Let Justice Flow
'Others' talks to territorial social justice secretary Major Marion Weymouth and former TSA International Social Justice Commission interns Amanda Merrett and Casey O’Brien about moving from individual to collective action.
Others: Any innovative ‘how to’ suggestions to engage people in justice initiatives?
Major Marion Weymouth: We can use our partnerships to steer businesses and not-for-profits; we can also work through our grassroots responses and apply pressure to politicians and provide guidance and resources to communities. Street parties, community groups, councils; helping and integrating with neighbours, work one-on-one…
Amanda Merrett: Gen Y and others generations live for evidence of ethical responses. We can tap into their drive if we can show them that we are capable of such; that we have a transparency in how we run our businesses and treat our employees. People will sign on to assist an ethical body.
Casey O’Brien: Engagement with justice comes with understanding of justice; our understanding of justice as individuals and as an organisation is often weak. We can utilise activities and engagement opportunities to help people see beyond their own experiences and think big. Better engagement and commitment comes from thinking outside the box.
Others: The Salvation Army, influencing Australia to be a just nation – is that real or imagined?
Marion: It’s real, not the JustSalvos teams but the whole TSA. We are poised to be able to make a huge difference with correct policies and a unified voice. We don’t need all the answers, but we need to be able to lean on other people. At the moment our influence is a little bit imaginary. We have now been empowered by both TCs to make progress on Indigenous issues; we need to be confident and believe.
Amanda: It’s real, mostly at a grassroots level. People’s lives are being changed. At an advocacy level, well, it sometimes happens. There is a lot of room for improvement.
Casey: We have the capacity to have a genuine national impact; we can do better at influencing on a governmental and therefore a national level.
Others: Australia – a strong influence on the world as a non-veto-wielding UN security council member: again, perception or reality? What’s the nature and potential of the role?
Marion: Our national laws protecting children and preventing child labour are not universally enjoyed by all countries. Our commitment to the UN concerning refugees needs review. We need to get that right, and also to address Indigenous rights.
Amanda: In terms of possible advocacy, we need to stand up for women in countries where rape is a weapon of war and a government policy. It would we great to see Australia champion this issue, and other issues such as landmines.
Casey: Australia is one of 10 non-permanent (non-veto) members, alongside the five permanent (veto-carrying) members. It’s not the most powerful position, but it is powerful and a big responsibility. It’s the fifth time we have ‘been there’ in this role, holding a seat on the Security Council. It is also important that the winning of this membership is not considered to be a validation of Australia’s security policies - many of which (including its policies on asylum seekers) should concern The Salvation Army on a social justice level. I have serious concerns that we are too heavily dependent on US positions and policies. We need to independently speak up on issues which concern Australians, and for countries and peoples that don’t have a voice.
Others: How can TSA encourage Australia to use its influence for the greater good; to become a more responsible global citizen?
Marion: I’m impressed with how Micah Challenge meets with local MPs, leading into the federal election. TSA can be a bit savvier in lobbying politicians and make presentations in partnership with others. ‘Please,’ MPs have told us, ‘use your power in the electorate to write emails and make submissions of substance.’
Amanda: The Salvation Army needs to consider what it means to be a global citizen. Why is it important? Why value dignity? We can get a lot of momentum behind examples of sentiment backed by action.
Casey: I’ve just finished drafting a series of articles on the importance of individuals mobilising themselves – we all have skills in our own fields. Politically, yes, we can influence people. The Salvation Army has gained the trust of the Australian general public and the Australian government, as well as that of governments in many other countries. We all need to educate and inform ourselves further so that we can utilise that trust to bring about change for good.
Others: Futurist and author Hugh Mackay has often said Australians focus on the small picture due to feeling overwhelmed by the larger focus. How do we address that?
Marion: Our divisional social justice reps and coordinators know their priority issues. To get the timings right can be tricky, but we have to support each other and seek God’s will for our society and our communities. Feeling and being overwhelmed can be like living in an abyss. But go with kingdom values; believe that as we obey god we will be empowered by the Spirit. Find the biblical messages that are relevant today, and our theology and faith will drive us.
Amanda: We can’t change everything, fix it all, and save everyone; that’s okay. My passion is women’s rights, so my skills and efforts are largely in that field. I break the concept of social justice down to make it manageable for me. I network with others, get informed and develop my understanding and skills.
Casey: Start small, but think big. Everyone can read the paper or magazines, or watch TV or go online. Being informed is the first step to being empowered. Take personal responsibility. Also, as an Army, we need to positively utilise the skills sets and justice passions of our officers, employees and members. God often wants to use us right where we are. Justice isn’t optional.
When it comes to feeling overwhelmed, the answer is often to step out in faith and have the courage of your convictions. With this comes a responsibility to ensure that those convictions are prophetic and truly come from God.
Watch this space to read Casey's full article on The Thinking Salvationist.
Others: No spoilers here, but what’s the premise of Jemima’s Lullaby? Captain Rachael Castle: Jemima is an African okapi who wants to ‘own’ her community’s song, so that everyone sounds like her. She thinks she is being very helpful. It’s a learning experience for everyone, especially Jemima!
Others: To what would you attribute the impact and success of the previous pieces from Rachael and Nick in this series? Captain Mal Davies: First there is the artistic merit of Emmaline Rabbit and Walter Wants Wings. They are written and illustrated well and are quality children’s literature; they are clearly professional releases, as distinct from a self-published or ‘cheap’ production. Secondly, the books fit into a small sub-genre – children’s books with a ‘grown up’ message. They are cute and enjoyable stories, but they are also far more than that and carry serious teaching for children.
Others: What was the inspiration behind Jemima’s Lullaby? Rachael Castle: I wrote it for fun; it’s a labour of love. The fact that JustSalvos want to use it to promote inclusion is a happy coincidence.
Others: What themes do you grapple with in the story? Rachael: Diversity and inclusion – those two go really well together. Difference leads to exclusion in our society, so marrying the two issues makes good sense. Discrimination in Australia can be overt or subtle. The Salvation Army tries really hard to ‘do diversity’ well, it’s not easy. Our nation’s multicultural realities are rich and complex, but we try to be open and to connect.
Others: What’s the central message? Rachael: Everyone’s voice is important. Everyone has a contribution to make, to help our society be stronger and more just. I believe we can’t do enough when it comes to telling kids to embrace difference. Diversity is not something to be scared of, but something to foster. The more we can teach children not to fear or hate, the more we’ll see diversity as a good, creative aspect to life.
Others: Are the issues Jemima grapples with ones that have a cultural/historical/theological relevance for The Salvation Army? Mal: Since its inception, the Army has been about inclusion. William and Catherine Booth were motivated by a number of forces in establishing The Salvation Army, but one of the key ones was social inclusion and the offering of opportunity. Major David Eldridge used to talk of people who were ‘opportunity deprived’ in our society. Jemima’s Lullaby is about including people and allowing them to express themselves and be heard.
Others: Why do human beings suck at including those who are different; people who see life differently, or live differently? Rachael: It stems from fear. If we don’t understand it, we’re scared of it. We can share a healthy, inclusive message by our example. Children hear our words, read our platitudes, but more importantly they see what we do and how we live. Parents, friends, family, school, church, sporting clubs – it’s a whole of community issue. We have a great opportunity to show love to all and a responsibility to be welcome and inclusive.
Others: How important is the central message for children? Mal: Sometimes, unfortunately, children are treated like lepers or Martians - some sort of life form that isn’t fully human and doesn’t deserve our full respect or attention. It’s a bit of a hangover from the 19th century when children were considered second-rate citizens. I would hope this book will remind adults that inclusion affects all people (not just adults) and that it will teach children that their voices are as important as anyone’s.
Others: When do you think you personally understood the need to include those who are different to you, and to seek to be included? Rachael: I first realised that not everyone saw life as I did when I lived with my family in Hong Kong (from the age of nine until I was almost 13). I learnt how to be a friend and respond respectfully to other people’s rights to their beliefs and values, while maintaining my own.
Others: Do you field-test these pieces on your daughters? If so, how do you measure success? Rachael: Our girls always read through them; they are very encouraging but they are also honest, and let me know if something doesn’t ‘work’ in those early drafts. If they are laughing and enjoying the story I know that at least the material will help people connect to the themes. And if my kids want to talk about the issues raised then I begin to hope that the book will be a useful tool.
Also, Nick Wright’s contribution to the books’ successes is extremely huge – you only have to pass a book to a child to see them respond to Nick’s artwork; the characters and the colours. I am always excited to see Nick’s pictures for the first time.
Others: What steps do you take to try to live out this message in your parenting? Mal: Children can’t be walked over; they deserve to be heard and respected as individuals. I recall reading a book where an elderly man said that some people grow children; they don’t raise them. He said that just like you would feed, water, wash and house farm animals, some people think that’s all they have to do with their children. He concluded by saying that we’re not just ‘growing children’, we’re trying to raise them in a positive and life-affirming way. Hopefully, we’re raising our children well, not just growing them.
Others: What societal outcomes can we expect from following the Jemima message? Mal: While I hope it teaches children to be more inclusive (with other students, new kids at school, new kids in the neighbourhood, etc.), major potential outcomes from this book may not be seen for years. It might be that, as teenagers and adults, situations occur where individuals are faced with a choice of including/excluding someone – and that they remember this book from their childhood. It's a big call, but I hope the book is formational for people’s character and outlook.
Others: Where do you find hope when faced with injustice? Rachael: I can’t go past Jesus. He always stood against injustice and was there for oppressed people. We can learn a lot from his brave example of non-violent resistance. This may well be naïve, but I also find a lot of hope in children. Young people know innately what is fair and just, and they’ll tell you if someone was unfairly blamed or punished. They respond from the heart; I find that encouraging.
Mal: In the Bible and in Jesus’ life. There are so many stories of ‘rescue’ in the Bible, when someone faced injustice but was delivered either by God, by his angels or by his people. And Jesus conquered everything, including Satan and death, so I always find hope in him.