All Commentary
Monday, November 1, 1965

The Flight From Reality: 14. Capturing the Hearts of Men

Dr. Carson is Professor of American History at Grove City College, Pennsylvania. Among his earlier writings in THE FREEMAN were his series on The Fateful Turn and The American Tradition, both of which are now available as books.

And Christianity, by the lips of all its teachers, ought with all its emphasis to say to society: “Your present industrial system, which fosters these enormous inequalities, which permits a few to heap up most of the gains… needs important changes to make it the instrument of righteousness.”          Washington Gladden, ¹886

I take this as my thesis: Christianity is primarily concerned with this world, and it is the mission of Christianity to bring to pass here a kingdom of righteousness and to rescue from the evil one and redeem all our social re­lations.

… The mission of the Church is to redeem the world, and to make peace with it only on its unconditional surrender to Christ. Richard T. Ely, 1889

Church and State are alike but partial organizations of humanity for special ends. Together they serve what is greater than either: humanity. Their common aim is to transform humanity into the kingdom of God.

Walter Rauschenbusch, 1907

Meliorist reform in America has usually been advanced with reli­gious zeal. It has quite often been forwarded as a moral crusade. The political conventions of Populists and Progressives had something of the atmosphere of revival meet­ings. Reform programs have fre­quently been enveloped in a senti­mental gloss of morality which frightens the timid away from challenging them and permits their instigators to adopt postures of not-to-be-questioned rectitude. Reformers have pictured them­selves (and undoubtedly thought of themselves) as champions of the poor, the downtrodden, the dispossessed, the underdog, the meek, and the maltreated. They have proclaimed their cause as just and have assumed that their motives were pure. Above all, they have identified their reformist mission with the mission of Chris­tianity, have sanctified their re­forms by this identification, and have drawn many people into their effort by an appeal to Christian charity.

Religion has been “instru­mented” for the purpose of social reform and reconstruction. The pressure of organized religion has been brought to bear increasingly upon governments to use their po­litical power to reconstruct so­ciety. Churches and churchmen have supported the unionization of labor, the forced redistribution of wealth, coerced integration, and a host of particular programs for rebuilding society along the lines of the socialist vision. The task here is to describe summarily how this transformation of religion came about, to tell how social con­cern developed among some cler­gymen, how a new theology was constructed to justify social recon­struction, and how the organized churches were drawn into this ef­fort. In short, it is the story of how many in the churches and many religious institutions came under the sway of and became subservient to reformist ideology. To turn it around, it is the story of how the moral zeal of religion was brought to bear upon social reconstruction, advancing by emo­tion things that could hardly have been advanced by reason.

Imperfect Man

It is the story, in the main, of the social gospel movement. But before telling it, some explanation of the nature of what was in­volved in it is in order. There is a tension created by the Christian revelation. On this point, all stu­dents of the life and teachings of Christ may agree. Believers have ever found themselves and their ways insufficient when held up be­side the account of these as found in the Bible. Men are not as they should be. They are, in the tradi­tional language, condemned, lost, tried, found wanting, and con­victed. As the Apostle Paul, the foremost interpreter of the mean­ing of the revelation, said: “For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is, then, a gulf between what men are and what they should be.

Nowhere does this gulf stand out in relief more clearly than in the Sermon on the Mount. Since this message was frequently cen­tral in the thought of the preachers of the social gospel, it will be helpful to quote a few passages to demonstrate its character.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not re­sist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one force you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the un­just. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your breth­ren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.¹

There is much more of a similar character, but the above passages may serve as examples. There could hardly be a more vivid con­trast between what men ordinarily accept as sufficient for virtuous and just behavior and what is re­quired by Christianity. This gap, nay, this yawning gulf, between what men are and what they should be has produced great ten­sions in those who would be Chris­tians. Some men have attempted by extraordinary moral heroism to bridge the gulf. In early times, there were hermits who went apart from the world, denied the demands of the flesh, persecuted their own bodies, and in this way attempted to live spiritually at the expense, to some extent, of the physical. Still others went into monasteries and nunneries to es­cape somewhat the baleful lure of the world and the flesh. Through­out the ages, there have been those who have tried to attain to perfec­tion by way of self-abnegation in one form or another.

A Higher Moral Code

Fundamentally, though, Chris­tians have usually agreed that Jesus Christ bridged the gulf be­tween man and God with his Sac­rifice, that what is impossible for man can be accomplished, and has been, by the Grace of God. A way was provided for the resolution of the tension, though this is not sup­posed to have relieved those who are Christians from the acceptance of the norms for behavior revealed in Scriptures and from ordering their lives according to them.

It must be made clear that the norms proclaimed by Jesus are a Revelation. They are not such as men might discover by studying the nature of the universe, the na­ture of man, and the nature of so­ciety. This is no natural morality. Men do not naturally go an extra mile when they have been com­pelled to go one. Indeed, they natu­rally resist compulsion in the first place. They do not naturally add their cloaks to the penalty when they have been sued for their coats. It is difficult to imagine any­thing less natural than to turn the other cheek when one has been struck. Nor is there an order in the universe that automatically and of necessity rewards these norms of behavior. Those who prosper in this world do not al­ways give to beggars and lend to those who would borrow from them. On the contrary, those who prosper have ordinarily managed their affairs much more circum­spectly and less generously. It is not economical to run one’s affairs according to these norms.

It does not appear that social order could be maintained without resisting evil. All orderly societies, so far as I know, have rested on some rough approximation of jus­tice as consisting of an eye for an eye. This would appear to be the natural mode of dispensing justice. It is not clear how social order could be maintained except in this way. In the nature of things, society cannot dispense justice by awarding freezers to those who have stolen refrigera­tors. The assault upon property would not only be legalized but re­warded as well. It is so unlikely as to be impossible for anyone to ar­rive at such norms for behavior by a natural study and the use of human reason. Thus, these norms constitute a Revelation.

Guides for Human Action That Are Beyond Man’s Laws

Several points need to be made clear about the character of the content of the Revelation. First, there is no implied condemnation of natural law, the natural order, or positive law. Jesus made it clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat­thew 5:17) that this was no part of his intention. He said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” Nor in what followed did he condemn the laws as they had been handed down and established. For example, he said (Matthew 5: 27-28): “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This was not a call for social reconstruction. There was, in the saying, no claim that the law against adultery was not as it should have been. Certainly, no one could logically interpret the passage to say that it would be all right now to commit adultery. His commandments are more than, not instead of.

Jesus was revealing the norms in terms of which actions may be virtuous, not in human terms but in God’s. There is no virtue, he was saying, in obedience to the law. Any sensible person would do this to avoid the penalties attached to it. (The same would go for nat­ural law or conformity to the or­der in the universe.) Men do con­ceive of such actions as virtuous quite often, but this is from their perspective as men and limitations as men.

Second, these commandments can only apply to individuals and voluntary groups. They have to do with actions that are virtuous. They are virtuous because they are not compelled, because there are no earthly or natural sanctions for them, because no earthly re­wards nor penalties necessarily attend them, because they are freely done. If these norms were made a part of the order that men or natural law enforce, they would lose their virtuous character. Then even the Gentiles (that is, non-Christians) would usually obey them, for it would be expedient to do so.

Third, these norms are of such character that they cannot effec­tively be made a part of the order of positive law in society. At­tempts to do so can only produce disorder and chaos. To see this, one need only imagine a law re­quiring that if someone seeks your coat you must give him your cloak also. The penalty for not do­ing so might appropriately be a fine of 10,000 dollars or ten years in prison, or both. Can there be laws against lustful glances, com­pelling the turning of the other cheek, requiring that one love his enemies, and so forth? If not, these norms cannot be made a part of the social order.

The Social Gospel

The Revelation is of another realm than that of natural law, of an order in the universe, or of positive law. It is a revelation of God, of the realm of the spirit, of the arena of love, of that which is unbounded by expediency or the narrow and limited views of men while they sojourn on earth. It does not condemn nor deny the ef­ficacy of the order that is estab­lished for men on this earth. It does not bid them erect an order that is in keeping with the Revela­tion. Instead, it proclaims the norms in terms of which human behavior stands condemned, in terms of which man stands in need of Grace, in terms of which indi­viduals may gauge their acts.

Debasing the Spiritual

The social gospel inverts the Gospel. It turns Divine norms into norms for human society. It turns the condemnation of individuals into a condemnation of the social order and converts the impetus of Christianity into pressure for so­cial reconstruction and revolution. The holy tension between what a man is and what he should be is transformed into a temporal ten­sion between the present society and the one that should exist.

The social gospel movement was, and is, a headlong flight from reality. In the first place, it was a flight in that it used the impetus of religion to buttress the general flight involved in melioristic re­form efforts. Secondly, it was a flight from the religious base upon which it rested. To be more spe­cific, it transformed the highest spiritual goals into a quest for material improvement.

The central doctrine of the so­cial gospellers has been that the Kingdom is to come on earth. One of their favorite scriptural quota­tions has been the one command­ing Christians to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. They pray for and propose to work for thecoming of the Kingdom. Yet their efforts have been devoted, in the main, to the amelioration of the material conditions of life. They have favored shorter work weeks, higher pay, a more equal distribu­tion of the wealth, various and sundry governmental programs for the abolition of poverty, and so forth. Indeed, they maintain that by ameliorating the conditions of life—by social regeneration—they will provide the foundations for the spiritualization of life. A para­phrase of their rendition of the scriptural injunction should read something like this: Seek ye first material well-being and the King­dom of Heaven will be added unto you.

In the third place, theirs is a flight from the higher morality upon which their admonitions are based. Their call for social recon­struction is in considerable part a call for the use of governmental power to produce their ends. Inso­far as they succeeded, they would remove the moral character from the acts that they approve. They would make it compulsory to do what otherwise might be done willingly. If it is a requirement of law that the cloak be given as well, no virtue would attach to the giv­ing of the cloak. Even the “Gen­tiles” would do it, for it would be expedient to do so.

Moreover, the reconstruction of society in terms of the Revelation, if it could be done, would remove the opportunity for performing moral acts. Only those who have property may give generously of it; only those who have money may lend it to all would-be bor­rowers; only those who have choice as to the disposal of their time and energies may go the sec­ond mile. The social planning, the assault upon property, the confis­cation of savings involved in the social reconstruction advocated by the social gospellers would remove the opportunity for acts of char­ity. Indeed, if “social justice,” as many of them have defined it, pre­vailed, there would be no occasion for charity. More succinctly, there would be no morality. Life would be reduced to expedient calcula­tions in terms of rewards and pun­ishments established by positive law.

Fourthly, they have been using the religious motif to advance the politicalizing of all life. It is not necessary to imagine the conse­quences, in this case. They are al­ready occurring. Religion is being driven out of public affairs, by court decision, even as the power of government is being used to achieve ends which are proclaimed as religious and moral. To see this, one need only recall the school prayer decisions and the integra­tion decisions of the courts. How­ever illogical this may appear, to those who do not wear ideological blinders, it follows logically from the use of governmental power to achieve supposedly spiritual ends. When this is done, the political modes are advanced at the expense of religious ones, and independent religion cannot survive the polit­icalizing of life. Compulsion can only be advanced at the expense of independence, and religious ac­tivities cannot be exempted from this rule.

Thoughtless Leadership

How, then, could so many min­isters and religious leaders have been drawn into the social gospel movement? How could so many church organizations have been drawn into the effort? How could so many churchgoers have come to believe that it is the business of the church to support and advance governmental ameliorative pro­grams? In a general way, these questions have already been an­swered in earlier articles. The breakdown of philosophy, the spread of irrationalism, the loss of a firm grip upon physical and metaphysical reality, the develop­ment of utopian notions, the vi­sion of man’s being able to create conditions to his liking set the stage for the flight in religion.

One point needs to be made em­phatically: The social gospel never has been an intellectually respect­able doctrine, any more than has the generality of meliorist and revolutionary ideas. Its propon­ents did not proceed by a careful analysis of Scriptures. They were under the sway of a philosophical monism which bent them toward the confusion of all things. The spiritual and the material, the moral and the legal, the eternal and the temporal were fused in such a way as to obliterate all nec­essary distinctions.2 Their theol­ogy has always been vague, their grasp of economics exceedingly insecure, and their understanding of politics virtually nonexistent.

The social gospel movement got underway in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The big names in its development were Washing­ton Gladden, Richard T. Ely, W. D. P. Bliss, George D. Herron, and Walter Rauschenbusch. These shared with and drew from the ideas of such men as Henry George, Edward Bellamy, and Henry Demarest Lloyd, who are not so closely identified with the movement in religion. But there were many others who partici­pated in and contributed to this development in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In the preface to what has become the stand­ard work on the movement, the author points out that “many have assumed that social Christianity was the accomplishment of a handful of clergymen who at the opening of the twentieth century challenged religious conservatism by the proclamation of the social content of their faith. Study of an extensive and varied literature indicates, however, not only that the social gospel originated in the early years of the gilded age but also that its prophets were legion and their message an integral part of the broad sweep of social and humanitarian efforts….”3

The spreaders of the social gospel were not careful thinkers. Gen­erally, they had picked up a vari­ety of socialist, progressivist, and meliorist assumptions, accepting them as valid without subjecting them to analysis or test against Scripture or economic and politi­cal reality.

Overcoming Poverty Through Compulsory Redistribution

To challenge the philosophical soundness of the social gospel is not to question the sincerity of its preachers. There is no reason to doubt that many of them were passionately devoted to their cause, that they were absolutely convinced of the rightness of what they said, and that they meant well quite often. They saw suffer­ing and hardship and believed that those who attributed it to an unjust order were correct. They saw or read of hunger and disease and thought that this was related to institutional arrangements. There was poverty in the midst of a land in which some had great wealth. They assumed that the remedy for this lay in some sort of redistribution. Their concern for others made them particularly susceptible to utopian visions and socialist dreams.

The social gospellers captured the hearts of men by their descrip­tions of suffering and hardship. Washington Gladden accepted Henry George’s thesis that pov­erty was increasing as industrial progress took place. Note his characterization of conditions among those in the depths of pov­erty:

… Below these still, there is an­other large class of the really poor, of those whose earnings are small, whose life is comfortless, who have nothing laid by, who are often com­ing to want…. This class of the very poor—those who are just on the borders of pauperism or fairly over the borders—is rapidly grow­ing. Wealth is increasing very fast; poverty, even pauperism, is increas­ing still more rapidly.4

Walter Rauschenbusch intro­duced the element of pathos in his descriptions:

The fear of losing his job is the workman’s chief incentive to work. Our entire industrial life, for em­ployer and employee, is a reign of fear. The average workingman’s family is only a few weeks removed from destitution. The dread of want is always over them, and that is worse than brief times of actual want….

While a workman is in his prime, he is always in danger of losing his job. When he gets older, he is almost certain to lose it. The pace is so rap­id that only supple limbs can keep up. Once out of a job, it is hard for an elderly man to get another. Men shave clean to conceal gray hairs.5

Not only were conditions bad, according to social gospellers, but they were getting worse. A som­ber tone of impending crisis characterizes much of their writ­ings. Gladden declared:

Such, then, is the state of indus­trial society at the present time. The hundreds of thousands of unem­ployed laborers, vainly asking for work; the rapid increase of pauper­ism…; the sudden and alarming growth of the more violent types of socialism, are ominous signs of the times.°

Rauschenbusch pointed out that while there had been hardship in­volved in the development of in­dustry in America, this was miti­gated somewhat by the availabil­ity of cheap land (the frontier thesis), but this was now a thing of the past and trouble lay ahead. He put it this way:

But there is nothing in the nature of our country that will permanently exempt us from the social misery created by the industrial revolution elsewhere…. The influences which formerly protected us and gave us a certain immunity from social misery are losing their force. We are now running the rapids faster than any other nation. We do everything more strenuously and recklessly than others…. If we are once headed toward a social catastrophe, we shall get there ahead of schedule time?

Driving Toward Socialism

The preachers of the social gos­pel attributed the cause of suffer­ing and hardship to the existing order. The crisis was approaching because of the hardening of the lines of the order. The existing so­cial order was so made up and bent by those who benefited from it that it would bring America to revolution and destruction if some­thing were not done about it. While Gladden was more moderate in his indictment of the estab­lished order than later advocates of the social gospel were to be, he did believe that the system led to the difficulties. Though he dis­avowed the complete socialist pre­scription, he thought they were right when they pointed to certain tendencies and ascribed them to the system:

The tendency of wages to sink to starvation point, the tendency of the workmen’s share of the national wealth to grow constantly smaller, the tendency of commercial crises and depressions to become more fre­quent and disastrous…—all these are, as I believe, the natural issues of an industrial system whose sole motive power is self-interest, and whose sole regulative principle is competition.8

George D. Herron was less re­strained but saying essentially the same thing in his indictment:

The inevitable result of the system of wages and competition will be to increase social inequalities; to in­crease the wealth of the few and the poverty of many…. The present industrial system could not exist were it not for the fact that great multitudes of the unemployed have been brought to this country sys­tematically and purposely, for the sake of reducing wages and produc­ing a state of poverty.9

As Herron said elsewhere, “The economic system denies the right of the sincerest and most sympa­thetic to keep their hands out of the blood of their brothers.”¹º

Rauschenbusch’s indictment was no less severe:

If it were proposed to invent some social system in which covetousness would be deliberately fostered and intensified in human nature, what system could be devised which would excell our own for this purpose? Competitive commerce exalts self­ishness to the dignity of a moral principle. It pits men against one another in a gladiatorial game in which there is no mercy and in which ninety per cent of the combatants finally strew the arena.¹¹

The Anticapitalistic Mentality

The villain of the piece, depend­ing upon the inner urge of the moment, was capitalism, private property (they differed as to the extent of the condemnation of this), the profit motive, competi­tion, monopoly, and all of the as­sorted demons of socialist analysis. The anticapitalistic mental­ity, as Ludwig von Mises has called it, flowered luxuriantly among the social gospellers. It is difficult to recognize the business­man in the following allusions, or illusions, of Edward A. Ross, a sociologist with a religious em­phasis:

Today the sacrifice of life inci­dental to quick success rarely calls for the actual spilling of blood. How decent are the pale slayings of the quack, the adulterer, and the pur­veyor of polluted water, compared with the red slayings of the vulgar bandit or assassin! Even if there is blood-letting, the long range, tentac­ular nature of modern homicide eliminates all personal collision. What an abyss between the knife-play of brawlers and the law-defying neglect to fence dangerous machin­ery in a mill, or to furnish cars with safety couplers!¹2

Yet the difference between busi­nessmen and common criminals, we gather, is in the magnitude of the offense of the former.

One other indictment of capital­ists will serve to illustrate the character of these generally. Rauschenbusch said:

When men of vigorous character and intellectual ability obey the laws of Capitalism, and strive for the prizes it holds out to them, they win power and great wealth, but they are placed in an essentially false rela­tion to their fellow-men, the Chris­tian virtues of their family stock are undermined, their natural powers of leadership are crippled, and the greater their success in amassing wealth under capitalistic methods, the greater is the tragedy of their lives from a Christian point of view.¹3

The “New Theology”

The condemnation and rejection of the existing order was, of course, prelude to the calling for a new order. Advocates of the so­cial gospel were all bent upon so­cial reconstruction, in one degree or another. Some were avowed so­cialists, some unavowed, and others were to appearances less radical in their aims. But they appealed to Christianity as the justification for making over or modifying the social order. The theory was not particularly com­plicated. Most of the early pro­ponents of the social gospel held that society is an organism. In­dividual men are products, more or less, of the environment. In order to save men, then, it is necessary to redeem the society by reconstructing it along Christian lines. When this work of recon­struction had been accomplished, the Kingdom would have come. Those who were engaged in the task of rebuilding society were working for the coming of the Kingdom. Existing society was criticized from the scriptural van­tage point of strictures such as those found in the Sermon on the Mount. The new order would in­corporate these into the social structure.

There should be no doubt that this bringing of the Kingdom, as they understood it, involved radi­cal social reconstruction for the preachers of the social gospel. Walter Rauschenbusch has usually been accorded the position of theo­logian of the social gospel. In his book, A Theology for the Social Gospel, he declared:

Since love is the supreme law of Christ, the Kingdom of God implies a progressive reign of love in human affairs. We can see its advance wher­ever the free will of love supersedes the use of force and legal coercion as a regulative of the social order. This involves the redemption of so­ciety from political autocracies and economic oligarchies; the substitu­tion of redemptive for vindictive penology; the abolition of constraint through hunger as part of the indus­trial system…. The highest ex­pression of love is the free surrender of what is truly our own, life, prop­erty, and rights. A much lower but perhaps more decisive expression of love is the surrender of any oppor­tunity to exploit men. No social group or organization can claim to be clearly within the Kingdom of God which drains others for its own ease, and resists the effort to abate this fundamental evil. This involves the redemption of society from private property in the natural resources of the earth….¹4

The above passage gives the flavor of the bombast, but the tangle of gratuitous assumptions and ac­cusations may obscure the mes­sage. He has stated the aim some­what more succinctly elsewhere. The vision which he would see ful­filled has “the purpose and hope of founding on earth the Reign of God among men. Faith in the Kingdom of God commits us, not to an attitude of patient resigna­tion, not to a policy of tinkering and palliatives, but to a revolu­tionary mission, constructive in purpose but fearless in spirit, and lasting till organized wrong has ceased.”¹5

The Reign of Love—by Force

Reign of love there might be, according to the vision, but it was to be preceded by a reign of men. The advocates of the social gospel were also advocates of greatly in­creased governmental activity. Even Washington Gladden, who expressed some doubts as to the coercive route to moral redemp­tion, favored an extended and ex­tensive role for government. He observed:

The limits of governmental inter­ference are likely to be greatly en­larged in the immediate future…. It may become the duty of the state to reform its taxation, so that its burdens shall rest less heavily upon the lower classes; to repress monop­olies of all sorts; to prevent and punish gambling; to regulate or con­trol the railroads and telegraphs; to limit the ownership of land; to mod­ify the laws of inheritance; and possibly to levy a progressive income tax…¹6

Those who came somewhat later, however, had no qualms about us­ing the power of the state to usher in the Kingdom.¹” Richard T. Ely declared that it is “as truly a re­ligious work to pass good laws, as it is to preach sermons; as holy a work to lead a crusade against filth, vice, and disease in slums of cities, and to seek the abolition of the disgraceful tenement-houses of American cities, as it is to send missionaries to the heathen.”¹8 He approved of what he called coer­cive philanthropy. “Coercive phil­anthropy is philanthropy of gov­ernments, either local, state, or national. The exercise of philan­thropy is coming to an increasing extent to be regarded as the duty of government.”¹9 George D. Herron called for the thoroughgoing use of the state for religious pur­poses.

Government has a right to exist­ence and authority for no other end than that for which God sent his only begotten Son into the world. It is the vocation of the states, as the social organ, to so control property, so administer the production and dis­tribution of economic goods, as to give to every man the fruit of his labor, and protect the laborer from the irresponsible tyranny of the pas­sion of wealth.²º

Rauschenbusch declared that “em­bodying a moral conviction in law is the last stage of moral propa­ganda. Laws do not create moral convictions; they merely recognize and enforce them.”²º¹ In prac­tice, of course, devotees of the so­cial gospel have usually supported the whole panorama of reform programs.

Church Movements for Political Action

However strange these doctrines may seem, there is good reason for exploring them. They have had a tremendous impact upon Amer­ica. In the course of time they be­gan to be taken up and spread by churches and organizations with­in them. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, the social gos­pel movement was restricted to a relatively small number of minis­ters, sympathetic reformers, founders of small magazines, and radical organizations. But by 1912 Walter Rauschenbusch could re­joice that the social gospel was catching on.²º²º There were many signs of this. As early as 1887 the Episcopalians set up a Church As­sociation for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor. In 1901 the Congregationalists provided for a labor committee. The Pres­byterian Church established a de­partment of church and labor in 1903. In 1908 the Methodist Epis­copal Church came out for organized labor.²³ The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, organized in 1908, adopt­ed a reformist creed from the be­ginning. Among the things for which it stood were:

For equal rights and complete jus­tice for all men in all stations of life….

For a living wage as a minimum in every industry, and for the highest wage that each industry can afford.

For the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised….

For the abatement of poverty.24

Many changes were being wrought under the religious im­petus. Rauschenbusch pointed out that the “Young Men’s Christian Association used to stand for religious individualism. The mere mention of ‘sociology’ once excited ridicule. Today the association has developed a splendid ma­chinery for constructive social service….”²º5 The missionary ef­fort was being changed by the new ideas. The emphasis was be­ginning to shift toward social service, medical missionaries, and so forth. In due time, more and more ministers came under the sway of the social gospel, and church organizations began to wield their influence both for gen­eral and for particular social reforms.

Beneath the Sugar Coating

Of course, as these ideas were adopted by the old established churches, they were usually given more ambiguous wording and less radical formulation. After all, many of the founders and advo­cates of the social gospel were so­cialists. George D. Herron was dedicated to what has been called Christian socialism. Anyone con­versant with socialist doctrines will be able to discover them in more or less pure form in Rau­schenbusch’s work. There is a definite gradualist slant to the writings of Gladden. The “respect­able” churches did not accept such doctrines in the blunter form­ulations of them. Yet to the ex­tent, and it has been considerable, that the churches, their ministers and spokesmen, have adopted these doctrines and advocated the pro­grams based on them, to that ex­tent have they been drawn into the effort to bring about socialism in America. For these doctrines depend for their justification upon the rhetoric of socialism; they are meaningful within the intellectual framework of socialist doctrines; the particular programs have long been devices for gradually moving toward socialism.

Men’s hearts have been captured by the inversion of the Gospel, and they have been drawn into the orbit of reformism by doctrines ideologically derived from social­ism but phrased in the language of religious concern. This was another step in the domestication of socialism in America.

The next article in this series will have to do with
“Remaking the Minds of Men.”

Foot Notes

1 Matthew 5: 38-48, RSV.

2 See, for example, the discussion of this in James Dombrowski, The Early Days of Christian Socialism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1936), pp. 14-15.

3 Charles H. Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestant­ism, 1865-1915 (New Haven: Yale Uni­versity Press, 1940), p. vi.

4 Washington Gladden, Applied Chris­tianity (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1886), pp. 10-11.

Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (New York: Mac­millan, 1907), pp. 235-36.

6 Gladden, op. cit., p. 161.

7 Rauschenbusch, op. cit., p. 219.

8 Gladden, op. cit., pp. 69-70.

9 Quoted in Dombrowski, op. cit., pp. 187-88.

10 George D. Herron, Between Caesar and Jesus (New York: Crowell, 1899), pp. 24-25.

¹1 Rauschenbusch, op. cit., p. 265.

12 Ray A. Billington, et. al., eds., The Making of American Democracy, II (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Win­ston, 1962, rev. ed.), 35-36.

14 Quoted in Gerald N. Grob and Rob­ert N. Beck, eds., American Ideas, II (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963), 217.

15 Rauschenbusch, Christianizing the Social Order, p. 324.

16. Gladden, op. cit., pp. 100-01.

17 Several decades later, Reinhold Nie­buhr argued that collectives may act im­morally to attain “social justice,” since they are by nature immoral. See Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Sc

  • Clarence Carson (1926-2003) was a historian who taught at Eaton College, Grove City College, and Hillsdale College. His primary publication venue was the Foundation for Economic Education. Among his many works is the six-volume A Basic History of the United States.