• U.S.

Religion: Democrat for Autocrat

3 minute read

Since 1878 the Salvation Army has been practicing street-corner soul-saving. On the theory of its founder, hot-eyed, white-bearded General William Booth, that you cannot save a man’s soul when his feet are cold and his stomach empty, it adds soup and soap to the salvation. Thanks also to Founder Booth, the Army’s General long occupied the most autocratic throne of charity on earth, armed with a set of rules which gave him dictatorial powers, even to naming his successor. Son Bramwell was so named when General William Booth died in 1912.

As Bramwell Booth aged, the Army grew more prosperous but less productive. In 1929 his subordinates finally ousted him after a bitter legal battle, elected Chief of Staff Edward John Higgins as General. In 1934 the Booth dynasty was revived with the election of masterful, hawk-nosed Evangeline Cory Booth. Daughter of William and sister of Bramwell, she loved the Army more than any man she ever met, long headed its work in the U. S.

Last Christmas Day General Evangeline reached retirement age of 73. Fortnight ago the High Council to choose her successor convened near London. Sessions were secret as the Army’s progressive wing launched a full-dress attack to turn it democratic. Snail-like was the push, for the High Council can only elect or oust a General and has no other power to control him. Finally this obstacle was breached by quizzing the candidates, engineering a gentleman’s agreement with each of them that “no changes . . . should be promoted by the General elected . . . without the fullest possible consideration of and consultation with the Commissioners of the Army.”

Last week kindly, greying Commissioner George Lyndon Carpenter, 67, Australian-born head of the Army’s work in Canada, whom Bramwell Booth demoted a year before he was deposed, was elected the Army’s fifth General. No autocrat, General Carpenter promised to appoint a council of advisers. Said he: “If I ever get to the stage of refusing to listen to advice I hope the Army will ask me to retire—and will see to it that I do.”

Even as a democrat, General Carpenter will have a wide command, for his 27,000 subordinate officers use 104 languages, work in 97 countries. Throughout the world the Army has an estimated 3,000,000 active members (240,000 in the U. S.), over $100,000,000 worth of property. Primarily a religious body, its evangelism marches hand in hand with its social work. An Army officer’s commission is legal U. S. equivalent to a minister’s ordination.

Truly international, the Army uses native-born recruits whenever possible. Another source of Army strength, which shocked the Victorians, is that women have absolute parity of privilege, position and dignity. Militant is the Army’s terminology. A convert is a “prisoner of war,” a service “company meeting,” a Salvationist’s death “promotion to Glory.”

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