Our footprint in the world
Our footprint in the world
21 February 2018
Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. Colonel Geanette Seymour, Assistant National Secretary for Mission, Australia, spoke with Mel Cotton about Social Justice in The Salvation Army today.
How long have you worked in the 'social justice space' in The Salvation Army, and in what capacities?
Because I believe very firmly that social justice is a way of life, not necessarily something we just do on given occasions, I would say that social justice has influenced pretty much all of my officership. But it’s been particularly the last 15 years that it’s had my full attention, both as secretary for program, chief secretary and then eventually at the International Social Justice Commission in New York, and again in retirement since then.
In your own words, what is 'social justice' to you?
Social justice is a way of life. It’s not just something you do, it’s a way of thinking that governs a way of acting. So it’s about how you engage people, how you think about your material possessions, what sort of a lifestyle you choose. It’s about equity and fairness and engaging for the common good in appropriate ways. It’s about listening, it’s about sharing and it’s about not walking past what is unacceptable.
What are some of the most exciting things happening in the social justice space in The Salvation Army in Australia at the moment?
I think the work of the social justice team is exciting, because it’s actually helping us understand our theology as it relates to social justice, because we’ve always been theologically attuned to a social justice ideology.
It’s inherent in what we believe, in the way we construct what we do and how we do it. But in the last few years, we’ve actually found a language to describe that and we’ve become braver at stepping into contested space and understanding how we live in society as a social justice agent. I think that’s probably some of the most exciting stuff. There’s still a long way to go but I do think we’ve become a whole lot better at understanding that.
What are some exciting things that are happening in social justice in the International Salvation Army?
I think there are lots of good things happening, but there are three that come to mind straight away.
One is the anti-trafficking movement, and the learnings that are being shared between territories and the impact that’s actually having on legislation, including here in Australia. The Freedom Partnership has been quite vocal, and as a result of their engagement we have impacted legislative thinking, and that’s true of the broader Salvation Army world.
I think the other area that’s really pleasing to see is the role of women in responding to women’s issues and the way that that too is bringing about change in places where women have historically been voiceless and unable to impact for change in their arena.
I think the third arena that’s quite exciting is the accountability movement. General André Cox has been quite forthright around the demand for accountability. So that’s about integrity, it’s about honesty, it’s about reliability, it’s a fight against corruption both within The Salvation Army and in how The Salvation Army engages with various partners internationally. It’s actually impacted our teaching and the expectations of how we will go about our business.
What are some simple ways anyone can fight for social justice in our everyday lives?
I think for a start be aware of why we do things. The ‘why’ and the ‘how’ are often the two most necessary questions about social justice. Why do we do what we do? Why do we do it the way we do it? And how do we engage our world? How do we go about ordinary, day to day living?
For argument’s sake, what are our resources? Where do we get them from? Our purchasing power? What choices do we make about our environment, our cleaning materials, the packaging of goods? Are we, by our purchasing power, requiring companies to think about a fair wage for a fair day’s work?
We can think about our footprint in the world. We live in a damaged environment. Are we adding to that? What are we doing to try to limit our demands on earthly resources?
How do we use our financial resources and do we actually take our place in society as an effective member of society?
Do we vote and do we think consciously about the way we vote? Do we contact our various players, influential players in our society when there is the need for something to change.
There is a military saying, and I can’t quote it accurately, but it basically says, “what you walk past is what you accept.”
So I think one of the questions for us is what are we walking past that is totally unacceptable, and whinging about it and seeing it but not sitting and thinking, “Do I have a role here, and what is it and how do I engage it?”
What would you say to Salvationists who don't think social justice is important in the Army?
Ooh, that’s a good one. I think, to a Salvationist that doesn’t think that social justice is a part of who we are, they don’t understand the theology of Salvationism. Ours is a Wesleyan theology, and it talks about engagement in community, it talks about the welfare of our brothers and sisters, and it talks about a social ministry, and whenever you talk about a social ministry, there are elements of justice that need to be engaged.
What is something practical we can do today to stand for justice?
I think it’s really basic. Be reflective of how we live and why we make the choices we make, and what impact am I having on my community for good or for bad? It doesn’t have to be evil. I’m not talking about negative impact for evil, but what impact am I having?
It’s everything from, “Am I engaging my neighbours? Am I being gracious in life?” to “How do I go shopping?” and “What are the conversations I have and how do I have them?” It’s really basic.
For the very shy and the very retiring and the people who like to live quietly and very privately, there is a way for them to engage too, if they are personally reflective about the impact that they are having on their world.
It goes the same for those who have societal impact at higher levels or engage in legislative impact or impact governments or thinking or businesses or whatever. Are we, in fact, being good citizens, Christ-like citizens in our world?
World Social Justice Day was celebrated on February 20.