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Series IV. Christian Socialism

Scope and Content Notes:

Both the Marxist and anarchist traditions usually opposed religion because they conceived of rationalism as the only path to human liberation. Religion, they argued, befuddled the masses in two ways. First, by basing itself on the supernatural, religion encouraged irrational thinking and discouraged the masses from developing rational capacities. Second, by promising rewards in a future life for dutiful behavior in this life, religion encouraged passivity and discouraged protest. However, these arguments ignored how radical social movements had been inspired by egalitarian elements in Judeo-Christian theology from the peasant wars of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance mobilized by dissenting Protestants and heretical Catholics to the radical wing of the English civil war inspired by radical Christian sects to the abolitionist movement in which evangelical Christians had played an overwhelming role.

Two significant cohorts of Christian Socialists operated within the orbit of the major left-wing movements from the 1890s through the 1960s: Protestants influenced by Social Gospel Protestantism and Catholics influenced by liberation theology. Both argued that the moral visions of socialism and Christianity overlapped and that you could not be a true Christian in the modern world unless you committed yourself to social and economic justice. The first group formed a Christian Socialist Fellowship affiliated with the Socialist Party that published The Christian Socialist and encouraged ministers to seek Socialist Party nominations for public office. Some of the most prominent Socialist politicians were ministers and members of the Christian Socialist Fellowship including George R. Lunn, mayor of Schenectady ,N.Y. and J. Stitt Wilson, mayor of Berkeley, Cal.

While several individual Catholic priests also supported the Socialist Party and the IWW, they faced concerted opposition from an overwhelmingly anti-socialist church hierarchy. Catholic support for the left expanded in the 1930s when Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker movement garnered support not only among lay Catholics but also among some members of the Church hierarchy. Both the rise of the CIO and the emergence of the Popular Front in the late 1930s offered more political space for radical Catholics. The former involved massive strikes and protests by industrial workers who were disproportionately Catholic and expected Church validation for their actions. The Popular Front made collaboration between religious and non-religious agitators less problematic because the Communists toned down their inflammatory rhetoric and actively sought alliance with anyone who would work with them.

By the 1960s liberation theology had become a mass movement in Latin America and radical Catholics could take prominent roles in both the Civil Rights movement and the antiwar movement without fearing retaliation from the Church. Religion also, perhaps, fit in with 1960s protest because of protestors’ widespread interest in mysticism and spirituality.


Box 1
Folder 182 The Christian Socialist Newspaper
Folder 183 The Kingdom of God and Socialism, by Rev. Robert M. Webster, June 1903
Folder 184 A Christian View of Socialism, by G.H. Strobell
Folder 185 The Melish Case, Challenge to the Church, 1949
Folder 186 The Profits of Religion
Folder 187 "Peace on Earth...", by Rev. Clarence E. Duffy, Priest of the Catholic Church, 1952
Folder 188 I Saw the Morning Break, The Church of the People
Folder 189 A Worker Looks at Jesus, by David Grant
Folder 190 "Christian Pacifist Faith"- An Affirmation
Folder 191 A Christian Approach to Nuclear War
Folder 192 The Relation of Religion to Social Ethics, 1901
Folder 193 Constitution of the United People's Church
Folder 194 United People's Church of Pittsburgh