I was startled at the title of the recent FSAOF blog entry and how it was attached to treatment received by former officers. I had not captured the wounds and sense of abuse with such a clear title before. It shocked me because I had assigned a similar title to research I conducted during my PhD.
My PhD is in International Pediatric Traumatology. Amongst other foci was the impact of World War II on children of Holocaust survivors and German nationals and their children who lived near various death camps. I also interviewed American soldiers who liberated death camps.
Specific to the Abuse of Indifference, I asked the nationals during my recent visit to Germany about their experiences while being confronted with the horror of extermination occurring right in their backyard. I received phenomenal responses from them. Things like, “I did not know that it (cremation) was happening”, “If I had said anything, I would have been the target next”, and reflecting in narrative fashion what it would cost them if they had disagreed or pointed out the amazing horror and the debasing and destruction of the human spirit occurring right under their nose. I even had a young woman who was, then, 14 years old living one city block from a very busy crematorium say to me, “I always wondered why it snowed in the summer…” . Of course, it was human ash.
How did society move to indifference (chosen or feigned) during that very troubled time?
In the late 1930’s, there was a concentrated effort at emphasizing that the good of society outweighed the good of the individual. This opened the door for subjecting various ethnic groups, particularly those who did not fit the stated and expected normative standards outlined by government leadership, to prejudice and horrific treatment.
Any attempt at acquiring information (education), outside of the edicts of the power base, was not tolerated. Immediate and swift punishment occurred in visible places, with no concern for public humiliation. In fact, public humiliation was the breeding ground for the necessary development of indifference.
Those in authority had ABSOLUTE power and were able to justify immoral, unjust and abusive behaviors because they had a common cause; the good of Germany.
These are but a few of the platforms used to develop the platform (and abuse) of indifference in Germany during WW2.
Now, let us look at The Salvation Army. While I hesitate to address similarities between Hitler and the Nazi regime to those in leadership in The Salvation Army, please know that I offer this ONLY as a comparison as to how the ‘abuse of indifference’ continues to manifest in leadership throughout the SA organization.
Further, my experiences with leadership in The Salvation Army is now 30 years old. With those declared weaknesses, I find the similarities frightening from where I sit, even this many years later.
When I was an officer, on multiple occasions too many to count, I heard that my needs were unimportant and that the needs of the organization superseded the individual’s. Of curse, it was under the semantic guise of; “this is Gods will”. This played out in multiple transfers to other corps, my children’s’ physical and emotional needs being ignored, corps fellowships and business functions being put in second place, so that the larger organization was able to move forward. Though I grew exceedingly tired of it, I told myself initially that “God was directing the leadership”. When it was clear that THAT was an untruth, I used, “It is a big business that has financial and corporate requirements”. I made little or no waves in my early officer years as I wanted to stay invisible so that the next appointment would be a place that had enough money to pay my allowance (SA terminology for salary – not always guaranteed in years past). We had a family to feed and I honestly got tired of” living by faith” and could only see the unfairness of the treatment. (some SA ‘appointments’ – job placements are assured of a regular allowance: cost centers, eg. Headquarters/administrative appointments with no fund raising expectations)
On numerous occasions, I recall attendance at Officers Councils (SA Pastor’s Conference) where there was the public humiliation and judgment passed down to those officers that did not achieve the necessary “look” in person or program. There was always plausible deniability that could be played by leaders.
Those “less than-not quite up-to-par” officers were invited to meet the leadership, who would then flail them emotionally but under the guise of spiritual accountability. I always knew it was wrong because spiritual accountability had love as the base. There did not appear to be love anywhere in the interactions I witnessed. There were multiple ‘littered dead bodies’ following many Officers Councils. The individuals just did not collapse and lay down in front of anyone. If they were lucky, they managed to their official SA vehicle with the Red Shield and slogan, ‘Servants of God’ and wept their way home.
I myself experienced such flogging when I journeyed my way into authenticity and individuality. I was publicly verbally flogged in front of my peers (hundreds of them at once from the pulpit) and everyone knew it. Fortunately, not unlike some of the Germans I spoke with, I decided to join the underground, and defend others and move my way to safety when it got too dangerous. The greater my knowledge and self-awareness became, the less safe it was for me in the SA system.
I think leaders in any church have an awesome responsibility to be clear about what god they worship. The language can be confusing, and bring people to a place of sincere following. However, my experience in the Army was that, maybe because of the lack of cash incentive, leaders sought the god of power. Many in my past had absolute power. That drove me into hiding, protection and fear. I did whatever I could to stay out of the firing line. That is, until my child’s life (physical, emotional and spiritual) was threatened. The timing of my own personal growth, along with the requirement of protecting my children from the corruption and evil that surrounded them, was the impetus for me to come out of the shadows of indifference and be the spokesperson for justice and righteousness. The abuse and terror that reigned down on my head was stunning. I chose to pay the price and called out evil for what it was.
It is still like that today. I have counseled many current SA officers today who come to me broken and abused and are shocked that I will speak of the terror in such direct terms. Recently, I have had leaders in The Salvation Army judge me, not able to see the havoc their carelessness and abuse cause. Interestingly, the German nationals I interviewed who sided with the American camp liberators found themselves the target of obscenity, abuse, starvation and maligning of character. Some things don’t change.
So, the “Abuse of Indifference” probably is a tool used in many circles to control group behavior. It stops being an effective means of controlling the victims when we say enough is enough. That is why I wrote this.
PhD., LICSW , CCM
Jeni Gregory has worked in the health and human service field since 1975. She has held a variety of clinical, management and project development position in care management, medical social work, family counseling, and international trauma relief in 15 different countries. She and her husband have served as pastors since 1975 in various assignments throughout the Western United States.
Her ground breaking work with Child Soldiers in Africa recovering from Profound Catastrophic Trauma has been noted by many. Her research and field work for this effort has been published in numerous journals and magazines. In addition to the work she has done with traumatized children in Africa, she has worked with children who have lived in orphanages, streets and sewers of Eastern Europe, war impacted children in Kosovo and Albania, children who survive in the garbage dumps of Mexico and South America, children impacted by the horrors and terror of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as the children who suffered because of the events of the September 11th attacks in New York City.
She has a PhD in International Pediatric Traumatology from Union Institute and University, a Masters in Social Work from University of Washington, Seattle. She has her LICSW and is a certified Field Traumatologist. She is the principal at Heartland Counseling. She has served as the US Army Western Regional Medical Command's Care Provider Support Program Director. She is now serving as the Clinical Operations Manager for United Health Care Military and Veterans Community Case Management.