By Beverley Smith, Major (Dr.) -
“Hidden Treasure: Valuing Women in The Salvation Army,” (Salvo Publishing, 2015) a new compilation of women officers’ stories edited by Major Leanne Ruthven, is long overdue. Seeing women officers as hidden treasure waiting to be discovered within The Salvation Army, Ruthven ably brings together contributions from a variety of women around the world.
No matter what capabilities they have, women officers—particularly married women officers—have been in a virtual blind spot for too long in The Salvation Army. The stories that are shared in “Hidden Treasure” could be told in any of the 126 countries where the Army operates. They reflect small things that demean and distress married women officers, such as hearing that “decisions were made about me, but communication was never directed to me.” They also reflect large oversights in the way appointments are planned and carried out.
The value of “Hidden Treasure” is twofold. First, it articulates the significant underutilization of officers, and provides an opportunity to air some of the hurts and disappointments incurred, sometimes unknowingly, at the hands of others. Examples of this may include when a congregation only recognizes male officers as persons of authority, or when the system preferentially recognizes the male spouse as the one whose gifts are worthy of being developed. Second, “Hidden Treasure” offers role models and examples, showing that the Army’s “hidden treasure” syndrome can be overcome, and that part of the responsibility lies with the married women officers themselves. It is an uphill battle that many have solved by leaving officership or, even worse, by checking out while still in ministry. There are other ways, and Ruthven’s work testifies to this.
“Hidden Treasure” is a good start. It needs to be expanded into a larger work of some kind, which addresses the delicate interplay between cultural norms, male egos, employee-officer relations and factors such as the variety of giftings, the temporary nature of many officer appointments and the transient nature of child-rearing responsibilities.
Cultural norms can be challenged. As one Indian officer states in the book, “My burden is to bring Indian officer women out of the cultural chains they face.” But The Salvation Army has its own chains. She notes, “Married women were viewed largely as supportive accessories to their husbands.” Unfortunately, this may not only be a statement about the past. Overall, the book cries out for married women officers to be seen as people who are respected and valued—an ideal for all Salvation Army personnel. Only discerning and godly members of our organization can accomplish this, but the book will go a long way to making all Salvationists aware of the shortfalls that currently exist.