Social justice shouldn’t be a political issue. Human rights shouldn’t be a left or right wing issue. Seeking equality shouldn’t be labeled as a progressive liberal idea. If this alarms you, it’s prophetic words are doing it’s job.
The Social Gospel is a movement that began in the United States around 1870. The movement was the beginning of an awakening that sparked the hearts of Christian Americans. In fact, this movement was so profound that the world we live in today wouldn’t quite be what it is without it.
If you’re skeptical, I want you to do something for me. Think of the industrial revolution. It’s one of the most innovative movements that has happened in the progression of our species. Now, I want you to think of a factory. Imagine workers working in the factories. There are heavy machines, steam, burning coal, and crazy production. Let’s be more specific. Imagine it’s 1913 and these workers are in an assembly line working on a model T Ford. Now imagine your eight year old child working in that factory for seventy hours a week so that your family could be taken care of. That’s the reality of the world we live in. Just a little over 100 years ago, children worked in inhumane conditions to provide for the selfish and greedy desires of the rich, and labor laws didn’t protect them until 1938. Now ask yourself, where is Christ in that?
I want you to imagine something else. This is in more livable memory. Imagine it’s 1960 and African Americans are required to eat in a different resteraunt than European Americans are. Whites and blacks where separated. Imagine sitting in a diner when a group of African Americans walk in and sit down at the counter of an all white diner. People are punching these Black Americans. There is blood, profanity, and violence as unconscious blacks are dragged into the streets. These people where stabbed, beaten, and some killed in a peaceful protest against the oppression of others. Where is Christ in this? Less than 60 years ago, this happened in the United States.
Lastly, imagine it’s 1998. Tupac is dead, Kurt Cobain is dead, the Foo Fighters are on the radio, Nickelodeon is at it’s prime, the N64 is the trending gaming console, and Pokémon is the newest fad to come out. You’re 19 and decide to go to a club near your college. You run into a blonde haired man. He’s 21 and joyful. His name is Matthew. Two peers take him away from the bar and torture, beat, and leave him tied to a wooden fence to die. This is Matthew Shepherd. He was murdered for being gay. This happened almost twenty years ago. Where was Christ in that? This was an event that took place in livable memory. This is the United States.
Each of these events highlight topics that underline a progression in humanity. Something that the gospel fights for: liberation. In the social gospel, the primary focus is to bring heaven to earth by ridding this world of oppression, hate, and inequality. The focus of this gospel message seems to be the underlying theme of the bible: love. Jesus tells us that love is the greatest commandment. Each of these inhumane stories possess a spirit of anti-Christ; a spirit of anti-love.
The horrible working conditions explained above were changed through the social gospel movement. During that time, men and women who proclaimed the gospel took moves to push for change. One-hundred years later, we see that it worked. Organizations like OSHA have helped shape and improve working conditions for both minors and adults. The journey was long, but in the entirety of our species, this moved very quickly. We went from a child enslaved oppression to an education based nation. Though the school system hasn’t changed since factory jobs aren’t prime like they were, we have progressed very far from where we once were.
The equality of African Americans was heavily pushed by the Social Gospel. Martin Luther King Jr. had a huge influence with this. His message of equality was one birthed from the spirit of Jesus. The trending theology of the time was that of white American Christian supremacy. Whites believed that Noah’s cursed son, Ham, was where their genetics come from. It was openly preached that African Americans were black because of their curse. It was thought that whites were pure and because of that twisted fundamentalist theology, racism was fueled by the bible. Luckily, the redeeming Christ was shining through the racism with the men and women who stood up for racial equality. Though we still have a long ways to go, we have defeated the previous Jim Crow Laws. We are still facing racial tension in our nation through both systemic racism and personal racism. In this, we see the reforming and always moving spirit of Christ progressing humanity towards the likeness of God’s character.
The realization of the marginalized LGBT+ community was stirred after the murder of Matthew Shepherd. Christ was there when people turned in love to support his family and fight for those who are seen as inhumane or not equal to straight or binary people. The Social Gospel teaches us that equality and human rights are essential to sharing the love of Christ. In recent years, we have made much progress in the equality and love for those who are LGBT+. The saddest aspect of this marginalized group is that homophobia is being supported by so many people instead of doing scholarly studies on the topic. At the end of the day, all people are created equal by the same creator. No matter who you see that as, we are all the same. How can we love God if we can’t even love the people around us: our neighbors?
Every single one of these acts of justice were seen as liberal and progressive. It just doesn’t make sense how love is a progressive idea. How is it liberal to love others? How is it liberal to stand up for injustice? Why does serving humanity have to be a political issue? Jesus’s message transcends political stances. Love does not hold a political stance. The way of Jesus surpasses politics. Unfortunately, we need politics. It’s not that politics are bad, it’s that they are so skewed. It has turned into some crooked battle where churches can’t speak up and pastors have to keep their mouths shut to make sure they don’t hurt or offend people. Jesus spoke out against the corrupt systems and so should we. A prophetic voice is crude and offensive. It’s insulting and brings people to repentance. It is both chaotic to the emotions but in order for the soul.
There is much that we can learn from the Social Gospel. Today we are still experiencing it’s powers and it’s up to us to speak out as prophetic voices and liberate the oppressed and misunderstood. When there is privilege, use it for the benefit of the oppressed. Give your power away and humble yourself as a servant and serve those that others push away. That is the social gospel. That is the heart of Jesus. That is the future of the church.
“Child Labor.” Reviewed by Milton Fried. The New Book of Knowledge. Grolier Online, 2014. Web. 26 June 2014. https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/history-child-labor/
History.com Staff. “The Greensboro Sit-In.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/the-greensboro-sit-in.
Worthen, Meredith. “Matthew Shepard.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 6 Oct. 2016, http://www.biography.com/people/matthew-shepard-092515#!