Q & A

Commissioner Clive Adams

Clive Adams, comissioner of the salvation Army, pictured infront of a portrait of The Army’s founder, William Booth, hanging in his office in Elephant and Castle, London.

During last year’s Old Orchard Beach Camp Meetings in Maine, Commissioner Clive Adams, commander of the Salvation Army’s Sweden & Latvia Territory, moved his audience with a thoughtful message entitled “The family that eats together.”

Adams, born in South Africa, spoke eloquently on the topic of “blood” relatives, saying that Christians are related to each other by the blood of Jesus because He shed His blood for us all.

In his message, Adams revisited the adage, “blood is thicker than water” and said that in its original form, it meant that blood shed on the battlefield is thicker than the water of a mother’s womb. For a family to be a family, he said, there needs to be a blood connection, there needs to be a bonded and covenanted community, and there needs to be a boundless commitment to the family and to its survival.

Adams said that, in the Church, Christians tend to put biological family ties above those formed in covenant with the blood of Jesus. “Sometimes families leave their covenant family over disputes. But we are blood relatives in Jesus Christ!”

In the following interview, Adams elaborates on how Christians need to live and eat together—as family.

How can the Christian family strengthen its bonds across cultures, bloodlines, and nationalities? There are two principles which underpin any specific responses I give:

1. We must be grounded – that is, made secure – in our identity in Jesus Christ.  It is to the extent that I grasp who I have become in Christ – including my belonging to God’s family, with all the elements and expectations that this truth entails, that I will be able to prioritize Jesus’ values and virtues even, if necessary, over cultural biases, expectations, and demands.

2. We must also know who we are culturally.  There will always be an element of insecurity about cultural interaction if I am uncertain about my own identity. I have personal experience of this, both as a South African and as a member of the cultural or racial group to which I belong in South Africa. The Apartheid system caused me to be both confused and insecure about my cultural identity, and this resulted in complicated and challenging intercultural relationships based on suspicion, fear, and dislike. It was only when I understood who I was, and, even more importantly, accepted who I was, that my ability to relate to others improved.

The important thing to remember is that cultural biases are best broken down through establishing relationships rather than in holding seminars. So, it is important that the church community creates space where cultural interaction can take place. Initially, this should occur as informally as possible: meals, sport, and working together on projects are examples of simple ways such space is created. Even formal events such as sharing an important national celebration across cultures, hosting an evening where information and food from a particular culture is shared or when the objective is to understand peculiarities of a culture in the formal setting of a lecture should be built on developing relationships between the various cultural groupings.

What is an example of how the family of God has triumphed? There are many examples of this indeed, wherever a local church or corps has a multi–ethnic, multi–cultural congregation and live out their discipleship not only in harmony (which can be misinterpreted to be a passive approach to co–existence), but in warm and meaningful common engagement in Kingdom building—congregations where the whole is always more important than the part. I expect that your territory would have examples of such a “Kingdom of God grace–community!”  However, specifically, South Africa and Rwanda are countries where racial and cultural divisions have been systematized and brutal in their impact. One is able to see that where people, who were on opposite sides of “the wall” (Ephesians 2:14) understand who they are in Christ, and what Christ has done (including the tearing down of artificial walls that divide!), they become a brand new, beautiful community of grace—together! I’ve seen it in the Army as well as in other denominations.

What is the greatest challenge to His family and what must we do to meet it? There is a movement sweeping across the Western world, which I believe, in the context of this subject, contains an inherent danger for the believer. It is too wide a subject to address here; it deserves its own focus. But the whole question of nationalism and patriotism, and especially how these are employed as political tools, is a subject about which we, as the Church, should reflect deeply. I believe many believers all over the Western world are being enticed away from foundational Christian values: the dignity and humanity of all, everyone is equal before God, neighborly love, care and concern, putting the other first, to name but a few, by what sounds like solid and patriotic posturing about our nation’s status in relation to other nations.

There is a significant difference between my being proud of being South African and my regarding South Africa as being so special that I end up being disdainful of other nations. The political right is gaining ground in many European countries as it has in the U.S. I believe that we must guard against being lulled into believing that other cultures are inferior, that we are better, and that integration means “them becoming like us.” 

When we hold such views—and I have heard them, and several similar to them, expressed within the ranks of the Army—our identity in Christ, an identity which is common across national and cultural barriers, is usurped by our nationality and our cultural biases, and makes “there is no Jew nor Greek” mere rhetoric rather than glorious reality.

What can be done about this danger?   

  • Know who you are in Christ – disciple believers so that they understand their foundational identity and live it out.  Know who you are as Swede/American/Angolan so that you are secure in your culture. Thus, I am far from advocating that we deny our national and cultural heritage, but I am claiming that I become a better South African when I live out my foundational identity as a follower of Jesus Christ.
  • Challenge the kind of xenophobic hate speech which parades as patriotism these days. We have no right remaining silent in the face of attitudes and actions which are unlike those of Jesus Christ, let alone supporting them. Our opposition will help to pave the way for us to develop better relations with other cultures, because we will gain respect and credibility.
  • Reach across national and cultural divides and be intentional about building relationships rather than having projects. This way we model the incarnational approach of Jesus—being with, sharing life together. This would be a testimony to the truth that love and understanding is always better than jingoism and division.

by Warren L. Maye

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