Monday, October 20, 2014

Distortions of Christian Leadership 2 (4)


Wellington Theological Consortium Colloquium – 16 Saturday 16 August
Booth College of Mission Wellington NZ

The keynote speakers:
·         Dr Peter Lineham –
·         Major Dr Harold Hill –
·         Bishop Peter Cullinane –

Distortions of Christian Leadership 2  (4)
Major Dr Harold Hill

Now the second quadrant of the quadrilateral; Church Tradition as a source for Leadership discernment, and therefore as susceptible to distortion. We might assume that the test for leadership might be firstly whether or not it has accorded with our particular church tradition – whether episcopacy has been faithfully maintained, or the local congregation has been sufficiently independent, or the Orders and Regulations have been scrupulously adhered to, or whatever our denominational shibboleth might be. Within those parameters we might ask whether leaders’ conduct has or has not deserved censure.    

Are some polities more susceptible to being hi-jacked by the temptations of, for example, money, sex and power? From the quasi-military Salvationist tradition I could illustrate the readiness with which hierarchies become distorted – and indeed such structures offer special opportunities for the abuse of power. Hierarchies, for instance, tend to close ranks against whistle-blowers, as in the recent case of Paul Thistle, a Salvation Army officer doctor in Zimbabwe, who apparently asked too persistently about missing hospital donations and found his commission withdrawn, his job terminated after nearly eighteen years at Howard hospital and he and his family given 48 hours to leave the country, with the acquiescence, even the connivance, of his Canadian home territory.[1] 

Furthermore, institutions are usually uncomfortable with their prophets – Amaziah, the priest who ran Amos out of Bethel, would have appreciated the perfectly reasonable Salvation Army regulation against “stirring up of discontent, resistance or rebellion against The Salvation Army, its principles and discipline and/or its duly appointed leaders”.[2] Of which regulation I am now doubtless in breach…

An early Salvationist saint, George Scott Railton, was ambivalent about the establishment of a hierarchy, particularly the appointment of Divisional Officers (creating episcopal oversight) in 1880. After a year he wrote that he’d been wrong and that the “officers and people evidently love and delight in their Majors!”[3] Bramwell Booth had second thoughts. In 1894 he complained that “the [Divisional Officers] are often much more separate from their [Field Officers] than they ought to be. Class and caste grows with the growth of the military idea. Needs watching.”[4] Thirty years later he was still watching, concerned that Divisional and Territorial leaders “are open to special dangers in that they rise and grow powerful and sink into a kind of opulence…”[5]  Opulence? Perhaps a precedent for Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the so-called Bishop of Bling. But alas, we even get opulent lieutenants today.

Worse, another ninety years on, the editor of an international blog site for former Salvation Army officers writes that, “Hardly a week goes by when I don’t receive an email detailing the rudeness and disrespect junior … officers and ‘formers’ have experienced at the hands of their superior … officers.”[6] That he taps into a disaffected constituency is an explanation, but not an answer.

Finally on authoritarian leadership, it works best if those making decisions are at least competent. William Booth, the supreme pragmatist, believed that was its chief virtue. “To rise in the Army, a soldier has only to prove himself proportionately good and able… It is really the administration of government by the wisest and best.”[7] If only… Sadly, incompetent, dysfunctional leadership – at any level, but especially the local – has probably inflicted its greatest defeats on Booth’s Army, while the soldiers, as Lenin put it, have “voted with their feet”.

But I don’t want to go there, because there is mud at the bottom of every fox-hole. Some polities seem to give more scope for arbitrary rule and others for the gathering of consensus and exercise of collaborative or participatory government, and these suit particular personality types and management styles. They do not in themselves determine whether or not leadership becomes distorted. Bullying is not the sole prerogative of senior rank: captains and lieutenants and those holding no rank other than that which is self-conferred, are equally adept. At last year’s Religious History Conference Professor Lineham presented a salutary case study from the history of the Brethren Assemblies – whose leaders dispense altogether with the shadow of ranks and orders but nevertheless exercise the substance of power.

I have a friend, once a Salvation Army officer and now in his mid-80s about to retire after 50 years as a minister of the United Church of Canada. Of psycho-pathological leadership he observes that, “In hierarchical structures one might have to deal with middle management and those upward in the scale, [but] those of us who have worked in more congregational polities might also know a number who had weaselled themselves on to Church Boards and Councils.” Believe me; his stories are even more hair-raising than mine!  

All traditions try to structure the exercise of power in such a way as to best facilitate its use while minimising its abuse. The ideal is summed up by Hans-Ruedi Weber: “Jesus transforms the love of power into the power of love”.[8] If the love of power reverses that equation, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, or in our orders, but in ourselves… 

So, Scripture can be ignored or misinterpreted; Tradition may be hi-jacked or it can ensure that our mistakes become irreversible; so what about Reason?

[2] Orders and Regulations for Salvation Army Officers, amendment 2014/IA/09, Volume 2, Part 7, Chapter 5 – Discipline – Section 3 (Breaches of Discipline) Para 11.
[3] Quoted by Victor Doughty in The Officer (August 1974) 345-6.
[4] W. Bramwell Booth, letter of October 1894, in Catherine Bramwell Booth, Bramwell Booth (London: Rich & Cowan, 1932) 218.
[5] W. Bramwell Booth, letter to his wife, 27 April 1924, in Catherine Bramwell Booth, Bramwell Booth, 437.
[6] Sven Ljungholm on Former Salvation Army Officers’,, 6 June 2014.
[7] Orders and Regulations for Field Officers (London: The Salvation Army, 1886) 163.

[8] Hans-Ruedi Weber, Power, Focus for a Biblical Theology (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1989) 167.

Major (Dr) Harold Hill

The third quadrant of the quadrilateral; Church Tradition as a source for Leadership discernment will be posted August 22, 2014


Anonymous said...

Om ledarskap - Del 1&2 av 4

Från den engelska sidan -


Anonymous said...

I've followed your blog throughout the abuse series and Dr. Hill's contribution adds a valuable overall perspective, certainly in part 1 and 2. I also read the other articles he penned and which provided me with great respect for his wisdom.
Thank you FSAOF for introducing this unique NZ officer to us.

Officer London

CANADA said...

Leadership Book Review
- Leadership in The Salvation Army
by Commissioner Wesley Harris

BOOKS about leadership multiply upon book shelves as the need for good leaders becomes ever more apparent. Two such books, (‘Leadership in The Salvation Army’ and ‘Man with a Mission’) coming out of a Salvation Army context deserve wide readership.

‘Leadership in The Salvation Army’ is a case study in clericalisation by Major Harold Hill of New Zealand. This is a scholarly work and deals with a perceived tension between the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and the specialist role of officers in our movement.

The author recalls that in 1978 General Arnold Brown provided for the word ‘ordain’ to be used in the commissioning of officers and the fact that some expressed reservations because of the eccelesiastical baggage the term might carry with it. (Did those of us commissioned earlier than 1978 lack anything essential provided by the introduction of the term? Or was it something cosmetic and in line with a developing preference for ‘churchy’ terminology in the Army?)

Major Hill draws upon an extensive knowledge of Army history as well as practices in other branches of the Body of Christ as he ponders the basic question, what is the difference between the officer and the non-officer? Perhaps he gives too little weight to the enormous influence of local officers in the Army from its inception and the growing authority of non-commissioned employees in our administration in modern times. Be that as it may be, questions about the unique position of officers still remain.

The opinion of this reviewer is that the essential difference is not in character or status but in availability, a readiness to go wherever their service can be best deployed. Availability is what gives officer-service added value. That is one of the many perceptions shared in a book which is certainly thought provoking.


We are in the process of collection a number of articles written by Major Harold Hill with a focus on various aspects of the SA. They will be shared piecemeal over the next several months.


A former officer sent me a note; 'not many comments but it may be that it hits home too much with the Army leadership' - A good thing if it does. Noteworthy though is the consistently high number of visitors, tweet responses and new blog followers.

We'll post more from Major Hill's pen on the weekend. Part 3 of the quadrant will be posted tonight, and part 4 on Monday, Aug 25.


Anonymous said...

'Availability is what gives officer-service added value'.

Not all officers are 'wholly available' - quite a few refuse to go where they are sent. It isn't unknown for a welcome service to be planned, only to be told the officer won't be arriving. Admittedly these cases are rare, but they do happen.