increased teaching on and personal exploration of spiritual gifts for all Salvationists including, but not limited to, officers and cadets.

Spiritual gifts are a bedrock component for all discipleship and are non-gendered. The lack of awareness and emphasis on spiritual gifts has an impact on how officers are mobilized for mission. Evaluation of current corps mission resources as well as CFOT curriculum revealed limited materials available that cover the theology of spiritual gifts and their practice. Spiritual gifts, therefore; ought to be re-emphasized to all Salvationists from the Mission Resources department. Tools for congregational use, which include teaching around identification and employment of gifts through a lens of gender equality, ought to be developed.

[10] Peddle, General Brian. “Lots of Talk, Not Enough Action? Making Gender Equity a Reality.” The Officer, April-June 2021.

[11] Peddle, General Brian.  “We must affirm each other. I refer particularly to married couples who share the precious covenant of officership. We need more than a few good examples of husbands and wives sorting this out and offering the best of themselves. (I may be speaking directly to husband colleagues in this comment.” The Officer, April-June 2021, “Lots of Talk,” 

Section Summary

Any strategy or vision for equity is anchored in The Salvation Army’s identity as a Christian organization. Officers have entrusted their God-given calling to The Salvation Army through their covenant and undertakings. As such, they bring their entire personhood and gifts to the organization to be valued and stewarded appropriately for the sake of mission. The theological bedrock of The Salvation Army calls us toward the purpose of reconciliation by acknowledging where we have missed the mark. It also acknowledges there are endeavours to be undertaken to strengthen commitment to our theological imperatives in service to creating an equitable culture. Support from the top-level leadership, across all functional areas will signal that inclusion and gender equality are important to the organization and is authentically valued.