Tuesday, June 23, 2015

As the Salvation Army turns 150, what role does it have to play in secular society? Part 3 of 4

As part of a government contract, the Army oversees 27 safehouses to support victims of human trafficking. It has helped 1,800 victims from 74 countries over the past three years, although Major Anne Read, who runs the service, said that is a tiny fraction of those living in “slave-like conditions” in Britain.

She described cases of eastern European and African women, forced into prostitution, locked in darkened rooms for years and raped several times a day. One of them who became pregnant was simply dumped on a motorway, “like a piece of rubbish”. She spoke of how men are forced to work all hours and live in filthy caravans. Families with eight or ten children are brought to Britain so someone can collect their benefits. Victims seldom escape, because they lack money, passports, English or any idea where they are. African women are scared into submission by “juju” ceremonies, or threats that videos of their prostitution will be sent home to their family.

“This is a very real manifestation of evil,” Major Read said. “The conditions people reach us in are absolutely shocking.

They are profoundly traumatised, physically scarred, and often paranoid. “It’s appalling that so many people are living like slaves, when we tend to think that slavery is a historical issue that ended with William Wilberforce 200 years ago.” But she prays for the traffickers, and “that God changes the hearts of wicked men and women”.

The Army even runs its own bank, the Reliance, which Booth founded in 1890. It refuses to invest in the tobacco, alcohol, gambling or armament industries, paid its six top managers precisely £4,286 in bonuses last year, and does not issue credit cards lest it encourage debt.

Yet in one crucial respect today’s Army is very different from Booth’s: it scarcely evangelises any longer. Its members abhor the idea of proselytising. Open-air meetings (street meetings) are rare. With its charitable services mostly now run by professional employees, not soldiers, it can seem more like an NGO than a religious movement. Just once during my week with the Army was I asked about my own beliefs.


I met Bev – a warm, intelligent, funny 54-year-old from Essex ­– at Greig House, a detox centre near Canary Wharf. She wept as she told me how she had spent decades fighting drug and alcohol addiction, and of the pain she’d caused her children. “I love all the people here. They’re the best in the world,” she said of the centre’s staff. But it was only on this, her fourth residential course, that she realised they worked for the Salvation Army.

Army officers say they are loath to exploit the vulnerable people they help. “We don’t run our night shelter as a recruiting tool. We run it because it’s flipping cold outside and we don’t want people to die,” said Lieutenant John Clifton, whose corps in Ilford, east London, provides winter dormitory accommodation for 25 homeless men and women. “I don’t think it’s ethical to take advantage of their physical need.”

Nowadays the shock troops of the Lord prefer to win converts through compassion and personal example and by gradually building relationships. “By stretching out a hand to mankind you’re showing them love and kindness,” said Major Muriel McClenahan, until recently the head of Territorial Emergency Services. “Because our motivation comes from faith, it opens the door to having those conversations [about Jesus]. You hope you’ve sown the seed that over time will germinate.”

Yet recruits and converts are hardly pouring in. The Army has 27,183 soldiers in Britain, down from 48,121 two decades ago. The number of corps has fallen from 823 to 706. The imposing William Booth College, on Denmark Hill in south London, opened in 1929 to train 800 officer cadets at a time, but at present it has fewer than 60 taking the two-year course.

The Army once boasted several thousand brass bands in the UK, and its own musical instrument factory in St Albans, but has fewer than 500 today. Conversely, it now employs 4,800 civilians – four times the number of officers – to run its social programmes.

Martin Fletcher is a former foreign editor of the Times

END PART 3 of 4

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
What hope has this organisation got, when its officers are less-than-engaged in the war to win souls? Hoping is what secular people do, and many secular organisations have soup runs and help the hopeless. If the Clifton chap had mentioned prayer, then the salvation army might have a chance. It is now just another NGO which almost seems ashamed of its Christian beliefs - a salvation army with little concern about salvation. At least William Booth had more enthusiasm for people's eternal destiny and did something about it.