New DEI Directors aim to better reflect the kingdom of God in the West

Territory looks to “enlarge its table” and bring more diversity to its practices.

California, in July to begin new appointments at both the College for Officer Training (CFOT) and Territorial Headquarters (THQ). In addition to roles as CFOT Assistant Training Principal and CFOT Mission and Ministry Director, respectively, the couple is serving in a newly created role as Territorial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Directors.

While the position may be new to The Salvation Army, it’s not to the Reardons—they worked with the Shoreline School District in Seattle on its DEI policy during their previous appointment as Seattle Temple Corps Officers.

“We were involved with DEI before it was a big thing,” Rob Reardon said.

The Reardons also created a more diverse environment at the Seattle Temple Corps—originally a Scandinavian corps—with intentional hiring and representation on the corps council that reflected the true nature of the community.

“I think that’s what the territory identified in us,” said Amy Reardon. “I think we have some experiences and some passion about the subject.” 

The Reardons said they feel privileged to serve in this role, and that they are “thrilled, excited and nervous, all at the same time.” We recently sat down with the Reardons to ask them about the new role and what it means for the Western Territory.

Caring Magazine: What is your job description—and how will it move from theory to reality?

Rob Reardon: The job description is skeletal; there’s not a lot of meat to it. It was intentionally sparse so we can develop it…We are to be the advisors to territorial leadership on issues of DEI, and respond to DEI activity within the territory and how it affects The Salvation Army’s ministry. The time is right to address those concerns that for so long lay just under the surface. We’re setting the framework; we’re rebuilding mechanisms that will enable success and effectiveness in the future…The position has to be given some teeth.

Amy Reardon: One goal is to create more diversity, to set up officers for the more visible positions. We also want to provide support and a sounding board for anyone connected with The Salvation Army who feels sidelined, so anyone can have an ear…This has been a very grassroots development. The Territorial Commander allowed the formation of a committee of people to air their issues. That committee aired them well, and requested a central position. So, in that sense, it’s coming from the bottom up. The territory is listening; current territorial leadership is sensitive and listening. We’re ready to find out what the community will ask of us. Ministry has to connect with real people. And I feel proud that the Army is looking around and saying, “This is what people are suffering through. And what are we doing?”

CM: How will the divisions carry out their DEI plans? 

RR: Every division and command has a DEI representative and we have received their initial plans. We’re in the process of ‘corralling all the cats,’ getting everyone into the same general area so we can always speak the same language. A lot of things are happening. The initial work is to grab it all and bring it together. 

One of the steps every division was to complete by September was to have cultural intelligence (CQ) trainers in place. And that’s in process. Compared to other locations, this plan is very aggressive. 

AR: It’s expensive. You have to invest the money, because, number one, it matters so much according to the gospel, and basically for humanity…I want to focus on the biblical reason. It reinforces our position scripturally that there is no difference among people. We are the same under Jesus Christ. That should be at the forefront of our thoughts. If we follow Christ, the legalities will be taken care of. Our integrity is found in Scripture and found in our faith. I think that should be at the forefront of everything.

CM: What are the conversations we should be having in the territory about diversity, equity and inclusion?

RR: We have to enlarge our table, invite people who truly represent our communities and the people we serve. We tend to make decisions in a vacuum. We need to open up our decision-making bodies to reflect the diversity found in our divisions and in our corps. The divisional DEI representatives should be invited to the decision-making table…At CFOT, the DEI officer reviews every class syllabus to make sure it has a DEI component; it is not approved until it does. So our officers will have DEI wired into their DNA as they go into the territory to serve.

AR: We’re laying the groundwork for whoever follows us to succeed. We could very well be working toward the establishment of a standard department for our territory.

CM: You have a session at the upcoming Territorial Community Relations and Development (CRD) Conference and have received questions ahead of time from staff. What are they asking?

RR: Some of the questions are about how we are integrating DEI into our hiring practices, organizational culture and the makeup of our staff officers and boards leadership. What efforts are we currently taking? What is our statement? What are organizational values related to racial equity? They want to know about the diversity of our clients. Do we stay true to our mission by serving human needs without discrimination? Is that reflected in our demographics? We have to have people on staff who can reach those demographics, people that speak the language, know the cultures. And if we’re just not situated in that way, it’s not going to work.

AR: The first question potential givers, especially corporations, are asking, is “What is your DEI position?” It’s so important now that nobody even wants to play with you if you don’t have a DEI plan…We have to be really strong in our faith, but we have to also speak the same language as the world speaks. And reframe it in a way that they understand it. We can’t say we’re following Scripture to a donor, necessarily, but we can reframe our following of Scripture in a way that they’ll understand, but we also have to back that up. So they look at us as equal. 

CM: How do we weave people into the tapestry of The Salvation Army, without absorbing them, and their individuality?

RR: Historically, this has been a problem, going back to the days of British colonization. I think that the Army is getting better at sussing out what is culturally appropriate. But there’s a lot of work to do there…What are we doing in our worship environments to be more culturally aware? Do we allow the different cultures in our congregations to worship in a way that is familiar to them? Or are we forcing the colonization approach? Are we providing worship opportunities that fit the community? Or are we sticking to our own way, with the thought that this is how things should be done?

AR: We have to do a deep dive because we’re all used to the go-to—have an international food night. Or sing a Spanish song, have somebody read the Scripture in Spanish. That isn’t a deep enough dive to figure out how their worship is intrinsically different. How is their culture different? You know, we have to really invest in each other to figure that out.

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