William and Catherine Mumford Booth were amazing people. Three years ago I read the impressive biography William and Catherine: The Life and Legacy of the Booths: Founders of the Salvation Army (2003) by New Zealand author Trevor Yaxley, and I have been a big fan of the Booths ever since.
In my last posting I made mention of the Salvation Army. William and Catherine started what became the Salvation Army in 1865. The original name was the East London Christian Mission, and the name was changed in 1878 to what it is now.
It was largely out of appreciation for and in honor of William and Catherine Booth that I volunteered for the first time ever to ring Salvation Army bells in December 2006, and I have now done that each year since.
William and Catherine were both born in 1829, so they were children at the time Chares Dickens wrote The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837-39) and teenagers when Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) was published. They knew first-hand about the squalid conditions of the many poor people in England during the aftermath of the industrial revolution as depicted by Dickens.
The Booths were also becoming adults at the time Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto (1848), combating what they saw as the exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie, the social class characterized by their ownership of capital and the control of culture.
William and Catherine responded in Christian love to the poor of their day, helping meet the physical needs of many while continuing to preach the message of spiritual salvation. Although I greatly admire and appreciate all they did, there is one point of criticism: they seemingly did little to seek to change the causes of so much suffering by the poor. This is a theme which I plan to write more about soon.
But let me close this posting by praising what the amazing Booths did. They founded an organization that has for years now been the largest non-governmental provider of social services in the world. Although its activity has been secularized in many ways, their UK website still states its mission, consistent with the original vision of the Booths, in these words:
“The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church.
“Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
That, in my opinion, is a fine mission statement. But is it broad enough?