[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
#39 Andy Miller. Happy Salvationist b.1923
Until a deck collapsed at a suburban Atlanta outing in 1995–injuring a number of Salvation Army leaders, including the man they still call Commissioner–Andrew S. Miller bounced with the exuberance and optimism of young man, belying his 80 plus years. Andy Miller is a renowned former leader of The Salvation Army in the U.S., a denomination best known for its quaint Christmastime bells and kettles, the sum of which—-together with other fundraising—-makes the “Army” among the nation’s largest and wealthiest charities. Its ubiquitous social services are highly respected in America and around the world and, while its tightly organized personnel live modestly and its use of funds is above board, the group raises more than $3 billion annually and has U.S. assets worth more than $10 billion, buoyed by its church buildings, community centers, and alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers.
Few people know that the Army is primarily and at its core an evangelical church in the holiness tradition, with 1,200 congregations (called corps) in the U.S. It is a deeply conservative expression of Methodism, begun by disaffected Methodist minister William Booth and his wife Catherine in 1865 as an evangelistic outreach to the down and out in English cities. Its uniformed leaders rarely rise to the level of public recognition because at every level, from most junior officer (minister) to the international general, its leaders are rotated every few years. It’s a discipline introduced by Booth to guard against complacency. U.S. leaders (called national commanders) are no different, but in the modern era one national commander, Miller, stands above others because of his effervescent personality and his uncanny ability to connect “Sallies” to the outside world.
Andy Miller’s two strongest contributions to the evangelical movement: He is part of the leadership that has pursued a seamless connection of the church’s evangelistic and social service heritage. And he bucked the separatist impulse of the most conservative churches and reached out to secular leaders–at the same time he stroked the hair and provided food and shelter for the poorest of the poor.
Miller, who held many positions during his 47-year career and served as the national commander from 1986-89, made it a priority to maintain the church’s historic connection of evangelism and social service. He resisted bifurcation of the church and insisted that its social ministry must be evangelistic and its evangelism must include a social service delivery system. “When we do it right,” Miller said, “you can’t tell the difference.”
This breadth was captured in The Salvation Army’s longtime slogan: “Soup, Soap, and Salvation. There is ongoing concern that the social will eclipse the spiritual, and today some in the church are concerned that the national command’s recent approval of the more secular slogan “Doing the Most Good,” may signal that slide. That worry is magnified because the social service effort is so large and the church body that meets in worship each week is relatively small in the U.S.
Although the The Salvation Army’s work can be found in nearly every region of the country and in communities large and small, its people—particularly its staff and clergy–are relatively insulated from both secular culture and the larger evangelical church. Salvationists have traditionally found their worship, social interaction, church conferences, even summer camping and recreation within the denomination, and adherents have traditionally found their marriage partners within the group. These trends have shifted in recent years and the U.S. membership is stagnant, even as giving has increased—bucking national trends.
In the midst of this insular subculture, Miller had an expansive tenure that introduced the church to the powerful and influential of his time. He had a commitment to bear witness about Christ with at least one person every day. After telling President Reagan about this in a meeting, Miller was called back to the White House several weeks later. The President wanted to tell the Salvationist leader that he had taken the opportunity to witness to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in a face-to-face meeting. In private, Gorbachev told Reagan that his grandmother had him baptized as a young boy and that she had told him about Jesus.
Miller found ways to befriend powerful men as easily as others. He was an usher at Robert Kennedy’s funeral because he met and formed a friendship with the former U.S. Attorney General while jogging on the streets of New York City.
“He is a Salvation Army original,” his biography reads,” and at the same time a symbol of the Army, keeping the Army true to the Army, to its birthright and mission. His life story is the miracle of a bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed.”