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

By Charles Howard Hopkins | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

THE social gospel, as this study has surveyed its origins and development, may be regarded as American Protestantism's response to the challenge of modern industrial society. Although practically all denominational groups ultimately awoke to social issues, the movement took root and grew most vigorously among Unitarians, Congregationalists, and Episcopalians -- three American religious bodies inheriting the state-church tradition of responsibility for public morals.

Other factors were even more significant. Both Unitarians and Congregationalists participated generously in the liberal theological trends of the nineteenth century. Roots of a social gospel of brotherhood are to be found in Channing's Baltimore sermon, while the "new theology" derived from Bushnell by Munger, Gladden, and other Congregationalists was itself inherently social. Episcopal clergymen, especially in New York City, were in reasonably close touch with the advanced social thought of certain of their Anglican brethren, and as leaders of a wealthy church carrying on an extensive city-mission program they were early brought into immediate contact with the problems of the new urban and industrial order as these were making a first appearance in acute form in the nation's largest city.

When, later, the social aspects of Christianity began to be stressed by leaders of Baptist, Methodist, and other bodies whose heritage was pietistic and separatist, the social gospel of this group was marked by an evangelical fervor and an ideology looking toward a kingdom of God raised on earth by consecrated groups of individuals, whereas the former tradition inclined to apply the "Christian law" of love to the transactions of society. This contrast was apparent between Gladden and Rauschenbusch, although the latter's fully developed gospel went far toward socialism.

The social situation produced by the industrial revolution in post-Civil WarAmerica was characterized by the rise of largescale production units that drew together vast proletarian populations in hastily built, overcrowded cities. As clergymen

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