The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE CHURCH CHALLENGES SOCIALISM

The church's remedy for social discontent and dynamite bombs is Christianity as taught in the New Testament.

RICHARD T. ELY

THE coming of the 1880's marked an era in the development of American social Christianity. We have seen that for some years a few alert ministers had been prying into the shadows of the gilded age and had uncovered situations that they regarded as not only unlovely and unethical, but unchristian. Clergymen were among the leading diagnosticians of the industrial maladjustments of the late 'seventies. After 1880 this concern in social matters developed out of its pioneer phase into a well-defined although minority movement that ten years later numbered its protagonists by the score and found its audience across the nation.

Religious leaders focused their interest in social conditions upon the labor problem, which, since the great strike of 1877, had assumed dangerous proportions in the eyes of many observers. The menace was heightened by the red glare thrown over an already serious situation by the rapid growth of socialism within the ranks of labor. The program of socialism at once aroused the deep concern of Protestant clergymen. Before the Civil War Henry James, senior, had equated the aims of socialism and Christianity.1 Washington Gladden had discussed the subject seriously if superficially in his lectures to Working People and their Employers in 1876. However, the appearance in 1879 of a book entitled Socialism by the "broadly and fearlessly progressive" Roswell D. Hitchcock of Union Theological Seminary marked the beginning of a discussion that soon became one of the focal points of the social gospel.

The modern scientific socialism that was alarming Americans in 1880 owed little or nothing to early idealistic communism of

____________________
1
Henry James, Sr., Moralism and Christianity ( New York, 1850), p. 92.

-67-

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