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Social Gospel: Separating Church and Hate

Berry Craig: If reactionary Republicans and their Christian rightist followers were to visit just about any college campus in Kentucky, they'd get a pretty good idea that the future is not theirs, even in Bible Belt Kentucky.
Separating Church and Hate

House Speaker Greg Stumbo

On election night, of Prestonsburg, Kentucky, urged his fellow Democrats not to let Republicans “make people believe that we are not Godly people.”

Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin won with a big boost from Christian conservatives. Calling himself “PRO LIFE, PRO FAMILY, PRO 2ND AMENDMENT,” born-again Christian Bevin ran hard on the so-called social issues. One of my union brothers labeled them “the Three Gs – God, guns and gays.”

The matchup between Bevin and Attorney Gen. Jack Conway, the Democrat, was yet another election in Bible Belt Kentucky where the Republicans wanted the voters to think their party is the Godly party. “They act like ‘GOP’ stands for 'God’s Own Party,'” one western Kentucky Democrat griped.

Eastern Kentucky Democrat Stumbo did his best to rally a roomful of despondent Democrats. He challenged the faithful to not let the Republicans convince voters “that only Christians are Republicans and Republicans, therefore, are entitled to hold office.”

Stumbo admitted he hadn’t “read the Holy Book from front to finish.” But he said he couldn’t find “the word ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’” in the Good Book.

Stumbo added, “People sometimes ask me…what would Jesus have been if he were alive?” The speaker said he didn’t know and that “nobody knows. The Bible doesn’t tell us that.”

If reactionary Republicans and their Christian rightist followers were to visit just about any college campus in Kentucky, they'd get a pretty good idea that the future is not theirs, even in Bible Belt Kentucky.

Yet he said the Bible teaches “that you reach out to those who can’t help themselves, that you offer hope where hope isn’t. That you believe that tomorrow’s a better day and that everybody ought to sacrifice to help those that aren’t as lucky as you.”

Helping “people who can’t help themselves” and urging people “to sacrifice to help those that aren’t as lucky as you” are appeals straight out of the old-time Social Gospel, which, if some polling data is correct, might be poised to make a comeback, especially among young people. Other surveys show that the Three Gs don't resonate among a lot of them.

The Social Gospel movement was part of a general reform impulse that swept the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Dr. Martin Luther King said he was "deeply influenced" by the Social Gospel, which emphasized "that the Christian religion must not only be concerned about saving the individual's soul but also dealing with the social evils that corrupt the soul."

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Dr. King cited the Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor and theologian, who helped lead the Social Gospel movement. He and like-minded religioius leaders stressed the here-and-now, not just the hereafter. In the name of Jesus, they spoke out against racism, economic inequality, anti-immigrant prejudice, militarism and other injustices. They denounced greed and union-busting as un-Christian, too.

Their aim was to “work in this world to establish a Kingdom of God with social justice for all."

The Social Gospel movement stressed the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and the part in the Lord’s Prayer which says, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

"Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus,” Rauschenbusch wrote. “Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master."

Asked Rauschenbusch: “Will the twentieth century mark for the future historian the real adolescence of humanity, the great emancipation from barbarism and from the paralysis of injustice, and the beginning of a progress in the intellectual, social, and moral life of mankind to which all past history has no parallel? It will depend almost wholly on the moral forces which the Christian nations can bring to the fighting line against wrong, and the fighting energy of those moral forces will again depend on the degree to which they are inspired by religious faith and enthusiasm.”

Father John Augustine Ryan, a Catholic priest expressed similar views. He favored “a legal minimum wage, an eight-hour limit on the work day, protective legislation for women and children, protection for union picketing and boycotting, unemployment insurance, provision against accident, illness and old age, municipal housing, public ownership of utilities, public ownership of mines and forests, control of monopolies, and an income tax.”

Ryan’s faith also led him to favor a “living wage” for workers so they could adequately provide for their families.

Anyway, if reactionary Republicans and their Christian rightist followers were to visit just about any college campus in Kentucky, they'd get a pretty good idea that the future is not theirs, even in Bible Belt Kentucky.

Odds are, in In the student parking lots, they'd espy vehicles plastered with bumper stickers with messages like "I’m Christian and I support gay rights,” “Another Christian who happens to be gay,” “Praise God, you pick which one,” and “I’m for the separation of church and hate.”

berry craig

In concluding his remarks, Stumbo urged the Democrats to keep the faith and “go home and you go to your church and you tell people I’m a Democrat, I’m a God-fearing Democrat, I’m a Democrat that believes the principles in the Bible have become the principles of our party -- that this wealth accumulation in America has to cease, that people have to have a right to have an equal educational opportunity, that people have a right to have health care and people have right to enjoy the American dream.”

Stumbo's use of the Bible as the basis for denouncing the accumulation of wealth, for demanding an equal education opportunity for everybody and for championing everybody's right to have health care would have likely brought an "amen" from Rev. Rauschenbusch and Father Ryan.

Berry Craig

Berry Craig