Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

By Jacob H. Dorn | Go to book overview

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"The Oldest and Youngest of the Idealistic Forces at Work in Our Civilization": Encounters Between Christianity and Socialism

Jacob H. Dorn

It was Sunday afternoon, 31 May 1908, and 3,000 people nearly filled Carnegie Hall for the concluding mass meeting of the third annual Christian Socialist Fellowship (CSF) conference. The conference had begun on Thursday at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension at Fifth Avenue and Tenth Street. Since then, participants had listened to speeches on the coming cooperative commonwealth, sung the devotional hymn "O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee" along with "The Marxian Call," shared in a communion service conducted by William Dwight Porter Bliss, and fanned out to preach in churches throughout the metropolitan area. That these Christians were serious about their socialism was abundantly clear from their speeches. That they were taken seriously within the Socialist Party of America (SPA) was evident from the presence at CSF sessions and related functions of party luminaries like Morris Hillquit, undisputed leader of New York socialists, Algernon Lee of the Rand School of Social Science, Joshua Wanhope, editor of the New York Call, and writer John Spargo. A curious press covered a variety of conference activities, raising expectations for the culminating Sunday rally, which more than fulfilled the organizers' hopes. 1

After reading greetings from the CSF's president, Episcopal Bishop Franklin S. Spalding of Utah, and R. Heber Newton, pastor of All Souls' Unitarian Church in New York, presiding member Edwin Markham set the tone for the rally by strongly affirming the fellowship's socialism and his belief in the religious goal of building God's kingdom on earth and in a Jesus who could save the economic order. Well known for "The Man with the Hoe," he recited a poem written for this occasion, "The Muse of Brotherhood."2 Then followed speeches by two socialist ministers, Edward Ellis Carr, the Methodist editor of the Christian Socialist, and Charles H. Vail, a Universalist and author of widely used socialist textbooks.

The rally's highlight was the appearance of the charismatic Eugene V. Debs, who was in New York for this rally and to inaugurate the New York Call's change to a

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