A Social Creed for the
our report of a panel discussion on the New Social Creed
during the Witherspoon Conference on Mission and Justice, Sept.
Some extra reading on the Social Creed!
Analyst Gene TeSelle recommends these books as background and
enhancement for anyone who is interested in dealing seriously
with the New Social Creed, as it comes up for discussion at the
General Assembly in San Jose.
Prayers for the
New Social Awakening, edited by
Christian Iosso and Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty (Westminster-John
Off the press soon -- but it can be back-ordered.
and the Social Crisis in the 21st Century: The Classic That Woke
Up the Church, by Walter
Rauschenbusch, with current responses by Phyllis Trible, Tony
Campolo, Joan Chittister, Stanley Hauerwas, Cornel West, James
A. Forbes, Jr., and Jim Wallis (HarperCollins, $27.95).
To order from Amazon
Evangelical Public Policy, edited by
Ronald J. Sider and Diane Knippers (Baker Books, $24.99).
To order from Amazon ...
The Call to
Conversion: Why Faith Is Always Personal but Never Private,
by Jim Wallis
To order from Amazon ...
CREED" AFTER A HUNDRED YEARS:
TIME FOR A NEW SOCIAL AWAKENING
by Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst
We are fast approaching the hundredth anniversary of the
so-called Social Creed of the Churches, adopted in 1908 at the
founding of the Federal Council of Churches. It was a dramatic
statement by what we have come to call "the public church."
Currently the Methodists and the Presbyterians, as well as the
National Council of Churches, are looking ahead to an
We cannot help noting the similarities between 1908 and 2008.
Inequalities of income and wealth in the U.S. are now greater
than they have been since the "Gilded Age" of the late
nineteenth century. Corporate and government scandals are
approaching the same level, too. Many of the principles
enunciated in the Social Creed and in the general mood of the
Progressive Era, such as a "living wage" sufficient to support a
family, are being reasserted; but they are also regarded as
unfeasible by many shapers of public opinion today.
There are also significant differences. The problems addressed
by the Social Creed were national in scope; because these
problems could not be addressed adequately at the local or state
level, new kinds of federal legislation were advocated and
eventually adopted. In our own day we see a further broadening
of scope as the much-celebrated globalization of the economy
brings all the workers of the world into potential competition
with each other and requires a new kind of global response.
In this situation corporations have greater power than many
national governments. Wal-Mart, for example, has forced domestic
and foreign suppliers to cut their costs by lowering wages in
the name of "competition." A new generation of trade agreements
(NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, CAFTA) gives corporations
new rights to challenge local, state, and national laws or
regulations. The right of labor to organize and bargain is often
challenged — through legislation, administrative action, or
private violence. Protection of the workplace and the
environment against hazardous conditions is all too frequently
ineffectual or nonexistent. Non-governmental organizations have
urged corporations and entire industries to adopt "codes of
conduct," but monitoring and enforcement have been difficult.
As we anticipate the hundredth anniversary of the Social Creed,
then, we must ask not only what in it is to be reaffirmed but
how it ought to be modified and strengthened to meet new
challenges in national and global economies.1
Crisis and Response
The period from the Civil War to the turn of the century had
seen a growth in industrial capacity, the size of corporations,
and opportunities for employers to put new pressures on
industrial and railroad workers, farmers, and small businesses.
Various labor movements and unions arose, as well as farm
organizations such as the Grange and the Farmers' Alliances.
Henry George's Progress and Poverty (1879), Laurence Gronlund's
The Cooperative Commonwealth (1884), Edward Bellamy's Looking
Backward (1888), Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives (1890),
the journalism of Henry Demarest Lloyd starting in the 1870s and
summed up in Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894), the novels and
editorial activity of William Dean Howells, W.T. Stead's If
Christ Came to Chicago!(1894), and Charles Sheldon's In His
Steps: What Would Jesus Do? (1897) all helped to alter the
framework within which people looked at social problems.
This first phase, from 1880 to 1900, did not bring much change;
its importance was in identifying problems, raising
consciousness, critiquing existing conditions, outlining utopian
solutions, and demonstrating that those affected were ready to
organize and express their indignation, often militantly.
The second phase began around 1900. The reform agenda that had
been building since the 1880s became effective when new
political leaders caught the public's attention and captured its
loyalties — Robert La Follette, a Republican; William Jennings
Bryan, a Democrat; and especially Theodore Roosevelt, a maverick
who was sidelined into the office of Vice-President to keep him
out of trouble but soon became President after the assassination
In addition, the new mass-circulation periodicals brought
investigative and advocacy journalism to a high pitch. Their
exposés of corporate malfeasance and urban poverty were read and
heeded by middle-class people throughout the country. These
started in 1901 and 1902 and had their heyday during the
Roosevelt administration, whose reforms were fueled by stories
in the popular press. Momentum slowed after 1906, perhaps
because of their success, perhaps because of the public's
satiation with this kind of journalism, but most clearly because
of concerted pressure from advertisers, news distributors, and
The main narrative tends to concentrate on urban problems and
especially on industry and labor, and this was also the focus of
the Social Creed of 1908. It was here that the problems of
unrestrained power, indifference to consequences, and violence
by police and anarchists were most evident; where coordinated
action could best be organized; and where the largest number of
legislative victories could be gained in the political climate
of the early twentieth century.
There are other narratives, however, that focus on other issues,
with varying outcomes.
● The labor movement was highly diverse, ranging from the
conservative craft unions to the growing Socialist Party, which
itself ranged from militant workers to middle-class and
professional idealists, and the radical IWW, organized in 1905.
● The agrarian movement in the Midwest gained political
expression first among the Populists and then in the La Follette
wing of the Republican Party and the Bryan wing of the
Democratic Party, with needs and demands that went far beyond
what could be achieved in national legislation.
● Race was an issue largely ignored in the Social Creed and in
national-level politics, though a number of Protestant leaders
were deeply involved with the schools and colleges that their
home mission boards supported in the South.2
The Niagara Declaration of 1905, inspired by W.E.B. DuBois,
called for equal rights (they had to meet across the river in
Canada, not being able to find integrated accommodations in the
U.S.). The Springfield race riots of 1908, in Lincoln's own
city, stimulated a number of white leaders to take action. The
two groups joined to found the NAACP in 1909 on the hundredth
anniversary of Lincoln's birth.
● Gender. Women became increasingly influential during the late
nineteenth century. By 1900 they were a majority of high school
graduates and 20 percent of college graduates, and they were
entering the professions (medicine, law, social work, government
service, and, decades later in most denominations, ministry).
The image of the "New Woman" emboldened many of them to
transgress traditional roles; marriage vows began to omit the
word "obey"; there was a growing campaign for what was called
"woman suffrage" (successful only at the late date of 1920).
Concern for "uplift" of the poor shifted from the activities of
"charity ladies" to full-time professional activity in
settlement houses and social work. This led in turn to
solidarity with working women and support for unionization and
labor legislation, led by Jane Addams and Florence Kelley.
The Social Gospel Years
The Social Gospel era was animated by revulsion at the evils of
the time. Rauschenbusch had much to say about the "kingdom of
evil," the supra-personal structures and ideologies that
threaten or cajole human behavior. Theodore Roosevelt spoke of
"Armageddon" during his 1912 campaign. Awareness of evil led
many people to look for the potentialities, human and divine,
for reform and renewal.
The churches' first response was at the local level, where
poverty and social change were directly encountered. New York
City was a focal point, where Frank Mason North had been
corresponding secretary of the Church Extension and Missionary
Society since 1892. It was he who, in 1903, wrote the hymn
"Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life," first published in the
Methodist hymnal in 1905.
New York experienced earlier and with greater intensity than
other cities the flight of congregations from older to newly
developing neighborhoods. Congregations that decided to stay
began with "city missions," often involving foreign-language
ministries; then moved to the "institutional church" offering a
full range of services and activities; and eventually saw that
such efforts would be inadequate without changing the legal
framework within which workers and tenants and consumers
encountered corporations and banks and landlords.
The Presbyterians were the first to set up a national-level
ministry to workers and immigrants, starting in 1903 at the
instigation of Charles Stelzle. Opposition soon arose,
especially in Pittsburgh, where Presbyterians were not only
religiously conservative but dependent upon the steel industry,
and Stelzle resigned in 1913 in order to save some of the
programs he had created. (He had already founded the Labor
Temple in 1910 and continued to minister there.) The
Presbyterian achievement was noted with appreciation in other
Protestant denominations, which soon developed their own
Origins of the Social
The statement that came to be known as "the Social Creed of the
Churches" grew out of developments in the Methodist Church. The
Methodist Federation for Social Service (later Social Action)
was founded in Washington, DC, in December of 1907; its
organizers were later received in the White House by President
Theodore Roosevelt. As the 1908 General Conference approached,
its leaders conceived the idea of a formal statement of
principles concerning the social problems of the time, and Harry
F. Ward jotted down the first draft on a Western Union pad. The
eleven principles were adopted by the 1908 General Conference of
the Methodist Episcopal Church in May.
In December of 1908 the Federal Council of Churches was founded
in Philadelphia, in accordance with a Plan of Federation agreed
on in 1905. Frank Mason North delivered a much-appreciated
report on "The Church and Modern Industry." At its conclusion he
presented a list of social reforms — Ward's eleven, now expanded
to fourteen. In 1912 it would be expanded to sixteen, and to
more in 1919; various denominations adopted their own versions
of the creed.
The statement was adopted enthusiastically and without dissent,
after a supportive address by Stelzle, on December 4, 1908. It
reads as follows:
We deem it the duty of all Christian
people to concern themselves directly with certain practical
industrial problems. To us it seems that the churches must
For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all
stations of life.
For the right of all men to the opportunity for
self-maintenance, a right ever to be wisely and strongly
safeguarded against encroachments of every kind.
For the right of workers to some protection against the
hardships often resulting from the swift crises of
For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in
For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery,
occupational disease, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of toil for women as
shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the
For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of
labor to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree
of leisure for all which is a condition of the highest human
For a release from employment one day in seven.
For a living wage as a minimum in every industry, and for
the highest wage that each industry can afford.
For the most equitable division of the products of industry
that can ultimately be devised.
For suitable provision for the old age of the workers and
for those incapacitated by injury.
For the abatement of poverty.
To the toilers of America and to those who by organized
effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor,
and to reduce the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor,
this Council sends the greeting of human brotherhood and the
pledge of sympathy and of help in a cause which belongs to
all who follow Christ.
This "creed" was not binding on the member
organizations. The Federal Council had no such powers; it spoke
only for the delegates attending the meeting. But it quickly
demonstrated its convincingness, its moral authority, and it was
formally adopted by several of the member denominations in the
next few years. If reception and fecundity are tests of
validity, then the Social Creed is a major instance, for it was
widely affirmed, imitated, and adapted in new forms.
General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
responded to this "social awakening" several times, adopting
rewritten versions of the Social Creed and, in typical
Presbyterian fashion, adding biblical and theological backing.
These were the Assemblies of 1910 (the same one that adopted the
"five fundamentals"), 1914 (adopting a "United Declaration" by
the four major Presbyterian churches), and 1920.
The high point of the Progressive Era came in 1912, when the
platforms of all four parties supported woman suffrage and a
variety of reform measures. Theodore Roosevelt, disappointed
with his hand-picked successor, ran a third-party campaign under
the banner of a new Progressive Party. Woodrow Wilson's
candidacy gave the South a major role in national politics, and
his support for progressive measures began a long-lasting
realignment making the Democratic Party the standard-bearer for
progressive causes. It was also in the 1912 campaign that Eugene
Debs received his largest number of votes.
And yet it should also be noted that voter turnout declined from
an all-time high of 78% in 1896 to a low of 56% in 1912. Perhaps
it was the result of procedural reforms that did away with
traditional voting habits; perhaps it meant that the political
issues were too complex or did not speak to the condition of
We cannot go into all the legislative achievements of the
Progressive Era, for it is a long list. There were also four
constitutional amendments: income tax, direct election of
senators, prohibition, and woman suffrage. But many of the new
laws were overturned by a conservative Supreme Court; the list
of the Court's decisions is amazing and disappointing.
Entry into the First World War slowed the impulse toward reform,
for reasons that were clear even at the time: disillusionment
about possibilities for peace and reform, diversion of attention
to the war rather than domestic issues, shock at losses in lives
and costs to the federal budget, the repressive measures
unleashed by the Wilson administration, and the mood of reaction
following the war.
There were unforeseen consequences for social relationships,
too. The wartime need for workers, just when the war shut off
the flow of immigration, initiated the "Great Migration" of
African Americans from the South to the industrial cities of the
North. And it was the war that brought passage of both the
prohibition and the woman suffrage amendments to the
The ending of the war led to a brief period of Wilsonian
idealism, with fresh attempts to shape the future according to
American democratic values. Both the Federal Council and the
Catholic bishops issued calls for "social reconstruction" in
1919. On the world scene, the U.S. was in a strong economic
position and felt a corresponding responsibility toward all
regions of the world. The Senate's refusal to join the League of
Nations convinced the churches that they must take a role in
shaping foreign as well as domestic policy.
In 1919 the Interchurch World Movement was organized with a
start-up gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr., independent of but
cooperating with the Federal Council of Churches. It had one
moment of glory. The 1919 steel strike prompted its Industrial
Relations Department to form a Commission of Inquiry. Although
the strike was crushed by "Judge Gary" of U.S. Steel in January
of 1920, the Commission continued its work, and its Report on
the Steel Strike of 1919 was issued in July. It had done better
fact-finding than the press and government agencies. Despite
outcries from the steel industry and other segments of the
business community, the Commission's findings were generally
accepted. Over the next few years U.S. Steel quietly ended the
twelve-hour day and the seven-day week and raised its wages. In
many respects the report was the most impressive achievement of
"social Christianity," even though it was issued at a time when
the public's receptivity was fading — indeed, in the very year
that is often designated as the end of the Social Gospel era.
Social Concern Continues
Max Stackhouse suggests that there have been at least five
social gospels: (1) the original one, stretching at least from
1880 to 1920; (2) the "Christian realism" of Reinhold Niebuhr
and others, from the Thirties into the Cold War era, which began
with readiness for social conflict and then was transmuted into
anti-Stalinism (often influenced by longstanding Socialist and
Trotskyite misgivings about Stalin); (3) the civil rights
movement, whose leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., acknowledged
the influence of Walter Rauschenbusch, and which was soon
enlarged to include women and other groups that were the target
of discrimination; (4) liberation theology in its various
modalities in the Third World and then in the U.S., moving
beyond the language of civil rights to speak of domination and
the need to be liberated from it; and now (5) an emerging
"public theology" in the era of globalization, which has the
task of simultaneously championing civil rights, fostering
interfaith dialogue and cooperation, and opposing social
oppression in its many modes in order to reform the common life.
The influence of "social Christianity" and the Social Creed
extends, however, far beyond those forms of Christianity that
can be called heirs of the Social Gospel.
● The United Methodist Church has adopted "Social Principles"
that are reviewed every four years for inclusion in its
Discipline. Since 1972 the term "Social Creed" has been reserved
for a brief statement that is suitable for use in Sunday worship
and is included in the Methodist Hymnal.
● Evangelicals are aware of the social dimensions of our
biblical heritage. Evangelicals for Social Action has grown out
of a 1973 conference led by Ronald Sider, Richard Mouw, and
● Jim Wallis and the Sojourners Community have prepared A
Covenant for a New America, looking for the way to move "from
poverty to opportunity." It is available online at
● The National Association of Evangelicals
produced a statement, entitled "Call to Civic Responsibility,"
in 2004, and in 2005 a 380-page book, Toward an Evangelical
Public Policy (Baker Books, $25 paperback). There are five or
six chapters that discuss the biblical call for social and
economic justice, in language that sounds like our Presbyterian
● The Roman Catholic bishops have issued several statements
about the economy, with their own particular stress on the
dignity of labor and the need for participation in
While Christians may differ on many points of doctrine and
practice, they often find themselves united in their
perspectives on major economic issues.3
1. The most
comprehensive survey is Donald K. Gorrell, The Age of Social
Responsibility: The Social Gospel in the Progressive Era,
1900-1920 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1988). How it
should be "updated" is explored in The Social Gospel Today,
edited by Christopher H. Evans (Louisville: Westminster John
Knox Press, 2001).
Ralph E. Luker, The Social Gospel in Black and White:
American Racial Reform, 1885-1912 (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1991), and, with a more "national"
perspective, Ronald C. White, Jr., Liberty and Justice for
All: Racial Reform and the Social Gospel (1877-1925) (New
York: Harper & Row, 1990).
3. Max L.
Stackhouse, "The Fifth Social Gospel and the Global Mission of
the Church," The Social Gospel Today, edited by
Christopher H. Evans (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press,
2001), pp. 146-59.
A comment from
responding to Gene TeSelle's essay on
"The 'Social Creed' after One Hundred
Concerning a new social creed:
In a time when political as well as religious leaders equate
their wisdom and will with the will and wisdom of God, a social
creed must affirm the value, nay the necessity of humility on
the part of leaders in political as well as religious
institutions. As Reinhold Niebuhr put it in 1948, "The future of
the world literally depends, not upon the display of our power
(though the use of it is necessary and inevitable) but upon the
acquisition of virtues which can develop only in humility." (Reinhold
Niebuhr on Politics, p. 271.) Or again, in 1954: "The
Christian church must regard it as one of the most important
missions to disturb the mood of national self-congratulation
into which our nation is sinking." (ibid, p. 279).
A social creed could call upon nations, religions and even
the writers of creeds to keep always in mind the wisdom of
Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1850:
"Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be.
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they."
The proper balance between commitment and humility is a
consummation devoutly to be wished!
-Gordon Shull, Wooster, Ohio, 8-20-07.
On the "New
A visitor comments on our
discussion of the New Social Creed – urging a proclamation of
Jesus’ identity, and a focus on personal responsibility.
For background, see Gene
TeSelle’s recent article in Network News.
Click here, and go to pages 9-10.
This note comes from Robert W. Smith, who says
of himself, "I am a history professor at a small college in
Elizabeth City, NC. I volunteer each week in serving with a
local agency that distributes food to needy in this region and I
incorporate service-learning in my classes where appropriate.
This generally puts students into contact and service with
people who are socially marginalized."
I missed your discussion but
have read some of your materials. I appreciate the retention
of distinctive Christian statements that reflect the origin
of our belief. It seems to me, however, that the draft is
light on a couple items.
If we want to change the
situation in a fallen world we must proclaim Jesus’ identity
and teaching. In particular we must pledge ourselves to love
God and to love people created in His image. These two OT
commands are reiterated by Jesus in the NT. In the draft
there is an agenda but no personal pledge of specific things
that a signatory/ adherent pledges to do. It seems that
those who hold to this pledge will get government and
society to do things but not do anything personally.
Here I suggest that
there be a commitment to begin with ourselves and then
involve others. That I will love everyone as I love myself.
That we will pray for Divine blessing for the poor and
oppressed. That we will pray for eyes to see and ears to
hear what God would have us to perceive and do. That we will
donate at least a third of our giving to the cause of
alleviating the plight of the poor. That we will spend at
least two hours each week as volunteers working to assist
the socially marginalized. That I will teach my children
that the greatest in the Kingdom of God are those who serve.
That I will seek to encourage others to follow the example
of Jesus who gave His life in the service of others.
Robert W. Smith
We invite you to add
your thoughts on the Creed and this response to it.
Just send a note!
Drafting a new Social Creed -- the conversation
picks up [1-3-07]
About a month ago we posted a note from Rita
Nakashima Brock, inviting people to join in an on-line discussion of the
"Social Creed" that is now in the drafting process.
She has just sent out
another invitation, which we’ll pass along here, since this drafting of
a new social creed is something we in Witherspoon support enthusiastically.
We have also received, in the past couple days, four notes
commenting on the draft. Here they are — and we
encourage you to add your thoughts here, as well. Just send a note!
for the Common Good
The Social Gospel Movement had an important influence on
Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. through his education at Boston University.
That movement also inspired the 1908 Social Creed
and a hundred years of ecumenical and interfaith work for social and
economic justice, civil rights, and women's rights.
Next week, Jan. 8-9, participate for two hours on
either day at a global online conference to discuss what should
inspire a new creed and, more importantly, a renewed movement. Details
now! Help us all continue a long legacy of education about and
commitment to the common good. Guide the future by furthering the
vision and work of Martin Luther King's Beloved Community.
The conference results will inform the committee
preparing the final draft and be available to all who want to use them
to celebrate the legacy of King on January 15 and beyond. Discuss with
others what should be the guiding values and issues for people of
conscience in the next century.
You only need to take two hours to make a
contribution! See who else
Join us for the first of many events to study and
implement a 2008 Social Creed.
Happy New Year and Peace,
Rita and Brian
P.S. Send this email to all your friends! Urge
others to join this important historical event.
Comments on the draft
Received January 2
Jack Sawyer, President
Parker Street Foundation
2330 Parker Street
Berkeley, CA 94704-2818
(510) 5t40-0940 (voice and fax)
Received January 3
I have never read the 1908 creed until now
and it left me cold with its emphasis on men. I read the new creed and found
it to be a wonder creed and blueprint for improving our current and future
world. "In faith, we celebrate the full
humanity of each woman, man and child, all created in God's image." That
statement is awesome and inclusive and a motto to live by.
We need to add:
A reaching out to all people of all nations
and faiths with our hearts and minds open and a eagerness to understand
their history, their faith, and their culture, but with a determination to
not interfere, to tolerate, and to help only when help is requested.
To study peace, to believe it can be a
reality, to put time, effort, and money into bringing it about all around
To learn all we can about this world and to
leap into the challenging dialog of where we are going now, should we be
going there, what would it be like, would it be good.
To understand our world systems, challenge
authority, value our growing ability to evaluate what happens around us. To
educate ourselves throughout our lives.
A determination that all people might
experience the full potential of their lives, including the joys.
A determination to face our fears, understand
them, and conquer them.
As I read the draft statement, it seemed to be missing in
two areas. The first is the crisis of global warming that is increasingly
upon us at an exponential rate. The film "An Inconvenient Truth" shows,
unmistakably, how this crisis is already very visible.
It is threatening huge numbers of people who live in the
coastal areas that will be flooded more and more -- New York City, Boston,
Washington, D.C., San Francisco, on and on deluged. Since the film was made,
the report came out of the sewers backing up in San Francisco because of the
rise in the water level of the ocean. Also, there have been massive breakups
of ice shelves in the Arctic and Antarctic. It is already robbing Polar
Bears and other life in the Arctic of the ice they need to survive. The
prediction is that there will be no more polar ice at all in the Arctic by
2030. The destructive force of all this is indescribable. The crisis is so
cataclysmic that it dwarfs all other issues!!!
I have no idea how to include this in the statement. But it
is not as bluntly present as it needs to be.
A second issue that needs to be addressed more clearly is
the massive drug industry, of which a small part are those whose disease of
addiction drives them to buy the drugs that are so aggressively pushed. The
most destructive and lethal of these is nicotine delivered mostly in
tobacco. With this drug, the growers, corporations, government
subsidizers, distributors, pushers, dealers, and users are all legal. Not
far behind is the drug alcohol. The growers of the plants that produce this
drug, the corporations, distributors, pushers, dealers, and users are, like
nicotine, legal. Like nicotine, it is the user whose addiction drives
her/him to keep using even though progressive destruction of brain cells and
a premature, often agonizing, death is the end result. Caffeine is another
legal drug that is not as addictive as nicotine or alcohol, but is just as
destructive of brain cells as other drugs.
Make no mistake -- nicotine and alcohol, and to a lesser,
caffeine, are just as much addictive drugs as any other drug.
A second category here is addictive prescription drugs.
Among the most addictive and most frequently prescribed are the
benzodiazepines like Zanax, Valium, Ambien, and Klonopin. These drugs are
the most addictive drugs period. They are the most destructive of brain
cells and the most difficult to withdraw from. They are routinely prescribed
by doctors without warning of their addictive and destructive properties.
This separates this category varies from the above drugs. The rest is the
The third category are the illegal drugs like heroin,
cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines, etc. The only difference from the
first three is the illegality of the drugs with the accompanying
criminality. The main point for a social creed is the social web from
farmer/producer to user. It is not just a problem of addiction, it is the
whole societal fabric of which those who are addicted are but a part.
Again, how to frame this issue for a social creed is beyond
me at the moment.
Rev. Dr. Wayne B. Robinson, United Church of Christ
Antelope, CA 95843
Now it's your turn!
If you have responses to these comments,
or thoughts of your own to offer,
just send a
to be shared here.
You’re invited to join in an online
discussion of a planned 2008 Social Creed
The Presbyterian Church, along with other denominations and the National
Council of Churches, has been involved in conversations aimed at formulating
a new "Social Creed" for the 21stcentury, marking the 100th
anniversary in of the creation of an earlier Social Creed in the year 1908.
See story below >>
Now theologian Rita Nakashima Brock is planning to
initiate an on-line discussion to give many more of us a chance to get
involved in the process – thinking, formulating our own ideas, and more.
Here is the invitation she has sent out:
We invite you to participate in a
Join us for an online Global Conference to
discuss a 2008 Social Creed -- January 8-9.
What should a Social Creed for the next century say?
What are our most important religious values?
What three most important changes should we work for
together in the next five years?
You are the first to know
about this major new initiative – and the first to be invited to
participate in creating it! We've been working on the background and
logistics this fall to get ready – so join us!
We will educate each other and share our best ideas.
The results of this conference will be presented as input for creation
of the 2008 Social Creed.
Registration and details are available online at
Planning for the Centennial of the 1908 Social Creed
is underway among major religious organizations, including the
National Council of Churches, the United Presbyterian Church, and the
United Methodist Church. Their drafting committees will receive our
conference documents as they write a new 2008 Creed.
What more is needed for a vision for the next
century? Help us discover this together.
Rita and Brian
Co-Directors, Faith Voices for the Common Good
P.S. A "global group" will be created at
MyChurch.org for conference
participants to continue the discussion. This brand new social
software will keep us all in touch as we move forward with the 2008
Dr. Brock’s note lists these "selected principles from the
1908 Social Creed":
|Protection of the worker from dangerous machinery,
occupational disease, injuries and mortality. |
|Abolition of child labor. |
|Suppression of the "sweating system."
|Gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor
to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree of leisure for all
which is a condition of the highest human life. |
|Release from employment one day in seven.
|Living wage as a minimum in every industry, and for the
highest wage that each industry can afford. |
|The most equitable division of the products of industry
that can ultimately be devised. |
|Suitable provision for the old age of the workers and
for those incapacitated by injury. |
|Abatement of poverty. |
You may want to look at the
current draft of the new Social Creed for 2008.
We in Witherspoon encourage you to read, reflect, and
get involved in the conversation on January 8 - 9, 2007.
churches discuss new Social Creed
PC(USA) leads effort to commemorate 1908 creed with a new one
by Jerry Van Marter, Presbyterian News
This story is also
on the PC(USA) website >>
ORLANDO, FL - November 16, 2006 – The
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) has received for
study the draft of a "social creed" that commemorates and builds upon the
original Social Creed of the Churches of 1908 calling for economic and
"It is not enough to celebrate the centennial
of the 1908 social creed," said the Rev. Chris Iosso, a Presbyterian
instrumental in the ecumenical development of the new document, entitled "A
Social Creed for the 21st Century.
"It can strengthen the common witness of our
communions on a broad range of social concerns - far broader than in 1908,"
he told the NCC's General Assembly here Nov. 9.
The 1908 social creed was originally
formulated by Methodists and addressed primarily "sweat shop" and child
Some of the issues addressed in the new creed
that "were not touched upon in 1908," Iosso said, are women in the
workplace, temperance (alcohol and drug abuse), prison reform, racial
justice, environment, peace and "the global framework that presses on us
Indeed, the impact of globalization on the
world's social and economic order and sustainability of the earth's
resources give the new creed a far more international focus than was in the
1908 creed, Iosso noted.
Its principal author, Frank Mason North, told
the Federal Council of Churches (now the NCC): "The church must give itself
fearlessly and passionately to the furtherance of all reforms by which it
believes that the weak may be protected, the unscrupulous restrained,
injustice abolished, equality of opportunity secured and wholesome
conditions of life established. Nothing that concerns human life can be
alien to the Church of Christ."
The NCC's Justice and Advocacy Commission
will continue to work with the NCC's 35 member communions on the
development, circulation and use of the new creed in the run-up to the 2008
Member churches adopted and adapted the 1908
creed for their own use, the same model that's being pursued with the new
creed, Iosso, coordinator of the PC(USA)'s Advisory Committee on Social
Witness Policy (ACSWP), told the assembly.
For instance, he said, Methodists this time
around are developing a prayer book and musical version to attract younger
congregants to the creed.
Last summer's 217th PC(USA)
General Assembly approved a study and feedback process for Presbyterians as
further work is done on the new social creed in preparation for the
centennial celebration of the 1908 document.
ACSWP will continue to lead the PC(USA)'s
study and use of the new social creed.
The Social Creed of 1908
We deem it the duty of all Christian people
to concern themselves directly with certain practical industrial problems.
To us it seems that the Churches must stand - For equal rights and complete
justice for all men in all stations of life. For the right of all men to the
opportunity for self-maintenance, a right ever to be wisely and strongly
safe-guarded against encroachments of every kind. For the right of workers
to some protection against the hardships often resulting from the swift
crisis of industrial change. For the principle of conciliation and
arbitration in industrial dissensions. For the protection of the worker from
dangerous machinery, occupational disease, injuries and mortality. For the
abolition of child labor. For such regulation of the conditions of toil for
women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community. For
the suppression of the "sweating system." For the gradual and reasonable
reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point, and for that
degree of leisure for all which is a condition of the highest human life.
For a release from employment one day in seven. For a living wage as a
minimum in every industry, and for the highest wage that each industry can
afford. For the most equitable division of the products of industry that can
ultimately be devised. For suitable provision for the old age of the workers
and for those incapacitated by injury. For the abatement of poverty. To the
toilers of America and to those who by organized effort are seeking to lift
the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce the hardships and uphold the
dignity of labor, this council sends the greeting of human brotherhood and
the pledge of sympathy and of help in a cause which belongs to all who
A Social Creed
for the 21st Century
(Draft version, Nov. 1, 2006)
Remembering the prophetic Social Creed of the
Churches of 1908, we respond to God's call to transform our social order
toward justice and peace, and to address the 21st century's great challenges
of globalization and sustainability. Hearing also concerns of churches and
peoples around our globe, we pledge ourselves to specific practices of
personal and social responsibility that reflect our Triune God's gracious
will for all creation. We rejoice in the Biblical vision where all "shall
long enjoy the work of their hands ... (and) ... not labor in vain or bear
children of calamity" (Isaiah 65:22-23)
In faith, we celebrate the full humanity of
each woman, man and child, all created in God's image, by standing for:
• Employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage.
• Protection of workers from dangerous occupational conditions, injuries
• Full civil, political and economic rights for all people, protected by
new governance structures.
• Abolition of forced labor, human trafficking and the exploitation of
• The rights of workers to organize, and to participate in workplace
decisions and productivity gains.
• Adequate time and resources to care for families without fear of work
• High quality public education for all free from racial, gender or
• A fair, de-racialized criminal justice system, based on restorative
justice and rehabilitation, including education and addiction recovery
In love, despite the world's
sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family
and seek to awaken a new spirit of cooperation by working for:
• Abatement of poverty, and enactment of policies benefiting the most
• Universal healthcare.
• Safe, affordable housing, served by adequate public transportation.
• An effective program of social security during sickness, disability and
• Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor,
strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within
the common good.
• Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers'
rights, require employer accountability and foster international
• Public service as a high vocation, with integrity in voting, campaign
finance and lobbying.
In hope, we pledge to heal the
environment, recognizing our responsibility for its health and our
interdependence with Creation and one another, by working for:
• The adoption of simpler lifestyles, resisting the powerful institutions
that shape our choices.
• Access for all to healthy food, clean water and air, with wise and
equitable land stewardship.
• Sustainable use of all resources and promotion of alternative energy
• Equitable global trade that protects local economies, initiatives,
cultures and livelihoods.
• Peacemaking through international cooperation and rule of law, mutual
security rather than unilateral force, nuclear disarmament and a
strengthened United Nations.
• Redirection of military spending to more
peaceful and productive uses.
• Relationships of mutuality among the
world's churches and faith communities.
With all those who labor and are
heavy-laden, we commit ourselves to a culture of peace and freedom that
embraces non-violent initiatives, human dignity and greater equality, with a
deeper spirituality of inward growth and outward action. By these means, we
witness to our hope in the God who makes all things new, whom we know in
Do you have thoughts or comments on this draft of a new
Please send a
note, and we'll share it here.
The "Social Creed" of 1908: Some Background
by Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon’s Issues
This article was published earlier in
the Summer 2006 issue of Witherspoon's Network News
We Presbyterians have a long relationship with this topic. We were in the
forefront of urban missions (what we now call racial ethnic ministries, a
hundred and more years ago). This meant dealing not only with immigrants
speaking many languages but also with the problems of working people. When
the Presbyterian Church appointed Charles Stelzle to deal with these issues,
it was the first national-level action of the sort, and it was soon imitated
by other denominations.
When the Social Creed was adopted at the
founding meeting of the Federal Council of Churches in 1908, it was
introduced by Frank Mason North, a Methodist who a few years earlier had
written "Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life." Stelzle was the one who
moved adoption, and it was approved unanimously. (We should note that
"Social Creed" was not the self-designation of the document, but it was
characterized that way within a few days, and the name stuck.)
The Presbyterians adopted their own social
statements, adaptations of the Creed, at the 1910 and 1920 Assemblies (the
latter used the term "Social Creed"). Since they wanted more biblical and
theological grounding (does that sound typically Presbyterian?), they
produced a joint statement by the Northern and Southern churches, the United
Presbyterians, and the Associate Reformed Presbyterians. (I have collected a
number of statements produced through the years, all different, but all
Our General Assembly took the initiative
several years ago to celebrate the 100th anniversary and look into the
feasibility of a new statement. A "resolution team" has been appointed by
ACSWP and has met several times, joined by representatives from other
denominations and the National Council of Churches.
It is not unrealistic to think about a new
statement. Indeed, the National Association of Evangelicals produced a "call
to civic responsibility" in 2004; last year a 380-page book, Toward an
Evangelical Public Policy, was published by Baker Books ($24.99 paperback),
and it is well worth reading. It has five or six chapters that discuss the
biblical call for social and economic justice in language that sounds like
our Presbyterian statements. The Roman Catholic bishops have made statements
about the economy, with their own particular stress on the dignity of labor
and the need for participation in decision-making. Concerns about economic
justice unite us.
We are aware of the differences from a
hundred years ago. Then the task was to be aware that issues of labor were
national in scope, connected by railroads; now they are international,
connected by air freight and container ships and eighteen-wheelers. Then the
major political parties were regionally diverse; now they are much more
polarized. Then it was assumed that most workers were males, women did not
have the vote in most states, and the most that could be expected was
"protection" of women and children; now women are accepted in the workforce
and their rights are recognized by law, even when pay and treatment do not
The resolution team has tried to follow an
open-ended process in thinking about a new statement, not jumping to
conclusions. We have done a number of trial drafts in various groups, taking
different approaches — an updating of the 1908 statement, or a totally
different statement starting from today's problems, or an emphasis on
biblical and theological principles. The United Methodists have suggested a
song, and this is not inappropriate in our post-print culture. But all these
are tentative; we do not want premature closure.
I might mention, finally, two insights
that came out of these recent discussions. After 9/11 we are deeply aware of
the issue of security, and not only in the military sense. And after Katrina
and Rita we have a renewed appreciation for the role of government in our
social and economic welfare. Any statement made in 2008 will have to be
aware of these and other features in our own context.
When a draft has been prepared, it will be
sent out for discussion to a variety of groups — Presbyterian colleges and
seminaries, congregations, and other constituencies. We expect new insights
to arise out of this process, just as they have already arisen within the
resolution team's discussions.
A progress report was presented to this
year's General Assembly, first in the Committee on Social Justice Issues,
which approved it by a vote of 64/0/0, and then in the plenary session,
which approved it by consent. We hope that these votes indicate the
commissioners' awareness of the importance of the issues and their sense
that the process thus far has been carried out responsibly — and
ACSWP tweaks new Social Creed, passes it on to NCC
The Advisory Committee on Social Witness
Policy (ACSWP), during a meeting in San Antonio, TX, Oct. 11-14, made minor
changes in a draft document called the "Social Creed for the 21st Century,"
before forwarding the proposal to the Justice and Advocacy Commission of the
National Council of Churches.
The Advisory Committee also appointed a panel to examine the impact of
the loss of the PC(USA)'s Church & Society magazine to recent
downsizing on communicating ACSWP's social justice-minded work to members of
In addition, the committee heard a report on immigration issues, and
reviewed a resolution calling on the United States government to forswear
the use of torture against terrorism suspects.
The whole story
Scroll down for some of our earlier reports on this updating of the "Social
Creed" of 1908.
|Celebrating the churches' "Social Creed" - and
considering a new one
General Assembly called for conversations and studies to commemorate the
centennial of the 1908 Social Creed of the Federal Council of Churches of
Christ in the U.S.A. That statement engaged churches in advocating for
reforms such as an end to child labor, the six-day week, occupational
safety, a living wage, and other steps aimed at moving American society
closer to what a "Christ-like God" was believed to want for all Americans.
Beyond celebrating the past, the action calls for looking
forward with "a survey of key Christian principles to guide 21st century
Presbyterians and others in addressing major and likely future concerns,
such as the lack of health insurance for 44 million Americans, the
outsourcing of jobs to countries without human rights or environmental
safeguards, and the impact of growing economic inequality on our democracy
This is obviously a project close to the heart of
Witherspoon's values. As a first step toward supporting the study,
Gene TeSelle offers a background paper on the Social
Creed, and Chris Iosso explores some of the details of
the 1908 statement, and what such a new statement might mean for us today.
Gene TeSelle notes that the recent
statement by the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches, calling for resistance to "oppressive empire" of economic and
political domination, seems to be a contemporary effort akin to the Social
Creed of 1908.
|Some Background on the Social
by Gene TeSelle
The statement that came to be known as "the Social Creed
of the churches" grew out of developments in the Methodist Church. The
Methodist Federation for Social Service was organized in Washington, DC, in
December of 1907 (it was a sign of the times that the organizers were later
received in the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt). Looking ahead
to the 1908 General Conference of the Methodist Church, they conceived the
idea of a formal statement about the social problems of the time, and Harry
F. Ward jotted down the first draft on a Western Union pad. The eleven
principles were adopted by the 1908 General Conference.
A year later, in December of 1908, the Federal Council of
Churches was founded in Philadelphia. This time the key person was Frank
Mason North, a veteran of urban ministry and author of "Where Cross the
Crowded Ways of Life" (this hymn came to be known as "the hymn of the
Federal Council of Churches"). North delivered a much-appreciated report on
"The Church and Modern Industry." At its conclusion he presented a list of
social reforms -- Ward's eleven, now expanded to fourteen. This statement
was adopted enthusiastically and without dissent. (In 1912 it would be
expanded to sixteen, and to more in 1919; various denominations adopted
their own versions of the principles, especially the Presbyterians, who
wanted to strengthen the doctrinal framework.)
The classic statement was adopted December 4, 1908. It
reads as follows:
We deem it the duty of all Christian people to concern
themselves directly with certain practical industrial problems. To us it
seems that the churches must stand:
For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all
stations of life.
For the right of all men to the opportunity for
self-maintenance, a right ever to be wisely and strongly safeguarded
against encroachments of every kind.
For the right of workers to some protection against the
hardships often resulting from the swift crises of industrial change.
For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in
For the protection of the worker from dangerous
machinery, occupational disease, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of toil for women
as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of
labor to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree of leisure for
all which is a condition of the highest human life.
For a release from employment one day in seven.
For a living wage as a minimum in every industry, and
for the highest wage that each industry can afford.
For the most equitable division of the products of
industry that can ultimately be devised.
For suitable provision for the old age of the workers
and for those incapacitated by injury.
For the abatement of poverty.
To the toilers of America and to those who by organized
effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce
the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor, this Council sends the
greeting of human brotherhood and the pledge of sympathy and of help in a
cause which belongs to all who follow Christ.
The statement was never called a "creed" in the official actions of the
Federal Council, but it soon came to be called that, since it was a brief
statement of principles deserving immediate attention.
As we enter the 21st century we may feel that it is "déjà
vu all over again." In the U.S. we have seen the reforms of the
Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society undone through court
decisions, federal legislation, and lax enforcement by federal agencies in
the face of the overwhelming power of the corporations to lobby and
litigate. On the world scene we have seen protections for workers undermined
in the name of "free trade" and "comparative advantage." It is beyond
question that we need a new social creed, and one that is worldwide in its
scope. The World Alliance of Reformed Churches at its recent meeting
declared the world-scale inequalities of wealth and power to be a major
issue for the churches. It is time to get to work.
What does this mean for us 100 years
[Reflections added by Gene TeSelle on 11-18-04]
As we approach the hundredth
anniversary, we cannot help noting the similarities to our own time.
Inequalities of income and wealth in the U.S. are now greater than they have
been since the "Gilded Age" of the late nineteenth century. Many of the
principles enunciated in the Social Creed and in the general mood of the
Progressive Era, such as a "living wage" sufficient to support a family, are
regarded as absurd and unfeasible by many shapers of public opinion today.
The problems addressed by the Social Creed
were national in scope; indeed, it was because these problems could not be
addressed adequately at the local or state level that new kinds of federal
legislation were advocated and eventually adopted. In our own day we see a
similar broadening of scope as the much-celebrated globalization of the
economy brings all the workers of the world into competition with each
In this situation corporations have greater
power than many national governments, and a new generation of trade
agreements (NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, CAFTA) gives corporations
new rights to challenge local, state, and national laws or regulations. The
right of labor to organize and bargain is often challenged by law or by
private violence. Protection of the workplace and the environment against
hazardous conditions is all too frequently ineffectual or nonexistent.
Non-governmental organizations have urged corporations and entire industries
to adopt "codes of conduct," but monitoring and enforcement have been
difficult to achieve.
As we approach the hundredth anniversary of
the Social Creed, then, we must ask not only what in it is to be reaffirmed
but how it ought to be strengthened to meet new challenges in national and
|Celebrating the Social Creed of
1908, and Considering a new one for 2008
by Christian T. Iosso
The founders of the Federal Council of Churches did not pick a set number of
planks for what became the "Social Creed of the Churches." Rev. Charles
Stelzle, head of the Presbyterian Department of Church and Labor, and
founder of the Labor Temple in New York City, preached for an hour in
support of the Creed at the first Federal Council meeting, before its
unanimous approval. The planks had to be broad, morally compelling, and
clearly tied to the 'platform' of Jesus: the Kingdom of God. This brief
report suggests several considerations for the ecumenical and social ethical
work to be undertaken by agencies of the General Assembly and our partner
We are now familiar with concise sets of social goals or
policies, from arbitrary elements cobbled into a "Contract with America," to
elements in a Politics of Meaning, to "middle axiom" statements of direction
in ecumenical and denominational statements. In public policy, we may even
remember Wilson's "14 Points," or Roosevelt's "4 Freedoms." Some may also
remember a double-handful of commandments, though the 1908 Social Creed
echoed more the Beatitudes. The original Social Creed's goals were partly
fulfilled in the New Deal and the achievement of protection for unions, and
even that partial fulfillment occurred, in part, because the churches
wrestled with and added to that concise and concrete set of social goals.
The General Assembly overwhelmingly supported the dual
recommendation of the Theology committee, to ask the Advisory Committee on
Social Witness Policy and the Office of Ecumenical Relations to develop
plans to celebrate the Centennial of the Social Creed and consider
developing a new one. Advocates invoked Walter Rauschenbusch, perhaps the
key theologian of the Social Gospel, and saw the Social Creed as one of the
Social Gospel's most effective results.
Ecumenically, one would hope that the National Council of
Churches of Christ, the Federal Council's successor, could be strengthened
by a celebration of one of its founding documents: a "bill of promises," so
to speak. Some communions dislike using the word "creed" for anything but
the doctrinal product of a church council; other, "non-creedal" churches,
try to avoid them altogether. Thus it may be best to have those
denominations that were "present at creation" in 1908 develop the historical
celebration and invite in the others.
It may be a mistake, however, to split the two words in
"social creed." The FCC founders knew they were doing "applied
Christianity," or what we now call, social ethics. They also knew the shared
context of what historian Timothy L. Smith called "revivalism and social
reform," the widespread assumptions of Christian responsibility for society
that drove Prohibition and other efforts to "Christianize" the social order.
The Social Creed focused on the world of work, as decent employment was
crucial to the moral development of each worker and (mainly) his family.
Before specific planks were added about the right to organize, the Social
Creed reflected a social ethos that valued cooperation over competition,
partly on the family model.
Janet Fishburn's 1981 book, The Fatherhood of God and
the Victorian Family, illuminates the efforts to preserve and protect
the family that were part of the Social Gospel. Talk about "family values!"
Urbanization, industrialization, immigration, advances in communication,
transportation, education and health care were changing life rapidly. The
family and the Church needed to hold fast. The role of men and fathers is
also stressed, from the manhood formed in industrious, temperate and
disciplined work to the altruism, loyalty and willing self-sacrifice of
fatherhood. This generally conservative view of family distinguished the key
Social Gospel thinkers from some of the early 20th Century Socialists, who
wanted to reorganize domestic relations as well as property.
However liberal in spirit, the Social Gospel movement was
evangelical in its effort to convert even Social Darwinist social
determinism in God's direction. The prophets in the "Brotherhood of the
Kingdom" were out to prevent Christianity from becoming an otherworldly and
individualized affectation of the middle and upper classes. With a nod to
Thorstein Veblen, they were already very worried about materialism and
"conspicuous consumption." But how applicable is the Social Creed's emphasis
on labor now, when, as Andre Codrescu jokes, there is still an American
working class, but it lives in Southeastern China?
If a new Social Creed would address globalization
(actually continuing Rauschenbusch's belief that the Kingdom of God included
an international community of moral and social progress), the ethos side of
such a Creed would be wise to look at the needs of families in our country.
Already we are familiar (ha!) with the concepts of "family" and "living"
wages. But the global and family poles of concern point to questions of
shape and comprehensiveness in any contemporary statement. And wouldn't it
be essential to re-affirm progressive taxation, urge higher taxation of
"unearned wealth" again, and address the epidemic of gambling…?
In a cross-cultural and inter-religious context, we can
affirm (as Troeltsch and Tillich did years ago) that Christianity is
inherently social in its congregations, schools, hospitals and even
monasteries. We can trace the evolution of modern democracies to Reformation
and conciliar roots, and ideas of tolerance and church/state separation
especially to the Puritan and Presbyterian debates in the English
Revolution--highly influential in our own. But a Social Creed can not
provide a full political ethic. It should prompt political creativity,
greater democracy, more equitable social and environmental trade-offs. So
much good thinking has been done on Just, Participatory and Sustainable
ethics, earth ethics, and in-depth treatments of many social and economic
questions. A necessarily concise Social Creed would bring together this
thinking and seek to create new consensus.
A key question for a new Social Creed would not be how
idealistic or how optimistic it would be, but how Christian. In keeping with
the original phrase, "of the churches," I would urge that its vision of
fulfilled human life, however universal in aspiration, should be explicitly
Christian in inspiration. The past century saw blistering attacks by the
"Christian Realists" on the supposedly "optimistic" Social Gospel liberals
(though Niebuhr never took on Rauschenbusch directly, and his was perhaps
the strongest Christology). Realism, now shorn of its own form of "macho"
Christianity, appears in neo-conservative form to bless the most militarist
nationalism of our current administration. Where have all the bad flowers of
original sin gone?
In very broad strokes, what was once derided as Anabaptist
separatism (Church against World), has become through John Howard Yoder,
Stanley Hauerwas and others, the "Church as a Social Ethic." That is, the
church itself needs to be a "contrast model" to the larger society,
illuminating the distinctiveness of the Christian message. Christianity
itself can not be reduced to principles. Principles depend on lived creeds
and ethos, which themselves reflect a story-based internal culture,
language, and forms of character-forming community. What some advocates of
this "contrast model" forget, though, is that doing social policy in a
thoughtful, careful and prophetic way is part of our distinctive mainline
Christian tradition and identity.
In an article in Presbyterian Outlook, I
cautioned myself that too "politically correct" a Social Creed would be
dead-on-arrival. So would be a too-academic exercise. But these are
secondary considerations--why not be hot or cold? If God is in the effort to
celebrate and renew the Social Creed, then we are praying that the
life-changing power of Jesus Christ and the all-too-latent energy of the
churches would have impact through yet more frail but truthful words. Can
our many struggling congregations and presbyteries imagine thinking about
the social implications of our faith--even if we point out how much our
churches are themselves hammered by high unemployment, low benefits and a
widening rich/poor gap. But that is the very point of raising up a "social
creed" - to say that the shape of society is a matter of faith.
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!