The Social Gospel: An Ethical Approach to Wealth

Practitioners of the Social Gospel were in general Protestant clergymen who objected to the harsher realities of late 19th century capitalism and sought to highlight the role of man as his brother’s keeper. Leading advocates:

  • Washington Gladden (1836-1918) was a Congregational minister who criticized the excessive competition that often accompanied the growth of capitalistic ventures. He was especially outspoken when denouncing many of John D. Rockefeller's practices. Gladden served congregations in New York, Massachusetts, and, for many years, Columbus, Ohio. He is regarded as the founder of the Social Gospel movement and authored more than 30 books that contained biblical solutions for the problems of the industrial age.

  • Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) ministered among the German immigrant community in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City. He witnessed first-hand the misery created by poverty during the depression of the 1890s. He was convinced that all social ills were somehow connected to poverty and that unrestrained capitalism was the root cause. Rauschenbusch urged his church and others to join actively in the struggle for social justice.
The purveyors of the Social Gospel urged for government action to accomplish social reforms and refused to hold the poor solely responsible for their plight. These positions set them at odds with the Gospel of Wealth advocates.

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