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Connecting with whomsoever

Lt Col Winsome Merrett
talks to Lieut-Colonel Merrett about her views on rainbow accreditation, inclusion and mission.

e-connect: In this territory, some of our social centres and programs are working towards rainbow accreditation; * they are looking to be inclusive of all Australians. We don’t necessarily see the same process, in terms of our corps. Is that a creative tension between the two arms, or wings, of mission?

WM: It depends who you talk to; I think we can be inclusive. We get hung up on our differences but what unites us is that, regardless of who we are or where we’re from, we all crave relationships. We are all human and all need acceptance. How do we, as a church, ensure that everyone experiences that when they meet us?

Just because someone belongs to a certain religion, or has a certain sexual orientation, does not mean that we cannot be inclusive. We can include them, love them and treat them as people who are of worth; people to be treated with dignity and respect. We can be inclusive in our practices and our attitudes.

e-connect: With a raft of legislation coming from some state governments, it is of interest to see how The Salvation Army responds, in terms of its service provision across the country; non-inclusion or non-accreditation could impact government contracts and relations in the future.

WM: Increasingly, we have to learn to live with tensions. Individual Salvationists need to know definitely what they believe and why they believe it; Christians need to know what they believe from the Scriptures and why they believe it. That belief or group of beliefs is going to change and differ, because people have different interpretations of Scripture. But, having said that, the way we treat anybody should be the way that Jesus Christ would treat them. Regardless of what we may believe, or what others believe, or the ways people choose to live, we have to learn to live with the tension between different experiences, and increasingly understand how Jesus would have us respond to people.

As Christians, Salvationists want to invite people into a journey to encounter Christ. I believe we can present the good news of hope that we find in Jesus; and do so regardless of people’s religious or political creeds, their intellectual or physical capacities, or their sexual orientation. God loves them, and so do I.

e-connect: There are a lot of families and a lot of churches and other religions working through these same kinds of issues at present…In 2007 I interviewed you and Kelvin about Salvationists sharing their faith; you pointed out that there is a difficulty for some Salvos, in that they don’t know or have relationships with people who are ‘outside’ of their tribe.  It was a candid acknowledgement that while we aspire to be ‘open at the edges’ as an organisation we may not know that many people whose lives and experiences do not resemble our own. I would hope that has changed since that conversation...

WM: I would hope so. The last five-and-a-half years in the Eastern Victoria Division, my agenda to corps was encouraging them to connect to what was happening in their communities. We want Salvos to connect to people who don’t know Jesus, and to connect to people who have needs. I think people crave community and a sense of belonging. I believe our Salvation Army corps can offer that; I think the Church with a capital C can offer that.

I think, too often, we forget the richness of the experience that we have, and we forget that we are obliged to share that. I can only speak from my own experience, but I have seen a number of corps that have significant connections to their local communities; within those corps, there are a number of people who are new to The Salvation Army and often new to Christianity. They are connecting; their lives are being transformed by God’s love, expressed in community.

It may not be the whole church or corps that is engaging with the new people, but there is this aspect, this area, where new people are coming into the life of the corps. It gives us an opportunity to connect with people who are not yet a part of the ‘fellowship’. We don’t need to change the good news, the ‘gospel’; we don’t need to change people. That’s God’s job; the Holy Spirit can work in all of us.
* A process undertaken to demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion re LGBTI Australians. The ‘rainbow tick’ means a group is recognised as understanding and implementing LGBTI-inclusive service delivery. To receive accreditation an organisation shows itself to have competency in: organisational capability, cultural safety, professional development, consumer consultation, disclosure and documentation, and access and intake processes. 
– Interview by Barry Gittins