Discovering An Evangelical Heritage.
Donald W. Dayton. Hendrickson Publishers. 1992.
Jonathan Blanchard, founder and President of Wheaton College,
said, "...every true minister of Christ is a universal reformer, whose
business it is, so far as possible, to reform all the evils which press on human
concerns." He was a major American reformer in the mid-1800s and played a
prominent role in the anti-slavery movement. "Slave-holding," he said,
"is not a solitary, but a social sin..."
...In Finney's own words, 'One of the reasons for the low
state of religion at the present time, is that many churches have taken the
wrong side on the subject of slavery, have suffered prejudice to prevail over
principle, and have feared to call this abomination by its true name (it being
impossible) to take a neutral ground on this subject.' ..Finney's most stirring
statement on the relationship of the church to reform (has) been completely
excised from the modern editions of (his) letters and is now available in
only...very few surviving sets of the original Oberlin Evangelist."
...In Finney's "Letters on Revival--No. 23, The
Pernicious Attitude of the Church on the Reforms of the Age:" "Hence
the only way in which Christians in the churches who would do any thing towards
reforming mankind can make their influence felt is by forming societies,
composed often partly of Christians and partly of those who profess no religion.
These unite together to concentrate their influence against some form of
iniquity that is cursing mankind."
Theodore Weld, another evangelical, is described as being
every bit as important as the more famous William Lloyd Garrison in the
abolition of slavery movement. Weld was also clearly not a paternalist--as is
often claimed of Garrison (with whom, parenthetically, the great Black
abolitionist Frederick Douglass often had problems on this very issue). Weld
became integrated into the free Black community of the North, and choose to
focus his work in Ohio among the "yeoman" who he believed had to be
persuaded of the cause if the anti-slavery movement were to succeed. (Thus
strategically differing from the Unitarian Garrison who spoke primarily to the
more affluent.) Weld sharply criticized the churches of his time: "...there
is among the professed ministers of Christ such connivance at cherished sins,
such truckling subserviency to power, such clinging with mendicant sycophancy to
the skirts of wealth and influence...such cowering before bold transgression
when it stalks among the high places of power with fashion in its train..."
Weld married Angelina Grimke (excommunicated from her Quaker
sect for marrying outside the group) who, with her sister Sarah, was an
abolitionist and feminist. "The letters that (they) left behind are a
delight to read...They demonstrate that the Christian egalitarianism behind
revivalist abolitionism understood the issues to be prejudice and caste as well
as slavery...As Angelina wrote to Weld before their marriage, 'I rejoice that
you continue to identify yourself with our colored friends--to board with them,
etc. I am sure that the poor and oppressed both white and black can never be
benefited without mingling with them on terms of equality.' This egalitarianism
was carried over into their marriage..."
To return to self-interest, perhaps there are some other
factors to be taken into account which may not appear in this book. The white
yeoman farmers (and artisans) of the time were, in effect, in competition with
slave labor--which was used to undercut the value of their labor (as freedmen
were later used). Thus a clear self-interest there. Further, the churches of
which these yeoman and artisans were a nominal part may already have been moving
away from the life experiences of the "working class" (a modern term,
but relevant for our own thinking) of that time, favoring, instead the
"propertied classes." Further, Weld and his abolitionists' way of
work, like that of the Salvation Army workers described in Salvation In The
Slums, was to be with the people. Unfortunately, we can't tell whether any of
the over one hundred anti-slavery societies formed by him and his associates in
Ohio did anything on local issues or were involved in mutual aid projects.
Early Methodism was characterized by vigorous opposition to
slavery. John Wesley condemned it. Early American Methodism maintained this
conviction, but as Methodism became the largest American denomination the
anti-slavery position was abandoned in order to gain a presence in the South andwith others. In the 1830s, Orange Scott became a leader within Methodist for a
return to its late 1700s abolitionism. In the early 1840s, abolitionist
Methodists left the Methodist Episcopal Church to form the Wesleyan Methodist
Connection, a new denomination which became a "universal reform"
denomination committed to reform and piety. Wesleyans spoke of the conjunction
of "piety and radicalism." Scott died at an early age. The leadership
mantle passed on to Luther Lee who presided over three of the first six general
conferences of the new denomination. He also wrote "a number of shorter
theological works (attacking Unitarianism and defending the immortality of the
soul against 'conditionalism' that affirmed that only Christians received
immortality) as well as a systematic theology that went through a dozen
editions." He argued, "The gospel is so radically reformatory, that to
preach it fully and clearly, is to attach and condemn all wrong, and to assert
and defend all righteousness." And, "a large portion of the evils to
be removed (from the world) are connected with civil government, and the gospel
will never remove them, until it is so preached as to have something to do with
politics." In supporting John Brown, he said that at times, "it is
right to oppose oppression, and defend human liberty...by force and arms."
Lee also preached at the ordination of Oberlin graduate Antoinette Brown,
"apparently the first woman in history to be fully ordained to the
Christian ministry," entitling his sermon, "Woman's Right to Preach
the Gospel." The Wesleyan Methodists were not simply reformers; they were
revolutionaries in their time.
Early evangelicalism was committed to feminist principles,
contradicted by today's fundamentalists. The revivalist tradition in
evangelicalism in the l8th and 19th century was of central importance to the
women's movement. This is due to "an implicit leveling force in vital
Evangelical religion. Some have even argued that the Evangelical Revival
transmitted to English society the radical egalitarian ideas that fomented
modern revolutions in other contexts. This leveling impact contributed to the
rise of the laity in church life, and in this process, women found new roles
earlier denied them just as laymen were allowed to preach and take other forms
of leadership." "By the end of the 18th century women preachers had
begun to appear in such groups as the Free-Will Baptists." The evangelicals
found "that by approaching the Scriptures with unbiased eyes it became
clear that women had played a more significant role in the New Testament church
than had previously been assumed, and that a biblical case could be made for
giving them more responsibilities in the contemporary church." "...it
was in the American revivalism of Charles G. Finney that such tendencies began
to have wide cultural impact and were transformed into the practice of full
ordination for women and a form of Christian and biblical feminism."
"The basic egalitarianism of evangelicalism that supported abolitionism was
also extended to women. Those who had mustered the courage to attack one social
institution found it easier to attack another." Some evangelicals extended
their argument to egalitarian marriage relationships.
Baptist A. J. Gordon, major figure behind what developed into
Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Seminary, is described by his son as an
abolitionist and with regard to women, "advocated their complete
enfranchisement and their entrance into every political and social privilege
enjoyed by men."
"Recent study has uncovered a major role of women in the
early years of the Evangelical Free church, a Scandinavian immigrant
denomination formed in the late 19th century, known today primarily through its
seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School."
"But it was the Salvation Army that made the most
progress in putting such (women's rights) convictions into practice. This was
due to the influence of Catherine Mumford Booth, cofounder of the Army..."
Methodist, Pentecostal, Nazarene, Holiness and other
evangelicals supported equality for women. The Church of God (Anderson, IN)
emerged in the 1880s and in its early years perhaps 20 - 25% of its ministers
and delegates were women. "This (entire evangelical) heritage is almost
totally lost today except where it was more firmly institutionalized, such as in
the Salvation Army. Even those denominations most firmly committed to women in
the ministry have largely abandoned the practice...What was no doubt the most
massive effort to incorporate women into the life of the Christian church has
faded away and today is not even remembered."
In Chapter 9, "Anointed to Preach the Gospel to the
Poor," Dayton begins a summing up and analysis of what he recounted, for
the most part in narrative fashion, in the preceding chapters. After the Civil
War, revivalism tended to split into two streams: the more liberal social gospel
movement from which Walter Rauschenbusch emerged and those who advocated a
"personal gospel" of individual regeneration. "It has generally
been assumed that the increasing polarizations within Protestantism that
climaxed in the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy of the 1920s-30s forced
(this) split." "This caricature...is a grave distortion...there was
also a disaffection with bourgeois church life among the more theologically
conservative (which was) in some ways more conservative and in some ways more
radical than the social gospel (and) drew its inspiration...from Finney's 'new
measure' revivalism." We have to see what happened to the evangelical
anti-slavery movement after the civil war. While some of its members became
active in the cause of the freed slaves, the main thrust of the movement went
into anti-prostitution and temperance directions. The concern was for the
outcasts of society but they, unlike the slave, were clear participants in the
sin--it wasn't just social. The main theme remained a concern clearly grounded
in the biblical mandate to preach the gospel to the poor--as well as to free the
oppressed. Concern for the poor is a regular theme "in the theologically
conservative disaffection from bourgeois church life in the late 19th century.
These Evangelicals understood this biblical teaching and gave themselves to the
poor and the inner cities in response."
The Free Methodists split from the Methodist Episcopal Church
because its leaders wanted simple churches with free pews for all. Founder B. T.
Roberts "pushed his followers to a radical discipleship that affirmed
simple life-style, polemicized against the 'modern, easy way of getting people
converted, without repentance, without renouncing the world,' and insisted that
such renunciation of the world include such social sins as 'slavery, driving
hard bargain, and oppressing the hireling in his wages. As the 19th century
urban centers developed, the evangelicals' commitment to the poor increased. In
1881, Pastor A.B. Simpson left his Presbyterian Church because, as he said,
"they wanted a conventional parish for respectable Christians. What this
young pastor wanted was a multitude of publicans and sinners." His work led
to the Christian Missionary Alliance. Phineas F. Bresee left the Methodist
Church to found the Church of the Nazarene in 1895 so he could pursue a ministry
with the inner-city poor of Los Angeles. Bresee said, "We can get along
without rich people, but not without preaching the gospel to the poor..."
Rescue missions increasingly became the focus of evangelicals--and they launched
a major war against liquor, prostitution and other evils. The Salvation Army,
founded in England in 1860, came to the US in 1880 and was a "living
critique of the bourgeois churches and a disturber of the peace by revealing the
sickening underside of a supposedly respectable society..." These groups
"incarnated egalitarian ideas about women..." far ahead of their time.
Ballington Booth, himself a leader in the Salvation Army and son of the Army's
founders, expressed the increasing radicalism of the evangelicals who worked in
the slums: "...we must have justice--more justice...to right the social
wrong by charity is like bailing the ocean with a thimble...We must adjust our
social machinery so that the producers of wealth become the owners of wealth."