Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Brotherhood Extended to All Practical Affairs": The Social Gospel as the Religion of the Agrarian Revolt in Ontario?

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Brotherhood Extended to All Practical Affairs": The Social Gospel as the Religion of the Agrarian Revolt in Ontario?

Article excerpt

Dr. Salem Bland, pastor of the Broadway Methodist Tabernacle in Toronto, wrote of "Canada's new spirit" in 1920:

   It is variously named; with religionists, we may call it the coming
   of the Kingdom of God on earth; or in terms of the returned
   soldier, it may be called comradeship in national life; or again it
   may be seen as brotherhood extended to all practical affairs.
   (1973, 24)

In the aftermath of the First World War, Bland joined many others in the quest for Christian social justice. He did not think the name of this widespread "spirit" was important, yet he saw in Christianity the distinct beginnings of a new age. This spirit led Bland to use his position to publicly call for social reform, which upset some of his more conservative parishioners. Following newspaper reports of the conflict between Bland and laymen at the Tabernacle, J. J. Morrison, the secretary-treasurer of the United Farmers of Ontario, defended the controversial pastor in a public speech: "Even in the church moneyed men are too often in control, striking evidence of which was seen in the effort to suppress Dr. Salem Bland for preaching Christian Democracy in a Toronto church" (Farmers' Sun, 20 March 1920; see the 7 January 1920 issue for an account of a sermon where Bland defended himself from his enemies at the Tabernacle). Why would the leader of Ontario's major agrarian organization defend a renegade Methodist cleric? Each man represented an element of the "new spirit" then sweeping Canada. Bland recognized the ideological affinity between himself and agrarian activists like Morrison when he wrote, "The agrarian and urban industrial organizations are the Nazareth from which are coming the prophets of a new day" (Bland 1973, 100).

Social and political reform movements arose in Canada during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, challenging the liberal capitalist status quo. Although they did not seriously challenge the stability of the social order, these groups remade Canadian politics. The United Farmers of Ontario (UFO) appeared in response to the perceived neglect of the province's rural population. (2) It was significantly influenced by the Social Gospel, an international theological tendency within Protestantism that emphasized Christianity's duty to eliminate social injustice. This influence can be seen by examining the UFO's leadership, its official newspaper, the Farmer's Sun, and the opinions of its rank and file. Yet it should also be noted that the diverse currents within the Social Gospel could divide the UFO. Christianity was both a potent source of political mobilization and the grounds for conflict in the Ontario farmers' movement. In this way, the relationship between the Social Gospel and the UFO may help to illuminate the equivocal role of religion in Canadian political history.

The body of literature on secularization and Protestantism in English Canada provides a useful starting point for measuring the importance of religion in agrarian politics. Most historians agree that the Social Gospel was central to the UFO and the broader farmers' movement in Canada, but they sharply diverge in the implications of this association. W. L. Morton's pioneering work on the Canadian agrarian movement places the Social Gospel at its heart, but he characterizes this as an effect of secularization, claiming that politically engaged farmers "found in the farmers' organizations and the reform movement compensation for their loss of faith...." (1967, 28-9). Richard Allen names the Social Gospel as the "religion of the agrarian revolt" in central and western Canada by 1917 (1971, 200-1). His focus centres on the west, placing both the leadership and the membership of agrarian organizations in the Social Gospel (Allen, 1976, 175). Allen outlined three currents within the Social Gospel movement: conservatives who represented traditional evangelicalism; radicals who viewed society in Manichean terms; and a "broad centre party of progressives" (1971, 17). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.