Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

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You were a very hard taskmaster, you say at times. You asked a lot, you had very high standards, and you wanted -- had a sort of element of perfectionism in your character. A lot of people like that also are quite hard on themselves. Do you think sometimes you -- have you ever [been] fairly hard on yourself over your high standards?

Yes, yes, I was. I would think I expected great effort from myself so that sometimes I could over-extend myself in terms of doing too much, rather than perhaps taking a break. That's why many people would say you know you must pace yourself, and that's why when a biographer came to write my story, he wanted to put me down as a workaholic. But he was so interested that he had comments from several of the readers of his manuscript who said, 'No, that's not right. She's not a workaholic, she's an activist. But she can take a break, she can have a rest, she can sit and chat in the middle of the most demanding period.' And I think that's something I learnt as I went along. I would say earlier in my life I did work myself too hard. The other thing is, I'm inclined to work late into the night. And when it's probably time when I should take a rest, I didn't. The other thing was that I was a good sleeper and that's wonderful. I would go to bed, I would normally sleep about six hours. And I never took my problems and anxieties to bed with me. So I think that's what helped me to cope with everything, demanding as it was.

There's a great air of confidence about you, and you're somebody who, when asked about your gifts, speaks very frankly about your strengths as well as your weaknesses. But you are not reserved about being clear about what you're capable of. It seems to me that for an Australian, and especially for an Australian woman, that that's an unusual quality, to be able to be strong and assertive about your own capacities in that way. Do you think that that might have been one of the gifts that you were given that let you rise to a position of leadership? Or was it ever a problem that people felt you were a little too confident?

Oh, I think it certainly helped in my own leadership but it's not a sense of self-confidence or self-pride. It is an awareness that those gifts have come to me from my parents, from God and from my own hard work efforts. And therefore I shouldn't be ashamed of them, I shouldn't pretend I haven't got them. And it's in order to thank God by using them that I can be confident so that in that sense there is a spiritual dimension to the fact that I can explain my gifts and accept them. I think earlier in my life I was arrogant about that. I perhaps had a tendency to think, well, I can preach better than somebody else. And if people were to be chosen to preach at some place I'd say, 'Oh I'll do that,' because I thought I could do it. But as I developed and matured, I began to realise that it wasn't so much what I did that was important to God, but what I was. So I concentrated much more on being the person God wanted me to be, and let him use me as he would. And therefore I really am not proud, I'm not a proud person. I'm a grateful person, grateful for those gifts that I have. But, I think I said, I'm quite happy to be transparent. People can see through me. And I'm therefore uncompromising about the fact that I have been given this ability to lead.

And I better do it, because you see in The Bible it tells us a story. When Jesus was teaching, that some people are given ten talents and some five and some one. In those days, talent was an amount of money and the story was about a landowner who left the stewards with responsibility for his money. When he came back he asked them what they'd done with his money. And the one with ten said, 'I've got ten more.' And the one with five, 'I've got five more.' And the one with one said, 'Oh I buried mine and I just wanted to be so careful I didn't lose it.' And Jesus said he judged the one who'd done nothing with what he'd been given. And that word talent has come to mean gifts, hasn't it? And therefore if you have ten talents -- and strangely enough, many people have said to me 'Oh you're a ten-talent person' -- but then I've got to answer for that one day before God's judgement seat. We believe that what we've done with what God gives to us, we'll have to answer for. And that's why I have such a strong sense of accountability. In fact, I could almost be in awe and fear that when I stand before God I haven't used what he's given to me. So if somebody is a five-talent person and they may envy me, I say, 'You don't have to envy me. I've got to answer for what I've got. You have to answer for what you've got.' And therefore I can encourage people with a five talent, because they can use them to God's glory. So I think I haven't ever been shy about that. But I'm grateful that I lost some of that arrogance that I had when I was younger. Probably people would tell you that I was arrogant.

When I read the biography I was very interested in the comment of one of my friends, who said that he'd never seen anybody go for confession at the mercy seat more than me. And I thought over my life, and I think at that stage when he knew me, when I was working on the mission station, perhaps I would realise that I'd been arrogant or I'd been overbearing a bit, so then I wanted to go and confess it, and ask God to forgive me, and sort of help me not to do it again.

Tell me about your relationship with God. Who is God to you? The God that you talk to, the God that you confess to, the God you pray to and the God you think will judge you one day. Who is he?

Well, that God I know through Jesus Christ. That God is, to me, a great, wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, majestic, loving father. So the Father gives a sort of humanity to our God and the God that I worship. But I know him more through Jesus Christ. And so my awareness of God and my relationship to God is also concerned with my relationship to Jesus Christ, his son and my saviour and friend. And quite often when I pray, I may be praying to God through Christ, or I may even be praying to Christ. So that though God is great and majestic and powerful, it is his loving fatherhood that means most to me.

Are you thinking of a person or are you thinking of something more abstract than that?

No, I never think of a person when I'm praying to God. I don't even see a likeness of a father, as some people I think find helpful. But I certainly sense his presence with me. And at certain times in my life -- this doesn't happen all the time -- but I think in the discipline of the religious life, you often have the sense that when you are doing his will and you are following his teaching, then he breaks through in unexpected ways. So you keep a disciplined life, because I think spiritual discipline is very important to be aware and knowing who God is and how he can break through into your mind. But Jesus Christ is a very real person to me. I speak to him quite often. A prayer isn't just something I do in the mornings, although that's a fairly regular habit with me. But I can also discuss something and say 'Lord, just guide my thinking on that.' I'm … because I'm an activist I'm not naturally a contemplative. Therefore prayer and knowing God has been something that I really had to learn to discipline myself about. And when those moments of awareness come, they're worth all the discipline that's gone before.

Some people, theologians, modern theologians, are questioning the masculinity of God. Now it's interesting to ask a woman church leader what she thinks about that. I mean, there's a question about whether God has to be he, whether God could be she. Or whether God might be neither. Or both. What do you think about that?

It doesn't matter one bit to me. I don't know why they get so uptight about it myself. I've never been in the feminist movement. I think feminism has helped a great deal in Western culture, particularly in recent decades, it's made people more aware of the feminine factor, and that every society is better when we give women an opportunity to share government, in the law courts, in teaching, wherever you like to name. But in the matter of God, I don't only just think of God as the father. I think of him as having all the qualities of both men and women. You read many of the Psalms and the teaching of Jesus, that indicates just like a mother comforts her children, so the Lord comforts us. But we have been given in our Judeo-Christian writings, The Bible, that God is called Father, Jesus was his son, he called him Father. I see no problem in using that. Why feminists have to insist that we change The Bible and put she did this and she did that, referring to God. I don't know that it matters a great deal, because God is neither male nor female. He is totality. He is all in all. We are made in his image, so some of us are women and some of us are men. And I've always felt that men and women have different psyches. I've never been in favour of this unisex business, we must always be the same. No, we are different. And we have different gifts.

So, if we're made in the likeness of God, then we're like him, and he's got all those qualities. But Jesus Christ did come to earth as a man. You can't say he was a woman. And he lived within the culture of that time. And many people say, as some denominations do, some churches do, we can't have women priests because Jesus didn't have a woman disciple. One of his 12 wasn't a woman. I don't see that argument at all because in that culture, if Jesus had had a woman moving around with them, sleeping rough and so forth, I mean that would have been so shocking. But you look at the way Jesus treated women, it was far ahead of his time. He treated women as equal. He discussed some of his deepest thoughts with women. He was prepared to break all kinds of cultural barriers, such as when he talked to a woman who had a bad reputation by a well one day. His disciples came back and were very shocked. But he didn't put them in his close band of followers. It was not suitable. But he's given us every kind of indication that women are equal with men. And in fact many women in groups followed him. And it actually says in The Bible that they contributed, he accepted money from women to help him in his work. So that I think Jesus showed us within the limitations of that culture and he limited himself by being incarnated as a human being. It's like, in The Bible, Paul says, 'Slaves, obey your masters.' Does that mean that a great Christian like Wilberforce was wrong for working for the freedom of slaves? No. No, that was within the culture of that time. And I think the fact that women are now receiving a greater freedom than ever before, I think Jesus Christ would approve of that very much.

How long do you think it's going to take for other churches to do what the Salvation Army did all those years ago, and right from the very beginning, and welcome women as ordained members of their flocks?

Well, I think it's really almost now a foregone conclusion because apart from the Roman Catholic church, Protestant churches do. And even the Anglican Church, which agonised over this for so many years in their great synods in London, they never said that the Bible was against it. It was more the traditions of the church. So that they have moved a great deal. And now many people in the Anglican Church have come to accept a women in the pulpit. But the Roman Catholic Church, I don't know how long it will take for them to make this decision. I did hear an archbishop, the Archbishop of Milan, who was here recently, who is thought as a possibility of being the next Pope. I thought some of the things he answered the press about indicated a willingness to look further, perhaps for women in the Roman Catholic Church to become deacons; that was the first step in the Anglican Church. I'm not sure whether, as many people think, a change in the celibacy might be the first change. And then perhaps women coming after that to be ordained. I don't know. I think the Catholic Church has got such a great history and tradition and they do feel that they were brought into being by Christ and that he ordained Peter, and Peter started the Roman Catholic Church. So they've traced their history right back to Christ himself. But many of the things that they've introduced have not gone right back to Christ. So perhaps there might come a day when a great illumination will come to them that women have responsibility to use the gifts that God has given them in the ministry.

In presenting the Salvation Army to the world in your person as General, you've paid quite a lot of attention to how you appear, haven't you? You've been concerned to make sure that the way you spoke and your appearance, and so on, was something that was an appropriate vehicle for the message that you were bringing. What have you done to make sure that you -- I mean you've got an interesting accent, the way you speak, and so on. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your appearance and your person?

Well, I do think it's very important for a woman Christian leader to look good. You know, a lot of people who think of missionaries, for example, they think of them as bobby sox wearers, dowdy, uninteresting people. But we're not at all. And I have always felt that I wanted my appearance to be such that people said, 'Oh, perhaps this missionary is with it after all' or something like that. So, from that time I've always been careful about grooming. In the Salvation Army we have a uniform, which I think is quite smart and attractive, and therefore I've always taken trouble to see that I appear in a way that everyone in the Salvation Army could be proud of. And it became something of interest to people, the way I did my hair. I thought, isn't that funny, here's a lady General, they'd never ask a man General, 'Oh, how do you arrange your hair?' But I think that's nice if young people feel that you are presenting an image that they'd like to imitate or copy. And in the case of my voice, of course, the accent is such an international mixture. It's partly Zimbabwean, partly English, partly Australian. It's a sort of a mixture. But early in my life, when I was preparing to be a teacher, I was taught that it's much more pleasant for women to speak with a low-toned voice so I did make a definite effort to lower the range of my voice. And so I've always found that that was true, because I've often noticed when somebody has perhaps almost stridently introduced me in a big gathering, then I will come on and just speak quietly with a low tone [about] my great pleasure in being with them that day. And you can almost sense a sort of change in the atmosphere of the congregation. And I don't manipulate that but I certainly make good use of my voice. We don't know exactly about it, but my father said that his grandmother, one of his grandmothers, was an actress in London. And maybe I've inherited some dramatic qualities. But I think when you are a preacher and you want to illustrate what you're saying, it's good to have a rather dramatic or emotional voice that can help people to see what you're saying rather than just listen.

The consciousness of the way in which you present to the world and the way in which the Army presented to the world, led you to being very concerned about the PR section of the Army, and you had Saatchi&Saatchi come and help you with it. The drive to advertise in a way that would reach a modern audience led you into some controversy too, didn't it? Over the kind of advertising you were doing.

Yes, that was when I actually was the General, and was here in Australia on a visit during the great bicentennial year. The Salvation Army had used some advertisements which the public had found very hard-hitting. And in fact some people criticised them because it showed young people, you know, sort of, giving needles and taking drugs. And a lot of people said that that was too hot, you know, it was hot stuff. And the congregation couldn't -- the audience couldn't take it. But when asked about it, I just said, well, you know, sometimes people have to be shaken out of their complacency and have to realise the problems, the social problems, particularly relating to young people. Drug problems. The absolute despair through unemployment, and in Australia we've got to take a good look at ourselves, because we have one of the highest suicide rates amongst teenagers in the world. So I think it's important that the Salvation Army should quicken the conscience of the watching public, or the listening public.

So you don't mind being controversial?

No. When I have strong convictions about what I'm saying.

Now, you do have strong convictions, but one of the things that everybody notices about the Salvation Army is that it's so non-judgemental. You do help people who no-one else would be bothered with. You don't talk about the deserving poor. You seek out in some ways the undeserving, to help and assist. Why is that such a strong thing that comes from our understanding of the Salvation Army?

Well, I'd like to thank you for that word non-judgemental. Because that is what we want to be. And where do we get it? We get it from Jesus Christ. I mean he was never judgemental. He could criticise hypocrites, but for the lepers and for those in great need, for the poor and the distressed, he never judged them. He reached out to them and I think that the Salvation Army wants to do that. And when people have sometimes accused us of using our social program to be like a hook to angle souls into the Kingdom, we've never looked upon it like that. We want to help people, we want to meet their need, and then we offer them this wonderful life transforming message that we believe exists in the teaching of Jesus Christ. Then if they find Christ through our ministry and then even go to another a church, we're not upset. Because we have helped somebody to find the right way to live, and to begin a whole new lifestyle. So yes, I really believe that that non-judgemental stance is a thing we treasure in the Salvation Army. And you can especially ask men who served in the First and Second World Wars, you know, that were helped by Salvation Army -- not just chaplains -- but welfare, padres, and they'll tell you all the time, you know, 'They were right with us on the front line.' Never judgemental.

What have been the programs that the Salvation Army, in Australia, have run for Aborigines?

Well, very early in the Salvation Army's ministry we had some centres for Aboriginals, something like small mission stations. But mainly we just welcomed Aboriginals into our church, we didn't sort of have special Aboriginal sections. And so throughout the whole of Australia, into the Salvation Army, came Aboriginals of various types and kinds. And then I think we realised that there were so many people working missions that our concern would be just to make the Aboriginal feel they belonged to us as much as any other group in Australia. Then as many Aboriginal social problems developed, we were concerned very much with helping them in our centres for care of, rehabilitation of, alcoholics, people who were homeless. But it's just in recent years that we realised that perhaps we should have a more specific role, and just recently commissions have been set up and an Aboriginal Salvationist has been appointed to help to design a program that best suits the work of the Salvation Army with Aboriginals today. But certainly, if you go up to Alice Springs, we have many Aboriginals who worship with us. But now, we've set aside a special service for them, to which we invite white Australians. But we try to do it within the cultural context of the Aboriginal people. So I think we're trying in a way to contextualise our Christian message, that will fit in with the Aboriginals' way of thinking. I think this is a step forward for us and I'm very pleased because I've been invited to sit on that committee.

The Salvation Army has always been very ecumenical in its stance and has worked with other churches very closely, and in a very non-judgemental way about the work of the other churches. What is the reason for that? What is the attitude of the Salvation Army towards the ecumenical movement?

Well, many people may be interested to know that the Salvation Army was one of the few churches that set up the World Council of Churches earlier [in the 20th century]. We were involved in that, we were part of that. Because I think we've always felt that we were only one section of the body of Christ, the Christian church, that we had been given a particular mandate, that is to be both an evangelistic forthright church with a social element. So that we saw ourselves as being that sector of the church. We think of all denominations as being together part of the body of Christ. And so each one has a particular reason for being there. So that the diversity and styles of worship, for example, mean that many people will feel more at home with the Anglicans than the might with the Baptists, and certainly than they might with us. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Salvation Army is that our worship style has always been very bright, s that when William Booth tried to bring in the 'unchurched masses' as they were called, he actually used music hall songs with religious words because the people didn't know hymns. And many of our hymns in the Salvation Army, they don't even know. But they originally were, you know, She Tripped Amongst the Sno', or something or other. And little choruses. Even a great Salvation Army song is one that is based on Click Go the Shears, Boys, a great song here in Australia. It goes 'Marching along, the Salvation Army is marching along'. They sing it all over the world, nobody knows it's a shearer's song. Because we try to use elements in our worship that make people feel at home, comfortable, joyous. Now I mean you wouldn't do that in the Anglican Church or some of the more ritualistic liturgical churches. I think every denomination you know, has some particular aspect to contribute to the whole church of Jesus Christ. So we appreciate all the others.

Your placement though has been very strongly in the Protestant sector of the Christian church, and yet you're a great admirer of Mother Teresa. Would you tell us a little bit about why you admire her so much and about your own meeting and work with her?

Well, I think that the Catholic Church, for example, has had its own special mission in the work of Jesus Christ in the world, and I'm certainly not judgemental regarding the Catholic Church. And you know, when you are a missionary, and you work in another country, with many other denominations, you all work together so co-operatively, because you are doing the same thing but in different styles. So that it has never worried me that I find a great model in a Roman Catholic. In fact I'm a great admirer of Roman Catholic saints. My favourite saint is St Teresa of Avila who, after the Reformation, when the Protestant Church broke off, the Roman Catholic church had its own kind of counter-Reformation. And Teresa of Avila was a greatly spiritual woman but, at the same time, a great activist. She reformed the convents and she did so well that they had her reform the monasteries as well. Now, I have a great respect for people who can balance a beautiful spiritual life with an active service life. So Mother Teresa is herself a woman like that, very saintly. I wouldn't be surprised if she's canonised. Certainly she's canonised in the minds of many people today, and therefore on my visit to her in Calcutta, I treasured the fact that we could pray together. And I could look into her face and see shining there the light of Jesus Christ. And his compassion. And I think the fact that she's become so well-known in the whole world, so that the most secular minded people can think of Mother Teresa as a modern Christ. And really, that is the great purpose of a Christian, to live a Christ-like life. Mother Teresa is showing us in reality. That's why I admire her.

What does leadership mean to you?

Well, I think one of the big factors of leadership is to exude inspiration, so that people want to follow… I often say that it's a terrible thing when a leader looks behind and there's no-one coming. And that inspiration isn't just for religious leaders, I think it can be for business leaders and politicians too, to be able to inspire people with the validity of what you're saying so that they want to be with you in the campaign or fight, if you like. I think inspirational leadership is very significant. I think character is very important, integrity, honesty. Also, the ability to know that you don't know everything. Also, what we might call qualities of the mind such as wisdom and discernment, and that much treasured thing by me called commonsense. And then I think you've got to really be concerned for people so people know you're ready to listen to them, that you're available to them, and that you want to train and encourage them. And when you see those with gifts and abilities, to prepare the leaders of the future. So a leader must be training and preparing leaders, which I've always thought was a very significant factor. And in my period as the General in office, the development of Third World leaders was one of my great priorities. So that there are many aspects to leadership. But perhaps I should say, first of all, it's vision. Have a vision, or as Martin Luther King said, 'I have a dream.' The expression of vision as a dream has become very popular since he said that. So have a dream of what could be, what's the possibility. So it's important to be a visionary but you've got to add to that perseverance because it's no good having a vision if you can't bring it to reality. So you have to persevere, often with people who you have to bring along with you on that vision. And so you also have to have equality, which I sometimes call the big C -- not cancer, but courage. You have to have courage to stand for what you believe. And as a Christian leader, distinct from a corporate leader in the business world, that courage to take risks is also the courage of faith. Because you have faith in God that what you have dreamed is what he wants.

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