Perhaps a most natural starting point is to realize that the rise of the social gospel within the Roman Catholic Church occurred within the larger context of the economic situation in America during the late nineteenth century. Laissez-faire economics, which advocates economic freedom for the business class, ruled the day. Also, the Panic of 1873, which saw unprecedented unemployment among the lower classes and created bread lines in the urban areas greatly affected the national consciousness. During this time, labor unions and various trade organizations grew and developed. Child labor, women laborers, and the length of the working day were hotly disputed during this time as well. Protestants
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918).
Rauschenbusch is probably the most well-known of the social-gospelers. A Baptist minister who served in the “Hell’s Kitchen” area of New York, Rauschenbusch believed that humanity needed salvation from social evils. The Church’s role in this is to promote the Kingdom of God, which upholds the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. He did not become a political activist. Rauschenbusch had been influenced by Washington Gladden (1836-1918), who believed that businessmen were making a poor class of people and giving that same class of people a low wage, thus ensuring a cycle of pauperism. Gladden suggested that philanthropy could help solve the problem if it flowed from: 1) the understanding of the Fatherhood of God and
2) the Brotherhood of man.
The rise of a social gospel perspective within the Roman Catholic Church took time and created friction during it’s ascendancy. In 1876, Archbishop James Bayley of Newark had told Roman Catholics that God permits poverty in order that the wealthier classes have the opportunity to perform alms-giving and advocated “patience and resignation to His holy will” on the part of the poor. In other words, not only did the poor exist to facilitate the...