American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919-1939

American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919-1939

American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919-1939

American Protestantism and Social Issues, 1919-1939

Excerpt

This study attempts to sketch some of the social attitudes of American Protestantism during the decades of prosperity and depression, to note how the Protestant churches faced up to the most fundamental problems confronting American society between the First and Second World Wars.

"Social attitudes," however, is an extremely broad term and the boundaries of this investigation require closer definition. I am concerned mostly with the views of the churches on those basic, controversial issues that struck at the roots of society: civil liberties, labor, race relations, war, and the contending merits of capitalism, socialism, and communism.

This means, in the first place, that I have largely ignored dancing, card playing, tobacco, whiskey, immodest dress, and other questions to which the churches devoted considerable attention, partly because their attitudes are already known or could be surmised, and partly because these sins—if such they be—are essentially personal rather than social. Secondly, I have minimized also the views of the churches on subjects in which there is little room for conflicting opinion: prison reform, civic corruption, slum clearance, and juvenile delinquency. After all, who argues against clean jails, honest mayors, and tidy streets. Further, I have made no effort to assess the great work done by American Protestantism in relation to schools, hospitals, settlement houses, and missionary enterprises, important as I deem these activities to be. And lastly, problems of theology, doctrine, and organization are touched on only in so far as they shed light on the social attitudes of the churches.

This inquiry, then, does not pretend to contain the full story of American Protestantism during the twenties and thirties, but simply an appraisal of the churches' attitudes on certain ranking subjects.

If the term "social attitudes" almost defies precise definition, the same might be said of "American Protestantism." There are some 250 Protestant denominations and sects in America. Attention was limited to a few numerically powerful groups, but in some cases, such as the Unitarians, I have let influence rather than size be the determining factor., A systematic examination was made of only the following bodies: Northern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention, Methodist . . .

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