Sunday, December 20, 2009

Power Pitfalls for The Salvation Army

Christmas is a good time to think about the dynamics of power and the potential for abuse of power. On a simple level you can consider the vulnerability of the baby Jesus or, perhaps in a slightly deeper way, the way his story is framed by violent abuses of power - from Herod's massacre of infants to Jesus' crucifixion by the Romans. The well known story of Jesus' threefold temptations are also warnings against the misuse of power. It's not that power is inherently evil but the use of power does contain significant moral dimensions.

It's worth taking some time to think about the potential power pitfalls (I'm going to regret that trinity) that are particularly applicable within The Salvation Army. Here are my top ten (in no particular order):
  1. Military - our structures inherently set up relationships with power dynamics, between officer appointments, ranks, officers and soldiery. How do we ensure that we don't use the power of these structures in ways that compromise human dignity?
  2. Heirarchy - probably a subset of the first point but with particular dangers. Relationships between IHQ, THQ, DHQ, Corps and Social Centres fit into a heirarchy that contains all sorts of power. How can we continually rediscover ways to serve those below us in the heirarchy?
  3. Employer/Employee - as an employer of thousands of people in Australia, how can we demonstrate the value of all our employees? How are our attitudes to power reflected in recruitment, the ways we show that staff are valued, performance management and professional development, unionism?
  4. Service provision - as a major provider of social services in this country, we are faced with moral questions of power in every engagement with people. How can we ensure that we don't use the resources at our disposal as power over people in need? How can we empower those accessing our services so that they are able to move beyond the role of recipients of welfare?
  5. Public power - the public approval rating of The Salvation Army in Australia is something like 96%. How do we ensure that we use such power judiciously?
  6. Political power - a byproduct of items 4 and 5 is that we have the potential for a very strong political voice. Many Salvationists think we don't use this voice enough. How do we weigh up the moral issues of using this power without being politically partisan?
  7. Gender - anyone who doesn't think this is a power issue in The Salvation Army is kidding themselves. No need to say any more.
  8. Age - how are people's ages reflected in our internal power structures? How many people under 50 are in positions of power?
  9. Race - this might seem like a strange one but the reality is that in this country we are largely a very white movement. Are there power dynamics in play here? How does a person's race play a part in The Salvation Army on an international scale?
  10. Spiritual - I'm not specifically talking about miraculous power here but more about how we use spiritual and theological concepts and their impact on people's lives - Heaven/Hell, calling, stewardship, salvation, sin, mission. All of these have moral implications for the person who is teaching, preaching, mentoring or advising spiritually, not just for the 'other'.


Captain Collo said...

Great post & maybe closer to the truth than we like to admit.
btw we are nearly co-equal in power both captains, male, in our thirties (just) but in 2010 you are at DHQ and I am submissive to you at a corps appointment:)

JDK said...

Ah Dave, not even the Corps Officers in my own Division see themselves as submissive to me! Thanks for the reminder that I'm still in my 30's though, that's helpful :-)

Unknown said...

Thanks Jason: There's a lot I'd like to say/add, but it would be unwise to committ my thoughts on this to writing. I agree with you though.