Friday, July 02, 2010

The Social Gospel

Friday, July 2, 2010 -- Week of Proper 8, Year Two
Walter Rauschenbusch, 1918, Washington Gladden, 1918, and Jacob Riis, 1914, Prophetic Witnesses

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 973)
Psalms 140, 142 (morning)       141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)
Numbers 24:1-13
Romans 8:12-17
Matthew 22:15-22

Another new observation in our proposed calendar, Holy Women, Holy Men:  Rauschenbusch, Walter [1861-July 25, 1918] Foremost theological exponent of the Social Gospel. His experiences as a Baptist pastor in New York's notorious Hells Kitchen convinced him that preaching personal salvation was not enough, and emphasis should be placed on Jesus's preaching of the Kingdom of God. with Washington Gladden [February 11, 1836-July 2, 1918] Congregational minister and leader of the Progressive Movement, he founded The American Independent, an influential paper for causes associated with rights for the working poor and for its anticorruption stand. He was instrumental in exposing the infamous Tweed Ring in NYC. Author of the hymn, O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee and a prolific author. and Jacob Riis [1849May 26, 1914] Journalist, photographer and social reformer. His book of photos and essays, How the Other Half Lives, portraying the tenements of New York City, persuaded Mayor Theodore Roosevelt to close the police poor houses and encouraged widespread improvement of living conditions among the poor of the city. (July 2)

The new feast day for Walter Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden and Jacob Riis grabs my attention this morning.

Rauschenbusch would have been particularly interested in something that was in the paper yesterday.  According to the Pew Research Center, 41% of 1546 adults surveyed believe that Jesus will return in the next 40 years.

If a researcher asked me whether I believe that Jesus will return in the next 40 years, I would probably just look at him perplexed.  There is no reason for me to have any opinion about that whatsoever.  It's none of my business; it's God's business.  I trust God for such things.  I have no interest in such speculation.  My work is to live here and now in the Spirit of Christ.  In rfact, Jesus returns to me every day.  Where do you get off asking such a question?  But if I were pushed to answer the question in the way it was framed, I'd say -- it seems very unlikely.  Jesus has not "returned" in that sense for nearly 2000 years.  Why would I be so presumptive as to expect him to come during my lifetime?  It seems so strange to me that 41% of people would answer such a question in the affirmative.

An interest in the imminent second coming of Christ is related to a form of belief that sees the focus of Christianity to be primarily about the next life -- escaping this life and getting saved for heaven.  In many churches people are manipulating sections of the scripture like carnival fortune tellers.  They imagine that obscure Biblical apocalyptic images are referencing our contemporary history.  They create bizarre scenarios claiming that most of the portents they have conjured have already occurred, so Jesus' return must be imminent.  One of the ugliest aspects of these speculations has spawned Christian Zionism, a movement that supports the ethnic cleansing of native Palestinians and others (including Christians) from territory variously defined as including everything from the Mediterranian to central Iraq, Syria and Jordan.  They believe when Israel is restored to these ideal borders, then Jesus will come and launch the war of Armageddon, destroying all Jews and other non-Christians in a sea of blood and Christian triumphalism.  It is something like that scenario that 41% of adults surveyed think will happen in their lifetime.

Walter Rauschenbush stands in opposition to such strains of Christianity.  Rauschenbush challenged the Protestantism of his day with its emphasis on the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ as a sacrificial ticket out of this world to be saved in the next, saying, "It was not taught by Jesus; it makes salvation dependent upon a trinitarian transaction that is remote from human experience; and it implies a concept of divine judgment that is repugnant to human sensitivity."  In other words, what kind of cosmic justice system would require a loving God to take his son's life in exchange for humankind's salvation?  Sounds like God the Son came to earth to save us from God the Father.

Rauschenbush emphasized the importance of living like Christ as being more important than believing certain doctrines about Christ.  He embraced the command that we love our neighbor as ourself, and he said when Jesus gave us the example, the neighbor he pointed us to was "the alien and the heretic."  Rauschenbush believed it was his obligation as a minister of the gospel to seek to ameliorate social conditions.  To love one's neighbor is to act with love.  Some say he launched the Social Gospel movement with a sermon that began "Thy Kingdom come!  Thy will be done on earth."  He was more interested in society's responsibility for the good of others than in the individual's personal salvation.  The Kingdom of God "is not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming the life on earth into the harmony of heaven."  He said "the fundamental virtue in the ethics of Jesus was love" because "love is the society-making quality.  ...Love creates fellowship."

Rauschenbush is partnered with publisher Washington Gladden who used his newspaper The New York Independent to oppose the corruption of the Boss Tweed era, and to promote the formation of unions on behalf of the interests of workers.  He was an early opponent of segregation.  The third person remembered today, Jacob Riis, was a muckraking journalist and documentary photographer whose photos of the slums and tenements of New York provoked political responses to suffering and corruption.  (Not unlike what Michael Harrington did with his 1962 book The Other America, raising poverty to our conscience.)

The witness of these three remind us that Christian faithfulness is about more than personal salvation or an apocalyptic end of the earth.  These leaders tell us to follow Christ by caring for those that Jesus cared for -- the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, the sick, and those who mourn.  They tell us to pray "Thy Kingdom Come" and then do something to help Jesus bring the kingdom closer here and now.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansa


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home