Major Glad and I were privileged to visit with Commissioner Harry Read some time ago in Bournemouth. The Commissioner’s God inspired impact and influence on the Salvation Army worldwide continues well into his retirement and we were eager to learn more about this extraordinary SA officer.
He served as 2nd in command in Canada and Commissioner (commander) on two continents, Australia and the UK and Ireland. Seventeen years saw him in leadership positions at the Salvation Army’s training college (seminary) in London, England. And in retirement he gave nine years of continuous and inspired creativity as the Editor of Words of Life, read daily by thousands worldwide.
You may find it strange to find this edited portion of an interview conducted by Major Stephen Court, Editor of Journal of Aggressive Christianity, as the concluding nexus in the FSAOF blog's Australia abuse series. I thought it fitting as a reminder of the Salvation Army’s mission in this time of crisis and confusion for many, most especially those thousands of ‘Salvos’ with whom the Commissioner served 'down under'. It's a reaffirmation that evil never wins the day. God is already recycling the horror story, the tragedy that beset so many.
One can’t help but wonder why it took so long for us to explore, expose and explicate this abhorrent chapter in the more than a century of committed and admired ministry to Australia’s most vulnerable. It certainly wasn’t from any lack of knowledge. Silence, indifference and sweeping the abuse allegations under the rug made more than one officer and leader complicit.
A true servant of Jesus Christ is one who is willing to experience martyrdom for the reality of the gospel and the honour of God’s institutions – yet no one came forward…
What we are experiencing is a reflective lashing out by those who expected a higher standard of one of the world's most admired social work providers. Dag Hammarsjold said at Cambridge University half a century ago, the era when the abuses were at their worst, “The human world is today as never before split into two camps, each which understands the other as the embodiment of falsehood and itself as the embodiment of truth”.
Today, fifty years on, we are in a time when our God reveals again that no evil is beyond His reach. Our camp - our generation of Salvationists need to be God’s couriers of grace in these days of anger, allowing our God to be the one who issues justice and mercy.….
I believe the Commissioner’s responses to Court provide realistic expectations of the SA’s distinctive role, both internal and external, and instructions on how we ought to proceed, and how we'll get through this individually and corporately.
Plato demonstrated his usual wisdom and insight when he said that the only remedy for defamation is a life that proclaims the opposite of what is said. He said: "When people talk bad about you. Live so that no one believes them."
Dr. Sven Ljungholm
USA, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, MoldovaBirkenhead Corps, UKIT
Welcome to the 83rd issue of Journal of Aggressive Christianity. Thanks to all the contributors and to all of you readers who take time to allow yourself to be influenced by the words and thoughts and teaching and inspiration and challenge toward holiness in the salvation war.
We’ve resurrected an old feature with The JAC Interview. And we’re blessed to have an exclusive interview with veteran warrior, Commissioner Harry Read.
J.A.C.: What are your dreams for The Salvation Army?
H.R.: I’d like us to keep our Army distinctives. I have no problems with describing ourselves as part of the Church because that’s what we are but, we are an Army. I think we do the church thing less well than the churches do it, but when we do the Army thing properly, we are without equal.
In today’s western world, I don’t hanker after the scenes from our beginnings that still stir our hearts, because society has changed irreversibly and governments wouldn’t allow us freedom to, for instance, repeat the initiatives that created our social services. But I do long for us to be an Army of faith, with programmes born in prayer, powered by faith and fulfilled in love.
With the other churches, we have done that terrible thing: we have allowed the most exciting event in all creation to become common place; an irrelevant option; a divine intervention that leaves masses of needy people dismissive of God’s existence, not merely his claims. I thank God for the Army: its existence is one of his great miracles. He has done so much through us. Numerically we are not dramatically strong but we always punch beyond our weight. Our achievements are amazing. People expect so much from us because of our reputation; a reputation that is not due to clever publicity but because we deliver.
My dream is that, perhaps stimulated by the Army, the churches will combine their resources to make a sustained intellectual challenge to the forces of atheism. We need to set up a united council to determine the right approach then do a massive PR job in putting atheism on the back foot where it rightly belongs.
Our voices are muted to the detriment of the Gospel. We need the public at large to hear the strong, reasonableness of our Christian faith in God. Making this happen will cost money, but money is the least of our considerations.
J.A.C.: Our first General often wrote letters to his soldiers with teaching for daily life and warfare. Would you take this opportunity to offer a millennial message to soldiers around the world?
H.R.: To my fellow soldiers, I believe our name, The Salvation Army, is an inspired designation, born, not of human wisdom but of the Holy Spirit. The armies of the world are massed against us but, though powerful, they will be overcome. Faith, hope and love are the abiding qualities and they are not in the possession of the forces of evil.
I believe also in the timelessness of the divine qualities that built our Army. A changing society means that we have to adapt our programmes and strategies to maintain our effectiveness, but the essence of the Army, those divine qualities that created us, cannot be dismissed or compromised. They are of God. The Army is of God. The style may change but the aims and motives of our Movement are unchanging.
I am proud of all that our relatively small Army has achieved. God has used our greatly gifted people to best advantage and we who are ordinary confess that he has used our ordinariness wonderfully well also. Each one of us has an important part to play in the salvation war.
We have always been an accepting and affirming company of God’s people. We have also been a joyful, praising, cheerfully sacrificial people: that we will remain.
What I hope we will consider and develop is an awareness of those special gifts of the Spirit given to each one of us whether we count ourselves ordinary or unusually able.
I hope that, within our regard for each other – our love for each other – we will feel a measure of stewardship to-wards each other if we do not already do so, so that we will actively identify and encourage each others gifts. These gifts will flourish in a truly supportive atmosphere and, employed with confidence and wisdom will build up each Corps; build up the Army; help build God’s kingdom. Within the competence of each Corps there are gifts, sometimes unidentified which, when they are known and released, will bring remarkable results.
The need to adapt is self-evident and the best means of adaptation come from our heavenly Father’s hands. He will not fail us. He also happens to love the Army. Has he not chosen us to be his soldiers? Are we not a vital part of his strategy?
May God richly bless us all.
Harry Read – your fellow soldier.