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

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XVII
SOCIAL CHRISTIANITY BECOMES
OFFICIAL

. . . We summon our great Church to continue and increase its works of social service . . . to patient study of these problems and to the fearless but judicious preaching of the teachings of Jesus in their significance for the moral interests of modern society.

Methodist Discipline, 1908

THE social Christianity whose broadening stream has been followed through a generation of American life was in 1900 but an informal current borne upon the convictions of individuals and the interest of voluntary groups. In the first dozen years of the twentieth century most of the larger denominations appointed official social-service -- i.e., social action -- commissions or agencies. Although this action was the culmination of the movement's long agitation for recognition, it of course did not indicate the full acceptance of social-gospel principles by the rank and file of American Protestants whom the national organizations represented. Nor was it the victory of a majority party. But the accounts of official action here given nevertheless represented the full maturity of the movement and its most significant practical achievements. Such recognition heightened the prestige of social Christianity, opened to it the resources of denominational educational machinery, and provided new access to an immense audience.

The Department of Church and Labor of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America was the first official church agency to pursue an aggressive social-gospel campaign through the efforts of a paid secretary. It was not only a remarkable phenomenon in an otherwise conservative denomination, but it acted as a powerful stimulus to the awakening social conscience of other religious

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