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Disaffected Swell Ranks of 'Army' : Big Growth in Ethnic Groups

August 13, 1987|MIKE WYMA

It was the stern sort of exhortation Gen. William Booth might have made to followers when his Salvation Army first declared war on sin more than 120 years ago in London.

"You go out into a troubled world, a world with a rising tide of corruption," Gen. Eva Burrows, worldwide head of the army, warned an assemblage in Pasadena last spring. "But you have a powerful ally in God."

A Long History

That alliance has been the focus and inspiration to Salvation Army members for more than a century of times of war and peace, the Great Depression, the Cold War, rock 'n' roll and now the New Age. With its military structure and strait-laced morality, the army, to some, may seem a relic from a less sophisticated time.

Army officials say: Look again. The organization continues to thrive. U.S. members, or "soldiers," number 200,000, up 10% in the last 10 years.

"The ethnic work in the U.S. is especially encouraging," Burrows said in a recent interview. "We're seeing great numbers of people with Asian and Latin American backgrounds. Worldwide, we're doing very well, apart from Europe and Great Britain, where the church is static."

Australian-born Burrows, 57, contended that the army's continued growth can be traced to what she termed the developed world's major problem.

"The Western world has elevated materialism and denigrated the spiritual to the point that the spiritual doesn't exist," she said. "Having lost the spiritual element of life, many people are foundering. They find it hard to cope with divorce, the break-up of families, and so on."

The army is drawing soldiers from the disaffected, the general said, and from the ranks of immigrants whose cultures prize a spiritual life.

Burrows is immensely popular with Salvationists, who often compare her to Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II. More than 3,000 turned out to hear her at the June conference that marked the 100th anniversary of the army's introduction in Los Angeles.

At that time, the general took part in the commissioning of 28 graduates of the army's School for Officer Training in Rancho Palos Verdes, one of four such schools in the United States.

The ceremonies included ordination, for Salvation Army officers are ministers as well as administrators of social welfare programs.

Single officers earn $103 a week. Married couples receive $167. Every third year of service brings a raise of $2 per week. Officers must buy their food and civilian clothes. Those with children receive an allowance ranging from $17 per week for an infant to $35 a week for a teen-ager.

The army provides a place to live, pays 80% of medical costs and the cost of uniforms, and contributes to Social Security. There is no retirement home for officers.

"One hard part of this life is that you're building up no equity in a home," said Maj. Mervyn Morelock, 54. "My wife and I will retire in 11 years, and we'd like to buy something in Southern California, but I don't see how. You're able to save, but it's only pennies."

Married Couples

Shared ministries are common in the army, but the couple must be married and the man is put in the leadership role. A woman always takes her husband's rank, only being promoted if he is.

The rule places single women, Burrows among them, in a peculiar position. Were the general to marry a colonel, she would become a colonel. Were she to marry a soldier, she could not be an officer. In either case she would have to step down as worldwide leader of the army.

Burrows and other women said this arrangement is acceptable because of the Bible's edict that man should be head of a household. The rigors of Salvation Army service--long hours, a wide range of responsibility, low pay, constant contact with deprivation--cause about 15% of officers to resign their commissions in their first five years, officials said.

Fred Rasmussen of Diamond Bar had been an officer seven years when he stepped down in 1984.

"The job has multiple demands and stresses that most people can't imagine," said Rasmussen, 38. "I was in charge of the army in Salt Lake City from 1981 to 1984, when they had the terrible floods. In addition to my army work, the governor named me to head relief efforts in the state. Then an arsonist burned down the Salvation Army building. I hit a level of burnout."

Rasmussen stayed active as a soldier in the church, however, and hopes to reactivate his officer's commission next year.

About half of today's officers come from Salvationist families. Others, such as Lorna Scott, 37, find themselves drawn to the Salvation Army.

In 1984, Scott lived the comfortable life of a yuppie. Her job as a hospital nursing coordinator paid well. She was single, lived in the Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach, collected antiques and owned enough clothes to fill a boutique.

"I had the money, so I changed my wardrobe with every season," Scott said with an embarrassed laugh.

Spiritual Need

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