- Social Gospel
- The Social Gospel movement emerged in the late 19th century in the United States as a response to changes in urban America - the influx of non-English-speaking immigrants, industrialization and the resulting labor problems, and the rise of socialist thought. it was influenced by the emergence of sociology as a new tool to understand the human condition, and by a growing emphasis on the importance of the Kingdom of God in the message preached by Jesus. The kingdom was interpreted as a real possibility in the contemporary human community, as Christian ideals were applied in secular social settings. The identification of socialism as the best representation of a Christian society bore fruit in the formation of the Society of Christian Socialists by W. D. P Bliss in 1889.Among the leaders of the new movement were Baptist scholar Walter Rauschenbusch (18611918), a professor at Rochester Theological Seminary, economist Richard T. Ely (1854-1943), and Congregationalist ministers Josiah Strong (1847-1916) and Washington Gladden (18361918). They denounced the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and opted for a socialist vision. Traditional church leaders saw their work as an attack upon orthodoxy and the abandonment of evangelism in favor of moral endeavor.The Social Gospel emphasized God's immanence, especially God's activity in the social process, and viewed Jesus as a moral exemplar working for social justice. it was a very optimistic form of social Darwinism, which heralded the evolution of society into a socialist Kingdom of God. Moral endeavor was transferred from personal ethics to efforts to make systemic changes in society that would produce an ever more equal and just social order.The Social Gospel movement gained significant influence in liberal Protestantism in the early 20th century. The new Federal Council of Churches adopted a Social Creed soon after its formation in 1908, and many Protestant leaders adopted pacifism in the 1920s and 1930s. Among the leading Social Gospel advocates between the two world wars were Methodist Harry F Ward (1873-1966) and African Methodist bishop Reverdy C. Ransom (1861-1959). The movement was largely destroyed by the horrors of World War II and the emergence of a more realistic picture of the human condition proposed by Neo-Orthodoxy. A leading voice in calling for a revision of Social Gospel expectations was ethicist Reinhold Neibuhr.While the optimism of the Social Gospel could not be sustained, the movement left its mark in its pioneering of social ethics as an important element of Christian thinking, its championing of sociology as a tool in ethical awareness, its exploration of the social impact of sin, and its understanding of individual responsibility for the institutionalization of injustice in impersonal social structures. Among more conservative Protestants, the Social Gospel supported a set of moral crusades from temperance to Sabbath observance and missions (as a civilizing force in the world).Further reading:■ Paul A. Carter, The Decline and Revival of the Social Gospel: Social and Political Liberalism in American Protestant Churches, 1920-1940 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1954)■ Susan Curtis, A Consuming Faith: The Social Gospel and Modern American Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991)■ Robert T. Handy, The Social Gospel in America 1870-1920: Gladden, Ely, Rauschenbusch (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966)■ Walter Rauschenbusch, Walter Rauschenbusch: Selected Writings, ed. by Winthrop S. Hudson. (New York: Paulist Press, 1984)■ Donald Cedric White, The Social Gospel: Religion and Reform in Changing America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1976).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.