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

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
CHRISTIANITY AND THE MORALS OF SOCIETY

Now that slavery is out of the way, the questions that concern our free laborers are coming forward; and no intelligent man needs to be admonished of their urgency. They are not only questions of economy, they are in a large sense moral questions; nay, they touch the very marrow of that religion of good-will of which Christ was the founder. It is plain that the pulpit must have something to say about them. WASIIINGTON GLADDEN1

IN the preceding chapter we have described certain currents within American Protestantism that were gradually preparing the way for the development of a social conscience. This movement was tremendously accelerated by the social unrest that broke in upon the naïve complacency of an agricultural nation still unaware of the industrial revolution already seething within it. Although to the people at large it was the railroad strike of 1877 that seemed to have "partially uncapped the crater of a social volcano," many alert ministers had detected rumblings a decade earlier. Their reactions were in general along the lines a more fully developed social Christianity was to follow later.

These pioneers of the social gospel saw clearly four types of problems. They questioned the prevalent rationalization of unrestricted competition by classical economics; they regarded the conflict between labor and capital as the crux of the maladjustments attendant upon the industrial revolution; they condemned the business ethics of the "Great Barbecue"; and they began an attack upon the problems of urban life, notably the relation of the church to the masses.

Early efforts to apply Christian ethics to the solution of these questions were for the most part utopian. Although social Christianity came to be the response of religious leaders to real needs as they faced them in their own parishes, clergymen of

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1
Wasbington Gladden, Working People and their Employers ( New York, 1885 [ 1st ed., 1876]), p. 3.

-24-

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