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Walking our Christian talk

If The Salvation Army is to give meaning to its value of ‘walk the talk’, certain actions have to be seen.

If there is one thing that makes me mad it is when I see hypocrisy in other people. We’ve all seen it happen. Th e politician who makes great promises to get elected, then some months down the road seems to have forgotten those promises. The people of Northland may remember the promise of 10 bridges ahead of the last election, for instance. I rant and rave as a typical Kiwi armchair critic and it vents my spleen, but does little else.

But I am less thorough when I examine my own behaviour. I should get mad when I am a hypocrite, but I justify to myself that personal consistency is an overrated concept that can be explained away and I am happy to live with more or less differing levels of compromise. But it’s not right, is it? One of the values we seek to live by is that we want to walk the talk—to be what we claim to be.

The Salvation Army recently launched our latest strategic mission plan, and as part of it we’ve adopted a set of values. One of these is that as an organisation and as individuals we will walk the talk. What difference would it make if this value to walk the talk was more than a page on our website or a picture on our wall? What would it be like if we all walked the talk?

Value becomes action

For a value to have meaning, it must be a lens through which every decision and action we take is viewed and set. I would suggest that the actions of integrity, respect, authenticity, and practicing what we preach must be seen in our lives if this value is to have any contribution to The Salvation Army and for each of us who make up this movement.

Integrity is described as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, and the state of being whole and undivided. I like this idea of being whole and undivided. Not having two faces: the one we show to everyone, and the secret one we show to perhaps only ourselves. Being whole and undivided means we don’t have to remember to keep up appearances, because the way we act in every situation is the same. I tend to think the more I am whole and undivided, the less stress I will feel trying to manage the diff erent expectations people have of me.

For The Salvation Army, integrity is about being open and honest with those we interact with. Our aim is to be whole and undivided: that what you see is what you get when the public interacts with The Salvation Army. Because as an organisation we are the sum of all our individual members, we have the sum of all our individual inconsistencies, so at times we must admit we don’t achieve the aim of full integrity—but we do aspire to it and we want to pursue integrity.

Respect is described as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements and with due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others. This is one area where we aspire to be diff erent from society’s norms. Increasingly, our national conversation elevates celebrities and denigrates those who have fallen on hard times. As an organisation we aspire to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Alongside the Treaty of Waitangi, it would be good if this was New Zealand’s second most important declaration, that: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’

To walk the talk means an end to denigrating our fellow citizens, an end to denying them the rights to the basics of life: food, clothing, shelter and the unimpeded pursuit of their potential. All Kiwis have the right to be treated with respect, and for us as people of faith each Kiwi is seen to be made in the image of God: we all have a glimpse of God in each of us and we are created as individuals of immense worth. Respect is merely recognising the worth of everyone we come into contact with. That is our aspiration as individuals and as an organisation.

Authenticity is described as conforming to an original so as to reproduce its essential features. As an organisation and as an individual I have a lot of problems with the concept of ‘religion’. Even the term ‘Christianity’ causes me concerns, particularly when I am tarred with the same brush as others who have claimed the same term but not walked the talk.

That’s why I like the idea of ditching all those terms and saying that I want to be ‘an authentic follower of Jesus Christ’. Despite all the bad press some of his followers have garnered over the centuries, there is so much that is admirable in the life and teaching of Jesus. To conform to his example, living out his teaching and reproducing his essential features in our lives is our aspiration.

Practice what you preach is all about Monday morning. The Salvation Army is both a social service agency and a church community. We do have a particular view of what salvation is, with William Booth understanding that the biblical word ‘salvation’ is about bringing physical, mental, social and spiritual health to every person. And it is to that comprehensive understanding of salvation that Salvation Army mission is dedicated. We are committed to bringing life to the whole person, and that is what we do every Monday morning and the days that follow.

We have only one aim: to bring salvation in its fullest sense to every New Zealander. That doesn’t mean we want everyone to join The Salvation Army, wear a uniform and play in a band (the noise pollution alone would be horrendous!). But our focused aspiration for the Army is that it becomes a place of body, mind and soul wellness for every citizen.

Can you expect to see a revolution in your local Salvation Army with our commitment to walking the talk? I doubt it. We will still be engaged in our usual business of helping the most vulnerable and being a community of the followers of Jesus Christ.

But what you can expect is that our aspirations have been raised. We want to live out this value! But just remember that we are merely a bunch of ordinary folk trying to be the best we can be, so I would ask for a little understanding if there are times when we are inconsistent. Please cut us some slack when our aspirations are not always realised.

Major Seth Le Leu is Principal Advisor on International Governance for The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters. He is based in Wellington.

Learn more about our Mission Plan & Values |