Monday, March 16, 2009

Frank Smith Lost Voice of Mission….

The enigma of Frank Smith has intrigued me for years and it has been good to get an insight to this man through a paper given several years ago to the National Salvation Army Social Services Conference by Norman Murdoch.

If ever there was a lost voice of Mission within TSA it is Frank Smith. The one time Commissioner who led TSA work in the US and Canada (1884-1887) and who was TSA first Social Wing Commissioner 1888-90 resigned and left TSA to become a founder member of the British Labour party. With his ‘desertion’, the cloud under which he left descended further to almost fog any influence he had within the formation of a holistic missiological theology that shaped TSA then, and continues to do so now.

There is very little historical recognition of Frank Smith and his influence, seemingly an awkwardness and embarrassment he simply is not considered. He warrants a minimal attention in Sandall’s historical account of the development of TSA, which is reflected in almost a denial that he shaped the social programme of TSA and that he led the Social Wing. Murdoch (2003) suggests that for some reason Frank Smith remains a peripheral figure and an organisational maverick. Yet for many Salvationists particularly those who worked in city slums he forged a theology of missional engagement that broadened and brought a more holistic understanding of Salvation.

For many Smith was seen as representative of a “new pattern of Salvation Army leadership” who gave welfare work high priority to readdress a growing schism between what was known as the Spiritual Wing and the Social Wing. His socialist way of thinking shaped his theology as he argued that corps should be social centres with Salvationist lay members engaged in social service as well as soul saving. As the first Social Wing Commissioner he is given little credit for the 11 men’s shelters; 10 cheap food depots; 5 workshops; 3 labour bureaus; 7 labour factories; a prison-gate home; a farm colony; 14 rescue homes; 8 Women’s Institutions; 40 slum posts all set up in his 2 year tenure!

His influence over Darkest England and the Way Out is largely played down, as was his influence over William Booth and his ‘change of mind’. The change was dramatic for Booth who had concluded that early charitable mission was unfounded and in fact pauperised those in need, that anything in this vein was not the 'work proper'. The narrowness of definition of salvation summed up with many sound bytes by Catherine who saw soup and soap as secondary.
"Oh! How I see the emptiness and vanity of everything compared with the
salvation of the soul. What does it matter if a man dies in the workhouse? If he
dies on a doorstep covered with wounds, like Lazarus - what does it matter if
his soul; is saved?"

Such strength of thought saw TSA retreat from its early forays into holistic mission, it's theology not rigorous enough to underpin and give meaning to its actions. Alongside this, Murdoch (2003) identifies that Booth was aware that TSA was seeing it's credibility being lost inner city. It would seem that Smith helped Booth to identify that the driving force for the primacy of individual soul salvation was responsible for dualistic schism that was fragmenting holistic mission.

Post 1890 Booth’s theology became increasingly tired of the dualism seen between the Spiritual and the Social Wing; Smith’s advanced social ideas no doubt would have had an impact as together Smith and Booth explored ‘Wholesale Salvation’ as a means of bringing a balance between individual and social salvation.

'O Wholesale Salvation! doesn't have the same kind of ring, but given the development of Booth's missional theology it makes you wonder when Booth wrote these words:

O boundless salvation! deep ocean of love,
O fullness of mercy, Christ brought from above,
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, now flowing for all men,
Now flowing for all men, come, roll over me!

... 1893, three years after 'Darkest England and the Way Out' and the resignation of Commissioner Frank Smith.

Frank Smith resigned and went into politics. I suspect there are many theories that could be put forward, many of which have pushed Frank Smith's voice into safe obscurity. The impact of his voice can be seen around the world but by and large he represents another lost voice of mission.

Murdoch, N.H .(2003) Frank Smith: Salvationist Socialist. National Salvation Army Social Services Conference.

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Apparently Frank's Smith's brother ended up with Frank's memoirs etc... but no one seems to have been able to track him down which is a shame. So if anyone had an ancestor called John Smith can they just check their attics for Frank Smith's memoirs!

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