What efffect did the Industrial Revolution promote or hinder in the Biblical mission of Christian churches?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Industrial Revolution produced effects which demanded the attention of formalized religion and religious groups because the human condition deteriorated so much for those who came from country villages in order to work in cities such as Manchester and London, England.

John 13:34

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another"

This passage and other passages from the New Testament exhort Christians to exhibit love and charity toward one another. In fact, charity is the primary tenet of Christianity. However, when the Industrial Revolution transformed the lives of thousands in England, common Christian charity and love for one another was forsaken in the name of progress and profit. People, working 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week, were subjected to terrible conditions as they were enclosed in polluted environments, some of which also subjected workers to very high temperatures, such as in ironworks factories. A report from the British House of Commons in 1832 noted,

...there are factories, no means few in number, nor confined to the smaller mills, in which serious accidents are continually occurring, and in which, notwithstanding, dangerous parts of the machinery are allowed to remain unfenced (Sadler)

If workers were injured, they received no compensation for hours loss, no medical assistance. Workers, without the right to vote in England at that time, had no power to organize or be represented in any way. Thus, concerns about the lives of those starving, living, and working in the industrial cities were certainly given attention by organized religion. The Catholic Church represented by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 published an encyclical Rerum novarum. Entitled "On Capital and Labor," this encyclical, a letter addressed to all the bishops of the world, placed in context Catholic social teaching in terms "that rejected socialism, but advocated the regulation of working conditions." This encyclical Rerum novarum argued for the regulation of working conditions, a living wage, and the rights of workers to form trade unions and collective bargaining. In addition, it underscored the special status of the poor in consideration of social issues and the modern Catholic principle of the "preferential option for the poor" along with the idea that God is on the side of the poor.

Later, during the Great Depression, Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo anno, whose subtitle is "On Reconstruction of the Social Order." In this encyclical, Pius XI argued that unrestricted capitalism and other economic forces cannot create a just society, calling for a rebuilding of the social order. He also noted dangers to freedom and human dignity that arise from unrestrained capitalism and communism. Pope Pius XII addressed even more social issues.

In 1865, the Salvation Army was founded in London by William Booth, an English Methodist minister. First known as the "Christian Mission" to provide social welfare assistance to the residents of urban slums and save them from their sinful lifestyles of prostitution, gambling, and drunkenness, it was renamed in 1878. Military ranks and titles were assigned according to their responsibilities. His wife, Catherine, was co-founder. The "soldiers" preached openly in the streets. They promoted high ideals of service and commitment.

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