Topics in the News
Calm before the Storm.
In the decades following the Civil War, liberal theology made substantial inroads into Protestant seminaries and universities in the United States. The primary feature of this liberalism was an acceptance of and reliance upon scientific methods for the discovery of truth. This view of truth contrasted sharply with the traditional Christian commitment to revealed truth, especially as the Bible contained it. Instead of looking to the Scriptures to determine the truth of a matter, liberals often held biblical texts up for comparison with scientific theories, such as Darwinian evolution. When they found disagreement, liberals began to reinterpret the Bible not as a source of knowledge about the physical world but as a record of faith composed by human beings at different historical intervals, causing inconsistencies and errors where knowledge had been deficient. This method of reading the Bible became known as the "higher criticism." Many prominent American theologians had spent some time studying at German universities, the intellectual source of this new theology. As a result of this European influence, higher criticism had taken root in most major American seminaries and divinity schools by the turn of the twentieth century. But conservative Protestants, who still looked to the Bible as the source of literal truths about the world, did not stand quietly by while this...
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An Army of Church Invaders.
"Six hundred unemployed men crept into the Labor Temple at Second Avenue and Fourteenth Street last night, while the lights were out for a moving picture show," The New York Times reported on 1 March 1914. When asked what they wanted, their leader, Frank Tannenbaum, replied, "We have come to take possession of this place for the night. We intend to stay.…If you try to put us out, the floor of this place will run with blood." The church capitulated somewhat to the demand, agreeing to house sixty-five men who said they had nowhere else to sleep for the night and peacefully dispersing the rest. Between 1 March and 5 March, Tannenbaum led his "army of the unemployed" into a series of churches in New York City, demanding food and shelter. They were welcomed by the pastor of St. Mark's Protestant Episcopal Church on behalf of the parish's socialist fellowship, but elsewhere, including a tony Fifth Avenue Protestant church, they were turned away or even arrested. Many churches simply postponed their regularly scheduled evening meetings that week and locked their doors, because "they feared a visit from Tannenbaum's army." The New York Times editorialized against these invaders, charging Tannenbaum with inciting lawlessness and anarchy. Tannenbaum had struck a nerve; he brought sharply to the public eye the growing struggle between established religion and...
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World War I: A Call to Arms
A Chorus of Support.
In January 1918 Sydney Strong, a Congregational minister in Seattle, Washington, distributed a questionnaire to his fellow clergymen, asking what they would like to see happen after the war. A fellow Congregationalist, Charles Aked of San Francisco, responded with a call for "the repentance in sack cloth and ashes of ten thousand ministers of Christ who have howled for blood and raved the ravings of the jingo-press." Aked could have cited numerous examples of such sins, for America's religious leaders had demonstrated that they were not immune to the "war fever" that swept the nation, especially after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. Rhetorical excesses characterized many of the sermons, articles, and even hymns put forth by some of the country's most prominent preachers as they offered up a "chorus of support" for the war, causing some observers to question whether the term Christian could be honestly applied to their conduct. After the war many religious leaders would find ample reason to reflect and wonder at how they had allowed themselves to get caught up in what was at times a rather unseemly fervor—and some would indeed feel compelled to repent.
A Rising Tide.
The tide of militaristic sentiment among the clergy was clearly rising in the years after 1914, a trend that was...
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World War I: A Call for Peace
In 1914, when Andrew Carnegie put forth a $2 million endowment for the founding of the Church Peace Union, talk of world peace was all the rage. The Church Peace Union, whose board of trustees included Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders, took its place among some thirty other peace societies working toward the goals of a league of nations and a system of arbitration for the resolution of international conflicts. The Federal Council of Churches, the major Protestant ecumenical body, established a Commission on Peace and Arbitration in the same year and worked to help secure a diplomatic solution to the rising tensions in Europe. Several progressive religious leaders, including John Haynes Holmes and Rabbi Stephen Wise, joined prominent reformers such as Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, Frederic C. Howe, and Florence Kelley in founding the American Union Against Militarism late in 1915. Many were optimistic; belief in progress and confidence in human nature ran high. Charles MacFarland, the general secretary of the Federal Council of Churches, published a pamphlet in 1912 expressing the hope "that the thought of engaging with each other in deadly combat shall become abhorrent and impossible forever." The same year Frederick Lynch issued a stronger statement, saying, "It looks as though this is going to be the age of treaties rather than the age of wars, the century of reason...
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World War I: A Call to Serve
As chairman of the Federal Council of Churches' General War-Time Commission, Robert Speer represented the middle ground between the extremes of militarism and pacifism. Like much of the population, Speer and his colleagues in the council felt a profound sense of duty to their country and committed themselves to furthering the war effort in whatever ways they could. As the controversy over Speer's YMCA
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World War I: A Fulfillment of Prophecy
A Prophetic Script.
World War I also served to galvanize the premillennial wing of conservative Protestantism. A growing movement since the late nineteenth century, premillennialism focused on the second coming of Jesus to initiate the millennium, the thousand-year reign of peace predicted in the biblical book of Revelation. Most premillennialists expected these events, which would mark the end of human history, to occur imminently. They read the Bible carefully, especially prophetic books such as Daniel and Revelation, and interpreted it literally, looking for clues that would help them recognize the onset of this cataclysmic time. The events of the European war corresponded strikingly well to a set of these prophetic "signs of the times" that premillennialists had agreed upon and had been anticipating for years prior to 1914. Foremost among the premillennialists' prophecies was the expectation that ten European nations would join together in a revived Roman Empire, a kingdom headed by the Antichrist. This would be one of the signs that marked the coming end of the "age of the Gentiles," the era or dispensation humankind had been living in since the birth of Christianity. They also looked for the return of the Jews to Palestine, since the reconstitution of the nation of Israel was a key ingredient in the prophetic formula. A northern confederacy of nations, whose leading power would be...
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Balfour and Allenby.
At the outbreak of World War I, Palestine lay under the control of the Ottoman Empire. The cherished hopes of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) for a Jewish homeland in Palestine seemed impossible to realize while the Holy Land remained in Muslim hands. But 1914 brought new hope with the British declaration of war on the Ottoman state. Long sympathetic to the Zionist cause (its offer to help procure land in Africa for Jewish settlement had been rejected by the WZO in 1905), Britain now adopted the reclamation of Palestine and its opening for Jewish immigration as an official part of its foreign policy. The Balfour Declaration of November 1917, named for foreign secretary Arthur Balfour, epitomized Britain's stand on Zionism at the time. "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of that object," the declaration read. When the British general Edmund Allenby captured Jerusalem from the Turks on 8 December 1917, Zionists had reason to celebrate and to believe that they might soon see their dreams realized. Progress turned out to be slow, of course, and the British became bogged down in their efforts to honor another part of the declaration, which pointed out that nothing could be done "which may prejudice the civil and religious rights...
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Abbott, Lyman 1835-1922
CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER, WRITER, EDITOR
As the 1910s opened, Lyman Abbott was seventy-five years old and had already fit several careers into a single lifetime. He had ended the nineteenth century by resigning from his position as pastor of Brooklyn's Plymouth Congregational Church in 1899. His life in the twentieth century was focused on writing and editing his enormously successful and influential paper Outlook; lecturing at universities; and shaping public debate on a variety of political, social, and religious topics of the turn of the century. Under Abbott's direction Outlook had grown from a circulation of 15,000 (when it was known as the Christian Union) in 1876 to 30,000 in 1893, to 100,000 in 1900, and to a peak of 125,000 in 1910, when Theodore Roosevelt was a member of its staff. It was among the strongest voices in political, social, and religious thought. Through it Abbott was a strong supporter of liberal causes, of progress, and of the presidency and later candidacy (in 1912) of Theodore Roosevelt. Abbott repudiated strict Darwinism but accepted many tenets of evolution, adapting them to Christian thought and...
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Brown, Olympia 1835-1926
UNIVERSALIST MINISTER, SUFFRAGIST
The Final Push.
On 2 November 1920 Olympia Brown, at the age of eighty-five, cast a ballot for the first time in her long, distinguished life when she voted in a presidential election. That simple act was the culmination of a life-time of fighting for women's rights as well as achieving personal goals against much resistance. The 1910s had seen the suffrage movement reenergized, and Brown, although she was seventy-five when the decade began and had faced numerous disappointments in her career as an activist, again became focused on the goal, knowing that the time was ripe and the era would provide a final chance for women to achieve the vote in her lifetime.
Brown's beliefs and her strong personality came from her mother, Lephia Brown. Olympia was born in a log cabin near Schoolcraft, Michigan, in 1835 in what was then still frontier country. Lephia Brown believed in equality and education, teaching her children herself until her husband, Asa, built a school-house on his farm and arranged to have a teacher brought there. Brown's aunt and uncle, Thomas and Pamela Nathan, were ardent abolitionists, and their home nearby served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, which helped runaway slaves escape to Canada. Brown was raised in an atmosphere of equality, with her...
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Gaebelein, Arno C. 1861-1945
With the publication, between 1910 and 1915, of The Fundamentals, the fundamentalist Christian movement became a more organized and prominent Protestant voice in American religion during the 1910s. Conservative Protestants such as Reuben A. Torrey and Amzi Dixon, an editor of The Fundamentals, hotly debated modernist and liberal theologians such as Shirley Jackson Case and Shailer Mathews, both of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Among the strongest voices of fundamentalist Christianity was that of Arno C. Gaebelein, the editor of one of fundamentalism's sturdiest platforms, the monthly magazine Our Hope. Gaebelein was himself a contributor to The Fundamentals, with interpretation of biblical prophecy as his specialty. He had been active in the nascent fundamentalist movement during the 1890s and remained vehemently attached to dispensational premillennialism (the belief that human history is divided into seven ages, or dispensations, and that the present one will end with the return of Christ to establish his millennial kingdom) until his death in 1945.
Gaebelein took a circuitous route to Fundamentalism. He was born in Germany in 1861 and immigrated to America in 1879, where he procured work in a woolen mill...
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Gibbons, James Cardinal 1834-1921
ROMAN CATHOLIC CARDINAL AND ARCHBISHOP OF BALTIMORE
As the archbishop of Baltimore, the oldest Roman Catholic see in the United States, as well as the only U.S. cardinal between 1886 and 1911, James Cardinal Gibbons enjoyed the status of the unofficial leader of American Catholicism in the early part of the twentieth century. Although he had passed the prime of his life before the 1910s—he was seventy-five when the decade began—little could be accomplished by Catholic organizations except under his auspices. Gibbons also possessed another talent that was even more important than his leadership skill. His tact and diplomacy won him the respect and affection not only of Catholic officials in Rome but also of his Protestant peers and public officials in America. By the time he orchestrated the organization of the National Catholic War Council in 1917, he was universally recognized as American Catholicism's elder statesman.
James Gibbons was born in 1834 in the city that would forever be associated with his name. The son of Irish immigrants who had come to Baltimore just a few years previously, Gibbons would not really discover the city until he was twenty. When he was three, his family returned to a farm in Ireland where young James was raised and educated until he was thirteen. After...
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Jones, Rufus 1863-1948
QUAKER TEACHER, MINISTER, AND LEADER
A Small-Town Boy.
In his autobiographical works, A Small Town Boy (1941) and Finding the Trail of Life (1943), Rufus Matthew Jones presented a picture of his idyllic childhood in the small Quaker village of South China, Maine. He wrote that "sunset and evening stars produced a spell on my young mind" and of how he enjoyed the sound of "the swish of my scythe in the grass wet with morning dew." The mystical beauty of nature and the joys of hard work were staples in his young life. The story goes that his Aunt Peace, upon the birth of Rufus, held up the newborn and proclaimed, "This child will one day bear the message of the Gospel to distant lands and to peoples across the sea." She was right, of course, but she might have added much more. Rufus Jones became a Quaker leader, a professor, a historian of the faith, an organizer and unifier of the Society of Friends, and the first leader of the American Friends Service Committee during World War I.
Jones was the son of Edwin and Mary Jones, relatively prosperous farmers at the time of Rufus's birth in 1863. The Joneses were a religious family who often had itinerant preachers staying in their home. Religion was a daily topic of discussion. Even more influential on Jones, however, was his uncle, Eli Jones,...
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Kaplan, Mordecai 1881-1983
RABBI AND THEOLOGIAN
Mordecai Kaplan was born in Lithuania in 1881, the year the pogroms began against Jews in czarist Russia. His biographer, Mel Scult, referred to 1881 as "the year of the beginning of the modern Jew," thus making Kaplan's birth in that year appropriate. He would live 102 years and be as representative of modern Jewry, its thought, conflicts, and community as anyone in the twentieth century. He arrived in the United States in 1889, part of the great Jewish immigration to America that had begun a few years before. His father, Orthodox rabbi Israel Kaplan, lacked a stable position in Lithuani and had taken a rabbinical job in New York. The rest of the Kaplan family followed a year later to join New York's burgeoning Jewish immigrant community. In 1895, at the age of thirteen, Mordecai Kaplan began attending the Jewish Theological Seminary as well as the City College of New York, from which he received his B.A. in 1900. Two years later he graduated from the seminary, just prior to the arrival in America of Solomon Schechter, the man who would remake the Jewish Theological Seminary into a graduate institution and a center of Conservative Jewish thought. In 1900 Kaplan had also begun attending graduate school at Columbia University, where he first encountered the modern ideas that would challenge his Orthodox beliefs. Among these ideas were...
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Mott, John R. 1865-1955
DIRECTOR OF THE YOUNG MENS CHRISTIAN
ASSOCIATION, AND LAY MISSIONARY
John Mott was born just weeks after the end of the Civil War and would live beyond America's conflict in Korea. Along the way John R. Mott would lead an extraordinary life dedicated primarily to the one goal he established in his youth, that of spreading the gospel to those who had never heard it. He had an ordinary, comfortable childhood in Postville, Iowa, the son of a lumberyard operator and a mother committed to the Methodist Church. At the age of thirteen, under the influence of evangelist J. W. Dean, Mott professed Methodism and with the help and guidance of his local pastor, Rev. Horace E. Warner, entered Upper Iowa University at the age of sixteen. Two years later he transferred to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He was considering a legal career and had lost some interest in his church when he had a conversion experience on 14 January 1886. English cricket player J. Kyngston Studd, in a thundering speech, asked, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." Mott's course in life was determined shortly after the speech. In the summer of 1886 Mott, who had become active in the Young Men's Christian Association at Cornell, represented the college at Dwight L. Moody's College Students Summer School at Mount Hermon,...
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Ransom, Reverdy C. 1861-1959
BISHOP, AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
The Other Social Gospel.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were marked in American religion by the rise of a movement called the Social Gospel among Protestant clergy. Men such as Josiah Strong, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Washington Gladden developed the idea of the church as a social force helping to ameliorate the difficult living conditions of urban immigrants as well as supporting nascent labor movements. Less well remembered and studied were the Social Gospel thinkers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In fact, critics often point to the lack of awareness of race issues on the part of white Social Gospel theologians. Reverdy Cassius Ransom, however, a black African Methodist Episcopal pastor and strong voice for equality in America, had a remarkable career as a pastor, Social Gospel activist, black rights activist, editor, and eventually bishop in his church. He ranked among the major voices and activists in the 1910s for the black churches and people.
Reverdy Ransom was born in Flushing, Ohio, in 1861. His mother, Harriet Johnson, would be a major influence on his thinking as well as his early career. He never knew his father but took the name of Ransom after his stepfather, whom his mother married shortly after his birth....
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Rauschenbusch, Walter 1861-1918
BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN
For Walter Rauschenbusch, becoming a pastor was not only a matter of finding a calling but also a family tradition. He was the seventh in a line of pastors that reached back to seventeenth-century Germany. But Rauschenbusch, born in 1861 in the United States, became the most liberal and best known in his family lineage. His father, August Rauschenbusch was one of the great patriarchs of American Baptists after shocking his family by converting from Lutheran to Baptist after he moved to America in 1846. Walter followed in his father's foot-steps, though he would eventually approach Christianity differently from the conservative Baptists of the Rochester Seminary, where his father was a professor from 1857 to 1888. Despite his father's altered faith in the New World, Walter Rauschenbusch developed strong ties to Germany, ties that would later cause him grief as World War I began, and German Americans were treated with suspicion and found their loyalty questioned. Rauschenbusch developed these ties with two...
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Santayana, George 1863-1952
Who Is Santayana?
In an article titled "Who Is Santayana?" published in the Saturday Review of Literature in January 1956, Charles Frankel wrote, "I am inclined to believe that what happens to Santayana's reputation will be the touchstone of the quality of our culture, and of our growth in maturity and wisdom." That George Santayana, Spanish by birth and passport, American "in practice" as a writer and teacher, and resident of Italy during the final twenty-eight years of his life, could inspire such a quote, along with poems of tribute from Wallace Stevens and Robert Lowell, indicates that he was a man of letters of enormous stature. He is known as a philosopher, but in essence he was a little of everything in the writing trade, an ascetic man who resisted a move by one man to nominate him for a Nobel Prize by asking, "In what science or art could I be said to have accomplished anything? Literature? Philosophy? It is doubtful." What is not doubtful is his stature as a prolific writer and thinker, among the giants of...
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People in the News
In October 1919 Evangeline Booth, commander of the Salvation Army in America, was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal from President Woodrow Wilson for the services performed by the Salvation Army in military camps during the war.
Louis Dembitz Brandeis, a prominent Boston attorney, was chosen as the chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee at a Zionist convention on 30 August 1914. The Federation of American Zionists, the major Zionist organization in the United States, grew under Brandeis's leadership from 12,000 members in 1914 to 176,000 members in 1919, at which time the group was restructured as the Zionist Organization of America. Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, becoming the first Jew to serve in the nation's highest court.
On 29 November 1911 Archbishops John M. Farley of New York and William O'Connell of Boston were elevated to the cardinalate in Rome by Pope Pius X. Farley later created the New York Catholic War Council, which staffed canteens for members of the armed forces and established hospitals for victims of shell shock.
Eminent Baptist preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary after 1915, published The Meaning of Prayer (1915) and The Meaning of Faith (1917), the first two parts...
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Peter Abbelen, 74, German American vicar general of the archdiocese of Milwaukee who, in 1886, submitted a memorial to Pope Leo XIII requesting that Catholic parishes in America be drawn up along ethnic lines, 24 August 1917.
Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, 88, popular religious writer and novelist, 10 March 1919.
Harrison D. Barrett, 47, first president of the National Spiritualist Association; he once defended in court a medium accused of witchcraft, 12 January 1911.
Borden Parker Bowne, 63, professor of philosophy at Boston University, 1 April 1910.
Phineas Bresee, 76, founding father of the Holiness Church of the Nazarene, 13 November 1915.
Charles Augustus Briggs, 72, theologian and biblical scholar tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church in 1892, 8 June 1913.
Henry Harrison Brown, 77, Unitarian minister and founder of "Now" Folk, an early New Thought group, 8 May 1918.
Francis Xavier Cabrini, 67, Roman Catholic nun and founder of the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart; in 1946 she became the first American canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, 22 December 1917.
Beverly Carradine, 71, Holiness evangelist and religious writer, 1919....
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Lyman Abbott, Reminiscences (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915);
Abbott, The Spirit of Democracy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910);
Abbott, The Twentieth Century Crusade (New York: Macmillan, 1918);
Peter Ainslie III, The Message of the Disciples for the Union of the Church (New York: Revell, 1913);
Ames, The Divinity of Christ (Chicago: New Christian Century, 1911);
Ames, The Higher Individualism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915);
Ames, The New Orthodoxy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1918);
Ames, The Psychology of Religious Experience (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1910);
Charles Palmerston Anderson, Letters to Laymen (Milwaukee: Young Churchman, 1913);
Robert Archibald Ashworth, The Union of Christian Forces in America (Philadelphia: American Sunday School Union, 1915);
William Walker Atkinson, Your Mind and How to Use It (Holyoke, Mass.: Elizabeth Towne, 1911);
Harrison D. Barrett, Pantheistic Idealism (Portland, Oreg.: Glass & Prudhomme, 1910);
Samuel Z. Batten, ed., The Moral Meaning of the War (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication...
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Important Events in Religion, 1910–1919
- The Presbyterian General Assembly adopts a declaration of "essential" doctrines, to be used in examining theology professors and students for doctrinal orthodoxy. The "five points" included in the declaration are the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth of Christ, his substitutionary atonement (the idea that his death provided forgiveness of sins), his bodily resurrection, and the authenticity of the miracles.
- A census records 540,000 Jews living in New York City, with most on the Lower East Side. This figure represents approximately 25 percent of the country's total Jewish population.
- Jane Addams, whose Chicago settlement house had provided the model for many Social Gospel churches and missions, publishes a retrospective, Twenty Years at Hull House.
- In February, the Fundamentalist movement in American Protestantism begins to take shape with the publication of the first volume, edited by Amzi C. Dixon, of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.
- In June, John R. Mott of the Student Volunteer Movement presides over the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, attended by more than twelve hundred delegates.
- On June 8, Stephen Theobald, the first African American diocesan priest to be accepted and trained in a seminary in the United States, is...
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