Social Gospel

Social Gospel

The Social Gospel movement is a Protestant Christian intellectual movement that was most prominent in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The movement applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially poverty, inequality, liquor, crime, racial tensions, slums, bad hygiene, poor schools, and the danger of war. Theologically, the Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millennialist. That is because they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort. [ For the most part, they rejected premillennialist theology (which was predominant in the Southern United States), according to which the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and Christians should devote their energies to preparing for it rather than addressing the issue of social evils.] Social Gospel leaders were predominantly liberal politically and theologically. In the 21st century Social Gospel principles continue to inspire newer movements such as Christians Against Poverty.


In The United States

The Social Gospel was a driving force in much of Protestant America. The Presbyterians said it best in 1910: [Rogers and Blade 1998]

The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
In the early 20th century, many Americans were disgusted by the poverty level and the low quality of living in the slums. The social gospel movement provided a religious rationale for action to address those concerns. Activists in the Social Gospel movement hoped that by public health measures as well as enforced schooling so the poor could develop talents and skills, the quality of their moral lives would begin to improve. Important concerns of the Social Gospel movement were labor reforms, such as abolishing child labor and regulating the hours of work by mothers. By 1920 they were crusading against the 12-hour day for men at U.S. Steel. Many reformers inspired by the movement opened settlement houses, most notably Hull House in Chicago operated by Jane Addams. They helped the poor and immigrants improve their lives. Settlement houses offered services such as daycare, education, and health care to needy people in slum neighborhoods.

In the United States prior to World War I, the Social Gospel was the religious wing of the progressive movement which had the aim of combatting injustice, suffering and poverty in society. During the New Deal of the 1930s Social Gospel themes could be seen in the work of Harry Hopkins, Will Alexander and Mary McLeod Bethune, who added a new concern with African Americans. After 1940, the movement withered, but was invigorated in the 1950s by black leaders like Baptist minister Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. After 1980 it weakened again as a major force inside mainstream churches; indeed those churches were losing strength. Examples of its continued existence can still be found, notably the organization known as the Call to Renewal and more local organizations like the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

In Britain

The Labour Party is known to be affiliated with the Christian Socialist Movement. This affiliation denotes an indirect influence of the Social Gospel Movement in Britain.Fact|date=May 2008 Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a member of the Labour Party and a member of the Christian Socialist Movement, once said in addressing the problem of terrorism and in general the brotherhood of Christians and Muslims, "We all are descendants of Abraham."Fact|date=May 2008

In literature

The Social Gospel theme is reflected in the novels "In His Steps" (1897) and "The Reformer" (1902), the creations of the Congregational minister Charles Sheldon, who coined the motto "What would Jesus do?" In his personal life, Sheldon was committed to Christian Socialism and identified strongly with the Social Gospel movement. Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the leading early theologians of the Social Gospel in the United States, indicated that his theology had been inspired by Sheldon's novels.

In 1892, Rauschenbusch and several other leading writers and advocates of the Social Gospel formed a group called the Brotherhood of the Kingdom. Members of this group would produce many of the written works that defined the theology of the Social Gospel movement and gave it public prominence. These would include Rauschenbusch's "Christianity and the Social Crisis" (1907) and "Christianizing the Social Order" (1912), as well as Samuel Zane Batten's "The New Citizenship" (1898) and "The Social Task of Christianity" (1911).

The 21st Century

In the United States, the Social Gospel is still influential in mainline Protestant denominations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church; it seems to be growing in the Episcopal Church as well, especially with that church's effort to support the ONE Campaign. In Canada, it is widely present in the United Church and in the Anglican Church. Social Gospel elements can also be found in many service and relief agencies associated with Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church in the United States. It also remains influential among Christian socialist circles in Britain in the Church of England, Methodist and Calvinist movements.

In Catholicism, liberation theology has similarities to the Social Gospel. In the Anglican Church, the social gospel has found expression in pacifism.

ee also

*Christian socialism
*Evangelical left
*The Gospel of Wealth
*Liberation theology
*Postmodern Christianity
*Progressive Christianity
*Rick Warren
*Social justice
* [ Religion and Socialism Commission of the Democratic Socialists of America]
* [ Socialism and Faith Commission of the Socialist Party USA]
* [ The Myth of the Social Gospel (Catholic perspective)]


Primary sources

*Walter Rauschenbusch. "A Theology for the Social Gospel" (1917).
*Walter Rauschenbusch. "Christianity and the Social Crisis." (1907)
* [ The New Era: Or, The Coming Kingdom (1898) by Josiah Strong] complete text from Google Book Search
*Thomas, Lewis Herbert ed. "The Making of a Socialist: The Recollections of T.C. Douglas" (1984)

econdary sources

* "Social Gospel." Encyclopedia Americana. 30 vols. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier, 2003.
* Sydney E. Ahlstrom. "A Religious History of the American People" (1974)
* Susan Curtis. "A Consuming Faith: The Social Gospel and Modern American Culture" (1991)
* Jacob H. Dorn. "Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America". (1998), [ online edition]
* Brian J. Fraser. "The Social Uplifters: Presbyterian Progressives and the Social Gospel in Canada, 1875-1915" (1990)
* Charles Howard Hopkins. "The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915." (1940) [ online edition]
* William R. Hutchison. "The Americanness of the Social Gospel; An Inquiry in Comparative History," Church History, Vol. 44, No. 3 (Sep., 1975), pp. 367-381 [ online in JSTOR]
* Maurice C. Latta, "The Background for the Social Gospel in American Protestantism," "Church History" , Vol. 5, No. 3 (Sep., 1936), pp. 256-270 [ online at JSTOR]
* Ralph E. Luker. "The Social Gospel in Black and White American Racial Reform, 1885-1912." (1998) ["The+Social+Gospel+in+Black+and+White+American+Racial+Reform,+1885-1912."&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=yHciBHQUoa&sig=I6YIarBwwbLAvvbcw0f8a4wrRjo&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPP1,M1 excerpt and text search]
* Martin E. Marty, "Modern American Religion, Vol. 1: The Irony of It All, 1893-1919" (1986); "Modern American Religion. Vol. 2: The Noise of Conflict, 1919-1941" (1991)
* Dorothea R. Muller. "The Social Philosophy of Josiah Strong: Social Christianity and American Progressivism," Church History 1959, v 28, #2 pp. 183-201] [ at JSTOR]
* Jack B. Rogers, and Robert E. Blade, "The Great Ends of the Church: Two Perspectives," "Journal of Presbyterian History" (1998) 76:181-186.
* Gary Scott Smith, "To Reconstruct the World: Walter Rauschenbusch and Social Change," "Fides et Historia" (1991) 23:40-63
* Ronald C. White, Jr. and C. Howard Hopkins. "The Social Gospel. Religion and Reform in Changing America" (1975).----notes----

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