A Veteran of a Different Stripe
I recently finished an older book entitled “Blood and Fire: The Story of William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army” by Roy Hattersley (Doubleday, 2000). I have wanted to learn more about the Booths, the founders of the Salvation Army since (as family history tells it) my maternal, Scottish great grandfather, Moncrieff Galloway, signed the “Articles of War” or “Soldier’s Covenant” of belief and practice after surviving the Boer War in S. Africa in 1902. He later moved to the U.S. in 1909 and worked in a factory as he continued to preach and serve in “the Army” as a Sgt. Major. I have a small pocket New Testament of his with one of his sermon outlines written in pencil on the inside of the cover.
While best known today for their social work and the storefront Christmas bell-ringer and change bucket, in their times, the Booths were unconventional, radical and shocked the stolid church establishment. They were routinely attacked by the press and church leaders as rude, crude, and socially un-respectable even as their adherents from the working classes, once decimated by crime, poverty, prostitution and alcohol were physically attacked by mobs and gangs organized by liquor manufacturers and bar owners. Like many trailblazers and leaders they were autocratic, insensitive and demanding but worked with a clear sense of drive and mission that was almost apostolic in spirit.
Reviewer Wendy Smith writes, “They preached in the streets of London accompanied by brass bands, appropriating the methods of ungodly popular entertainment to draw working-class sinners to righteousness. They founded soup kitchens and people’s halls to feed the hungry and give them a place to congregate other than the tavern. William Booth (1829-1912) and his wife, Catherine (1829-90), outraged polite society with the establishment of their Christian Mission in 1865. Rechristened the Salvation Army in 1878, the organization challenged the smug Victorian status quo by insisting that sin sprang from unjust social conditions. British writer and Labour Party stalwart Roy Hattersley vividly conveys the political and religious context within which the Salvation Army operated without scanting the forceful (not to say peculiar) characters of its founders. William was authoritarian and self-righteous, yet he often deferred to intellectual, strong-minded Catherine, whose instinctive sympathy for the poor and belief in women’s equality before God shaped their ministry. They were hardly warm people, yet their marital love was unshakable and absolute. The Salvation Army survived their autocratic leadership to flourish into the 21st century: ‘It is not necessary to believe in instant sanctification,’ writes Hattersley in a characteristically balanced summing-up, ‘to admire and applaud their work of social redemption.”
Of course social change is always controversial these days to some – such as former-Fox News TV show hosts who reduce all issues to chalkboard comic characters and produce nothing but hot air. However, the work of mission and evangelism are false to the good news of the kingdom if they ignore the sad reality of the conditions of the real 99% and majority of the 7 billion of the world. The Booths grasped that the Gospel is truly transforming – a person who is new creation because of the Spirit of God will bring change to their family and community. The Booths weren’t the first to grasp that truth of gospel transformation and thankfully they weren’t the last. Ministries that address practical solutions to child labor, prostitution, grinding poverty & unhealthy living conditions due to substance abuse as well as economic inequality are thriving from Guatemala to Tajikistan, from all corners of the earth because sin still is the source of human misery and the atoning work of Jesus Christ, his blood brings freedom from its consequences.
As the author Roy Hattersley points out, one does not have to agree with all the Booths believed (I certainly don’t) to applaud what they attempted and achieved. Hattersley is honest about their faults and the challenge for all strong, founding leaders – what happens when your gone. The Salvation Army survived family member defections as well as the inevitable process of a spiritual movement organizing into an institution. There had to have been something of the fire of God’s grace at work to reach a battle weary soldier’s heart in South Africa over a hundred years ago that led to a true confession of saving faith and brought blessings to his family for years to come . My great grandfather was promoted to glory in 1953. I am told that he prayed for many years for his family both born and yet un-born. I am thankful he did and I am thankful there was someone there that day in S. Africa, even if dressed in what was considered an odd & unconventional uniform, to point him to his Savior.
Some of the Galloway Family – John, Crief, Mary, Lilas and my Great-Grandfather, Moncrief