My ‘interest’ in the Salvation Army and what it’s done is that my father, Lewis Blayse, who used to blog at http://www.lewisblayse.net and whose artwork is on http://www.lewisblayse.com was a victim of the Salvation Army. You can read more about him on his blog and his art website. He died last year, before achieving the justice and healing he needed.
His style was not to ask for himself but to care for others. He was and will always be my hero.
Before he died, a wonderful transformation occurred. He started to be hopeful that the Salvation Army might finally have to account for itself. His main interest was societal, as it tended to be, but he was also looking out for his family and (finally!) thinking a little bit about what he deserved by way of justice.
He referred to the consequences of the abuses he suffered at the hands of the Salvation Army as a ‘psychological death’. He wanted compensation for his family, mainly, but also justice for all other victims – and their families. After he died, I pursued the Salvation Army for that justice. It was a long and hard road, and, to be honest, I kind of wish now that I hadn’t done it. Sort of. I had two objectives: real justice for my father’s family and real justice for other victims of the Salvation Army. Neither happened. We achieved agreement to pay a very small sum, about to be paid but now not likely to be wrested back at the last minute (so I’m told by our lawyer), which will allow us to finally place a decent headstone on my father’s grave, and a couple of other small things that will help a little bit to deal with the grief that still rages in us. The precedent I hoped to set was not set. And that hurt more than anything, because I really, really believed that if I spent enough time trying to educate the Salvation Army about the consequences of its actions towards people like my father, they’d understand. I’ve been public in a lot of what I’ve done, but I was actually most hopeful that my private conversations with the Salvation Army, where I tried to speak in such a way as to get across a message without a wall of denial going up that would prevent me from getting a message across to (likely) reluctant listener, would be most effective. They weren’t.
But I’m the impatient sort. It’s only been about a year and a half. And the world is changing. Rapidly. The work of hundreds of people who are also my heroes in trying to achieve justice and healing for victims of the Salvation Army (and other organisations like it) has been going on for a long time, and I think that something big may be about to happen.
When one is very close to something, one tends to forget that not everyone knows all about an issue. Before change can occur, enough people have to actually know what has happened. Then they have to think about it, talk about it with others, and then, hopefully, get in contact with decision-makers who have the power to take away the pain of their victims and demand something better.
It takes a while for messages to spread. My father thought it would take about 10 years for the message about the dark side of the Salvation Army to get into public consciousness around the world: he said that to me one day. That day, he also told me he was also going to reveal the explicit details of what happened to him and other boys (who he insisted were dead) in Alkira, a boys’ home run by the Salvation Army in Australia, on his blog. From his mention of 10 years, I’m pretty sure he was planning a 10-year campaign, and I also think this because he told me that it was important to get some sleep because it was all going to be happening, and it was important to pace oneself. He didn’t reveal explicit details about what happened to him in Alkira, nor did he start the 10-year campaign. He died.
My father was a brilliant man. And a patient one: he thought he had 10 years at least ahead of him. He was only (just) 64. Had he lived, who knows what he would have achieved? Like him and like us all, I care about others, but like most people, mostly about my family. Personally, I most wanted my father to feel better: to receive the justice he deserved.
I don’t know how many people other than my father have died before achieving justice and healing from the horrors they experienced at the hands of the Salvation Army. I don’t know how many people out there are hurting too because people they love haven’t achieved justice and healing. There are thousands of people: that’s all I know. The people who know the full truth, the Salvation Army, won’t reveal it.
All I really want now is for people to know the truth, to think about the plight of the Salvation Army’s victims, and to voice their concerns. I don’t have a 10-year campaign mapped out in my mind, as I’m very sure my father did. All I know for sure is that it all starts with knowledge. Where it goes from there is up to society.
So this is just a start. But, as I say, I do have faith that change will come. Please just let it be before one more person dies without seeing justice and without being healed.
The elephant in the room that the most astute readers will spot immediately is that I haven’t actually defined what I believe to constitute justice and healing. To do so is both simple and horribly complicated. The devil really is in the detail. And that’s the point. You will find, in your own searches, and when you read the material on this site, many vague statements from the Salvation Army about being sorry, about doing things differently now, and about how they’re changing, and similar stuff that appears to come from much the same PR company or PR people employed by organisations such as the Salvation Army. The problem is that there is a complete lack of specifics. And that’s the problem.
Deeper thinkers are invited to think about what justice and healing should entail – exactly. But if you want my view, here are some of my thoughts, which are still undergoing development as I myself think more and more about it all:
- It hurts when you’ve been hurt by someone and then they go and hurt another person, and it impedes healing.
- Sorry means not doing it again, and again, and again …
- Being sorry means accepting the full consequences of what you or your organisation has done and doing everything that is required to restore people to the position in life they would have been if they had not been hurt, whatever the cost.
- You can’t heal when your abuser (or the person or organisation responsible for letting them hurt you) isn’t 100% honest with you, and 100% honesty means a full admission of everything that was done to you, even stuff you can’t remember because you’ve blocked it out, or you can’t talk about it without shutting down, or you were so little when it happened you dissociated or employed some other coping strategy that blurs your memory a little, because they did it (or knew about it).
- It’s utter crap that no amount of money can heal the wounds of the past. That’s a stock standard response designed to avoid responsibility for what’s been done to a person. And it’s even worse to say things like this to people who are afraid to ask for what they need to get to a good place in life because they’re afraid of being labelled horrible money-grubbers. Or because they put such low value on themselves because their abuser did that (made them feel like they were worthless) they find it hard to even recognise, let alone articulate, their needs.
- If the Salvation Army (and indeed any organisation that’s done what it’s done) was truly interested in delivering true justice and healing, we’d be seeing incredibly detailed lists of things that it was doing to make things right for people, full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, large billboards, and other such open ways of expressing remorse and a desire to set things right, setting out PRECISELY AND IN GREAT DETAIL what will be done from now on.
- I was told by a leading member of the Salvation Army when I was talking to him about redress for victims that I “had” to “have regard to organisational resources.” I’m a little weak on theology, but I’m pretty sure that most Christian denominations have a basis somewhere in vows of poverty. But more to the point: “Why?” As I said to that person, not exactly in these words, but something like them, “If the extent of damage inflicted upon society is such that fixing it all up properly means that your organisation has to fold, so be it.” I mean it’s not like the Salvation Army has a monopoly on doing “good works” or inter-mediating between those who have the means to give and those who have needs that aren’t being met. There are heaps of organisations that do things like distribute food and clothing from one person to another, and so on.
- I had a stab at coming up with a list of specifics about things that must be being done for victims (which include families affected), and I did this on the basis of quite limited observations. PROPER and OPEN consultation with people hurt by the Salvation Army would see this list improved upon until it was very nearly perfect. But you won’t see anything like it being put out by the Salvation Army. Not yet, anyway. And that’s ridiculous, because if there were true and open consultation with victims and those who love them (e.g., public hall meetings all around the world where people could jump up and yell out their suggestions) a completely comprehensive list could quite easily be developed – and then implemented! Here’s what I came up with (see the dot points at the end), which I later turned into a (still developing) theoretical perspective on redress. It wasn’t really hard. Why is it so hard for the Salvation Army?
#WhiteShieldAppeal – Clean Up Your Act, Salvos! http://www.whiteshieldappeal.org