WE have seen that the pioneer period of social Christianity was a time of vague awakenings. Foreign influences were somewhat marked, while American discussions of problems were hazy, generalized, and based entirely on the ideology of an earlier era. However, the ideal of the kingdom of God as a terrestrial possibility was beginning to appeal to men's minds. But the social consciousness of the church reoriented itself slowly after a long and absorbing preoccupation with the slavery cause, and the few radicals born out of time in the indifferent 'seventies had almost as well not spoken.
With the coming of the 1880's the progress of the social gospel became more apparent. Liberal ferments within the religious community had commenced to make themselves felt, the "acids of modernity" had begun to eat through the surface of a hollow orthodoxy, and the increased intensity of the social struggle had aroused the nation to the realization that beneath the crust of the gilded age there lurked forces of destruction. This growing appreciation of the seriousness of the conflict tended to make the pronouncements of social Christianity more realistic in that it forced leaders of the new movement to formulate their own solutions in relation to actual situations they themselves encountered. It also broadened the sweep of the as yet youthful social gospel.
To clergymen as well as to other observers the most apparent of the threats to social stability, and the most obviously freighted with dire consequences, was the dissatisfaction of labor that, fed on starvation wages and to a certain extent a radical socialism, had rioted in 1877 on a national scale. Such discontent showed little sign of abating as the 'eighties came and went. In 1879 Henry George Progress and Poverty had proclaimed that the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer -- a thesis that in no way diminished the anger of a sullen proletariat already convinced that its share of the plunder of a continent was too small. To make matters worse, the working classes were listening eagerly to the propagandism of an aggressive socialism, the very foreign nature of which sufficed to make it anathema to the