Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

All Things Human: Henry Codman Potter and the Social Gospel in the Episcopal Church

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

All Things Human: Henry Codman Potter and the Social Gospel in the Episcopal Church

Article excerpt

MICHAEL BOURGEOIS. All Things Human: Henry Codman Potter and the Social Gospel in the Episcopal Church. Studies in Anglican History. Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004. Pp. 288, bibliography, index. $34.95.

Michael Bourgeois offers an appreciative interpretation of the Social Gospel in this study of Henry Codman Potter (1834-1908), who as rector of New York City's Grace Church (1868-1883) and bishop of New York (1883-1908) creatively adapted his evangelical heritage to the social and intellectual forces that were transforming American life. The subject of three admiring biographies by 1933, Potter has subsequently received only fragmentary attention. Bourgeois' work, though not a comprehensive biography, rectifies that neglect. It surveys the ways in which Potter influenced the Episcopal Church's contributions to the Social Gospel; more importantly, it firmly establishes his significance in that broader movement.

Potter's impact on his denomination included experimentation with new forms of parish ministry and new religious orders. More importantly, he advanced the institutionalization of the Social Gospel in his denomination in various ways, including the inspiration and leadership he gave to such organizations as the Church Association for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor (1887) and the Joint Committee on the Relations of Capital and Labor (1901).

Bourgeois establishes Potter's broader significance through detailed analysis of his ideas and related projects. Though sympathetic to his subject, he candidly demonstrates that Potter's ideas were sometimes an ambiguous mixture of innovation and tradition, of sympathy for the needy and paternalism. On social issues, Potter was a moderate within the Social Gospel spectrum. Convinced that workers were exploited and concerned about class alienation, he was an early and consistent defender of unions; he saw no alternative to capitalism, however, and stressed "stewardship" by the wealthy (for their own good as well as the relief of the poor) and mediation between capital and labor. Though his concern for African Americans and immigrants was strong, he believed in human inequality and the responsibility of culturally superior AngloSaxons to "civilize" and "Christianize" backward peoples. …

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