Courageous Conversations Initiative Announced

By: Laura Poff

The Courageous Conversations initiative, created by Lt. Colonels William and Debra Mockabee in partnership with department heads in the Program section, will ask Salvationists of the Southern Territory to discuss controversial topics with people. The purpose is to build a spirit of unity and acceptance within the church.

Participation in the initiative is not required, and there are no strict guidelines for implementation. Discussions guides will be available for download on Ministry Toolkit to help facilitators guide conversation around a variety of issues that are dividing communities today.

The first discussion guide, A Bridge to Racial Unity, created by the organization Build the Bridge, provides resources for discussing white privilege, bias and racial reconciliation. Included in this guide are suggestions on how to form and lead respectful discussion groups that include people of different ages, races, backgrounds and political affiliations.

“There’s so many things going on in our country right now,” Lt. Colonel William Mockabee said. “We wanted to at least give guidelines for how to have a conversation that you would normally be afraid to have.”

The initiative is being rolled out this fall through the Program Department and will be implemented in different ways by the Music and Creative Arts, Men’s Ministries, Evangelism and Adult Ministries and Youth departments.

Majors Algerome and Teresa Newsome, territorial evangelism and adult ministries secretaries, presented the idea to the Territorial Executive Council earlier this fall and were responsible for securing the first discussion guide.

For many young Salvationists, a territorial response to divisive issues, especially racism, is long overdue.

“We made space for conversations about bias at TYI and the response to that highlighted the desire of our young people to have this conversation,” said Captain Sarah Nelson, associate territorial youth secretary.

The department will conduct a Courageous Conversations event on I’ll Fight Day during the first Territorial Young Adult Conference in January. Conference attendees will be split into small groups during the Saturday lunch hour to have honest and respectful dialogues about racism.

“We are creating a safe space, but we are not sugarcoating the issue,” said Jovanie Smith, territorial young adult and mission deployment coordinator. “When the recent hurricanes happened, my Facebook feed was full of people saying that The Salvation Army responds immediately to natural disasters but won’t respond to racism. By inviting conversation, we will hear how our silence has hurt people.”

The goal of the initiative is not to reach agreement on every issue, but to remind Salvationists how to accept another’s point of view and to disagree respectfully. If we don’t learn how to do this, Lt. Colonels Mockabee anticipate that the divide between us will continue to widen, and Captain Nelson fears people will leave The Salvation Army.

“We want our young adults to feel heard and valued,” Captain Nelson said. “If they become convinced that we are only interested in what concerns the organization – that we don’t value individuals over the organization – we lose them.”

The Men’s Ministries Department is participating by encouraging Men’s Club leaders to lead conversations on race relations during the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Music and Creative Arts Department is still developing a formal strategy for participation.

The initiative will be overseen by each divisional evangelism and adult ministries secretary, but no formal reporting or participation will be required. The only thing that is required is to be strong and of good courage. (Joshua 1:9 NKJV)