Evangelical Responses to the City
Evangelical Responses to the City
Salvation Army. Religious liberals held no monopoly on concern for the poor in the swelling industrial cities. Missions and voluntary societies that focused on individual conversion were extremely active in late-nineteenth-century urban centers. Among the most distinctive and comprehensive of these groups was the Salvation Army, which was introduced by its English founders to the United States in 1880. Its military style of organization and aggressive approach were unfamiliar at first in the United States, but by 1890 the Salvation Army was an accepted and increasingly visible presence in urban life. The Army was founded in London in 1865 by the Methodist preachers William and Catherine Booth. The Booths wanted to carry evangelism into the streets, and they developed a colorful and entertaining style of ministry that included bombarding poor neighborhoods with brass bands, preachers, and “Hallelujah Lasses” (female evangelists). The group adopted its military name and style of organization in 1878. Its primary religious focus was on converting individuals to faith in Jesus Christ and then guiding them through the experience of sanctification. While the Army’s theological focus was individual and not social, it shared many of the techniques and theories used in emerging liberal movements. The Booths believed that acts of social relief symbolized the New Testament’s command to believers to care for the poor in Jesus’ name and demonstrated the sincerity with which the Salvationists regarded both the spiritual and social aspects of Christianity. The Army sought to provide the poor with at least the three things the Booths believed even a cart horse had a right to expect: “shelter for the night, food for its stomach, [and] work allotted to it by which it can earn its own corn.” Aside from rescue missions, the Army’s programs included legal assistance,
nurseries, visiting nurses, and educational and job-training programs.
Social Gospel. The Social Gospel movement emerged from evangelical Protestant attempts to address the poverty and confusion of the nation’s growing industrial cities. Although the movement did not take clear shape until the twentieth century, its stirrings were discernible in the late 1870s. Adherents of the movement worked to apply Christian principles to the new circumstances of life in a fast-paced, impersonal, industrial order. They tended to shift theological emphasis from the salvation of individual sinners to an imperative that stressed love of neighbor and the communal nature of salvation. Socially oriented theologians, such as Walter Rauschenbusch of Rochester Seminary, argued that the church needed to rouse itself and reverse “the spiritual domination of the commercial and professional classes.” The economist Richard Ely summarized the dominant liberal side of the Social Gospel message this way in 1899:
Christianity is primarily concerned with this world and it is the mission of Christianity to bring to pass here a kingdom of righteousness and to rescue from the evil one and redeem all our social relations. . . . The ‘Church militant’ is something more than a phrase, or the Church itself is a mockery. . . . It means a never-ceasing attack on every wrong institution, until the earth become a new earth, and all its cities of God. It is as truly a religious work to pass good laws, as it is to preach sermons; as holy a work to lead a crusade against filth, vice and disease in slums of cities, and to seek the abolition of the disgraceful tenement-houses of American cities, as it is to send missionaries to the heathen. Even to hoe potatoes and plant corn ought to be regarded, and must be regarded by true Christians as religious acts; and all legislators, magistrates, and governors are as truly ministers of God’s Church as any bishop or archbishop.
Richard T. Ely, Social Aspects of’Christianity (New’York: Crowell, 1899);
Norman H. Murdoch, Origins of the Salvation Army (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995).