8 February 2017
Come with me on a journey; a journey outside the box.
Last month marked 187 years since the birth of the lady known as “the mother of The Salvation Army”. Catherine Booth (pictured) was a remarkable woman who in 1865, with her husband, William, cofounded what would eventually become the Army. She died in October 1890, aged 61.
As I think about the impact of this incredible lady there are so many characteristics, stories and achievements to tell, but there’s a particular path I want to take. It requires some major rewriting of history, and some may be uncomfortable with that, but bear with me because I think this idea has some merit. Here it is … make Catherine Booth General. Seriously. Call a High Council, ask the members to vote and elect her the co-equal first General of The Salvation Army alongside her husband.
Don’t look now because I’m about to light that box we left behind on fire. While that High Council is convened let’s add one more item to the agenda. Having made Catherine a General, now let’s make the current General’s wife, Commissioner Sylvia Cox a General too, concurrently alongside her husband. Co-equal in every respect.
This suggestion comes from a deep theological conviction. One that is both ecclesiological and Christological. Ecclesiological in that it is an outworking of our understanding of the ministry of all believers under the high priesthood of Christ (my understanding of the priesthood of all believers); Christological in that it takes seriously the belief that “in Christ there is neither male nor female” (Galations 3:28).
This goes further. Having started with the very top, initiate the same change at every level. So, rather than a territorial commander and a territorial president of women’s ministries, in the case of married couples, just have territorial leaders – co-equal in every respect. Then, continue this all the way through the structure at every level of leadership. I’m certain that there are administrative and legal issues that prevent this being implemented at this moment in time. However, I think that our theology should drive our practice, so while those issues may be significant they’re not insurmountable. I leave it to those with appropriate expertise to solve those issues, but I won’t be convinced that it cannot be done. Nor should the difficulties involved cause us to stop trying either.
I’ve been asked many times, “who will be the first married woman General?” Well, after 150 years I can think of no one better in answer to that question than Catherine Booth herself. A better question, and one that reflects our theology, is “who will be the first married couple Generals?” That would be something to look forward to.
More than 125 years after the death of Catherine Booth, I want to honour a radical, innovative and inspiring leader of our movement. I cannot think of a suggestion that is more radical, innovative and inspiring than this and so I make it in honour of this great woman. General Catherine Booth, I salute you.