Friday, June 19, 2015


A review of Norman H. Murdoch's latest Salvation Army history which tells an uncomfortable story.

Norman Murdoch's book Christian Warfare in Rhodesia-Zimbabwe (Pickwick Publications) is of much wider interest and importance than the title might suggest. Its author, an Emeritus Professor of History in the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, has, over a long career, made the development of The Salvation Army a special research interest.

Due to illness, Professor Murdoch was unable to give a final revision to this, his last work, and the demanding task of editing the text, finding a publisher and preparing the book for publication was undertaken by Major Dr. Harold Hill of our own territory. New Zealand

The book's main focus is on the degree of priority The Salvation Army gave to the needs and aspirations of the indigenous peoples of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in the period 1891-1991.

It was a surprise to read that 'Commissioner Thomas Estill, the Army's Southern Africa commander, made it clear that he had not sent the Salvationists to convert Africans to Christianity. Instead, his charge to the pioneer party was to teach South African white men, who had gone to Mashonaland in northern Zimbabwe as gold miners, to seek the "Pearl of Greatest Price".'

On arrival in Mashonaland in November 1891, Major John Pascoe, the leader of the Salvation Army pioneers, was granted by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) 3000 acres in the Mazowe Valley.
This was land that for centuries had been lived on and provided the livelihood for numerous Mashona families. The legality and moral status of BSAC's disposal of the land was in doubt from the beginning, and was later violently contested during the first chimurenga (rising) of 1896 -97 , during which a white Salvation Army officer was killed.

A further complication was that General William Booth had,
in 1890, published his book In Darkest England, and the Way Out, presenting a scheme to eliminate poverty in Britain. An essential element of the General's plan was the establishment of 'The Colony Over-Sea' to which thousands of the 'submerged tenth' of the British population would be helped to emigrate.
But where could this overseas colony be situated? 'lt is proposed', Booth wrote, 'to secure a large tract of land in some country suitable to our purpose. We have thought of South Africa, to begin with ... Africa presents to us great advantages for the moment. There is any amount of land suitable for our purpose which can be obtained, we think, without difficulty.'

Booth soon requested land for his 'colony' from Cecil Rhodes, whose BSAC had established Fort Salisbury in 1890 and claimed possession of large swathes of land in the area. However,by 1908 it was clear that neither Rhodes nor his company would provide land for the Colony Over-Sea.

So, initially the needs and aspirations, let alone the rights, of the Mashona were not seen as a concern by The Salvation Army's founder or by the pioneers of his Army in Rhodesia. Furthermore, the development of the Army in that land required a dependence on the white government of the day that continued through a number of regimes of varying degrees of oppression and exploitation until majority rule was established in 1980.

Murdoch presents a case study investigating how Salvation Army internationalism worked in one Arrny territory.

Murdoch does make it clear, however, that the development of educational and medical work by the Army in Rhodesia led to there being, through the decades, always a number of Army missionary officers with knowledge of and sympathy for the Africans in their distress caused by the loss of lands and independence.

But the August 1981 decision by General Arnold Brown to withdraw The Salvation Army from the World Council of Churches because of its financial support of African liberation struggles was made with no reference to the wishes of Salvationists in Rhodesia, some of whom were deeply disturbed by the General's action, which revealed that their needs and aspirations were still being ignored and over-ridden by Western interests.

What is the wider interest and importance that this book has for Salvationists worldwide? The importance relates to the nature and quality of the internationalism that we often so glibly claim as one of the great assets of Salvation Army organisation. Murdoch's book presents us with a case study-probably the first-investigating in detail and at depth how that internationalism worked in one Army territory. And it is not a comfortable story.

In Rhodesia-Ztmbabwe, Salvation Army 'internationalism' seems to have differed little from Western imperialism. Is this a unique instance? Or would the same story emerge as histories of the Army in other territories are thoroughly researched and critically investigated? Could it still be the case?

The War Cry, NZ
Colonel Laurence Hay

A Candid Historical Account of a Troubled Relationship 22 May 2015
By Glen O'Brien - Published on

Format: Paperback
Norman Murdoch, Emeritus Professor at the University of Cincinnati, has made a very valuable contribution to Salvation Army history bringing with him a unique insider/outsider perspective. As a son of Salvation Army officer parents, and a graduate of Asbury College and Asbury Seminary, who worked in Salvation Army urban youth work, he may be seen as an insider. However, instead of becoming an officer he chose instead a scholarly career and pursued the study of American intellectual history with a special focus on the Salvation Army in the nineteenth century. This provided him with an outsider’s objectivity that has meant that he has avoided sanitised or triumphalist accounts of the Army’s history. He has produced many important historical studies on the Army (including The Origins of the Salvation Army, 1994) and, given his Alzheimer’s disease, Christian Warfare in Rhodesia-Zimbabwe is likely to be his last book.

This valuable study continues the methodological approach followed in Murdoch’s earlier works of viewing the history of The Salvation Army not in a ‘providentialist’ way (history as ‘His-story’) but rather by applying the discipline of history to the Army in the same way as one might for any other organisation, even if the results may be at times embarrassing for the Army.



Further reviews will follow next week!


More than 1,100 visitors have read this review - why so few comments? PLC? Difficult to admit that the SA was politically motivated, duplicitous and controlled by its own white led IHQ power base?

Anonymous said...

Of course IHQ controlled things in the days written about and yes it was a white led base when colonies such as that which were in Rhodesia happened. In many ways this white led power base is still controlling when the majority of Salvationists are non-white and very much fundamentalist in their theology.

John Stephenson
Canada and Bermuda