Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Words from William

I ran a staff development session this afternoon on the mission of The Salvation Army in which I played a sound recording of our founder, William Booth. After describing the various miseries in which people find themselves, Booth gives the following directions:
Brought it all on themselves do you say? Perhaps so, but that does not excuse our assisting them. You don't demand a certificate of virtue before you drag the drowning creature out of the water, nor the assurance that a man has paid his rent before you deliver him from the burning building.
But what shall we do? Contend ourselves by singing a hymn, offering a prayer or giving a little good advice? No! 10,000 times, No!
We will forgive them, feed them, reclaim them, employ them. Perhaps we shall fail with many - quite likely but our business is to help them all the same; and that in the most practical, economical and Christlike manner.
Inspiring words indeed! Booth isn't lead astray by the 3 familiar temptations of Christian social work (1. distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor; 2. succumbing to a dualistic worldview that looks to 'spiritual' solutions for temporal problems; 3. admitting defeat when people fail to live up to our own expectations of them). We still have much to learn from his example.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right, we have no right to judge people, and we need to help them even if they admit they brought it all on themsleves, that is not our concern. And yes, singing a hymn will not fill an empty stomach, we need to offer practical help.

"We will forgive them, feed them, reclaim them, employ them. Perhaps we shall fail with many - quite likely but our business is to help them all the same; and that in the most practical, economical and Christlike manner."

Does giving money, or vouchers to those addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, even mobile phone use, meet the criteria of practical, economical and Christlike manner? How do we attend to the physical and spiritual needs without feeding the addictions? Is it still the best model to give a little to everyone without discrimination (or discernment), or would it be better to give more to those who could do more with it? There is a parable that seems to advocate this approach. To do this would leave some without. Our hearts would break, and it would be hard to discern - not impossible, but hard. The Holy Spirit would have to be enlisted. Instead of just treading water, keeping our heads above, we might be able to really rescue a few, and a few more, and before we know, those rescued will be helping us rescue the rest.

If we are not physically able to help everyone right now, maybe it is time to focus big time on those we know we can really help. It is extremely hard for some, and it needs to improve, but unlike those in Booths' day, people do not starve to death in Australia.

It is a hard one, and hard to know what Jesus would do.

JDK said...

It is a tough one because there is a direct relationship between a the amount of resources one has to distribute and the amount of judgement that occurs. If we have lots, we can afford to give indiscriminately but when resources are short, we are forced to choose with greater discrimination. No simple solutions but a problem we all need to keep working through.

Regards, JDK