The Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911-12 New Perspectives on Evangelical Social Concern and the Relationship Between Christianity and Progressivism -- By: Gary Scott Smith
Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 49:1 (Spring 1987)
Article: The Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911-12 New Perspectives on Evangelical Social Concern and the Relationship Between Christianity and Progressivism
Author: Gary Scott Smith
WTJ 49:1 (Spring 1987) p. 91
The Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911-12
New Perspectives on Evangelical Social Concern and the Relationship Between Christianity and Progressivism
The rise and significance of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism during the years from 1865 to 1915 has become a major theme of American religious history. The Social Gospel has generally been characterized as the effort of theologically progressive or liberal Protestants to use Christian principles in an attempt to ameliorate industrial and urban problems.1 Evangelicals—those who accepted historic, orthodox Christianity and emphasized biblical infallibility, individual conversion, and the Great Commission—are rarely considered to have endorsed or advanced the Social Gospel.2 While theologically liberal Protestants increasingly proclaimed and sought to apply the social teachings of Christianity, most evangelicals refused to promote or even criticized
WTJ 49:1 (Spring 1987) p. 92
this social emphasis, so the common theory runs.3 Evangelicals’ diminished efforts to redress social problems after 1920 is therefore seen as the intensification of a process that had been going on since at least 1865. By contrast, I will argue that their neglect of social action after 1920 was not consistent with evangelicals’ approach to social reform before 1920 but rather represented a sharp break with their previous attitudes and actions. Moreover, I will attempt to show, contrary to the views of many historians, that religious ideologies and groups helped inspire the Progressive Movement of the first two decades of the twentieth century. This essay focuses primarily on the Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911–12 to illustrate both of these contentions.
Failing to recognize its roots in the evangelical social concern of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, historians have usually described the Social Gospel as a radically new departure. During the one hundred years prior to the development of this movement in the 1870s and 1880s, however, many evangelicals labored vigorously to improve social conditions. Through the Bible, missionary, education, temperance, anti-slavery, and peace societies of the Benevolent Empire and through their work among America’s poor, soldiers, and handicapped during the mid-nineteenth century—as in the earlier labors of John Wesley, William Wilberforce, and the Clapham Sect in England-evangelical Christians provided the example, inspiration, and principles for much of the Social Gospel.4 Timothy Smith’s analysis of antebellu...
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