Why We Believe What We Do
Major Dawn McFarland, chair of the Moral and Social Issues Committee, on the committee's efforts to share best practices regarding work and diversity within the United States.
The mandate for the USA Moral and Social Issues Committee (MASIC) is to provide a forum to consider vital issues impacting the life and work of The Salvation Army. Here chairperson Major Dawn McFarland discusses with Editor-in-Chief Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee how the committee works to express the availability of the grace of God to all. She derives this tenet from the Army’s doctrinal stance that “humanity was created in the image and likeness of God. This gives dignity and worth to every individual, whatever their personal, cultural, religious or socio-economic circumstances.”
War Cry: Define MASIC.
McFarland: The Moral and Social Issues Committee is a representative body from all four territories. There are three representatives per territory and a representative from Canada who does not vote. The national Social Services secretary serves as our National Headquarters liaison. We discuss what is happening within our territories and ask how it relates to the moral and social concern out in the ﬁeld. Study materials are often developed or position statements formulated to recommend to the Commissioners’ Conference.
WC: What are some of the issues that you are currently discussing?
McFarland: At the last meeting, we worked on developing a resource list that the ﬁeld could use. Pending approval, we will share best practices regarding work and diversity within the United States, where people are excelling and understanding different cultures, working side-by-side to meet needs. In the Western Territory, there is an acculturation program in a corps in Hawaii. In the Central Territory the multi-cultural department is putting forth material that can be utilized on the corps level. They also have the Urban Mission Center project that they’re involving in St. Louis. In the USA South we have the Social Justice Research Center. What we want to do is make our fellow Salvationists aware that they are not alone in this journey of dealing with race relations. We coordinate Salvation Army materials for the White Ribbon Against Pornography (WRAP) program, assigning a territory to develop the materials on a rotating basis. Another of the committee’s efforts is to make sure that there are standardized United States and international position statements available to all ofﬁcers so we all have the same information to work from in understanding The Salvation Army’s stance on current moral and social issues.
WC: What do you all feel is a greatest concern presently?
McFarland: Race relations, deﬁnitely. We were very encouraged by the recent release of the International Position Statement on Racism (see magazine.thewarcry.org), a wonderful document to begin having conversations at the local level. Another cultural issue for the United States and other First World countries is sexual identity. What we are learning is when you begin to have a conversation about that on a global level, it is far more complicated than just how a person identiﬁes.
WC: How does MASIC inform itself in order to have intelligent discussion? What helps you understand?
McFarland: We talk to people who are in the ﬁeld facing these issues. It does us no good to have a position statement or a working document, a teaching document if we can’t put feet to it, if we can’t live out social holiness. We also bring to the table what we know is happening. We look at research that is being conducted and what different people around the table are experiencing. And most importantly, we ask “What does the Bible say about what we’re dealing with?”
WC: Give me an example of something MASIC has accomplished.
McFarland: We have done very good work providing theologically based positions for the United States. It is important to state biblically what we believe and why we believe what we do. You don’t necessarily see the fruit of that right now because the approval process is very long. Typically, if we write anything it takes three years for anything to come back to us as approved.
And the other thing is sharing best practices so that fellow Salvationists can call and say, for example, “I’m having trouble with an acculturation issue because there’s an inﬂux of refugees in our community.” You can call somebody else who walked through that complicated process and they can advise you, “Here are some of the things we’ve learned along the way.”
WC: What do you wish people understood?
McFarland: When we are faced with very controversial, difﬁcult situations we are not alone facing them. The Bible is relevant as a living word that speaks even into contemporary society and shows how we can call on Christ to live through us in difﬁcult situations. There are situations that make us extremely uncomfortable. We (MASIC) are a resource to people who aren’t sure how to handle any such situation.
WC: Imagine I am a soldier in a corps and I’m confronted with the neighborhood that has totally changed around our corps. I want to stay loyal to the corps but I’m not sure where I fit in or what to do. What would you tell me to do?
McFarland: I would start by asking the ofﬁcers about other corps that have gone through this transition. How can we transition to a more welcoming faith community? Are there needs in that neighborhood that we could meet? We have to remember that the corps is not what happens inside the four walls. It’s how we live out the gospel in the community.
WC: How responsive is
The Salvation Army to these issues?
McFarland: It varies from location to location. As a body, we are very responsive to the suffering of others. We are excellent at the hands-on work of meeting the need where the need is. Where we get lost is the biblical teaching that undergirds all of it. I see among our young adults a stronger desire to have that biblical understanding with practical applications.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.