Christian Social Movements
CHRISTIAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
CHRISTIAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS . The richness of the Christian vision of God's transcendence and presence, the range of constituencies to which it appeals, and the variety of contexts into which it has moved have produced an enormous variety of social movements. Yet some main developments can be traced.
In the ancient world, religions were linked to specific groups, primarily ethnic or political. Peoples and cities had their own deities, and religion secured stability and security. The defeat or victory of their warriors or rulers brought about the decline or ascendancy of their religion.
The ancient Hebrews shared many of these views. But specific aspects of that tradition pressed in a different direction. The "Lord" of the Hebrew Bible was understood to be the truly universal sovereign, not limited to any people, political order, or military destiny. Rather, the prophets inspired by this God demanded not only communal loyalty and rightly ordered worship for the well-being of the nation, but also witnesses to principles of justice that were universal in scope and required fair treatment of the stranger. Indeed they pointed to an expected "messianic age" that would bring a great transformation and a fulfilled righteousness for all peoples.
Christianity claimed that it was the true heir of these prophetic directions. In Jesus Christ the one universal and righteous God entered into the concreteness of human personhood and made transcendent reality into an accessible, immanent, and transforming presence. The life, teachings, death, and resurrection of this Son of God inaugurated the new age and manifest a new Spirit as the decisive animating factor in human affairs. The announcement and celebration of this divine immediacy became the good news that opened the door to liberation from sinful self-preoccupations, ritualistic compulsions, and obsessions with wealth and power. Moreover out of the precedents of the Jewish synagogue and the Greco-Roman "mystery cults," the early followers of Christ established a new social institution—a center of loyalty and fellowship outside the usual traditions of social participation, namely the church.
Particular population groups seem to have been most attracted to this new vision and new community of discipleship. The poor and the sick were given hope; widows and orphans found companionship; artisans and traders who were marginalized by aristocratic elites and priestly restrictions discovered new networks for creative interaction; intellectuals who found the old religions, cults, and speculations unsatisfying or sterile discerned a greater wisdom and vitality; and, later, on rulers of the Roman Empire and (still later) the princes of North Europe, who needed a moral and spiritual architecture to give shape to new civilizational developments, sought guidance in this faith's doctrines and legitimation from this church's leadership. This faith itself was a social movement from the start.
It is not that Jesus, Paul, or any other early Christian leader started a movement with specific social, political, or economic objectives in mind. The "kingdom" they sought was not, as Jesus said, "of this world." Nevertheless it was "in the world," and it altered perspectives on social life precisely because its sense of transcendence and its belief that the presence of that transcendent reality made a difference in life.
Wherever Christianity has gone it has brought with it an impulse, sometimes subverted, to form new centers of social existence distinct from ethnicity, any single cultural tradition, any particular political power, or any distinct economic caste or class. Whenever Christian communities have become too closely identified with one or another of these traditional orders of life, dissenting factions, alternative congregations, or paraecclesial movements, claiming to represent the true, prophetic faith, have challenged that accommodation. The relation of these alternative bodies to the majority developments of the tradition and their roles in society are decisive for understanding Christian social movements in the West.
Christianity seems always to have pressed in two directions. One is toward consolidation of the movement's growth by the establishment of a church that would take responsibility for guiding the moral and spiritual lives of the people and institutions in a territory where the movement gained influence. The other is sectarian in the sense that it draws people into an alternative lifestyle and communities of commitment that are self-consciously distinct from the established institutions of a society—including the church. The "sects" may seek to ignore the life of "the world," renouncing sex and the family, politics and power, and economics and wealth, or they may seek to transform "the world" and all of these spheres of life by "aggressive," even militant discipline.
In the medieval period of the West, alternative congregations were, for the most part, channeled into either monastic orders that claimed, with considerable success, to represent the ideal models of faithfulness or into various "confraternities"—guilds or lay orders for devotion and service without abandoning family, power, and wealth. Some orders, such as those founded by Saint Basil and Saint Benedict, were more withdrawing. Orders such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, by contrast, were gently aggressive in their efforts to touch and transform the everyday life of the laity. Some lay orders, meanwhile, such as the Templars and Hospitalers, were more aggressive in the conventional sense. In the late Middle Ages and increasingly during the Reformation, nonmonastic alternatives arose, some inspiring social movements with more intentionally overt sociopolitical overtones, such as those led by John Wyclif (c. 1330–1384), Jan Hus (1372 or 1373–1415), and Thomas Müntzer (1468 or 1489/90–1525), and a few people, such as Jon of Leiden, formed communities that held wives, husbands, and property in common. It is therefore impossible to understand the magisterial reformations of Martin Luther (1483–1546) and John Calvin (1509–1564) without seeing how much their sociopolitical thought continued that of their Roman predecessors.
What these Christian communions had in common was not only the confession of Christ but a social effect that was only partially intended. The formation of new organized bodies of believers, distinct from both political (royal or imperial) and familial (sib, clan, or tribal) authorities, gradually carved out a series of social spaces in which various interests claimed and eventually won the legal right to exist in independent institutions. It revolutionized social history.
That space was often not wide, but networks of scholars, leagues of peasants, and associations of artisans, mystics, traders, and bards found elbow room under the mantle of patrons and patron saints, in the shadow of monasteries or nunneries, or at the feet of the cathedrals in the free cities. These innovative organizations claimed the God-given right to address sociopolitical matters in terms of a Christian vision of righteousness and hope, often without the approval of established hierarchies. The very fact that they introduced new centers of organized conviction into late-feudal social settings brought about a reshaped and pluralistic constellation of moral and social authority into what were otherwise limited, often closed systems—a major change in itself. In this they followed what had already been anticipated in the early church when, as a tiny minority, it formed communities of commitment that differed from both the ethnic identities of Jews and Greeks, the political orders of both the old polis and the Roman imperium, and from the householders and servants in all the regional cultures. It is possible to discern the deepest roots of proto-democratic societies more clearly in these developments than in the polities of the ancient cities or the theories of the modern Enlightenment. Indeed, the latter is dependent on these antecedents.
Modern Christian social movements are distinguished from their earlier prototypes by their increasing ability to organize freely, by their more overt goals of addressing specific social problems or groups, and by the growth of a kind of historical consciousness that expects human agency, in the service of God's promises of redemption, to help the needy, empower the weak, establish justice, and resist injustice by concerted action. Movements sharing these characteristics have evolved in a variety of directions.
Some movements were organized in order to form institutions of charity, staffed by committed "sisters" or "brothers" who dedicated their lives to service. Christian hospitals, schools, orphanages, and homes for the mentally or physically handicapped were founded in nearly every sizable community in the Western world—as well as increasingly in developing countries, where mission movements have been active. Hospitals often still bear the names of their founding religious groups, even if their twenty-first-century support comes less from church-related sources and more directly from government, insurance companies, or foundations. The number of orphanages and homes for the handicapped has been reduced due to better medical care for mothers and for children with birth defects—and due to the increased options for safe abortion, sharply opposed by Catholics and many evangelicals, yet accepted in some circumstances by most Protestants. Adoption agencies, advocacy groups for and by handicapped persons, and pregnancy counseling services have increased, many under religious sponsorship or with their support Indeed, current advocates of governmental funding for "faith-based" groups as full partners in fighting certain social problems are seeking to extend this history into new channels of care and action.
Until the late nineteenth century most of the colleges and universities of the West were founded by churches, orders, or sects or by those political authorities who wanted to foster a specific religious perspective, improve the image of their city or region, and better prepare their citizens for a growing economy. Dedicated Christian educators extended the range of higher education by founding colleges and universities in nearly every country around the world. Believers also founded community organizations that sought to improve neighborhoods and cities and joined fraternal and service organizations, such as the Freemasons, Eastern Star, Rotary, or the Lions, that played similar roles in local communities.
Several movements on the Continent focused more on social action than on social service and echoed accents that came from the "Radical Reformation" of the sixteenth century (sometimes bloodily persecuted by the Catholic and early Protestant Churches). Later, in the Cromwellian revolution in England, certain parallels to the earlier examples also appeared. The Puritan "Chaplains" of the "New Model Army" and the lay "Diggers" and "Levelers" called for structural reform of authority, landownership, and status systems as well as the reform of the churches and the freedom of religion. More than a century later, after the American and French Revolutions, many Christians saw direct political involvement to support schools, good government, and the taming of the American frontier as duties of faith. Overtly Christian political parties were formed in many countries of Europe, and in the United States parties were formed not only to protect regional interests but to preserve the moral, spiritual, and democratic values of Protestantism as settlers moved west.
The Anglo-American dream of nations of yeoman farmers and village traders was shattered by the industrial revolution. It uprooted families, made traditional skills obsolete, and generated cities full of new classes, factories, immigrants, and misery. Specific churches became identified with particular minorities, and new sects developed special affinities for the new classes that replaced the older, hierarchically ordered status groups of aristocratic landlords, artisans, and peasants. Religious leaders ministered to these emerging class-conscious workers or bosses and became the advocates for their material interests. Comparable dynamics continue in developing nations, as worker or peasant movements protest, in the name of Christ, the identification of Christianity with bourgeois values and as new clusters of political, business, and professional leaders meet, also in the name of Christ, to increase their awareness of moral and spiritual values to guide them as they lead the world toward a new global order.
Many argue that post-Reformation Christianity was the key stimulus to democratic, technological, and economic societies, and also, indirectly, to the Enlightenment and modernity. Others argue that political, social, and technical changes brought about the religious developments. While each surely influenced the other, the weight of evidence seems to fall on the former contention. The religiously legitimated political revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the technological revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth ushered in new patterns of economic productivity and, ironically, new conceptions of the social order. Some of these conceptions became ideologically driven movements within established churches, new sects, and some denominations, each reflecting a somewhat distinctive understanding of the faith as well as the particular social interests of its constituency. The European history of militant Lutheranism among the Prussian Junkers, Catholic conservatism of the Iberian peoples, or nationalist Anglicanism of the British Tories could find parallels in the chauvinist movements among Protestants in the United States. Other parallels include the Pietistic ecclesiolae that developed in the Netherlands, the early Methodist "classes" among the coal miners of England, and later the Innere Mission in Germany, the Salvation Army among the urban poor in England and America, and the civil rights movements led by African American Christians and the (now mostly defunct) Christian labor organizations or "worker priest" movements in all industrializing countries.
In America, the pervasive early influences of the Reformed and the sectarian traditions stamped the structure of religious and civil life in distinctive ways, especially by the idea of "covenant." The notion of covenant, as it was distinguished in Protestant thinking from both voluntaristic "contract" and pre-given static "orders of society," suggested that people can construct or reform their social institutions but that the moral norms that must govern the agreements, reconstructions, and new institutions are established by God and must be discerned in community and implemented by concerted action. It was to fulfill the possibilities of covenantal forms of life that the early Pilgrims and Puritans came to the New World. The experience of leaving behind the old society and seeking to establish a new one in a new land reinforced biblical images of exodus and new covenant. It evoked expectations of historical change and made the quest for the new and better more important than satisfaction with the old and settled. But immigration and religious innovation brought a pluralization of religions that even such theocratic regimes as the one in Massachusetts could not contain. Further, the fact that American developments took place in a context without previous feudal or imperial traditions that had to be overcome produced widespread social experimentation with a priority of local freedom over centralized political order. Such factors interacted to produce a variety of alternative congregations, paraecclesial movements, and voluntary organizations unique in human history. In this context the famous fugitive from Puritan Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), started some two hundred associations for social betterment in Pennsylvania; the dissident Puritan, Roger Williams (1603?–1683), founded Providence, Rhode Island, on the principle of religious freedom and became the symbolic hero of the separation of church and state; and James Madison (1751–1836) argued in The Federalist that religious and party pluralism, supported by checks and balances in government, could preserve a new kind of freedom and prevent tyranny.
By the 1830s all the state constitutions in the United States were altered so that all churches were disestablished and legally viewed as voluntary associations. Even many who had fought the trend gradually became enthusiastic proponents of the idea that Christian social witness was to be carried out by voluntary, paraecclesial social organizations. That freedom of religion means not only tolerance but also the right and duty of committed people to organize movements for social service and social change outside the government and distinct from the worshiping congregation became the dominant view. It was believed that this was precisely what God had intended from the Exodus, through the prophets and the formation of the Jesus movement (with the calling of the disciples unrelated to the priesthood) to Pentecost in the New Testament, though only now were the fuller social implications of those events becoming actualized.
A veritable explosion of social movements took place on these foundations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The United States became a nation of "joiners." "Home mission" societies ministered to the Native Americans who were being pushed ever westward, to the settlers on the semicivilized frontiers, and to the newly arrived immigrants in the growing American cities. Numerous "foreign mission" societies were formed as well to bring the faith and civilization to other lands. Many of the modern churches of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands struggle to bring about open, democratic societies that respect human rights and foster economic development. They find their roots in the missionary efforts, although they often are also critical of those missionaries who cooperated with or were advocates of the imperialist policies of their home countries. Those who supported the missionary movements abroad were usually, however, among those who resisted imperialism and supported antislavery, labor, and child protection movements. They also often supported movements against liquor, gambling, pornography, and prostitution. In fact many "morally uplifting crusades" were soon to arise in the wake of revivalisms, themselves paraecclesial movements that offered the possibility of liberation from personal sin (by decision for Christ) and of the empowerment to transform the social habits and individual vices that sapped the spirits of ordinary people.
The most important social movement of the nineteenth century, however, was the struggle to free the slaves in the West. In the United States a number of slave uprisings, political struggles over the extension of slavery into new states, and humanitarian emancipation movements had raised the question to visibility from the early 1800s, but not until the northern churches began to mobilize at midcentury did the movement gain momentum. Although there were some slaves in the north as well, the rising tide of moral objection converged with sharp debates about how to interpret Scripture on social issues, how to understand apparent racial differences, how to chart the economic future of the nation, and how to understand the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Several Protestant Churches split on these issues, setting the stage for persistent theological tensions. The resulting Civil War freed the slaves, defeated the confederated states, and accelerated the late entry of the United States into the industrial revolution. It also made the attempt by southern plantation owners to replicate a landed aristocracy with a feudal peasantry in a land without peasants obsolete economically as well as morally.
Many of the old practices, however, did not die the day Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) issued the Emancipation Proclamation, for efforts were made to keep the old quasi-feudal system in revised form, not by chattel slavery but by instituting new patterns of servitude enforced by custom and discriminatory statute. Still, the end of the saddest era in American history was announced. In the wake of these events an enormous number of missionaries, teachers, and nurses went to the South from northern churches to evangelize the former slaves and to build schools, colleges, clinics, and hospitals for (and with) the newly freed black Americans. Newly formed black churches, especially Baptist and Methodist, provided opportunities for the cultivation of a new gen-eration of leaders who not only led worship but also be-came central figures in community organization and social advocacy.
After the war, Christians organized advocacy and cooperative associations, such as the Farmers' Alliance and the Colored Farmers' National Alliance and Cooperative Union. Less overtly rooted in Christian thought was the Patrons of Husbandry (the "Grange"), which drew some patterns of ritual from the Freemasons. In the northern cities Christian paraecclesial movements attempted to address the new class conflicts arising with rapid industrialization by using evangelism techniques combined with social service and social action strategies. The immigrants to the cities from the farms and from Europe were met with city missionary societies and "settlement houses," the innovative Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and the younger but also growing Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), plus nascent Christian labor unions. Such organizations were subsequently established around the world.
The methods of raising funds to sustain these organizations in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century were innovative. The voluntary associational character of church organization produced a new interpretation of the biblical concept of stewardship, one that called upon church members to not only pledge regular contributions to sustain the church, but also to support mission, outreach, cultural activities, social action work, and benevolence agencies that were thought to serve the wider purposes of the Kingdom of God in society.
Funds to support these missionary and social movements were often raised by women's groups. Victorian women of means and charitable intent were sometimes satirized as "Lady Bountiful," but many struggling families kept body and soul together because of their gifts in an age before welfare. Moreover the wives of workers and farmers organized literary and musical events, bake sales, quilting bees, and knitting parties "for good Christian causes." Informal networks of cooperation to help the poor became more formalized and focused in such organizations as the Women's Rights Convention (1848), the Women's Christian Temperance Union (1873), the Women's Missionary Society, the Christian Women's Action Guild, the Women's Society for Christian Service, and a host of similar bodies. The full effect of these organizations is undocumented, but the existing literature suggests that, besides helping the needy, they provided an opportunity for the development of organizational skills and perspectives on family, political, and social issues. These were the training grounds for those who were to lead the struggles for suffrage and later causes identified as feminist. Some contemporary women's movements have been hostile to Christianity, but such women's organizations have been forceful advocates of social development and equal opportunity in both church and society.
Many concerns of the period began to congeal into a wider theological-social realignment at the end of the nineteenth century under the general rubric the "Social Gospel." This was less a single social movement than a congeries of movements signaled by a social understanding of faith that demanded institutional transformation toward economic democracy. While Washington Gladden (1836–1918), Richard T. Ely (1854–1943), and Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) are among the more memorable apologists for the Social Gospel, the enormous variety of social concerns addressed under this mantle, from the perspective of the meaning of the term for social movements, are well cataloged in W. D. F. Bliss's New Encyclopedia of Social Reform (1910). All the mainline churches were deeply stamped by this movement.
World War I and the Great Depression shattered the tendency toward an overheated optimism in parts of the Social Gospel and brought other developments that modified the direction of Christian social movements. Several of the movements generated out of the Social Gospel began to lose their distinctive Christian bases and became little more than groups of liberal civic-minded activists, while others simply became interest groups struggling to get as many material gains for their constituents as possible. Simultaneously, and partly in reaction to these trends, evangelical movements and fundamentalism arose as fresh social and religious forces specifically critical of evolutionary biological, anthropological, social, and ethical theories, which they felt displaced the Gospel and overturned the authority of Scripture.
During this same period two European movements of considerable consequence were also underway. Socialist proletarians of the Marxist left engaged in increasingly sharp criticism of any connection between religion and socially progressive movements, sometimes targeting democratic politics and capitalist economics as the enemies of radical social change and the ideological masks of Protestant, bourgeois self-interest. Simultaneously, a series of aristocratic conservatives, from John Ruskin (1819–1900) in England to Bishop Wilhelm Ketteler (1811–1877) in Germany, Comte de Mun (1841–1914) in France, and Cardinal Gaspard Mermillod (1824–1892) in Switzerland, also undertook the study of emerging social problems and wrote a series of critiques of democracy, which they saw as the legacy of the antireligious French Revolution, taken over by a conspiracy of Jewish bankers and Protestant factory owners to reduce the workers and farmers to industrial servitude. Both democracy and capitalism, they said, were based on nothing more than individualistic and utilitarian "contracts" without any moral or spiritual bases. These Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic leaders developed positive proposals on the duties of the "Christian state," the "Christian family," and the "Christian Church" as organic, comprehensive communities based on natural law and revealed dogma by which the lives of all persons were to be sustained and guided and the restoration of a Christian society attained.
One of the great ironies of these two developments was that the actual programs of the antireligious, socialist left and of the "social Catholic" premodernist right converged to produce attitudes and political policies in many European countries that promoted workers' organizations and limited but did not prohibit the development of free markets. When these themes were officially propagated by Pope Leo XIII (reigned 1878–1903), a new course was set for Catholic engagement with modern social issues, one that had great consequence in the post–World War II period with the rise of "political theology" and later "liberation theology" in Latin America. These were adopted by religious leaders in decolonializing nations around the world and by many heirs of the Protestant Social Gospel, who took them as the unofficial standards of faith in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
These developments could not fully erase the memories of earlier hostilities between Catholics and Protestants. The flood of Catholic immigrants into the industrializing cities of the United States, especially from Ireland and, later, Italy, also sparked anti-Catholic movements. For most of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, Catholic populations were in a defensive and difficult position, and the energy expended and the sacrifices made to find jobs, to build churches, and to establish Catholic schools as an alternative to the largely Protestantized public schools are a monument to faith. Catholic lay leaders also formed paraecclesial lay fraternal orders, such as the Knights of Columbus, that echoed conservative views on social and religious questions even as their members swelled the ranks of left-leaning unions and political parties.
As these Catholics endeavored to form social movements, some adopted motifs from the essentially Protestant Social Gospel. However, when they became too enthusiastic about the virtues of religious pluralism, lay leadership in both church and society, secular democratic government, or the formation of religiously neutral unions, their efforts were condemned by Rome as "Americanism" and "modernism." Still, papal teachings had opened the door to modern economics, and new patterns of Catholic social thought and activity were stimulated. A new generation of American Catholic scholars and activists fomented social service and social advocacy within a decidedly democratic framework and toward a new form of welfare capitalism in the twentieth century. The Bishops' Program of Social Reconstruction (1919) is a landmark of this direction.
Figures such as Fr. John A. Ryan (1867–1945) and Fr. John Courtney Murray (1904–1967) provided intellectual and moral guidance for Catholic involvement in the democratization of economic opportunities and for Catholic participation in democratic political life. The line from these roots to contemporary Catholic social movements in the United States is not difficult to draw. Catholic movements against abortion, for peace and justice, and in support of human rights continued to grow, especially after Vatican II (1962–1965) spoke of the ministry of the laity and Popes John XXIII (reigned 1958–1963) and John Paul II endorsed these motifs. The U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Letter on War and Peace (1982), issued at the height of the cold war, has been widely adopted as almost a manifesto for numerous Protestant and Catholic antinuclear movements. The U.S. Catholic bishops drafted a Letter on the Economy (1986), which both commends the achievements of capitalism and demands active engagement, in the name of Christ, to redress its negative effects. John Paul II, the Polish pope who was clearly involved in efforts to overthrow communism in Eastern Europe, cautiously but firmly accented the relative benefits of capitalism and democracy, strongly linked these to the defense of human rights, and approved sharp Vatican critiques of liberation theology.
Internationally the rise of National Socialism in Germany and Stalinism in the Soviet Union forced Christian social movements at mid-twentieth century to become increasingly and overtly political in defense of democracy. In the United States, extremist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils attributed the ills of the world to blacks, Catholics, Jews, and communists, and they attempted to use Christian symbols to legitimate their hate. Nearly all church bodies preached against such organizations, and many threw their attention instead to a wide variety of religiously based efforts on the other end of the political spectrum, such as the Fellowship of Socialist Christians and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. More notable, however, is the fact that Christian Realism—a tough-minded theological orientation usually associated with Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)—became the reigning mode of articulating the Christian vision for social justice during the Great Depression, World War II, and the cold war.
The building of vast armies to meet international threats and the increased involvement of the government in economic matters increased the size and scope of political, administrative, and regulative bureaucracies in the United States. These developments in government deeply affected Christian theology and church-related social movements. They supported national policies that institutionalized on nonreligious bases many of the programs begun in voluntary, faith-based movements, they modified church and religious organizations as the agencies providing services for the needy in local communities, and they evoked a general turn to political strategies of advocacy for specific public policies in the emerging welfare society.
After World War II these trends continued, but other trends also became prominent. A new generation of leaders arose from the black churches, the most famous of whom was Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). King organized a new Christian social movement—the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—to confront the "betrayal of the American dream" and the racist customs and organizations that had established discriminatory laws after the end of slavery nearly a century before. He initiated a series of nonviolent marches and demonstrations that "called the country to its highest ideals" and "the faith to its first principles of justice." (Lincoln, 1970, p.13). Although the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League had already worked for racial justice for decades and U.S. military forces had been integrated after it was recognized as absurd to fight the racist policies of Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) with segregated forces, King's movement touched the festering conscience of the world more deeply, and his strategies were soon adopted by other minority groups and activists with other agendas.
The U.S. involvement in Vietnam brought about another spate of church and paraecclesial efforts to alter common habits of mind and public policy. The organization Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam was perhaps the most important national organization to protest the Vietnam War, but local organizations seemed to spring from the chaplains' offices on nearly every university campus. Many of the people engaged in the antiwar protests were those who had marched with King. After the war they organized boycotts against growers who employed migrant workers at below-standard pay rates, clothing manufacturers who resisted unionization, and infant-formula manufacturers who utilized questionable marketing techniques in poor countries. Others attempted to pressure stockholders of corporations doing business in, say, the Republic of South Africa in the days of apartheid to change policies or divest entirely, or to influence those operating in Central American or Southeast Asian countries to raise the minimal wages paid to workers there. Such authors as Rachel Carson (1907–1964) brought to public attention potential damage to the environment, and soon a variety of Christian "eco-justice" efforts were under way to protect God's creation. These issues were all taken up by the "mainline churches" as major causes, and concern about them survived, slightly modified, in the handbooks of church bureaucracies and slogans at antiglobalization demonstrations.
More often than not, in those church circles inclined to mount social movements, the source of the world's problems has been identified as "capitalism," usually understood in quasi-Marxist terms. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the privatization and deregulation of the economies in most countries, the resurgence of conservative religions as the guide to social development and public policy, and conflicting views of the nature of capitalism have brought frustration to "mainline" Christian social movements. Indeed it is almost a cliché to say that the "mainline" has been "sidelined" by its predictable and passé social analysis. Nowhere is this clearer than in the critiques of globalization as merely the result of Western forms of predatory capitalism. The fact that globalization involves the spread of human rights, the development of international law, the adoption of democracy, increased international cooperation to control disease and hunger, the striking formation of new middle classes, and the spread of technology along with access to education and means of communication is hardly mentioned. Globalization also involves a shift in perspective about sociological existence that is as dramatic as the shift Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) brought to cosmological existence. Ironically, many church leaders are as eager to condemn this shift as vigorously as their predecessors did Galileo. That is not to say that the churches are socially irrelevant, but it is to suggest that what they do on the ground is more effective and more dependent on more globalized perspectives than those that dominate the antiglobal theologies of many mainline national and ecumenical church bodies.
These brief references to political activism should not obscure the fact that liberation theology engendered several social movements, not only in Latin America but also in almost every part of Africa and Asia as the "new countries" sought independence from the colonial powers that previously governed them, and then from the internal hegemonies that emerged in one-party states after the colonialists were deposed. Scholars disagree on whether the views developed in these regions of the world can be considered "theology" in any enduring sense of the word, or whether they are instead a form of baptized ideology combined with local religiosity. But even critics acknowledge liberation theology's social importance in giving a voice to those who were previously only recipients of other people's perspectives.
Still, many wonder if this combination of piety and analysis, having made its witness against colonialism, imperialism, and hegemony, can also provide models for the reconstruction and development of liberated societies. In the Philippines after Ferdinand Marcos (president 1965–1986), in Indonesia after Suharto (president 1967–1998), in central Africa after successive coups, in southern Africa after apartheid, and in much of Latin America after right-wing dictators and guerrilla oppositions, ideas of liberation may engender effective models of democratic order with human rights, economic viability, racial justice, sexual equality, and freedom of religion, but the record has not proven promising.
Nevertheless the liberation movements did give people at the margins of the dominant institutions and traditions the courage to speak up. Two groups the liberationists did not expect to take that challenge have in fact exercised that option with vigor and effect. One is the feminists, and the other is the evangelicals.
Much of feminism traces its origins to the Enlightenment and can take one of two forms: liberal (accenting individual rights and moral autonomy) or radical (accenting social solidarity and the interdependence of sexism with classism, racism, and ecological domination). But not all modes of feminism are liberal or radical in these senses. A large literature has been developed by and about feminist Christians, heirs in a way of the nineteenth-century missionary movements. They join their liberal and radical sisters in that they too are critical of patriarchal religion and the ways in which clergy have subordinated or exploited women's gifts and leadership abilities both in church and society, but they see aspects and dynamics in the classical texts and traditions that are indispensable to both personal identity and community formation. All seek the recognition that women have been subordinated, oppressed, or simply viewed as sexual objects in much of human history, and all want the restructuring of authority and work in household and economy, access to political power and professional opportunity, and more control of reproduction.
The confluence of Enlightenment and Christian ethical norms has had a wide effect in the use of ordinary language, in the use of theological symbols, in expectations of shared duties in the home, and, more widely, in the way in which women are perceived and conduct themselves in the workplace—from the research lab to the battlefield, from the judge's bench to the pulpit. They have made what once were considered "private" issues matters of public awareness and policy, and they have forced those who thought they were doing "objective" analysis of medical, social, and political problems to acknowledge the presence of bias in the presuppositions and perceptions of problems. This movement has had worldwide repercussions, and women from every religious background have followed parallel paths to those already cut through the thickets of exegesis, tradition, debate, and role conflict by feminist Christians.
Parallel to the influence of feminism, evangelical Protestantism, with some wings essentially Pentecostal and others fundamentalist (and often in conversation and ethical agreement with conservative forms of Catholicism) have also had great effects. The interaction of these groups is evident in Christianity Today and First Things, two of the liveliest and most widely circulated Christian journals in the world. Whereas the views of these groups were obscured by mainline development in the past, they are obscure no more, to the chagrin of many ecumenical and liberal Christians. They have founded a series of academic and research institutions, they have bought a number of radio and television stations, they have become a major force in national politics in North and South America, and they have missionary and human services organizations that reach into most of the countries of the world and into the center of the most difficult urban subcultures.
Evangelical Protestantism's new public activism seems to have come in reaction to a series of public developments—the Roe vs. Wade ruling allowing abortion, the removal of public prayer from the public schools, the acceptance of gay relationships as equal in moral value to heterosexual marriage, and the neglect of religious, biblical, and theological influences in social and intellectual history due to a presumption that modernity means secularism. The fact that religious freedom, constitutional democracy, human rights, modern science, and modern technological and economic advances developed in cultures shaped by evangelical forms of Christianity, and only secondarily anywhere else, is not noted. Yet as mainline Christian interpretations of life and social history fall into relativism and missionary zeal erodes, perspectives appreciative of Christianity and new missionary movements are spreading throughout the world at the hands of Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal theologies. They in fact have grown at exponential rates in Africa, Asia, and the many parts of the Americas. For these movements the crucial issues are openness to faith, a positive evaluation of religious freedom, and the theological cultivation of those patterns of life that can form a wholesome civil society, generate social capital, and empower marginalized peoples to participate in the cultural and economic dynamics of globalization.
While these two movements differ in a great number of respects, they share a recognition that the earlier sharp line between personal and public issues and between faith and secular social philosophy is fading, and that lifestyle issues and theology are central to public debates. In addition, many feminists realize that a majority of women are deeply religious, and many evangelical Christians recognize that the patriarchal treatment of women is contrary to the deeper strands of the faith. Both of these movements, like the growing consensus about the importance of human rights, ecological responsibility, and concern for the inequalities of economic opportunity around the world, also supported by feminist and Christian groups, show no sign of fading. It is doubtful that any social movement that does not recognize the vitality and validity of much that these two movements emphasize can flourish.
Denominationalism; Evangelical and Fundamental Christianity; Freemasons; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Leo XIII; Methodist Churches; Missions, article on Missionary Activity; Modernism, article on Christian Modernism; Niebuhr, Reinhold; Pietism; Political Theology; Rauschenbusch, Walter; Reformation; Religious Broadcasting; Religious Communities, article on Christian Religious Orders; Salvation Army; Troeltsch, Ernst; Williams, Roger.
Biblical and Early Church Traditions
Bammel, Ernst, and C. F. D. Moule. Jesus and the Politics of His Day. Cambridge, U.K., 1984. Major essays on the sociopolitical context and effects of the early Christian movement.
Malina, Bruce J., and Richard L. Rohrbaugh. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Minneapolis, 2003.
Theissen, Gerd. Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity. Philadelphia, 1978. One of the leading scholars of the social context of early Christian movements.
Berman, Harold J. Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition. Cambridge, Mass., 1983. The legal history of social change in European developments.
Himmelfarb, Gertrude. The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age. New York, 1983. An interpretation of the development of the idea of "the poor" as an "oppressed" group.
Klinken, Jaap van. Diakonia: Mutual Helping with Justice and Compassion. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1989. A documented history of the growing Protestant sense of the moral duty to help those with less opportunity.
Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity. Princeton, N.J., 1996. A sociological understanding of the reasons various groups turned to the Christian faith.
Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class. New York, 1966.
Troeltsch, Ernst. The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches (1911). 2 vols. Chicago, 1981. First published in English in 1931. The now classic Protestant interpretation of the interaction of doctrinal development and social influences.
Weber, Max. "The City." In Economy and Society, vol. 3, chap. 16. New York, 1968. A suggestive hypothesis about the pre-Protestant development of modernizing forces in medieval cities.
Williams, George Hunston. The Radical Reformation. 3d ed. Kirkville, Mo., 1992. A collection of the primary documents of the non-Lutheran, non-Calvinist Protestant movements that established the "free church" traditions of "disestablished religion."
Woodhouse, A. S. P., ed. Puritanism and Liberty. London, 1938.
Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven, Conn., 1972. The most exhaustive single volume of American church history in existence.
Carter, Paul Allen. The Decline and Revival of the Social Gospel. Ithaca, N.Y., 1956. The historical treatment of the transition from the early Social Gospel to the "Christian realism" of midcentury Christian activism versus the Nazi threat.
Donaldson, Dave, and Stanley Carlson-Their. A Revolution of Compassion. Grand Rapids, Mich., 2004. A challenging defense of the idea of "faith-based" subsidies.
Evans, Christopher H. The Social Gospel Today. Louisville, Ky., 2001. Collected essays on the importance of continuing influence of the "social gospel" in liberal Protestanism.
Hopkin, Charles Howard. The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915. New Haven, Conn., 1940. The best overview of the rise of "social Christianity" in the industrial age.
Lincoln, C. E., and Lawrence Mamiya. The Black Churches in America. Boston, 1970. To date, the most comprehensive interpretation of the role of African American religion in American life.
McKelvey, Blake. The Urbanization of America, 1860–1915. New Brunswick, N.J., 1963. A key representative documentation of the social and religious effects of urbanization in the United States.
Niebuhr, H. Richard. The Social Sources of Denominationalism. New York, 1929. A widely used introduction to the interaction of social thought and theological understanding in modern America.
Smith, Timothy L. Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America. New York, 1957. The primary text for the resurgence of the evangelical tradition as a major force in social science in the United States.
Modern and Contemporary Movements
Aikman, David. Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power. Washington, D.C., 2003. A journalistic account of the growth of Christianity in China as an example of the explosion of conservative faith in the developing world.
Jenkins, Philip. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Oxford, U.K., 2002. An interpretation of the ways in which Christianity is changing the face of Africa.
May, Melanie A. Bonds of Unity: Women, Theology, and the Worldwide Church. Atlanta, 1989. Addresses the importance of feminist theology on the global scene.
Smidt, Corwin. Religion as Social Capital: Producing the Common Good. Waco, Tex., 2003. The rejection of religion as a product of social influences and an affirmation of religion as a personal, decisive social force.
Stackhouse, Max L., with Peter Paris, eds. God and Globalization. 4 vols. Harrisburg, Pa., 2000–2004. An attempt to identify the universalistic dynamics of religion, particularly Christianity, in shaping the new global civilization that is emerging in the early twenty-first century.
Wijaya, Yahya. Business, Family, and Religion: Public Theology in the Context of the Chinese-Indonesian Business Community. Oxford and New York, 2002. An example of the ways in which global forces are altering thought and action in non-Western societies.
Max L. Stackhouse (1987 and 2005)
"Christian Social Movements." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 14, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/christian-social-movements
"Christian Social Movements." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved January 14, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/christian-social-movements
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