Communion with the Poor

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by Lieut-Colonel Paul Bollwahn, MSW, ACSW, CSWM

First presented at the Speak Out online conference and used here by permission of the author.

The Salvation Army is a unique gift of ministry to the world. It preaches the gospel, makes disciples, and ministers holistically to people experiencing a variety of physical, emotional, spiritual and social ills. Service ranges from emergency food, shelter and clothing to palliative and rehabilitative therapy in an institutional setting; from meeting individual spiritual needs to proclaiming Christ to the world; from developing policy for organizational status and behavior to speaking on behalf of the poor in the halls of government. Awesome responsibility accompanies our position as a large international Christian arm of active communion with the poor.

This monograph will summarize an ethical basis for our social services, emphasizing our role in advocacy for social justice. We will point out that leadership and its policy activity is intrinsic to success.

Advocacy is action on behalf of individuals or communities to secure or retain social justice. First in this role is surfacing the capacity, developing and empowering individuals or communities to act on their own behalf. Secondly, is strategically raising the combined voice of all institutional players to secure social justice for all. Most would opine that advocacy is important, but allocation of time, money, and knowledgeable staff will only be seen as a viable commitment, when it is understood to be central to the organizational mission.


Our mission obligates us as empowered disciples to transmit the Word and to “meet human needs” as unto Christ Himself. Therefore, today we serve in the context of scriptures:

  • Psalm 82:3 – (KJV)“Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy.” This is based on the assumption of Psalm 12:5 that God Himself defends the oppressed, the poor and the needy.
  • Proverbs 31:9 – (LB) “Speak up for the poor and needy and see that they get justice.”
  • Matthew 25:40,45 – (J.B. Phillips) “I assure you that whatever you did for the humblest of my brothers, you did for me.”…I assure you that whatever you did not do to the humblest of my brothers, you failed to do for me.”
  • Luke 4:18, 19 – (NKJV) “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor…to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” As Jesus preached in the synagogue with this allusion to the Old Testament Jubilee Year, which liberated the obligations of the poor, He proclaimed a greater liberation. He used this quote from Isaiah to announce His ministry, describing six aspects of it – one of which was advocacy for the poor and oppressed.
  • John 4:4 – (LB)“[Jesus] had to go through Samaria” to meet the spiritual and social needs of a despised Samaritan woman. His advocacy elevated those despised and second-class people to equality with those already affirmed by society.
  • Acts 2:1-45 (NIV) – “When the day of Pentecost came, [the disciples] were all together in one place.” (of one heart and mind – see chapter 1:14 and 4:32); “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (spiritual power – see also 8:17-19); “and began to speak in other tongues” (bridging through communication to non-Jews, i.e., new evangelistic fervor – see vs. 5-11); “and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (inclusiveness in the church – vs. 41); “They devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (they began acting like a church – see vs. 42-43); (beneficence, compassion, altruism -- results of being filled by the spirit of God – see vs. 44-45).
  • Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV) – “It was He who gave some to be prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”

As an integral part of the Christian church universal, The Salvation Army is committed in love to this call to communion or interaction with those in need.


Our mission is grounded in our theological perspective. From the Wesleyan tradition, we believe that spiritually dead and separated humankind is awakened through prevenient grace to the realization that God has made a plan of redemption and invites their appropriation of it in faith. Through prevenient grace, universally given, freedom of choice, responsibility and worthiness of personhood are restored in the individual and to the family. Therefore, through grace, people can decide to accept God’s redemptive plan with the premise of restoring righteousness. All people are deserving through Christ’s supreme sacrifice. They are not subject to a predetermined, exclusive selection of God.

God often uses redeemed individuals to extend grace and communication directly to those still unsaved. Redeemed individuals are those: justified by God; restored to a never-having-fallen relationship with Him; and given a non-preferential, non-prejudicial love for all of humanity. Divisions established in human society are broken down in the Kingdom of God. This love provides the impetus to minister to others with compassion and inclusiveness in the same way that a parent would lovingly accept responsibility for family.

Needs made apparent ignite the interest of the redeemed to be used of God in extending grace and non-judgmental service equal to those needs. Extending God’s grace through care and compassion are natural and required responses of those regenerated to righteousness. The Salvationist displays the love of Christ, witnesses to this power to restore and serves without discrimination. Such service is intrinsic to the nature of those living in the spirit of God (not apart from or in competition with). We model the incarnational ministry of Jesus, who was engaged not distant, “God became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” (John 1:14)

Further, it is incumbent upon a Salvationist as a disciple of Christ to work for the development of the Kingdom of God. This implies extending the responsibility of Christ’s mandated mission beyond individuals to suffering society (Luke 4:18-19). “The commitment to the Kingdom motivates us to strive for social reform or perhaps, more appropriately, social re-creation.”1 (Donald Burke of Catherine Booth College, has been most helpful in crystallizing theological thought regarding our commitment to serving the poor. Exploit his writings for pursuit of topic)


In the context of our organizational heritage, we continue to follow the principles of William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. Put forward in 1890 to guide our social services ministries, they guide the practical application of our social mandate:

  1. Programming must lift up and facilitate change at the personal level whenever matters of character or conduct are at the root of individual or familial dysfunction;
  2. Effective intervention must include strategies that alter social circumstances and outside forces as they contribute to suffering;
  3. The scale of the intervention must, by design, be commensurate with the human outcomes and life changes sought;
  4. Effort must be sustained over time, sufficient to support long-term growth;
  5. Efforts must be specific, measurable, realistic, feasible, and motivating yet practical in every sense;
  6. Intervention must not unintentionally injure those it is intended to benefit;
  7. While assisting one individual or population, our intervention must not negatively impact the well-being of others.2

Notice particularly, the second of the seven essential principles for program design. To William Booth, advocacy for change in social systems was an imperative to his vision. When speaking about the development of his social work plan, he often used the metaphor of an ambulance at the foot of the precipice of human failure, noting that he also intended to erect a fence at the top.3


From the mandates of Holy Scripture, the heritage of the Church, and our own heritage, we respond today by reaching out to the poor and needy offering care, compassion, counsel, capacity development, and hope for change. This includes intervention at the personal, group, and societal levels. They operate along a continuum, which can be succinctly summarized as follows:


1. Food
2. Shelter
3. Clothing
4. Emotional, Spiritual, and Physical Harbor


1. Counsel
2. Education & Rehabilitation (emotional, spiritual, and character)
3. Inclusive Atmosphere (seeing saint potential in each person we serve)
4. Case Management and Supportive Services (welfare to work mentoring)


1. Training
2. Empowering
3. Job Referral
4. Management and Success Mentoring
5. Spiritual Guidance & Support Groups


  1. Prevention: Spiritual nurture rendered in our corps and youth character development programs strongly advocate for our constituents to avert life crises and dysfunction.
  2. Client Advocacy: Helping to develop the capacity of those we serve to access and obtain the provisions and fairness to which they are, by law, entitled;
  3. System Change: Raising our institutional voice in the tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jesus, defending the cause of those in need.

The Founder’s principles and leadership example inform today’s continuum of service ministries. It is important also to note the recognition that leadership from the top down displays the ethos of mission and sets the stage for policy development and action that runs through all that we do. It is vital and welcomed even as ideas flow from the bottom up.


William Booth initiated the mandate for system change, explaining in principle that picking up the fallen only begins recovery. Altered conditions are required to sustain it. Led by The Salvation Army in 1890, a campaign prevailed in changing English law. Simple and straight forward, it was called the “Cab Horse Charter.”4

Twenty years later, as Booth was aging, his great vision for human freedom in Christ for this world and the next was gaining considerable acceptance. He foresaw no slack in the Army’s needed response to the compelling needs of the poor, even in his final years. In addition to non-judgmental, compassionate caring, he committed himself and those who would follow to system advocacy, by stating:

While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight;
While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight;
While men go to prison, in and out, I’ll fight;
While there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.5

In the same spirit the USA Commissioners’ Conference of contemporary America saw the value of putting forth an official statement on advocacy in 1976. It affirms the necessary involvement of Army personnel in (1) facilitating change at the personal level, and (2) effecting strategies to improve government welfare policy (for more information look up complete statement).

The International Conference of Leaders, which met in the spring of 1998 in Melbourne, made six statements of commitment, three of which involve advocacy:

  1. To encourage in all ways possible the vigorous exploration of the Army’s God-given freedom to worship Christ in every culturally appropriate way.
  2. To lead people to be sacrificially involved in the creation of a world free of racism, tribalism and culture imperialism, making of our Army an example of community in which such barriers no longer exist.
  3. To wholeheartedly embrace any change necessary in structure, procedure, or regulation where these appear to impede the achievement of the Army’s God-given mission.

Similarly, in our doctrine book, Salvation Story, advocacy for the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized is admonished by including the text of “The Lausanne Covenant,” from which we read:

We affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbor and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression, and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice whenever they exist.6

Now more fully in 2007, our international leaders recognized the importance of a unified institutional posture for performance on the local, regional, national and global scale to impact systemic change. With the establishment of the International Social Justice Commission, they notified the world that Salvation Army leaders at all levels would continue to stand in communion with the poor, but also prepare in new strategic ways for socio-political involvement toward the achievement of universal social justice.

Needs are everywhere apparent. The recipe for solutions are myriad. Universal is the awareness that the weaker the culture of human security and justice, the greater the vulnerability for community and societal instability and violence. Influencing macro-level change in socio- economic systems is a twenty first century mandate – particularly for the Church.


Communion with the poor presupposes action necessary to redeem and lift consistent with scriptural mandate. Practice must be supported with precept else attempts toward achievement are scattered, segmented and shallow. Further as our founder observed, fire has the tendency to go out (consistent with “entropy”, the law of physics and society). Without the buy-in from all levels, informed by principle and policy, the intensity of resolve is vitiated. Soon fragmented efforts at the local or regional level fail to be appropriately buttressed by necessary leadership. Spontaneous “grass roots” action can certainly inform and inspire, but policy and leadership are necessary to sustained institutional impact.

In 1948, the United National adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) without dissent. The United States joined many other nations in affirming its provisions. Article 25 states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself. and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”. What happened? Isn’t that a more than adequate definition of social justice? Precept was not supported by effectiveness in leadership.

Precept, a command or principle intended as a general rule of action, is based on an ethical, biblical, historical and missional view of who we are and what we must be about. Moreover, “we must be the change we want to see.” – M. K. Gandhi. Those charged with the responsibility to set organizational direction, action or response have a solemn challenge to keep the focus of performance on precept. Leadership is still the energy to bring about success. So, leadership and policy development should be seen as an integral part of our role in advocacy to achieving social justice.

Divisional and Territorial headquarters have jurisdictional authority and responsibility for all work within their boundaries and also for Christian witness and moral influence beyond those boundaries. They exercise delegative administration of Salvation Army polit (organizational constitution) and mission. Within parameters, they create, sustain and oversee all programming; secure, train and supervise all personnel (officers, employees and volunteers); exercise pastoral care and spiritual authority over all members and outreach efforts to clients and the community at large; fund all programs and activities, account for funding and programming; market the organization and fulfill the organization’s self-directed mission to society.

Therefore, they are directly responsible for speaking out on behalf of the organization and those for whom it exists. They oversee community collaboration and partnership initiatives and the general charitable responsibilities congruous with our mission. Leadership at this level brings together diverse opinions and ideas, suppresses divergence, surmounts complexities and presses toward the goal of raising the institutional voices on behalf of those in need.

National Headquarters and International Headquarters exist, to inspire, coordinate, represent, monitor, report, develop resources, advocate and consult. They enhance visibility, representation, and efficiently enable us to pursue the role of public policy advocacy. Careful oversight insures adhering to our simple purpose of representing the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, and transcending political entanglement or comprise.

Not only are headquarters vital, their activity brings about the synergistic impact (total effect is greater than the sum of the parts) capable of real changes.


Public policy advocacy, in the United States, has succeeded in advancing causes and directly impacting the lives of individuals in groups of special need. First, for example, it has been the force behind new legislation—and tougher penalties for drunk drivers, accessibility for handicapped individuals, and protection for victims of sexual trafficking. Second, public policy advocacy helps make and shape laws and policies that have directly affected the mission of The Salvation Army. For example, welfare reform, emergency food and shelter funding, comprehensive work training programs, and utility assistance for low-income people. Third, involvement in public policy advocacy is part of our responsibility in working with our elected representatives toward the full achievement of democracy. As America’s Favorite Charity, The Salvation Army is obligated to advocate for those we represent, because democracy means little unless it extends to the least among us.

Churches, charities, non-profits, civic, service, and community organizations working in partnership are the primary vehicles of civic participation in many countries. They play a critical role in the democratic process. They have information, experience, and the networks so important to policy formation and change. Through them, individuals are empowered to take their responsibility in civic involvement.

The United States Constitution encourages and protects efforts to influence government and those elected to represent us. Other cultures, we recognize, take a variety of approaches toward the process of advocating for change and justice. Our cause is buttressed by knowledge of our rights.

The Salvation Army’s civic involvement is extensive, particularly with the welcomed emergence of the ICSJ. Our role in public policy advocacy is complex and challenging because of the broad range of our services and the diversity of our constituency. Broad-based coalitions enable The Salvation Army’s voice to be prominent and efficiently delivered. Our place at the table is expected, welcomed, and appreciated.


Amelioration and safe harbor (food, shelter, and clothing) extend the grace of God in time of great need. Therapy, instruction, and nurture enable spiritual and social redemption. Identifying community needs, coalescing with like-minded organizations and advocating for system change are a clear calling of God. It is all part of our mission. We outreach in service, open our congregational fellowships to potential saints, and achieve for those in need the full rights of personhood. Nothing short of full service can suffice when we acknowledge all people as neighbor and family.

Appropriately then, we clearly enunciate issues on behalf of our constituency from foundations in the Bible, our heritage, and the context of our current institutional relationships. We continue to follow in the footsteps of our founders and leaders who have preceded us. Only passion for the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized will effectively promulgate who we are and what we seek to achieve. Conversely, however, evil can easily triumph if good people keep silent (adapted from an original quote by Edmond Burke).

This paper is synthesized for this e-summit from The Salvation Army’s Role in Advocacy, USA National Social Services Conference Edition, 2002. The author is a former USA National Social Services Secretary. For eleven years he represented The Salvation Army’s social service ministries to the White House, The United States Congress, Federal Government Agencies and our National Peer Organizations.


Comment on any or all of the following:

  1. Advocating for the poor, disabled and marginalized is a gigantic undertaking. The Salvation Army represents so many populations in society. Therefore affiliating with like-minded groups makes our advocacy efforts more manageable and more successful. However, at times some groups will suggest employing very confrontive or disruptive tactics to make their point. Your thoughts on this. What ethical principles should we follow in combining efforts to effect change?
  2. Is it recognized that advocacy efforts can be threatening to the status quo and disruptive to the protection or apparent lack of surveillance of those who profit there from. For example: 1) If we are successful in obtaining health care for low-wage workers, perhaps the costs to employers will increase - some of whom may be represented on our Advisory Boards; 2) If we are successful in exposing the underworld of sexual trafficking, the costs of policing will increase, profiteers lose their millions, and people go to jail. How best can we be true to our mandate, successfully influence change and protect ourselves in the process?
  3. Christ advocated for the poor in the public square. Comment on your local/regional ability to influence systems change. How are you impacted by the systemic presence? Or its measures at self-protection?
  4. Comment on the section Policy Precipitates Advocacy. Do you believe that performance should be informed or buttressed by precepts thought out in advance by people in leadership positions? How important is buy-in throughout the levels of leadership?
  5. Recently, 1000 churches gathered from the Dallas, Texas area for a Justice Revival (organized by Sojourners of Washington, D.C.) The churches came across racial, and theological boundaries “to connect faith and social justice”. Is it time for The Salvation Army to take another step in buttressing its revival of commitment to social justice by adding to our statements of faith (The Eleven Doctrines)? Before our dual commitment to spiritual and social salvation came about with the publishing of IN DARKEST ENGLAND in 1890, our doctrinal positions was put forth in 1878. Do we need a commitment to serving and advocacy in our faith statements?
  6. Will you make any changes in your own method of operations as a result of reading this paper? Expound on why and how.


  1. Creed and Deed, edited by Commissioner John Waldron. Published by The Salvation Army, Canada and Bermuda Territory, 1986. Thoughts and quote from contributor Donald Burke, Ph.,D., Catherine Booth Bible College, Winnipeg. P.210
  2. In Darkest England, William Booth, Charles H. Sergel & Co., Chicago, 1890, pp. 107-111.
  3. The History of The Salvation Army: Sandall, vol., p. xi.
  4. In Darkest England, Booth p 25
  5. “While Women Weep…” William Booth May 9, 1912
  6. Salvation Story; Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine, The Salvation Army International Headquarters, London, England, 1998, p. 137.


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