Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

By Jacob H. Dorn | Go to book overview

graduation. Henry Knox Sherrill, who eventually declined an invitation from Spalding to serve in Utah, noted that Spalding stirred his conscience and sympathy for the working class. Sherrill, who later served as bishop of Massachusetts and presiding bishop, remembered Spalding as "tall and spare, with a penetrating mind, skeptical of conventional ways and phrases, and a remarkable combination of fearlessness and personal humility." 114 Irwin St. John Tucker recalled that Spalding would always admonish his listeners to "[r]ead Karl Marx; there you will find the solution!" Still, Tucker also believed that Spalding was "no book socialist, but one who had thrashed the matter out in the light of his own I experience." For Spalding "nothing except the growing intelligence of the working-class" could solve society's problems and bring about the cooperative commonwealth. 115

DuBose Murphy, president of the Yale Society for the Study of Socialism, called Spalding an "inspiration to all who came in touch with him," and a leader in the "rapidly growing army of those who are coming to believe that Socialism needs real Christianity to be effective, just as Christianity needs the continual vitalization furnished by those who see the social problem in all its significance." 116 Similarly, Charles Lewis Slattery, writing in the Episcopal magazine the Churchman, commented that "though exulting in his socialism and openly acknowledging it on every proper occasion, he did not repel those who did not agree with him." 117

For more than a decade, despite occasional doubts, Franklin Spencer Spalding's life was characterized by a twofold commitment to Christianity and socialism. This duality was accurately identified by his friend, Charles D. Williams, bishop of Michigan, in a eulogy at the memorial service. These remarks provide a fitting summary of Spalding's life and work:

Spalding was a socialist in his economic creed. But his socialism was a unique kind. It was not the socialism of mere economic determinism or of materialism. . . . it was a spiritual and moral socialism, the socialism of justice and righteousness, above all the socialism of . . . Christlike love for all the weak, the disinherited, and oppressed. He was called a Christian socialist, and . . . yet I would transpose the words and call him a socialist Christian. . . . For the fundamental, underlying and determining element in all his life work and personality was his personal Christianity, his faith. It was the love of Christ that constrained him here as in every other aspect of his life, work and personality. His socialism was but the expression of his Christianity as applied to the larger problems of industrial and economic relations. But it was the same Christianity which sanctified his personal character and inspired his work as a minister of the Christian church. 118


NOTES
1.
"Bishop Spalding," Social Preparation for the Kingdom of God 3 ( February 1915): 74-75.
2.
A definitive study of socialist activities in the Episcopal Church remains to be written. A good starting point can be found in the following: James Dombrowski, The Early Days of Christian Socialism in America ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1936); Peter J. Frederick , Knights of Golden Rule: The Intellectual as Christian Social Reformer in the 1890s ( Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 1976); Bernard Kent Markwell, The Anglican Left: Radical Social Reformers in the Church of England and the ProtestantEpiscopal Church, 1846-1954

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