• U.S.

Religion: Social Gospel

6 minute read

Our civilization is a dinosaur civilization. If it is to survive it must undergo change. Religious bodies must work together in co-operative action.—Dr. Toyohiko Kagawa, No. 1 Christian of Japan. If the Church involves itself with any dogmatic statements about social security, it will not only prove a failure but the Church will jail too, and lose its entity.— Dean Wallace Brett Donham of Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Administration. A study of recently printed salaries almost makes one a Communist or a Socialist.—Rev. Dr. Christian Fichthorne Reisner of Manhattan.

The gravity of the Communistic threat to our religious, social and civil institutions calls for intelligent, concerted, persevering action.—Rev. Joseph Francis Thorning S. J.

Please print a series of editorials strongly commending the Catholic Church for its militant attitude against Communism. It is an inspiring position, reminiscent of the Church’s mightiest and most vigorous eras.—William Randolph Hearst to his editors.

Please, Mr. Hearst, Catholics have a tough enough time trying to be understood. Do not complicate the issues more. Stay on your own side of the fence; do your own dirty work.—The Catholic Worker.

In every little simple expression, you can see the outward expression of the oppression of those who are as the hireling and the fatherless, the poor and the needy, the laboring class of people. It is indeed Wonderful! . . . When I am participating with My Comrades, the Communists . . . I know they are fulfilling the Scriptures more than many of the Preachers and those that are called Religious.—Rev. Major J. (“Father”) Devine of Harlem.

Out of the yeasty intellectual ferment in which U. S. churches today find themselves, such contradictory opinions on the Social Gospel have lately bubbled up to the surface of news. An older generation recalls that its preachers were excited about theology, about the infallibility of the Bible, about the threat of Science. Today most men of God are fascinated with the economic implications of religion. Judged by their pronouncements in print and from the pulpit, a majority of U. S. Protestant pastors broadly believe that a biblical heaven is possible on earth. But their chiliastic utterances are causing them more trouble, and evoking more angry, obfuscating backtalk, than did ever any argument about Science v. Faith.

Among radical U. S. preachers, Methodists are most numerous and outspoken. Their most vehement and powerful critic is Publisher Hearst, who is being ably aided by a Midwest organization called the Conference of Methodist Laymen. Within the past fortnight Mr. Hearst and the Methodist Laymen have been violently exercised by the following events and utterances on the Social Gospel:

¶ Dr. Marshall Reed, of Detroit’s second largest Methodist church, preached: “There has been a marked tendency in recent years . . . to label anyone who questions our status quo a ‘Communist.’ . . . Communism presents a definite challenge to the Christian religion. If Christianity cannot create a better social order . . . then there is little hope for the universal Kingdom of God.”

¶ Because a concern for freedom of speech and civil liberties is part & parcel of whatever variety of belief radical ministers hold, they tingled to a report from the Methodist Federation for Social Service that “Fascist” terror, force, violence and intimidation were on the increase in 1935. Last Sunday all U. S. Unitarian ministers were invited to read and comment upon a “Statement on Civil and Religious Liberties” sent out by the Unitarian Department of Social Relations. The Statement particularly deplored teachers’ oath statutes.

¶ In Manhattan last week Dr. Toyohiko Kagawa began a four-day visit in which he was to speak 17 times. To interviewers Japan’s great Christian explained that his causes, labor organization and cooperatives, represent “practical Christianity.” Exulted the Christian Century: “It is about as certain as anything can be that as soon as the business forces of the country wake up to what is happening with this growth of church interest in co-operatives they will loose a blast which will make their complaint against Roosevelt’s mild economic experimentalism sound like a Schumann-Heink lullaby.”

¶ In Evanston, Ill. gathered a regional meeting of the Methodist Federation for Social Service whose executive secretary, Professor Harry Frederick Ward of Union Theological Seminary, is a prime target for Red-baiters. Because small, mild-looking Professor Ward was present, and because the meeting voted not to make its deliberations public, Chicago religious editors purposely performed marvels of Pharisaical reporting. They made much of their conclusion that “Red” literature was for sale at the meeting. Rev. John Evans of the Tribune inaccurately reported that the Federation voted to cooperate with Communists. The Conference of Methodist Laymen, whose secretary, a Chicago businessman named Wilbur Helm, began badgering Harry Ward and his Federation before the small, local meeting ever got started, declared that the Federation should delete “Methodist” from its name because “it is committed to Marxian socialism, either in its communistic form as advocated by Professor Harry F. Ward, or in its social form as advocated by Norman Thomas or Bishop Francis J. McConnell. Both are anti-Christian.”

This statement is in essence approved by many a businessman who attends church, contributes to its support. The other extreme is the passage in Acts (2: 44, 45) which recounts of early Christians: And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. Between these extremes there is a vast theological any-man’s-land. In George Bernard Shaw’s preface to Androcles and the Lion, in the form of a running commentary on the New Testament, the British playwright made a convincing Socialist out of Jesus Christ. But Christian Conservatives point to Christ’s statement: But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things [food, shelter, clothing] shall be added unto you. The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to Communism and Socialism insofar as they are materialistic, violent and irreligious. To Catholics the encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI represent the core of an ideal, workable system of economic justice. Catholics and non-chiliastic Protestants are quick to quote what is probably Christ’s most equivocal remark: . . . Render therefore unto Caesar the, things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.

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