There was no shortage of inspiration when about 950 guests gathered at the Hilton Anatole’s Chantilly Ballroom on Thursday, November 15, for The Salvation Army DFW Metroplex Command‘s Doing The Most Good 2018 Annual Luncheon.
There were uplifting, welcoming talks at the big fundraiser by Bernard DiFiore, the Army’s DFW Advisory Chair, and Majors Barbara and Jonathan Rich, the Christian nonprofit’s DFW Metroplex Commanders, who noted that the event was missing the Army’s longtime supporter Ruth Altshuler, who’d died just weeks after the last annual luncheon. There was joyful singing by the Potter’s House Choir, and heart-rending testimonials about the Salvation Army by Lieutenants Mayela and Armondo Acosta.
Bernice J. Washington, who served as luncheon co-chair along with Sam Coats, nearly stole the show with a rousing invocation that recalled the time that Jesus calmed the seas. (Mayors Betsy Price of Fort Worth and Mike Rawlings of Dallas were honorary co-chairs.)
Some were even inspired by the lunch itself: vegetable soup, flat-iron steak with lettuce and kale salad, and a variety of alternating desserts. Then there was Charlotte Jones Anderson of the Dallas Cowboys. Charlotte regaled the crowd with a history of the ‘Boys’ Thanksgiving game-day involvement with the Army’s Red Kettle campaign before introducing Steve Reinemund, a former Frito-Lay exec and Army board member who’d helped make it happen.
With that, Steve brought on keynote speaker Rex W. Tillerson, the former chairman and CEO of Irving-based ExxonMobil Corp. And Rex may have delivered the most inspiring—and illuminating—words of all.
Tillerson, who served as secretary of state under President Donald Trump from February 2017 to March 2018, began by saying that he’d been inspired for years by a Bible verse from the book of Peter: “‘Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up in due time.’ So,” Rex told the crowd, “I’m gonna humble myself before you. I’ll start with two questions I get asked most often since coming back from Washington: ‘If you knew then what you know now, would you still have done it?’ The second question has to do with the most serious threats the country is facing today.
“The answer to the first question is grounded in three pillars that have guided my life: duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self. The answer to the first question is yes, without hesitation. When I met with President Trump in his office, the first time we ever met, he asked me to be secretary of state. I was shocked. I went home and talked with my wife, Renda. She said, ‘I told you God’s not through with you. She said he’s been training you for 20 years. Go help this man.’ So there was no more conversation about that. … I was very honored to serve in the office of secretary of state.”
Explaining his decision to take the Washington job, Tillerson recalled that because he had attended The University of Texas during the Vietnam war—his draft number at the time was never called—he saw the state department position as a way to serve the country, at last: “It’s my time,” Tillerson said he thought. “It’s my time to serve. … But after a few months of reflection, it occurred to me that I’d been carrying around a lot of bags—guilt for being a Vietnam-era guy. I didn’t go serve. A lot of my friends did go serve, and I lost friends. God took those bags away from me and set them down. He gave me my opportunity to serve [as secretary of state]. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Turning to the nuts and bolts of foreign affairs and diplomacy, Tillerson said he sees four main threats to the United States today: A rising China, a belligerent Russia, global Islamic-inspired terrorism, and cybersecurity. But he decided in his talk to focus only on the first two, he explained, because China and Russia are “the two superpowers out there that we have to be very conscious of.”
China, Tillerson said, has lifted its people out of poverty over the last 40 years en route to building a burgeoning middle class. Now, though, the need to keep its economy firing on all cylinders has given rise to China’s increasing militarization, especially in the South China Sea, and tense relations with the U.S. as a result. Over the next 10 years, Tillerson went on, “we must define what the relationship is between the U.S. and China so that we can live in peace for another 50 years. If we don’t reach agreement on how we’re going to live with one another, then over the next decade I fear we may find ourselves in military conflict with China.”
Russia, Rex said, poses a different threat. The goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Tillerson said he’s known for 18 years, is “to restore Russia’s role in the global world order … and to be recognized himself as a global world leader to be respected. He reminded me often, ‘We are the only nuclear power on a par with the U.S., and you need to treat us that way.’ We treat them like a second-class country. So what does Putin do? He’s one of the most strategic, tactical people I’ve ever met. I think he’s probably one of the hardest-working leaders in the world today. He has to be, because he’s playing a very weak hand.”
Since Putin knows Russia “can never rise to the U.S.’s influence in the world,” Tillerson continued, “instead he has to diminish our influence. So he wakes up every day and says, ‘Where is America having trouble? Let’s go there and make it worse!’ … He’s really trying to lower our influence, because he can only take Russia so far. … He’s got a weak hand but he’s played it really well, and he’ll continue to play that hand out.”
Both China and Russia are headed by leaders who are “essentially leaders for life, so they can bide their time and be opportunistic,” Tillerson went on. “If they can’t deal with the current leader of our country, they’ll just wait.”
Rex wrapped up his keynote by talking about “a growing crisis of ethics and integrity” here at home—one that involves the never-ending search for truth. “Our founders acknowledged that there’s a higher power at work in our country, and that the truth is above all else and delivered from a higher power,” he said. “A diverse people can only come together and find solutions to our problems if we’re dealing with the truth. If we as a people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in fact, then we as American citizens are on the pathway to forfeiting our very freedoms.”
If Tillerson had any particular person in mind as he made these points, he didn’t let on. “The responsibility of every American citizen is to preserve our freedom by recognizing what is true and what is not— what is fact and what is not,” he said. “When we as Americans go wobbly on what may be even the most trivial matters of truthfulness, we go wobbly on America. If we don’t confront this crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders—both in the public and private sectors and, regretfully, from time to time in the nonprofit sector—then American democracy as we know it in my view is entering its twilight years …”
“God bless you all,” Rex concluded. “God bless the Salvation Army. And God bless America.”