Walter Rauschenbusch, 1861-1918
Walter Rauschenbusch is known as the father of the Social Concern movement in America. Traditionally, the source of his social ethic has been seen to lie in the single motif of liberalism. Donovan Smucker provides a new perspective, arguing that Rauschenbusch's social ethic was based on not one but four complementary influences: pietism, sectarianism, liberalism, and transformationism.
In Rauschenbusch's work pietism, a religion of the heart, was purged of subjectivism while retaining inter-personal compassion; Anabaptist sectarianism provided a Kingdom of God love-ethic without passivity toward the culture; liberalism imparted an openness to the whole community and a powerful, realistic analytic; and the transformationist Christian socialists supplied a case for state intervention while rejecting public ownership as a first principle. Smucker reveals that while the roots of Rauschenbusch's new paradigm lay to some extent in his personal experiences - his parents' rejection of the Lutheran perspective for that of the Baptists, his father's pietism, and his eleven-year pastorate in New York's Hell's Kitchen - it was his exposure to the new politics of Henry George and Edward Bellamy, to the Christian socialism of England and Switzerland, and, aided by his knowledge of German and his experiences in Europe, to a wide range of scholarship sensitive to the main social currents of the day that deeply informed his ethic. Smucker also shows how Rauschenbusch drew upon the work of Christian ethicists, historians, and sociologists to support his new pluralistic synthesis.
Donovan E. Smucker
Walter Rauschenbusch served for eleven years as pastor of the Second Baptist Church in New York City's "Hell's Kitchen." Acknowledged as a loving pastor and social prophet, he did much to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Although Rauschenbusch has long been recognized as the "Father of the Social Gospel," the religious convictions and experiences that shaped and molded this man and his ideas have often been ignored. "The ideal of the Kingdom of God," he said, "is not identified with any special social theory. It means justice, freedom, fraternity, labor, joy. Let each social system and movement show us what it can contribute, and we will weigh its claims."
The passion of Rauschenbusch to see God's will done "on earth as it is in heaven" has inspired a large number of pastors and social reformers. I remember attending the church he pastored (some 50 years later), seeing his picture on the wall, and wondering what kind of man he was. As I began my pastoral and community work, I read more books about and by him. His work and passion has also had a formative influence on my work in community and it is for that reason that I intend to share some of his writings on this website. I will be adding excerpts from books & magazines over time.