Conclusions Of The Task Force On The Internet/Lotus Notes Poverty Summit
THE SALVATION ARMY AND THE POOR’
VOICES OF OUR GLOBAL FAMILY
Conclusions of the Task Force on the Internet/Lotus Notes Poverty Summit
The basic question posed to the conference was that of the relationship between The Salvation Army and the poor. The group recognised that not only are we the poor and for the poor, but we are also with the poor. These historic commitments remain though we admit that in the past we have compassionately cared for the victims of poverty but have done little to address the unjust policies and practices in society which impoverish them. We recognise the need to speak out against these evil systems. In the past we have often prescribed approaches to working with the poor that have had little input from the poor themselves.
The group recognised that even where absolute poverty does not exist there will always be a ‘submerged tenth’. We should actively seek them out and find ways of partnering with them in order to transform society. They need to be found. They need to be given a voice.
The conference highlighted the complex nature of poverty and the closely related phenomenon of ‘social exclusion’, the subject of the General’s keynote address. The group responded to three critical questions:
1) Who are the Poor?
They live on the margins of society, unnoticed and unheard. The poor are unable to meet the normal living conditions of that society. Struggling to survive, they seek ways out of their poverty, often showing dignity, and demonstrating resilience, creativity, courage, motivation and spiritual strength.
2) What is their Experience of Poverty?
The experience of poverty varies from one country to another and is multi-faceted with each facet impacting on the others. Its impact is related to the spiritual, social, economic and political conditions of the poor and is endured at individual, community and country levels.
3) How can the Salvation Army show that it is with the Poor?
In coming alongside the poor the Salvation Army shares in their struggles, recognises the signs of, and understands the cycle of poverty. The Salvation Army should intervene to break the cycle of poverty where it is most able to make a positive contribution, based on the needs of the community and the skills available to The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army should work with other local and international agencies to ensure that the whole cycle of poverty is addressed in a country.
It is self-evident that the Earth has limited resources and that where there is an abundance this is at the expense of those who have insufficient. This should arouse a compassionate sharing of resources within our global family.
The group operated with full acceptance of the Army’s sixth doctrine, noting also that ‘ …. any Gospel which is truly universal - or, as Salvationists would say, ‘for the whosoever’ - must clearly identify the poor and oppressed as the first ones to be addressed and invited to enter the new Kingdom. The easiest ones to exclude must be the first ones included. Otherwise, the Gospel’s whosoever is in jeopardy.’ (Needham, in ‘Towards a Reintegration of the Salvationist Mission’ - Creed and Deed).
The question posed was about a corporate body (TSA) relating to unnamed people (the poor). Both through the presentations of the conference and in the meeting of the task force the group recognised indescribable value in respectful listening to the poor telling their own story. It is as each Salvationist engages in friendship with people who are poor that we will relearn how the poor feel and what we may do to work with them. It is out of those relationships that the relationship of the Army with the poor will develop.
The group felt that little would be gained by hosting an international conference at this point. The need for this may emerge in time. Rather it presents suggestions, which, because of the limited time available to the group, must be regarded as preliminary:
1. Refocus on the poor:
Ask the General to send a message calling on TSA and Salvationists to refocus on the poor:
1.1. By listening to the poor
1.2 Through theological reflection
- Learn new ways of working with the poor
- Listen to what the poor tell us are their concerns
- Promote corps and territory community development discussions
- Gather the views of the poor on God
- Promote Web discussion
- Facilitate territorial discussion
- Incorporate in training college programmes
- Publish Poverty Conference papers to appear in the SA press
- Research the relationship between SA theology and poverty
2. Recommit to the poor:
The Army and individual members should recommit to transformational development (including their own) and to alleviating poverty
2.1 Review and challenge internal structures and processes to improve TSA’s effectiveness in poverty alleviation and transformational development
- Seek to alleviate the poverty of our own members as well as the poverty found in the communities in which we are operating
- Ensure that SA meetings remain relevant to personal growth and development
- Develop networks with other agencies, including other church groups
- Focus on community development
- Encourage greater flexibility and less hierarchy in TSA including the corps
- Review the status of roles within TSA to ensure that poverty alleviation work is encouraged and valued
- Review the policies of the International Self Denial Fund
- Ensure priority for the poor in evolving international strategies
2.2 Develop guidelines for cultivating the prophetic role, including
- Developing public statements on poverty and related issues
- A redefinition of TSA’s ‘apolitical’ stance
- Clarification of its approach to advocacy
3. Turn the recommendations into action
3.1. Appoint a coordinator to:
- Plan work required to implement the Task Force’s recommendations
- Coordinate these activities with other strategic initiatives within TSA
- Encourage the setting of performance measures and monitor progress
- Provide advice and consultancy
3.2. Retain the Task Force, at least for the immediate future, as an advisory and oversight committee, to ensure that the voices of the poor are heard during the process
Jesus among the poor:
The group feels that the internet conference highlighted the great opportunity for rediscovery of the focus of Salvationist mission in reconfirming priority for the poor. This commitment is likely to stimulate growth of the Army and strengthen Salvationist identity as it revitalizes Salvationist worship, teaching and social action. It may prove to be the way in which Salvationists of the 21st century experience again the one who ‘though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor,’ ( 2 Cor 8: 9)