The rally call for the 2017 International Women’s Day, is to #BeBoldForChange; “Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world.”
As members of a Christian community we have to ask ourselves what this call looks like through the lense of pursuing the Kingdom of God and bringing God glory. In 1 Peter 4 we read about Living for God and are encouraged to use our gifts he’s given us to serve one another and to bring God glory.
10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11
January 2017, a historical moment came to pass in the Salvation Army USA. We moved from a married allowance less than 2 singles and paid in the name of the husband to a unitary allowance where every officer is paid the same based on years of service. This bold endeavor was spearheaded by Commissioner Carol Seiler the Territorial President of Women’s Ministries/Territorial Coordinator for Strategic Mission Planning in the Central Territory. Pushing this issue forward throughout the years was truly a bold act in challenging ‘an integrity and justice issue’ within an organization that “began with a desire to treat women equally, allowing them to teach, preach and minister just like men. In its first 50 years in the United States, the Army often had women leaders. Yet that equality had some reservations, which William Booth, who started the Army with his wife, Catherine, told listeners at an 1888 meeting, as recorded in a May 1888 edition of The War Cry [https://bit.ly/MeoOvT], “In the way of our salaried officers we have a great difficulty to meet…the male officers are joined with the female officers, and then, by some strange mistake in our organization, the woman doesn’t count.” Now, some men and women of The Salvation Army are trying to return the organization to its intended egalitarian roots—for all officers, married and single.” The Equality Paradox, Caring Magazine, April 2013.
Commissioner Carol generously carved out time in her busy schedule to answer some of our questions to how and why she pursued this issue over the years and how these empowers women going forward.
Central Women: Can you pin point the moment when you decided to pursue this change?
Carol Seiler: About 33 years ago, I realized that not paying women officers made no sense and really was a throw-back in time. In the first 3 years I was so busy with the corps appointment and two small children, and we were working so hard that it hadn’t occurred to me. However, I went to grad school after that, and realized how often I was making excuses as I explained the Army “system”, and that it felt like the 1970’s again when the phrase “women’s liberation” was so common. That’s when I realized it wasn’t the right approach any longer. I made various suggestions through the equivalent of the officer’s forum in the West, but it was 2007 before I was in a position to actually have solid input. I was assigned to be the chair of yet another national committee working on the topic, and from that we made the significant action step of getting professional input from a CPA into the details and calculations of some viable plans and options.
What motivated you? It was at first a sense of rationality – if women officers who were married were expected to be trained, commissioned and have appointments – they should be treated the same as other officers. The more I learned of the details, the more it became an integrity and justice issue.
When did the process begin? After much research as I took on that committee in 2007, I found that it was first discussed in the early 1970’s.
Was there a time in the process that you felt discouraged? If so, what kept you going? Absolutely, because of the strong opposition and not having enough votes for so many years. I also was very discouraged when I realized that some of the CC members had actually not read the volumes of work. I truthfully took a lot of personal “heat” on this issue but then someone (usually a married woman officer) would plead and encourage me to continue. I remember actually getting phone calls (prior to 2007) from women officers I hardly knew who shared their pain and frustration. One of those women actually went to another denomination during that time.
We’re you ever doubtful about beginning and pushing for what you believed in? Of course. Early on much of the opposition made this a spiritual issue – in other words if a married woman wanted to be paid she was unspiritual. I wondered about that for a while, and if this was an agenda of pride, but then I realized that this argument meant all single women and all men were unspiritual, which of course made no sense. I could actually have made much more money as a professional, so I also realized that was not my motivation. The pressure to push on was significantly connected to having a voice “for such a time as this” when so many other women did not. We knew we had a chance when the arguments were able to be dismantled. I also relied on some outside voices of reason (Christian women who supported the Army) to help me examine my own heart and motives, and to pray for this effort. That was invaluable.
How do you think this change empowers women as leaders and pastors? I think it acknowledges an equality – it is the unitary allowance so that is the same for all officers. This will take some time for some women to be accustomed to but that will become natural over time. The empowerment then is to contribute equally, to study and think and put in the effort as one who has an equal privilege and equal responsibility. It should empower women as well not to depend on the marital status for position or authority or other privilege, but to hold any of those on their own merit. Leaders always used to say, “and she’s an officer in her own right also” after introducing the “wife”. That just kept emphasizing the overall mindset that really she wasn’t…
This change you spear headed will be a part of your legacy in your years of service. Can you share some inspiration for officers and leaders that commit their lives and careers to ministry? Thanks!! The first part of advice is related to being a change agent. Prayerful reflection has to undergird the conviction for the direction you are headed. Then you have to do the hard work of learning and studying and analyzing and putting in the hours and effort that build a solid and defensible approach. The second part of advice is to keep remembering that it is God’s mission and purpose not ours. Not getting in the way of the change or ministry may be one of the hardest things to do. That is where diligence in prayer, reading the Word as a conversation, and wise counsel can make a difference. And don’t give up – 2 Corinthians 4:1-18.
Again, from The Equality Paradox, Caring Magazine -“Women officers—married or single—should not be ‘lost’ to the Army, but valued equally,” Seiler said. “The Salvation Army was considered radical and progressive in its early years. We’re in the aging stage of an organization now and can affect how the future will look, but we have to break some old habits and be intentional.”
So reader, what will be your #BeBoldForChange action in 2017? How will you use your God-given gifts to serve others and bring God glory? “Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world.”
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
When I asked a number of USA Central Territory women officers why is it significant to you to be recognized (seen, normalized) for the role you have been called to? And, as it relates to the #InternationalWomensDay theme #BeBoldForChange, how can you be bold for change where God has placed you? Here are some responses!