Chapter 15: Justice in Society
One night in 1897, during the depth of a depression, all New York was buzzing about a magnificent ball given by one of the fabulously wealthy men of the age, Mr. Bradley Martin. True to the taste of the day, everything was copied after the glorious days of the splendid French monarch, Louis XIV.
In order to have the proper surroundings the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was completely redecorated to appear as the French palace Versailles. Rare and expensive pictures and tapestries set the tone. The guests represented various countries while Mr. Martin walked about as Louis XIV. One gentleman wore a suit of armor marked with gold inlay of ten thousand dollars’ value. Beautiful and expensive jewels were as common as corsages. Altogether it was a magnificent display.
Yet there was nothing extraordinary about this party. It differed from many others only in degree. Wealthy men vied with each other to produce the most startling and extraordinary parties. Some held dinners eaten on horseback; at one party cigarettes were wrapped in one hundred dollar bills. Animals were brought in for amusement, and some pets had collars studded with diamonds and had special valets to care for them. This was the gilded age!
The age of big business had dawned with a vengeance. New, powerful factories had been built during the Civil War and expanded at the turn of the century. Thousands of millionaires were produced, and at one time only one tenth of the people controlled nine tenths of the wealth of the nation. How could this be? Fortunes were built on speculation, shrewdness, luck, and sheer determination. There was little or no control over the actions of these men so long as they stayed within the limits of a very lax body of laws.
This was the age of expanding productivity. Mines, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, communication, packing, food processing, and finance -- all offered opportunities to amass huge fortunes. Labor was cheap and plentiful, making high wages impossible and leading to a terrible exploitation of the men, women, and children.
Meanwhile, the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Hills, Fisks, Drews, Dukes, and others built up their fortunes. They found a ready-made defense in the Darwinian theory of evolution. As they surveyed the mass of struggling mankind, firm on the pinnacle they had achieved, they complimented themselves as having triumphed because they deserved to. Economic life was supposedly ruled by certain unchangeable laws such as supply and demand, but the basic law was that of absolutely untrammeled competition and survival of the fittest.
In the struggle of competition the men truly fit survived and became wealthy, but those who were not so fit went down to destruction. Government was to stand aside and let competition reign supreme, seeing to it that certain minimum rules prevailed. Yet, while these men talked glibly of freedom of competition and no Government interference with their activities, they felt perfectly free to use the Government to favor their own enterprises.
Government was used to build huge tariffs to protect their industrial products from foreign competition. It was used to promote mass immigration so as to provide cheap labor, and it was also used to put down strikes and labor unrest against the rising business empires. While they talked of freedom, they practiced control through government wherever it benefited them. Responsibility was something they seemed seldom to have heard of. Indeed it had to be learned.
Charles Francis Adams, scholar, gentleman, and an ambassador to England during the Civil War, remarked in 1871 that the years after the war "witnessed some of the most remarkable examples of organized lawlessness, under the forms of law, which mankind has yet had an opportunity to study. . . . These modern potentates have declared war, negotiated peace, reduced courts, legislatures, and sovereign states to an unqualified obedience to their will, disturbed trade, agitated currency, imposed taxes, and boldly setting both law and public opinion at defiance, have freely exercised many other attributes of sovereignty."
The "robber barons," as the great lawless industrialists and financiers were later called, moved toward even greater control over large segments of American economic life. Out of the struggle between individual companies there arose through absorption and truce the great corporations and vast trusts that moved steadily toward monopolistic control of a given commodity or service.
The Churches were immersed in all this activity -- they could not escape it. Large city churches in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco had many of the great businessmen in their congregations. Also, as church buildings grew larger and the programs were expanded, the Churches, like any other corporations, had to be concerned about budgets and solvency. The rich man was respected and admired, and it was only when he was definitely caught in an unlawful act that he was suspected.
Acquisitiveness was the mark of the age, and the Churches were not the ones to lead a crusade against it. On the contrary, they defended it and attempted to channel its results in what they felt was the proper direction. Most Christians felt that God had given wealth to the great figures of business. The most sacred thing in material life was property. President James McCosh of Princeton University said in 1892 that it was theft "to deprive us of the right to earn property or to use it as we see fit."
Along with the sacredness of property, the Churches defended the gain of riches by frugality and industry. Christians were encouraged to follow John Wesley’s advice to get all they could, to save all they could, and to give all they could. Men were urged to gain wealth in order that they might use it for the benefit of their fellow human beings. While many did feel responsible to society and to their fellow human beings, what was to be done with those such as Bradley Martin with his Waldorf-Astoria party, or with those who purchased a fifty-thousand-dollar collar for a pet? Was property more sacred than the health and general welfare of great masses of human beings?
The fact was that while a comparative few were building vast fortunes by every means conceivable, great masses of laboring people were being denied even the fair return of their efforts. They worked long, unbearable hours under dangerous and unsanitary conditions. No distinction was made between men, women, and children except as to wages. They lived in filthy slums bereft of every comfort and convenience of life, having little they could call their own, and enjoying but few relaxations or luxuries. Some churches collected rent from the slum properties in which these people lived.
One religious journal in 1874 expressed its view of the place of labor in society when it said: "Labor is a commodity, and, like all other commodities, its condition is governed by the imperishable laws of demand and supply. It is all right to talk and declaim about the dignity of labor. . . . But when all has been said of it, what is labor but a matter of barter and sale?
Even the great Horace Bushnell turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of women for protection by law against unbearable working hours and low wages. Said the leading liberal spokesman: "Again, it is nothing that women, sewing women for example, are not helped directly in the matter of their wages by legal enactment, any more than men are not -- there is no such possibility as a legally appointed rate of wages; market price is the only scale of earnings possible for women as for men."
In other words, said Bushnell, the employer can pay only the kind of wages that the market allows. The Government has no right to interfere. Where were the laborers to find bread in this wilderness? All of society seemed intent on defending the principle of unrestricted liberty in the economic sphere. Nobody seemed willing to admit that liberty easily became irresponsibility and license. The one thing the Churches seemed to offer was advice to work hard and become rich and then to give liberally of one’s vast stores of wealth. Almost everybody seemed agreed that if each pursued his untrammeled economic interests without any interference, some kind of automatic harmony would prevail throughout society.
The only alternative open to the oppressed was to organize into groups and to find strength in numbers. It was at this time that the labor union movement started. In an attempt to get better wages, better and safer working conditions, and protection from arbitrary bosses, the unions employed the strike as their major weapon. This always led to violence, because the employers were determined to break the unions. They were looked upon as a threat to the law of competition; therefore, the bosses hired detectives, ex-convicts, and thugs to attack the picket lines and to open the lines for production.
In 1877 the nation witnessed one of the bloodiest strikes in history, the infamous railroad strike. To be sure, it was a violent outbreak, but little wonder that it was so. The railroads treated their workers in a shameful fashion, justice was unknown in dealing with the workers, and the public remained indifferent to their plight. Faced by a strike, the railroads determined to break both it and the unions. State militia were called out to support the thugs and detectives employed by the railroads. In Pittsburgh, during a battle between laborers and strikebreakers, the roundhouses, station, and hundreds of freight cars went up in flames. Finally Federal troops were called out.
It is difficult to condone violence, but in many cases it is understandable, and in all cases it should lead men of good will and discernment to seek out the reasons for it. Not so with the Protestant Churches of the day. They immediately sided with the railroads against the "wild beasts turned loose upon society.
One of the leading religious journals had this to say:
"If the club of the policeman, knocking out the brains of the rioter, will answer, then well and good; but if it does not promptly meet the exigency, then bullets and bayonets, canister and grape -- with no sham or pretense, in order to frighten men, but with fearful and destructive reality -- constitute the one remedy and the one duty of the hour. . . . Napoleon was right when he said that the way to deal with a mob was to exterminate it.
Henry Ward Beecher, living very comfortably, attacked the railroad workers for their inability to live on their wages:
"It is said that a dollar a day is not enough for a wife and five or six children. No, not if that man smokes or drinks beer. It is not enough if they are to live as he would be glad to have them live. . . .But is not a dollar a day enough to buy bread with? Water costs nothing; and a man who cannot live on bread is not fit to live. What is the use of civilization that simply makes men incompetent to live under the conditions which exist?
So, many of the clergy and Churches reacted against the laborers without ever posing the question of justice or the love of one’s brother as oneself. The Churches, it is true, urged arbitration to settle disputes rather than the use of strikes. But only two equal sides can arbitrate if an equitable solution is to be arrived at. The very thing businessmen detested was sitting down at a table to arbitrate with labor unions as their equals. Nobody could dictate to or bargain with business on the running of the business. Strange that the Churches never attacked this self-glorification of the employer!
Rather than systematically trying to understand the unions and the needs of the workers so arbitration could be possible, the Churches condemned the unions and cried for arbitration. The Christian Advocate called trade-unions "despotic and revolutionary in tendency," argued that they contained "communism," and called on the nation to "legislate trade-unions out of existence."
During a coal strike in 1902, George F. Baer, president of the Reading Railroad, still had the audacity to say, "The right and interests of the laboring men will be protected and cared for not by labor agitators but by the Christian men to whom God in his infinite wisdom has given control of the property interests of this country."
By that date religious and public opinion had changed so drastically that Mr. Baer was laughed out of court. But such a view was prevalent in the 1880’s and still common in the early 1890’s. Slowly, however, the Churches began to review their relation to the laboring classes and their responsibility for justice in society. Relations between capital and labor were not so simple as they appeared in the 1870’s. Perhaps there was too much dishonesty and arrogance in the field of business. Perhaps it was even impossible to handle these problems purely on an individualistic basis of keeping a dollar-a-day family man from smoking and drinking.
Meanwhile, the Churches could not ignore the increasing social problems in the large cities. Immigrants were pouring into America by the millions and settling in already overcrowded city shuns. Workingmen were utterly at the mercy of an economic system that paid pitifully low wages and offered absolutely no security. For those who could fight their way up into the professional or business classes or even into the ranks of foremen, life could be pleasant enough. For those who were never that fortunate or aggressive, there was only a life of constant fear and uncertainty. Removed from all personal contact with their employers, they were as parts of a huge impersonal machine that went clanking on and on.
In the face of the immense human need and misery produced by this system in the cities, the Churches continued, to work through their agencies established earlier in the century. The Salvation Army expanded its work of offering a hand of mercy to the sick, needy, hungry, and unwanted. The early tract and missionary societies enlarged their work of rescuing human wrecks of economic competition, and they began to pay more attention to the immigrant through language classes and employment agencies.
One of the truly creative answers developed by the Churches was that of the institutional churches. They had developed in the 1880’s, especially among the Congregationalists and Episcopalians, and in the 1890’s their numbers rapidly increased. One of the most famous of these was St. George’s Episcopal parish in New York under the pastorate of Dr. W. S. Rainsford.
The institutional churches were nearly all alike regardless of their denominational origin. Usually they were located in what was once a "better part" of New York or some other large city, which had been taken over by recent immigrants. Members of the church council or vestry were often outstanding businessmen who found the institutional church a means of exercising Christian stewardship. For example, J. P. Morgan underwrote a large part of the financial program of St. George’s, and that of St. Bartholomew’s was underwritten by Cornelius Vanderbilt and his mother.
The center of the church life was a huge parish house which provided facilities for lectures, art work, athletics, dances, and other recreation. The churches were kept open not just an Sundays but every day of the week. Furthermore, there was no pew rent to be paid. The staff of the church was greatly expanded to include several ministers, directors of religious education, directors of music, and others. Often the church would have eight to fifteen on its staff.
The program of the institutional church was planned to meet the social and cultural as well as the religious needs of the neighborhood. Rather than fleeing from a rapidly changing neighborhood, the church changed its program so that it could minister to the new people. In this way men of wealth felt they were dealing with the problems of human want which emerged from economic competition. In a sense they were, but in doing this they were only scratching the surface. It was fine that the Churches went even that far, but something more drastic than a sedative for pain was needed. A true diagnosis of social evils and an attempted cure for social injustice was the real need of the hour.
Another response of the Churches and people of wealth to the needs of the immigrant and poor laborer was the settlement house. Patterned after English examples, American colleges founded settlement houses in the midst of blighted areas in order that college students might go into the area and, through service experiences, learn at first hand the needs of these peoples. This provided service for the poor and much-needed experience for wealthy young collegiates. Jane Addams’ famous Hull House in Chicago as well as Graham Taylor’s Chicago Commons were along the same lines.
Just as the Church never failed in its works of charity, so it was never completely blind to the social evils and economic injustice of the day. There were always some who were dissatisfied with the devotion paid to greed and the blessings placed upon acquisitiveness. A few always recognized that the task of the Church was not to uphold the status quo as the best of all possible arrangements, but to pronounce judgment wherever the laws of God were broken.
One such outstanding preacher was Washington Gladden, pastor of a number of important Congregational churches, the most famous of which was his pastorate in the First Congregational Church of Columbus, Ohio. In pastorates at North Adams and Springfield, Massachusetts, he had large numbers of diligent, sober, hard-working laboring men who were utterly at the mercy of economic caprice. He saw that economic problems were also moral problems in that they brought despair and injustice to many innocent people. Furthermore, he had accepted the doctrine of evolution and believed that God was working through all men and nature in order to realize his goodness. Anything that distorted or perverted the work of God’s Spirit was of concern to the minister; therefore, he was vitally concerned with economic inequalities.
Gladden was one of the first ministers to recognize the rights of workingmen to organize into unions, yet he felt they should never employ force or violence to attain their ends. As he put it, "The law gives to capital an immense advantage in permitting its consolidation in great centralized corporations; and neither law nor justice can forbid laborers to combine, in order to protect themselves against the encroachments of capital, so long as they abstain from, that use of violence and rely upon reason and moral influence."
Later be came to see the complexity of the problem of strikes and violence, though he always insisted that the Golden Rule, love to the neighbor as oneself, was the basis for all social and economic actions. He held that true co-operation was the best possibility, and he thought history was moving in that direction. Gladden felt that this was still to be done primarily through the persuasion of individuals to the Christian point of view, but the results would mean a change in the structure of society -- an overcoming of ruthless competition by enlightened self-love, co-operation, and sharing.
Though the Church always started with the individual, that individual was in society. As he said, "no man can be redeemed and saved alone; no community can be reformed and elevated save as the individuals of which it is composed are regenerated."
While Washington Gladden thought and preached this way from the early 1870’s onward, he was not a solitary figure in the Church. During the same period other prophets of Protestantism announced their dissatisfaction with the ethics of big business. No longer were all preachers willing to tell laborers to wait in patience for wrongs to be righted or to exact no real justice until heaven. The new theology emphasized the presence of God within the very stuff of nature and man, and it insisted that this presence be allowed to manifest itself through co-operation and good will. Avarice, greed, and uncontrolled acquisitiveness were not to be condoned.
Discussion of the new situation was in full swing. The Church did not know quite what to do in this new situation because it had no real basis on which to act. Of one thing most Christians were certain, the answer could not be found in the new European prophet, Karl Marx, nor in the more peaceful socialists.
"Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!
With this cry, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels launched a world-shaking movement in a little pamphlet, the Communist Manifesto, in 1848. Europe has never been the same since that time. Marx argued that there would be no peace or justice in the world until the proletariat, or laborers, rebelled against all Governments as masks behind which the businessmen ruled. The revolution would usher in a new age where the workers would be the only class and would own everything through the state, because they were the state. Each would be given according to his need and so each, getting a full share of the world’s produce, would be willing to work. It took several decades before this message found large numbers of adherents.
Much more cautious than Marx were those socialists who argued that labor would have to organize politically into trade-unions. Through peaceful democratic means plus the regular labor instruments such as the strike and boycott, labor would have to see to it that the great essential public means of production and transportation, necessary for the health and welfare of the entire nation, were owned and operated not by a few selfish men for their own benefit but by the state in behalf of the public. They also stood for shorter working hours, abolition of child labor, payment of wages in cash, and compulsory education.
In 1879, Professor Hitchcock of Union Theological Seminary, New York, wrote a book, Socialism, in which he attacked it as a system detrimental to America and religion. Professor R. Ely, economist of Johns Hopkins, also spoke against it. Most of the alert ministers as well as the scholars admitted that socialism had correctly analyzed the situation, but they all argued against its solution.
Meanwhile, ministers continued to be dissatisfied with the nation’s economic inequalities and they searched for a firm basis on which to build a criticism and a constructive program. All such men expressed dissatisfaction also with the current orthodox theology which tended to talk only about conversion and the life to come while the great social evils of the present were ignored. As Protestant ministers were groping about for a solution that would embrace both a personal and social reality, a brilliant Lutheran theologian, J. H. W. Stuckenberg, worked out a solution in terms of the New Testament teachings of Jesus as related to all of life. For some reason his excellent book, Christian Sociology, passed largely unnoticed.
As growing numbers of ministers and teachers began to speak a word of judgment against the society of their day, a movement arose at Grinnell College, in Iowa, crying for the complete reconstruction of society on the basis of the New Testament teachings. A magazine, The Kingdom, a prophet, George D. Herron, and an organizer, Dr. George Gale, president of Grinnell, were the powers of the movement.
More than anything else, this "Kingdom movement" challenged the Churches and society of the 1890’s. Wherever Herron appeared he made a lasting impact. The Nebraska governor publicly challenged him. Through retreats and schools as well as in lectures, the message of Christ as king and his Kingdom as the goal of society was spread throughout the nation. Though Herron failed in leadership and the movement quietly disappeared into a broader stream by 1900, it did give birth to an attempt at a colony in Georgia that published a paper entitled the Social Gospel. The name came to signify all those people and groups working in the interest of social Christianity.
During the last several years of the nineteenth century a new theological basis was worked out for an entire reconstruction of society on the basis of Christianity. Men such as Professor Shailer Mathews of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago and Professor F. G. Peabody of Harvard published works pointing to the source and norm for Christian action. Jesus had been rediscovered by modern scholarship as a prophet and teacher. No longer was his work as divine Saviour and atoner on the cross stressed. Rather, he was the one who through his sublime life of service and teachings of love revealed to man God’s will for society and individuals.
The teachings of Jesus became the basis of their message, and the heart of that message was the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. God was a God of love, who willed the children of his Kingdom to live not in strife and competition but in brotherhood, each loving the other as himself. Every human being, according to Jesus’ teaching, was of infinite worth in the eyes of God. Any social structure that treated human beings as a commodity or as impersonal ciphers was a denial of Jesus’ teachings. On this basis these men called for the application of those teachings to the social and economic order and the reformation of all social life on a new basis.
In 1896 this was dramatized in one of the most widely read novels of history, In His Steps, by Rev. Charles M. Sheldon. The story recounts what happened to fifty people when they tried to base every decision of their lives on the question, "What would Jesus do?"
The story opened in a swank Protestant church where at the conclusion of the service a poor, unemployed, shabby young man got up and told his story of unemployment to the startled parishioners and ended by saying: "You can’t all go out hunting up jobs for people like me, but what I am puzzled about when I see so many Christians living in luxury and singing, ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave, and follow Thee,’ is what is meant by following Jesus? I remember how my wife died gasping for air in a New York tenement owned by a member of a church. I suppose I don’t understand, but what would Jesus do?"
That was the question! What would Jesus do? How could Jesus accept those living in ill-gotten luxury wrung from the toil, sweat, and tears of helpless men, women, and children? What would he do? Over twenty million copies of the novel have been sold, and it is still selling. It did for the masses of Christians what Mathews, Peabody, and others did for the ministers and educators -- made them aware anew of the moral demands placed on Jesus’ followers.
In 1907 all these strivings and yearnings were caught up in a dramatic book written by a Baptist minister and professor of Church history, Walter Rauschenbusch. In his Christianity and the Social Crisis he highlighted the demand of the hour: "The cry of Crisis! Crisis! has become a weariness. Every age and every year are critical and fraught with destiny. Yet in the widest survey of history Western civilization is now at a decisive point in its development."
Here was a new prophet of the social gospel! One who spoke from the depth of a ministry in New York’s infamous Hell’s Kitchen and from the breadth of training in German universities, he was ideally suited to interpret the theological basis or direction of social Christianity. The deep social crisis he saw was not something the Church could ignore, for if society continues to disintegrate, he said, "the Church will be carried down with it."
He called upon the Church to "repent of the sins of existing society, cast off the spell of lies protecting our social wrongs, have faith in a higher social order, and realize in ourselves a new type of Christian manhood which seems to overcome the evil in the present world, not by withdrawing from the world, but by revolutionizing it."
Jesus had provided the means whereby society would be constantly and progressively transformed -- the Kingdom of God. It was in this idea that Rauschenbusch propounded the appeal and the power for the social gospel. This was the center of Jesus’ teachings, and it was being discovered and applied to modern life. Rauschenbusch said that "this doctrine is itself the social gospel."
With Jesus the Kingdom "got its first foothold in humanity." He received the Kingdom and transformed it to mean the reign of God as "the organized fellowship of humanity acting under the impulse of love." This fellowship is at work in society as a historical force and energy carrying the believers to a fuller realization of God’s will of love. Redemption means standing within the Kingdom, living the life of love and sacrifice here and now as a present reality as well as a future hope. It is not something simply religious, but it embraces all of life insofar as all forms of life embody the spirit of God’s law and love. As he said, "the Kingdom of God includes the economic life, for it means the progressive transformation of all human affairs by the thought and spirit of Christ."
In his great systematic work, A Theology for the Social Gospel, 1917, Rauschenbusch indicated the solidarity of sin and the extension of salvation. Sin was ingrained in social institutions as well as in individuals. While he recognized that the ultimate source of sin is in the individual, he reminded Christians that social institutions could uphold, inculcate, and extend sin.
At the same time, he insisted both that salvation meant primarily the persuasion of men and women to live after God’s law, and that it also meant redeeming evil institutions from selfishness and greed. There could be such things as saved social institutions -- state, economic systems, and schools.
"The salvation of the superpersonal beings is by coming under the law of Christ. The fundamental step of repentance and conversion for professions and organizations is to give up monopoly power and the incomes derived from legalized extortion, and to come under the law of service, content with a fair income for honest work. The corresponding step in the case of Governments . . . is to submit to real democracy. Therewith they step out of a kingdom of evil into the Kingdom of God."
So the social gospel was formulated, preached, and practiced by large numbers of American Protestant pastors. Though it was cautious concerning the time of the fulfillment of the Kingdom, it was convinced that under the new theology they were on the right road to the Kingdom’s realization. For some men this meant a slow but sure progress, for others it meant a more circuitous route, but for all it meant final victory for the Kingdom of God on earth through obedience to God’s law.
At the same time that ministers were trying to relate Christianity to the crisis of the modern economic injustice, there were others busily engaged in attacking all who deviated from what they conceived to be the fundamentals of Christianity. This group leveled its guns of controversy against Darwin, historical criticism, the liberalizing tendencies in the large Protestant Churches, and finally against their archenemy -- the social gospel.
In 1895 an impressive Bible conference was held at Niagara Falls where a fighting creed of fundamentals was drawn up. Any who deviated one bit from the literal acceptance of these truths was declared to be a heretic. The fundamental truths were: (1) absolute belief in the Virgin birth; (2) literal payment for man’s sins by Christ substituting in death on the cross; (3) the physical resurrection; (4) the visible, bodily return of Jesus to the earth; (5) the absolute inerrancy of the Scriptures.
These men denied all findings of modern science and historical research as applied to the Bible. They insisted that they were protecting the faith delivered once and for all to the saints, so they seized upon these phrases as the tests of correctness. The world-shaking changes of modern life were too much for them and they clung to the "good old-fashioned religion."
Some of these men were well-trained scholars in Biblical languages, and they edited journals to support their point of view. Others were the revivalists who wished to be bothered with no intellectual problems and wanted the "old-time religion" preserved intact. Billy Sunday was a good example of that. Their favorite theme was that of the immediate return of the Lord Jesus Christ, who would burst the skies asunder in his glorious appearance and shock all the "smart aleck" professors and liberals.
Their most bitter attacks were directed against the social gospelers who were trying to make salvation meaningful for the total life. The fundamentalists recognized that the social gospel understanding of the Kingdom was based on evolution. Had not Rauschenbusch said, "Evolution has prepared us for understanding the idea of a reign of God toward which all creation is moving"?
In 1909 two extremely wealthy Californians, Lyman and Milton Stewart, firm believers in untrammeled competition and the old-time gospel, handsomely underwrote a huge campaign in publication, the Fundamentals. Also, they established the Los Angeles Bible Institute. The policy of the twelve volumes of the Fundamentals was to uphold the literal interpretation of the famous five fundamentals and to attack the rising evils of modernism and liberalism. Some saw this as "scientific evolutionism . . . [and] the rising tide of social democratic ideals." The groundwork was laid for a bitter conflict within the Churches.
So the Churches awoke to their responsibility for injustice and justice in the social order. Not all felt that the Churches had any business concerning themselves with such problems. Some felt that social concern was the consequence of forsaking the old-fashioned gospel and that it spelled ruin for the nation. Many wanted to defend the social and economic system exactly as it was, but that could not be. The social gospel movement might have been wrong in several ways, but in one respect it was absolutely correct -- it pronounced a word of judgment against a society that glorified greed and lawlessness, and it bravely attempted to offer a solution on the basis of Christian insights.
Its influence was not lost. The entire nation embarked on a campaign in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century to control rapacious business, to clean up government, to democratize more fully our political institutions, to protect labor with better hours and pay, safer working conditions, and anti-child-labor laws. In addition, it undertook to extend and perfect the service of the Federal Government through such things as civil service, soil conservation, and Federal banking laws. It even attempted to put a check on the selfish accumulations of huge private fortunes by the first income tax law: what would the age of "Teddy" Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson have been like without the moral fervor of the social gospel?