Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

A Guide to Grassroots Peace & Justice Groups

Suppose one of your New Year’s resolutions is to become more active in peacemaking–the kind that includes work for justice, equality, and human rights as the positive basis for any long and durable peace. (I have never considered hiding injustice or cheap reconciliations to be true peacemaking, but “healing wounds lightly.” See Jer. 6:14.)  Congratulations! Both the world and your own neighborhoods are in great need of more peacemakers.  So, where do you sign up? It is important that you join a peace group whose methods and approach fit your basic convictions–and which can use your particular skills (or stretch you to find new ones).  Here is a guide to some of the most well-known peace and justice groups–especially in the U.S. (I include international groups with chapters in other nations, when known, but peace and justice groups that are less well known outside their own nation are not included here. However, my readers from around the globe are invited to send organizational names, descriptions and websites here and I’ll include them in a separate post.)

I. Faith-Based Grassroots Peace Groups.  Many people are motivated to work for peace by their religious convictions. Most, if not all, of the world religions have strands or dimensions which support such work–some more than others–even if their followers do not reflect this, fully.  My own peacemaking work grew directly out of my second conversion in 1983 to a deeper Christian faith–realizing that Jesus wants his followers to embody his own nonviolence. I became a conscientious objector and left the U.S. army–and several months later found myself on the first of two trips to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace–as an unarmed presence in a war zone trying to stop a planned invasion by my own country. 

A. Christian Peace Groups.  Many evangelical and conservative Christians may become convinced that following Jesus means working for peace with justice–but hesitate to join ecumenical or interfaith or secular peace groups which have an alien feel to them.  They may have been raised to visualize a “peace activist” as a dope-smoking hippy, a radical anarchist wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt, or an Ivy-League educated member of a secular elite who look down on conservative Christians.  Images and stereotypes (not all of which are completely false) such as these hinder such Christians from acting on their desires to full disciples of the nonviolent Jesus.  I suspect that similar stereotypes exist for other persons of faith.  So, it may be best to see if one’s denomination or theological tradition has a peace fellowship with local chapters which one can join.  Here are some of the ones known to me with brief descriptions. 

  • Adventist Peace FellowshipLike many Christian denominations, Seventh-Day Adventists, began as a pacifist tradition–an emphasis that was later lost.  This group is attempting to reclaim that heritage. It also notes that the theology of Dispensationalism, of which Adventists are a part, originally led to anti-militarism and, at least an inclination toward pacifism. But Dispensationalism has been captured by Christian Zionism and hyper-militarism and Adventists have not escaped this overthrow.  So, the APF is a resistance and recovery movement–seeking to change the theology and preaching of local churches toward a more authentic form of the gospel (and a more authentic version of the original Adventist spirit) as well as to create and support frontline peacemakers and nonviolent activists.  See also, Adventist Women for Peace.   I had thought that there was a U.K. sister organization, but I can no longer find this on the web.
  • American Friends Service Committee.  This is a Quaker-based organization that includes people of various faiths committed to social justice, human rights, peacemaking, and humanitarian service.  The AFSC is guided by the Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) belief in the equal worth of every person and in the faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.  Founded by Quakers in 1917 to support conscientious objectors and to aid civilian war victims, in 1947 the AFSC (along with its now-defunct British sister organization, the British Friends Service Council) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The British Friends Service Council has evolved into Quaker Peace and Social Witness (U.K.).There is also a Canadian Friends Service Committee.  Related global organizations include: Quaker Peace and Service Aotearoa, New Zealand; Quaker Peace Service Australia (email: quakersa@southcom.com.au ); Quaker Peace Centre, Capetown, South Africa.
  • Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America I have belonged to the BPFNA since 1986, only 2 years after it was founded, and I must say honestly that there have been times that the BPFNA was the only way the Holy Spirit was keeping me in the Baptist tradition!  A Baptist Pacifist Fellowship was founded during WWI and by 1940 it had become the Baptist Peace Fellowship–but it was active ONLY among Northern/American Baptists. In 1984, at a meeting in Deer Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, members of the Baptist Peace Fellowship (American Baptists) met with Southern Baptists who were involved in various peace efforts–and attempted to end the U.S. Civil War which had divided Baptists. The result was the BPFNA–at first the “North America” was more a dream than reality. However, we quickly began to involve Canadian Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists, African-American Baptists related to the various Black/National Baptist groups, Baptists in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba.  At one point, the board included people from 15 different Baptist denominations and 5 ethnic groups! The BPFNA has membership open to individuals and partner-congregations. It doesn’t speak for Baptists(!), but to them and gathers Baptist Christians and equips them with the resources for peacemaking.  There is also a British Baptist Peace Fellowship which began in WWII and is a part of the British Network of Christian Peace Organizations.
  • Catholic Peace Fellowship seeks to raise up a “mighty league of conscientious objectors” to war and violence, rooted in Catholic spirituality and the nonviolent testimony of the New Testament and the early Christian church.  It is rooted in personalist philosophy and the peacemaking and human rights emphases of Vatican II.
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams.  Rooted in the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Quakers, the Church of the Brethren), CPT is an ecumenical Christian movement that seeks to answer the question, “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?” CPT works to make peace by “getting in the way” of those who would do violence–nonviolent interventions between warring or violent parties–often at great risk to participants. They also seek to sow seeds of justice and reconciliation for longterm peacemaking.  Current projects include 3rd party nonviolent intervention in Iraq (where members were kidnapped by insurgents and one was killed), Palestine, the Borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico, the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Columbia, and work for Aboriginal Justice in Canada.  CPT recruits short-term and longterm volunteers. Sponsoring organizations include the Church of the Brethren, the CoB’s On Earth Peace movement (see below), Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church, Canada (and its Peace and Justice Ministries), Mennonite Church, USA (and its Peace and Justice Support Network), the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Congregation of St. Basil (Basilian order), Every Church a Peace Church, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.  CPT invites other sponsors.
  • Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. is an ecumenical and ad hoc group of partner organizations dedicated to raising a strong Christian voice for peace in Iraq, including a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops and removal of all bases.
  • Church of God Peace Fellowship.  Related to the non-Pentecostal Church of God whose headquarters is in Anderson, IN, rather than the Pentecostal Church of God, headquartered in Cleveland, TN.  The Anderson, IN based Church of God is a revivalistic, evangelical denomination which grew up on the U.S. frontier emphasizing both holiness in living and the unity of God’s people (and, thus, it keeps no membership rolls). It forsook heirarchies and creeds and gave ultimate authority to Jesus Christ as depicted in the New Testament.  Those emphases on unity and holy living led many to become peacemakers (the first 3 editors of the original denominational newspaper were pacifists) and the CoG Peace Fellowship continues in that tradition.  Members are activists in both the denomination and the world and have been instrumental in setting up a peace studies program at Anderson University, the denominational liberal arts institution of higher education. (The attached Anderson Theological Seminary’s students may also cross-register in AU’s Peace Studies program.)
  • Churches for a Middle East PeaceThis is an ecumenical organization composed of denominations, individual Christians, and congregations/parishes, focused on a just peace for Israel-Palestine.
  • Disciples Peace FellowshipRelated to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which is the mainline or liberal branch of the “Stone-Cambell” movement–a 19th C. revivalist movement for Christian unity. One of the main founders, Alexander Campbell, was a pacifist but the Disciples have been so individualistic in their faith that pacifism was never adopted by the movement as a whole. The DPF began in 1935, making it the oldest denominational peace fellowship in the U.S.   A related organization is the Disciples Justice Action Network.
  • Episcopal Peace Fellowship is the peace fellowship of the Episcopal Church in the United States.  When I have a current link, I will supply it.  The EPF is also the U.S. branch of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship which has branches all over the world.  The Anglican Pacifist Fellowship is a body of people within the Anglican Communion who reject war as a means of solving international disputes and who are committed to seeking justice through nonviolent means.
  • Evangelicals for Human Rights is a n inter-denominational grassroots organization of U.S. evangelical Christians opposed to torture, especially the support for torture by Christians in the Religious Right. It is part of the National Religious Campaign to Abolish Torture (see below). 
  • Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding is an affiliation of Christian churches, agencies, and individuals which seeks to provide encouragement to, advocacy for, and fellowship with Christians in the Middle East by sponsoring conferences, facilitating partnerships, and creating friendships in order to bridge the geographic and cultural divides.
  • Evangelicals for Social Action began with the “Chicago Declaration of Concern” in 1973. It is a grassroots organization of U.S. evangelical  Christians that works to combat hunger and poverty, care for the creation, end racism and sexism (but, not, unfortunately,  heterosexism–ESA retains traditional Christian homophobic views), abolish the death penalty, and work for peace.
  • Every Church a Peace Church is dedicated to the vision that all Christians and all churches should be dedicated to peace and nonviolence as a central part of what it means to follow Jesus in Christian discipleship.  For 4 years I was the Outreach Director of this network which works to create new peace churches and help war-justifying churches be transformed into peace churches.  When I left in 2006 (because ECAPC ran out of money for my job), I was deeply afraid that the organization and vision would die out.  The short-term history thereafter seemed to bear out my worst fears, but thanks to God, it appears to be recovering–with a new national director and new vision and sources of fundraising!  ECAPC’s new national director  is Rev. Dr. Matthew V. Johnson, Sr., who is also the pastor of the Church of the Good Shephard, Atlanta, GA. 
  • Friends’ Committee on National Legislation is a Quaker advocacy organization (a registered political lobby) in Washington, D.C.  FCNL strives to bring Quaker convictions concerning peace and justice to bear concerning matters of public policy.
  • Friends Peace Teams is a Spirit-led organization working around the world with communities in conflict to create programs of peacebuilding, healing, and reconciliationFriends Peace Teams ‘ programs build on extensive Quaker experience in combining practical and spiritual aspects of peacebuilding.
  • Holy Land Trust, established in 1998, is a Palestinian not-for-profit agency working for peace and justice in Palestine and based in the holy city of Bethlehem.  It’s programs include nonviolence training and direct action, the online-based Palestinian News Network, the Al-Kuhl TV and Radio programs, and the Travel and Encounter programs which promote “ethical tourism” in Palestine.  The Director, Sami Awad, is a Baptist and friend of mine. (The Awad family is famous throughout Palestine as Christian nonviolent leaders including pastors and theologians like Alex, and nonviolence trainers and activists like Sami and his older brother, Mubarak–who has repeatedly been nominated for the Nobel Prize.  The Israeli government exiled Mubarak Awad to the U.S. because he was so successful in promoting nonviolent resistance to the occupation–they preferred violent terrorists who fit their stereotypes and helped justify their occupation.  Today, Mubarak runs the Nonviolence International (see below).  NOTE: Holy Land Trust is not in any way related to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development–a Texas based U.S. charity much in the news for alleged links to terrorist organizations.  The confusion between these two different groups with similar names has led to loss of financial support for HLT and to FBI investigation of many supporters–confusing them with supporters of HLF! (Stupid police state! It’s this kind of incompetence which leads not only to investigation and even arrest of the wrong people, but allows real terrorist groups to succeed in carrying out their plans! I pray the FBI and other similar groups gets more competent in 2009! Sheesh!)
  • Lutheran Peace Fellowship is a community of Lutherans throughout the U.S. and across the globe responding to the gospel call to be peacemakers and justice seekers.  LPF has an advocacy network and a youth advocacy network and has both individual and congregational memberships.  It hosts a presence at official Lutheran meetings and seeks to integrate peacemaking more thoroughly into the life of ordinary Lutheran Christians.  LPF hosts over 100 workshops and leadership training programs a year and produces numerous resources for local peacemaking.
  • Mennonite Church, USA Peace & Justice Support NetworkMennonites are pacifists, growing out of the pacifist wing of the 16th C. Anabaptist movement.  The Peace & Justice Support Network provides resourcess to help individual Mennonite congregations better live out gospel nonviolence and peacemaking.  A sister organization is Mennonite Church, Canada’s Peace & Justice Ministries.
  • Mennonite Central Committee is the primary relief, development, and peacemaking organ for several Mennonite and Brethren in Christ denominations.  The MCC also engages in peace and justice advocacy for better foreign policy through offices in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa, Canada and a liason office at the United Nations. 
  • Methodist Federation for Social Action was founded in 1907 as the Methodist Federation for Social Service.  It grew directly out of the Social Gospel and for 100 years has been an independent voice within the United Methodist Church organizing UMC clergy and laity to take action for peace, to eliminate poverty, and to advance and protect people’s rights around the world.  Since the collapse in the 1990s of the Methodist Peace Fellowship (a British Methodist Peace Fellowship is still going strong)–as it has been since 1933), the MFSA is the primary organizational voice for nonviolence within the United Methodist Church, but because it supports legal abortions for problem pregnancies as part of its support for women’s reproductive rights, pro-life United Methodists, even if they are pacifists, usually feel unable to join MFSA.
  • Methodists United for Peace with Justice.  MUPwJ was founded in 1987 in response to the United Methodist Bishops’ pastoral letter, In Defense of Creation which outlined a “nuclear pacifism” and called for a theology of just peacemaking.  MUPwJ is “pan-Methodist,” having members from all parts of the Wesleyan/Methodist family in North America:  the African Methodist Church (AME), African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion (AMEZ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), Free Methodist Church, United Methodist Church (UMC) and Wesleyan Church.  Taking no stand on abortion, MUPwJ has been a more attractive peace network for pro-life Methodists, but it is much less active in peacemaking than MFSA.
  • On Earth Peace is an agency of the pacifist Church of the Brethren, a denomination founded in the 18th C. as a fusion of Anabaptist and Pietist movements.  OEP has programs for children and youth, for peace education, action, etc.
  • Orthodox Peace Fellowship is the grassroots, membership peace organization of (Eastern) Orthodox Christians.  Orthodoxy has many deep peacemaking roots since, like  Roman Catholicism, it goes back to the pre-Constantinian days when the entire Christian church was pacifist.  However, Orthodoxy officially considers the emperor Constantine a saint (!) and its close attachment to authoritarian governments over the centuries has often led to a neglect of Orthodox peacemaking. On the other hand, Eastern churches never developed any “just war theory,” the sophistry by which Western churches (both Catholic and Protestant) have justified rivers of bloodshed in the name of the Prince of Peace!  The OPF marshals the resources of Orthodox faith and spirituality to work for peace, justice, and the care of creation.  Although Orthodoxy’s pro-life position on abortion appears to this outsider to be somewhat more nuanced than that of Roman Catholicism, the OPF is nevertheless a pro-life organization.  Indeed, OPF severed itself from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) because of the diversity of views on abortion (from strongly pro-life to strongly pro-choice) found in IFOR.  The OPF has been especially active in areas of the world in which Orthodoxy is historically strong–and since many of these regions are also areas where Islam has  been historically strong, the OPF has been heavily involved in Muslim-Christian dialogue as a major part of its peacemaking work.
  • Pax Christi, USA strives to create a world that reflects the Peace of Christ by exploring, articulating, and witnessing to the call of Christian nonviolence. This work begins in personal life and extends to communities of reflection and action to transform structures of society. Pax Christi USA rejects war, preprations for war, and every form of violence and domination. It advocates primacy of conscience, economic and social justice, and respect for creation.Pax Christi USA commits itself to peace education and, with the help of its bishop members, promotes the gospel imperative of peacemaking as a priority in the Catholic Church in the United States. Through the efforts of all its members and in cooperation with other groups, Pax Christi USA works toward a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world. Pax Christi USA is a chapter of Pax Christi, International, the global Catholic peace movement.    
  •  Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is the grassroots peace organization of the Presbyterian Church, USA.  It works closely with the official Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, but PPP is able to go out on limbs and take risks beyond the consensus platform of the official program.
  • Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship The early Pentecostal movement was pacifist–which is hard for many to believe given how incredibly militaristic many of the most-high profile Pentecostals are today.  The PCPF attempts to recapture that early commitment to peace and nonviolence.  The PCPF works to embody Jesus-shaped, Spirit-empowered peacemaking.

Well, this is a long enough list for one post.  In the next post, I list interfaith peace groups and peace groups from non-Christian faith groups.  A final post or two will outline peace and justice groups without a faith basis: organized around specific issues or around professions (e.g., Educators for Social Responsibility) or around areas of the globe or approaches to peace and justice.  When finished, I will put these links in a separate page on this blog for easy reference. 

Get involved for justice and peace in 2009!

December 31, 2008 Posted by | peacemaking | 9 Comments

Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace

The three “Historic Peace Churches” (Friends/Quakers, Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren) are hosting an ecumenical gathering working for peace and justice in the world. The event will be held 13-17 January 2009 in Philadelphia, PA and is open to all.  The purpose of the gathering is “to strengthen our witness and work for peace in the world by inspiring hope, raising voices, taking action.” To find out more information, see speakers, register to attend, etc., go to their website here

[ Please note: As with other events of this kind, I am just passing on an advertisement. Please do NOT email me for an invitation, or flood the comments with request for aid to attend, etc. as has been done with other events. I am not in charge of anything and just found out about the event myself. Click the link and get your information there. This kind of disclaimer should be obvious, but I am STILL getting requests for aid, invitations, etc. to the February International Baptist Peace Conference in Rome, when I have repeatedly said that I am NOT on the planning committee, etc.  I want to use this blog to highlight good things like this, but I have to spend an enormous amount of time deleting emails from people who can’t follow directions.]

This sounds like a significant event. I am sorry to be finding out about it so late as I would have liked to attend.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | peacemaking | Comments Off on Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace

Praying for the Peace of Israel-Palestine

In the not-t00-distant future I want to write a major blog post on why I am so strongly in favor of URGENT action for a just 2-state peace in Israel-Palestine. I just can’t do it, now. I am too anguished to do more than pray.

Suffice it for now to say this:  Until the mid-’80s, even after I became a pacifist, I was a zionistic, mostly uncritical supporter of Israel.  My next door neighbors growing up were elderly Jews with numbers tattooed on their arms–Holocaust survivors.  And my first young awareness of Middle East issues was shaped by the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes by PLO terrorists at the Olympic Summer Games in Munich.  That shaped my views.  I was convinced that all Palestinians were terrorists and that liberal failure to support any actions Israel took was due to anti-Semitism.  Even after becoming a pacifist in ’83, I thought all the blame was on the “Arab” side.

It wasn’t until I started meeting Palestinian Christians in the mid’80s that my views began to change–as I realized how one-sided the U.S. media is.  I still deplore Palestinian terrorism (or anyone else’s terrorism), but the state-sponsored terrorism of Israel, including starving whole peoples, should not get a free pass.  The Israeli press does NOT give a free pass. If you go to the English-language sites of the major Israeli newspapers, you will find a huge range of views–hawks to doves to pro-Palestinians–views that would be suicide for any U.S. editor to allow.  There is more debate in the Israeli Knessett (Parliament) than among U.S. politicians–who outdo themselves working to try to be more pro-Israeli and hawkish on Palestinians than others.  This DEEPLY distorts U.S. views, especially those of U.S. Christians.

I would say more, but I can’t just now. I am worried for my friends the Awad family (Palestinian Baptist Christians who are leaders of the nonviolent movement that gets ZERO attention in the U.S. press) even though they live in the West Bank, not Gaza.  If Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders would all travel to Gaza to be nonviolent human shields and call for a cease fire, maybe we could stop the madness.  I am no religious leader, but I will volunteer to be in any such delegation.  We cannnot wait for governments. We must act NOW!

December 29, 2008 Posted by | Israel-Palestine, just peacemaking | 13 Comments

20th C. Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics: Muriel Lester

muriel1The 2nd substantive chapter in Twentieth Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics, ed. Larry W. McSwain and Wm. Loyd Allen (Mercer University Press, 2008) is also the only chapter that is NOT an original composition for this work.  Paul R. Dekar’s chapter on Muriel Lester is a slightly updated version of a chapter in his excellent book, For the Healing of the Nation:  Baptist Peacemakers (Smyth & Helwys, 1993).

Paul R. DeKar has had an unusual academic career, having been employed to teach church history and evangelism and missiology.  A dual-citizen of Canada and the United States, DeKar was educated at Andover-Newton Theological Seminary before earning a Ph.D. in history at Yale University.  He taught both church history and missiology for over 20 years at Ontario’s McMaster University and McMaster Divinity School while founding the university’s peace studies center.  DeKar, an ordained minister in the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, became a convinced pacifist and conscientious objector during the Vietnam War era and joined the interfaith pacifist group, the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  He has also been an active participant (and unofficial historian for) in the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America since its foundation.  In 1995, he became Niswonger Professor of Evanngelism and Missions at Memphis Theological Seminary (the one seminary of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church). An author of books on church history,  evangelism, missions, and peacemaking, DeKar is also a participant-chronicler of the current rediscovery by Protestants of the virtues of monasticism, becoming a Benedictine Oblate and a member of the only official Baptist monastery in the world (in Australia).  DeKar is convinced that only such deep spiritual roots will enable Christians to be authentic and bold peacemakers and witnesses for the gospel.

I know Paul DeKar from our mutual participation in both the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  He approaches this chapter on Muriel Lester with a historian’s eye for detail and context and with the passion of one who admires his subject and shares many of her convictions and perspectives. 

Muriel Lester (1883-1968) , though now forgotten by many, was a pioneer for Baptists and others and once one of the most influential of Christian voices in the world.  She was born to wealth, but spent most of her life as a social worker with the urban poor–and even became a socialist politician in order to be a better advocate for the poor.  Given more educational advantages than most women in the 19th and early 20th centuries, at a time when the ancient British universities of Oxford and Cambridge were just opening their doors to women and “Nonconformists” (i.e., non-Anglicans such as Baptists), she considered pursuing a degree in literature at Cambridge, but turned her back on higher education in order to dedicate her life to helping the oppressed and downtrodden.  By “accident,” she became an unordained pastor and an advocate for women’s ministry (See her 1935 b0ok Why Forbid Us?).  A bestselling author on faith and spirituality and an apologist for Christianity, she was nevertheless a pioneer in interfaith dialogue–and a famous friend of Gandhi’s. A pacifist and global peacemaker, she was arrested by her own British government during WWII and, after being released, he passport was conviscated until after the war because, though NO ONE believed her to be a Nazi sympathizer, her peace efforts were deemed to undermine morale during wartime.

British Baptists began in the 17th C. as a persecuted sect that drew almost exclusively from the lower classes. But by the time of Lester’s birth in 1883, their lot had improved–though the Anglican Church’s establishment as the state religion still put considerable restrictions on the freedom of Baptists and other Nonconformists.  Lester was raised in a wealthy shipbuilding family. Her father was also a Baptist laypreacher and a local magistrate.

As a teenager, this child of privilege,  was exposed to the poverty and hardship of working classes in “Bow,” a London slum.  This, along with reading the writings of Tolstoy, convinced her that Christians must work on the side of the poor.  She took a “legacy” (Americans would  say “inheritance”) and used it to transform an abandoned church in Bow ( a “Strict and Particular” hyper-Calvinist congregation) into a multi-purpose community center and settlement house which she called Kingsley Hall, after a beloved older brother who died young.  Along with her sister, Doris, Muriel Lester moved into Kingsley Hall to share the lives of the poor and work to make them better.

The  Hall became a settlement house for the homeless, an employment center for those out of work, a center for community organizing and much more.  The Hall, led by the Lester sisters, held adult education classes, including of parenting and job skills.  Eventually,  it opened a Children’s Hall (alternative to the horrors of most contemporary orphanages) and a second settlement house in a different slum.

Kingsley Hall also became a de facto church congregation for many residents and neighbors.  Most churches of the time looked down on the poor and would judge harshly those who came to worship without “Sunday best.” So, many residents who wanted to attend church had nowhere else to go.  While the Lester sisters never forced residents to come to worship or made any aid dependent on such (as many Christian missions to the poor did), they did conduct services for those that wanted them. Since they could not attract any willing clergy,  Muriel became the unordained, de facto pastor of the congregation that met at Kingsley Hall, even re-writing hymns and preaching and serving the Lord’s Supper. (She did not, however, baptize or perform weddings.)

When WWI broke out,  Muriel Lester, a convinced pacifist, joined  with other Christians in 1914 in forming the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation.  She announced that these Christians, including herself, would not pronounce a “moratorium on the Sermon on the Mount” for the duration of the war! When the International FOR formed iin 1917, Muriel joined that, too.  Later, after she turned the work of Kingsley Hall over to Doris, Muriel became the FOR’s first “Traveling Secretary,” sort of an “Ambassador for Peace” planting FOR chapters on all continents and risking much for the sake of peace. (For instance,  after the Japanese invaded China in the 1930s, Lester saw the Chinese suffering first hand and then confronted the Japanese government with their atrocities face-to-face! )  She became a guest of Gandhi’s in India and hosted him at Kingsley Hall when Gandhi came to  Britain to negotiate Indian independence.

DeKar’s account shows how much Lester drew from her Baptist faith in her work as a social worker, pastor, socialist politician, and ambassador for peace.  But he fails to  ask critical questions of Lester as a guide for Baptist social  ethics:  What was the role of Scripture (other than the Sermon on the Mount) in her approach to moral and social issues? I find no account of this in the collections of Lester’s writings that survive,  nor in DeKar’s account.  Why is baptism of so little value to her as a pastor? What is her understanding of the nature of the church?  What legislative accomplishments did Lester achieve during her time as a socialist politician? How did her faith concerns intersect these matters and how did she view religious liberty and the  relation of church and state?

As a Christian pacifist, I am glad that this chapter joins the mini-revival of interest in Lester and her work.  What a fantastic Christian peacemaker and justice-seeker!  But in a book dedicated to shapers of Baptist social ethics, I wanted more critical  analysis  than DeKar offered.  Of course, Muriel Lester was neither an academic theologian nor Christian ethicist–nor even a theologically trained pastor. She was a widely read practical mystic, but while it is clear that her Christian faith was a driving factor,  it is not clear that she retained much specifically BAPTIST influence in her adult life. (If I am wrong about this, DeKar’s chapter does not show me where.) 

I suspect that this chapter’s minimal  analysis stems from its being lifted nearly unchanged from an earlier volume  with a different purpose.  Editors McSwain and Allen should have required more rewriting from DeKar for  this volume’s purposes.

December 29, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, church history, discipleship, ethics, heroes, pacifism | 1 Comment

Christians Call for Middle East Peace: Letter to Obama

UPDATE: Renewed violence in Gaza, with Israel targetting Hamas leaders (and, as usual, hitting numerous civilians along the way) and promising an incursion “that will not be short,” and Hamas launching retaliatory rockets and calling for a renewal of suicide bomb attacks,  calls such as these are needed more than before.  Religious and other peace leaders from around the globe need to converge on Israel-Palestine and put themselves in harm’s way an unarmed human shields in order to stop the madness.  We cannot have half-measures nor handwringing, but need bold, nonviolent action–NOW! 

As Bob Cornwall notes, Christians from many denominations have written an open letter to U.S. president-elect Barack Obama calling for strong action in the new year for Middle East peace.  The letter was generated by one of my favorite organizations, Christians for a Middle East Peace.  You can add your signature here.  Let me add:  These are the kind of efforts Christians should be known for–and not just at Christmastide! Hopefully, this is a sign of far more peace and justice activity by U.S. Christians in the coming year–not gay bashing, warmongering, neglecting the environment or the poor, etc., but promoting peace and justice–and challenging elected officials to do more of the same.  The text and initial signatories appear below:

December 1, 2008
The Honorable Barack Obama
President-elect of the United States
Presidential Transition Team
Washington, DC 20270

Dear President-elect Obama,

As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a Biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace. As Americans, we urge you, Mr. President, to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during your first year in office.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long. It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists.

As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible. Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support a negotiated solution based on two secure and sovereign states as the best way to end this tragic conflict.

In order to achieve a durable peace, your Administration must provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final status agreement. Building on past discussions, we ask you to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace. [Emphasis added by MLW-W]

Your commitment to working for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel can help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. We believe that Jerusalem – home to two peoples and three religions – has the potential to become a powerful symbol of hope and coexistence for people across the region and the world.

We know the work for a just peace will not be easy. It will require great courage and resolve, but the risk of inaction is even greater. Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult. Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline.

We call on all Christians and people of goodwill to join us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and in supporting vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure Middle East peace. Mr. President, as you take up the many challenges facing the United States and the global community, we urge you to work for a better future for all the children of Abraham in the land that is holy to us all.


Rev. Fr. Mark Arey
Ecumenical Officer
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

The Most Rev. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of
America (Eastern)

Rt. Rev. Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in North America

Tony Campolo
Eastern University, St. Davids, PA

Sr. J. Lora Dambroski, OSF
President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Marie Dennis
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Sr. Donna Graham, OSF
President, English Speaking Conference JPIC Council
Franciscan Friars (OFM)

Ken Hackett
President, Catholic Relief Services

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Dr. Stan  Hastey
Minister for Mission and Ecumenism, Alliance of Baptists

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the
National Association of Evangelicals

Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim
Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church
for the Eastern USA

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Rev. Michael E. Livingston
Executive Director
International Council of Community Churches
Immediate Past President, National Council of Churches

Reverend John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, The American Baptist Churches, USA.

Richard J. Mouw
President, Fuller Theological Seminary

David Neff
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer
President, The Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church, (USA)

Very Rev. Thomas Picton, CSsR
President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Dr. Tyrone Pitts
General Secretary
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

Bob Roberts, Jr.
Pastor, NorthWood Church, Keller, TX

Leonard Rodgers
Executive Director
Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding

Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba)
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Rolando L. Santiago
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church

Dr. Chris Seiple
President, Institute for Global Engagement

Robert A. Seiple
Former Ambassador-at-Large for
International Religious Freedom

Ronald J. Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action

Richard Stearns
President, World Vision, United States

The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Constantine M. Triantafilou
Executive Director and CEO
International Orthodox Christian Charities

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Jim Wallis
President, Sojourners

The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Right Rev. John F. White
Ecumenical and Urban Affairs Officer
African Methodist Episcopal Church

American Christians nationwide are invited to add their names to the leaders’ call for Holy Land peace.
Deadline is Jan. 16, 2009.
Visit: www.cmep.org/letter

December 25, 2008 Posted by | Israel-Palestine, just peacemaking | 7 Comments

New Data: U. S. is a Center-Left Nation

Despite the continual Rightwing talking point, aided by pundits in the mainstream media, that the electiion proved nothing and that “we are still a Center-Right Nation,” yet another study demonstrates that this is false.  Check out the full data and cool charts here.

December 23, 2008 Posted by | U.S. politics | 9 Comments

Petition: Special Prosecutor for War Crimes in Bush Admin.

There is a petition to Eric Holder, Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General (who must be confirmed by the Senate) to appoint a Special Prosecutor to indict and try any Bush administration officials found guilty of crimes, especially torture and other war crimes. (VP Cheney last week admitted on TV that he was involved in authorizing “waterboarding,” which used to be called water torture. In the Vietnam War, we prosecuted U.S. soldiers who did this to captured soldiers. After World War II we HUNG Japanese soldiers who did this to American prisoners of war. At least one U.S. Senator, Carl Levin (D-MI) of the Armed Services Committee, has said that he believes the VP just admitted to a war crime.) In order to prevent a recurrence under future administrations, we don’t just need a change in policy with the Obama folk–we need to indict and try those who committed these crimes under the Bush admin.

It won’t be easy. Congress, including FAR too many Democrats, cooperated with much of this. The Obama folk are not going to want to appear in the political revenge business–it doesn’t look post-partisan. But it is necessary and we citizens are going to need to keep the pressure on for it to happen.

Yes, I want the economy fixed and the ecology, etc. But if I have to choose between living in a poor country that respects human rights and obeys the rule of law, including international law, or living in a rich country that ignores laws and suppresses rights when it feels like it, I’ll choose the former.  Sign the petition here, then write an op-ed for your local paper and call your congressperson in support.

By the way, Mr. Holder has already responded with “I hear you.” So, the petition is working. Keep it up, since “I hear you,” while significant, is not exactly a commitment.

I also think human rights groups (faith-based and otherwise) should plan major events to highlight these issues in ’09 and keep the pressure on–including protests and acts of civil disobedience if necessary.

December 22, 2008 Posted by | human rights., torture, violence | 1 Comment

Outrageous Executive Pay–At Taxpayers’ Expense

The money paid to the 600 highest paid bank executives that got bail-out funds would  cover the bailout money given to 53 of the banks that have shared the $188 billion that Washington has doled out in rescue packages so far.

America was punked.  We were led to believe that bailing out Wall Street from its corporate greed was necessary for saving the economy from another Great Depression–and that it would free up liquidity, save jobs and mortgages, etc. Also, that execs had learned their lessons and would stop giving themselves billions in bonuses while trashing their companies.

We were wrong. The banks are sitting on the money. Mortgages are still crashing and job losses continue.  The bailed out execs still have corporate jets (and, unlike the auto execs–whose mismanagement I do NOT excuse–no one asked the bank execs and insurance company execs about them!) and still justify their high salaries and bonues–with our money.

We need a serious conversation about economic justice in this country.  I’d like to see us go back to the days when most company executives made no more than 10 times the average worker and no more than 20 times the lowest paid worker.  I’m still not sure that would be “just,” but it is probably the best we can hope for in even a Keynesian capitalist society. I’d rather see public opinion (and the opinion of others in same industries) lead to this situation rather than government laws and regulations. I am not sure government should set salaries–for executives OR workers (as the GOP wants to do with UAW salaries).  But we have to end the era of “Greed is good.”  And we have to be more concerned about establishing decent floors under the lowest paid workers–and that won’t happen if there are not salary caps for executives. Who can set those caps if not the government? Well, in public corporations, they can be set by trustee boards.

The public outrage is growing–and should be growing faster and louder. If trustee boards don’t start reigning in executive pay, an angry public is going to seek other answers.  Enlightened self-interest ought to kick into high gear.

Government can do something: Set an example.  Members of Congress (House and Senate) and of the Executive Branch, from President on down, should take voluntary pay cuts, with saving split between the general budget and Social Security.  In this time of crisis, I’d like to see maximum salaries on the Hill and in the White House of $75,000 per annum (which would stop people from going into government for the money), but I’d settle for a cut-off of $90,000.  That’s already higher than most voters will ever see. The median income (pre-meltdown) for a U.S. family of 4 is $50,000 per annum, which means that 50% of Americans make less than that. Further, in many, perhaps most, cases, this is NOT from a single salary, but the combined incomes of 2-3 jobs.  (My wife and I have 3 jobs to make about $47,000 per annum–including the income I make from numerous magazine articles per year since many of those pay very little. I have GOT to start writing for better-paying venues. She has a master’s degree and I have a Ph.D.  By contrast, people in the financial sector with just a baccalaureate pull in huge sums. No wonder we have trouble recruiting teachers, firefighters, social workers, etc.)

The median income is a fairer judge of the economic health than the mean or average. If  UAW workers are sharing a beer in a bar (celebrating having a job into the new year, perhaps) and Bill Gates walks in, the MEAN/AVERAGE income goes WAY up–but it’s still 3 ordinary joes and Bill Gates.

I am no economist. I have no big answers. I do have a sense of the populist anger in the country toward decades of the “Greed is Good” philosophy and its current results.  I think we’d better start having real conversations about our values and priorities before that anger is not channeled into constructive change, but boils over into the streets.  The greedy have sown the wind–and only repentance can keep us all from reaping the whirlwind.

As the case of Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago shows, banks have NOT been helping companies meet payroll and they have closed–just what this money was supposed to prevent.  Citibank is using taxpayer bailout money to put its name on a sports stadium and sponsor the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl. Excuse me? With our money?

December 22, 2008 Posted by | economic justice | Comments Off on Outrageous Executive Pay–At Taxpayers’ Expense

Christians (and Others) Must Fight Slavery–Again

Wasn’t slavery abolished in the 19th C. with the U.S. Civil War representing the last gasp of this horrid institution? Sadly, NO.  More of the world’s population is enslaved today than ever before in history.  So, answer the Niger Appeal and give the gift of freedom this Christmas.  Then, insist in letters to newspapers, calls to elected officials, etc. that we end this horror. Be careful of when and how you shop: Much of the garments we wear and the goods we consume, are made with slave labor. Learn more, then educate others, then agitate. Become a 21st C. Abolitionist today.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | human rights., slavery | 1 Comment

20th C. Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics: Walter Rauschenbusch

rauschenbuschAfter a brief introductory chapter by editors Larry L. McSwain and Wm. Loyd Allen, Shapers begins with a 3-chapter section on “Foundations: A Legacy of Social Concern,” which profiles Walter Rauschenbusch (most famous theologian of the Social Gospel), Muriel Lester  (1855-1968)(British Baptist pastor, social worker, influential writer on contemplative spirituality, & globetrotting peacemaker), and Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879-1961) (African American Baptist pioneer in education and social uplift in the Booker T. Washington tradition).  Each of these pioneering 20th C. shapers of Baptist social ethics was born in the late 19th C., in the wake of the U.S. Civil War (and the Crimean and Anglo-Boer wars), the Industrial Revolution and its resulting social dislocations, the beginnings of global resistance to Euro-American colonial imperialism, the mechanization of wars, the first international peace movement since pre-Constantinian Christianity, the birth of socialist politics (in both Marxist and non-Marxist forms), the rise of global movements of organized labor, and the international movement for women’s suffrage.  This is the matrix which gave rise to the Social Gospel and each of our 3 profiled pioneers can be seen as representing different facets of the Social Gospel. (A more complete picture of this foundation-era would have included chapters on John Clifford (1836-1923), Shailer Matthews (1863-1941), and J. B. Weatherspoon (1886-1964), pioneers all).

The chapter on Rauschenbusch is written by Paul A. Lewis, a friend of mine–and a closer friend of my fellow Baptist peace blogger, Mikeal Broadway who blogs at Earth as it is in Heaven, a blog my Gentle Readers should frequent.  Lewis is part of that generation (mine) of Southern Baptists who found themselves in the midst of seminary (in his case, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary near San Francisco) during the Fundamentalist Takeover of the SBC (1979-1994) and who sought a different way of being Baptist–which included pursuing advanced theological education in ecumenical, non-Southern Baptist, circles. Paul earned a Th.M. at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, which is related to the Presbyterian Church, USA, studying with Douglass Otatti whose “Reforming Protestantism” flows more or less directly from Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel tradition. Then Paul completed a Ph.D. at the United Methodist related Duke University, studying with Stanley Hauerwas–a profound critic of that tradition. (Paul used to say that he was a “misplaced liberal among the Hauerwasian communitarians.”) Today, he is Associate Professor of  Christian Ethics in the Roberts Department of Christianity, College of Liberal Arts, Mercer University, Macon, GA–a “moderate” Baptist institution related to the Georgia Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship–the more centrist of the two breakaway groups from the SBC. (I belong to the smaller, more liberal, breakaway group, the Alliance of Baptists.)

The chapter  begins with a biographical sketch of Rauschenbusch, the son of German immigrants whose father, August Rauschenbusch was a pietistic Lutheran missionary pastor who converted to Baptist views and helped to found the ethnic German Baptist Convention (today the North American Baptist Conference in the U.S. and Canada). Walter was born in Rochester, NY at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War and would die in the midst of World War I. His life spanned the post-bellum “Gilded Age” of U.S. Industrial Revolution extremes of wealth and poverty–which largely paralleled the contemporary Victorian era of the U.K. with it Dickensonian extremes.  His father was a professor in the German Dept. of the (then-new) Rochester Theological Seminary (now part of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School). 

Young Walter imbibed his parents warm pietistic faith, but was also disturbed by the bad state of their marriage–which others found “shocking.” (Victorian-era accounts are so veiled that it is difficult to tell, but might this marriage have even been abusive?) He desired to become a minister, even a missionary.  He was partially educated in Germany at a conservative Gymnasium (equivalent in the U.S. to a very rigorous high school, plus the first year or so of university) before earning an A.B. at the University of Rochester and his seminary degree at Rochester Theological Seminary.  But Walter’s dream of being a Baptist foreign missionary was denied by the Northern Baptist Foreign Missionary Society (today, the Board of International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches, USA). The officers of the Foreign Missionary Society found problems with Rauschenbusch’s views on the atonement–presumably that it deviated from the then-standard doctrine of “penal substitution” which evolved from Anselm to Calvin to the rigid and bloody forms of Reformed Orthodoxy.

Dismayed, Rauschenbusch became a pastor. He had been a student pastor at a German-language Baptist congregation in Louisville, KY during his seminary days, but now became pastor of Second Baptist Church at the edge of “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Tenderloin” slums in New York City.  The poverty and related problems of his congregation convinced Rauschenbusch that simply preaching about personal salvation was insufficient.  He became involved in works for social justice, calling himself a socialist (though never joining any socialist party) and joining with other socially active ministers in the “Brotherhood of the Kingdom.” He found himself part of the Victorian-era “Social Gospel” movement which paralleled the Progressive Era in U.S. politics.

The Social Gospel (which Rauschenbusch did not found), similar to movements of “Social Christianity” in the UK and Europe, connected Christian faith to Progressive or even democratic socialist politics. It firmly opposed the ideologies of “Social Darwinism” by which the Robber Baron industrial millionaires of the Gilded Age justified the peonage, child labor, dangerous working conditions, union-busting, and extremes of wealth and poverty.  Social Gospel ministers and theologians claimed that society, not just individuals, needed to be redeemed–and took on the prevailing view that saved individuals would automatically save societies. 

Rauschenbusch grew too deaf to continue serving his congregation adequately, so, after a European sabbatical in which he studied liberal theologies and biblical studies and the new sciences of sociology, took a position at his alma mater, Rochester Theological Seminary.  First, he taught a variety of courses in the German Department and, then, became Professor of Church History for the seminary as a whole.  From this position, Rauschenbusch became the major theologian of the Social Gospel. His work, Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) was the best selling religious book in the English language for 5 years. Sadly, re-reading it today, far too much of it seems horribly contemporary.

Rauschenbusch wrote many other works, including Prayers for the Social Awakening (many of which wound up in the hymnals and liturgies of mainstream Protestantism),  Christianizing the Social Order (his most Constantinian-sounding title, but Rauschenbusch was not proposing any theocracy–but a “salt and light” penetration of institutions that would remake them away from greed, corruption, and oppression to mutual sharing and the common good), and his masterpiece, A Theology for the Social Gospel.

Lewis analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Rauschenbusch for Baptist social ethics well.  He notes that MANY of the criticisms launched at Rauschenbusch are simply wrong–however rightly they may characterize others in the Social Gospel movement. Far from “minimizing sin,” Rauschenbusch had several chapters on sin in A Theology, noting the many personal and social dimensions.  He described the super-personal dimensions of institutional evil in ways that anticipated the later biblical studies of the “Principalities and Powers,” such as in the work of Jacques Ellul, John Howard Yoder, or Walter Wink.

Nor is it true that Rauschenbusch downplayed the atonement, although he did try to rethink it in ways that went beyond the objective/subjective fight that traces back to Anselm vs. Abelard.

Also, Lewis shows that the frequent criticism that the Social Gospel diluted the Christian message of personal salvation, to whatever degree it may be true of others, is certainly false when applied to Rauschenbusch.  His deep personal faith was well known and found literary expression.  He composed hymns and prayers.  He viewed his work as a kind of evangelism. And he knew that any social movement for justice would lack roots without a deep spiritual grounding–which he continued to find in the gospel, especially in the person and work of Jesus.

Rauschenbusch was a strong Baptist believer in liberty of conscience, religious liberty, and church-state separation, but NOT in apolitical, socially inactive church. His churches worked to address social evil and to influence policies–to stem alcoholism, prevent child labor, reform industry, work for economic justice, end poverty.  Toward the end of his life, in the wake of WWI, Rauschenbusch, who previously had given little thought to the gospel’s implications for war and peace, became a pacifist.  (The Social Gospel split at this point:  Parts of it were involved in the beginnings of a Christian pacifism that went beyond the traditional peace churches, and joined with the international peace movement.  Other parts of the Social Gospel movement justified WWI in terms of a “crusade for democracy” and would have sounded strangely like the U.S. evangelical cheerleaders of George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism.” Rauschenbusch went with the peacemaking stream.)

Lewis does a nice job also of showing some of Rauschenbusch’s blind spots and weaknesses. Like much of the rest of the Social Gospel leaders, Rauschenbusch shared the Victorian-era view of women and the family.  Indeed, his writings never mention the rising feminist/suffragist movement that was prominent in his lifetime–and he died 3 years before the passage of the 19th Amendment (1920) enfranchised women throughout the U.S. (But he would have seen Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, which shared much of the values of the Social Gospel, become the first national political party in the U.S. to adopt a women’s suffrage plank in their national platform in 1916). In fact, one giant motivator in Rauschenbusch’s determination that working men receive adequate pay and benefits was to make it unnecessary for wives and children to work. And he held to traditional views of male leadership in the family–though rebelling against the strict authoritarianism of his father’s example.  In this, he was simply a man of his time.

Similarly, Rauschenbusch held very negative views of Roman Catholics–as did most pre-Vatican II Protestants.  He assumed that Catholicism was the enemy of democracy and a heresy and threat to progress.  No matter how conservative or liberal, one would have been hard pressed to find Protestants with more charitable (or even accurate) views of Catholicism before the 1960s. To Protestants prior to the breakthrough with Pope John XXIII, Catholicism was a global superstition that was anti-science, anti-democracy, and firmly on the side of the wealthy against the poor.

Much of the Social Gospel was incredibly racist.  Here, also, Rauschenbusch was not guiltless. But Lewis fails to show how much better Rauschenbusch did here than many Social Gospel contemporaries. He held far too many sterotypes of African-Americans and other racial/ethnic minorities, but he did NOT share the enthusiasm for eugenics or the Social Darwinistic assumptions that “the white race” would spread while other races would shrivel and die out.  Rauschenbusch sometimes spoke out against this and opposed segregation. However, like most of the Northern Social Gospel advocates, racial issues were not on his “front burner” for good or ill. Those of his students who took the Social Gospel South (where it survived WWI and the Niebuhrian and Neo-Orthodox reaction), by contrast, made racial justice and reconciliation the number one moral issue of their lives.

Lewis also judges the Social Gospel for its supposed failure to reproduce itself, noting that while all of Rauschenbusch’s children shared his politics, none of them shared his faith.  This seems to me to be overly harsh. I have known many a fundamentalist evangelist whose children rebelled against the faith of their upbringing. Rebellion, deciding to be one’s own person, is part of the movement of one generation to another.  Most persons of faith worry that their children might not share their convictions and most parents struggle to understand the choices of their adult offspring, no matter the outcome or how close they remain.  The failure of Rauschenbusch’s children to become Christians could have much to do with WWI, which was preached as a “crusade.” Post-war periods usually show a decline in faith–as even the U.S. is experiencing now. Exposure of corruption in church and state leads to periods of disillusionment–it would have been strange if Rauschenbusch’s family had escaped the skepticism which set in everywhere after WWI.

And Lewis fails to note that Paul Rauschenbusch, Walter’s great grandson, is himself an American Baptist minister who is helping a new generation recover the strengths of the Social Gospel. See his updated edition of his great-father’s classic, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century: The Classic That Woke Up the ChurchPaul Rauschenbusch is Associate Dean of Religious Life and the Chapel at Princeton University and a contributing editor to Beliefnet.com .  What one generation rejects is often rediscovered by another–and that is as true of the Social Gospel as of any other tradition. 

Lewis quotes H. Richard Niebuhr about F.D.R. Schleiermacher and applies this to later generations’ dismissive views of Rauschenbusch–and since I so wholeheartedly agree, I will let this quote close my post as it does Lewis’ chapter. 

Today, an ungrateful generation of theologians, which owes far more to its predecessors than it acknowledges, delights in pointing out the evil which lives after [Rauschenbusch], while it inters the good with his bones.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, church history, ethics, heroes, liberal theology, peace, politics, Religious Social Criticism, salvation | 5 Comments