Walter Rauschenbusch


American Baptist Preacher, Theological Professor and Key Figure in the Social Gospel Movement

Author Quotes

Christianity has been one of the most powerful causes of democracy, but the conscious influence of the Church has more widely been exerted against democracy than for it.

Jehovah was the tribal god of Israel. Fortunately he was stronger and more terrible than the gods of the neighboring tribes, so that he was able to drive them out and give their land to his own people, but he was not fundamentally different from them and they were believed to be quite as real as Jehovah.

The greatest of all prophets was still one of the prophets, and that large interest in the national and social life which had been inseparable from the religion of the prophets was part of his life too. The presumption is that Jesus shared the fundamental religious purpose of the prophets.

The words are part of the first chapter of Isaiah to which reference has been made. The prophet throughout the chapter deals with the national condition of the kingdom of Judah and its capital. ...he urges... the abolition of social oppression and injustice as the only way of regaining God's favor for the nation. If they would vindicate the cause of the helpless and oppressed, then he would freely pardon; then their scarlet and crimson guilt would be washed away. The familiar text is followed by the very material promise of economic prosperity and the threat of continued war: "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword."

Christianity is in its nature revolutionary.

Jesus accepted John as the forerunner of his own work. It was the popular movement created by John which brought Jesus out of the seclusion of Nazareth. He received John's baptism as the badge of the new Messianic hope and repentance. ...He drew his earliest and choicest disciples from the followers of John. When John was dead, some thought Jesus was John risen from the dead. He realized clearly the difference between the stern ascetic spirit of the Baptist and his own sunny trust and simple human love, but to the end of his life he championed John and dared the Pharisees to deny his divine mission. ...In the main he shared John's national and social hope. His aim too was the realization of the theocracy.

The Greek world cherished no such national religious hope as the prophets had ingrained in Jewish thought; on the other hand it was intensely interested in the future life for the individual, and in the ascetic triumph over flesh and matter. Thus the idea which had been the centre of Christ's thought was not at all the centre of the Church's thought, and even the comprehension of his meaning was lost and overlaid.

There is no question on which side the sympathy of the prophets was enlisted. Their protest against injustice and oppression, to the neglect of all other social evils, is almost monotonous.

Christianity was rising when the ancient world was breaking down. By the time the Church had gained sufficient power to exercise a controlling influence, the process of social decay, like the breakdown of a physical organism in a wasting disease, was beyond remedy.

Let us do our thinking on these great questions, not with our eyes fixed on our bank account, but with a wise outlook on the fields of the future and with the consciousness that the spirit of the Eternal is seeking to distil from our lives, some essence of righteousness, before they pass away.

The influence of Christianity in taming selfishness and stimulating the sympathetic affections, in creating a resolute sense of duty, a stanch love of liberty and independence, an irrepressible hunger for justice and a belief in the rights of the poor, has been so subtle and penetrating that no one can possibly trace its effects. ...And yet human society has not been reconstituted in accordance with the principles of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the Middle Ages the sway of the Church over the moral and spiritual life of the people, her power to inspire and direct their enthusiasms and energies, her chance for molding their conceptions of life, were amazing and unparalleled by any other force.

Eminent theologians, like other eminent thinkers, live in the social environment of wealth and to that extent are slow to see. The individualistic conception of religion is so strongly fortified in theological literature and ecclesiastical institutions that its monopoly cannot be broken in a hurry. It will take a generation or two for the new social comprehension of religion to become common property.

Like all great minds that do not merely imagine Utopias, but actually advance humanity to a new epoch, he [Jesus] took the situation and material furnished to him by the past and molded that into a fuller approximation to the divine conception within him.

The landed wealth of the Church alone sufficed to make it a power of the highest rank in the feudal system of the Middle Ages, in which all power finally rested on the possession of the land. Bishops and abbots became feudal dignitaries, sometimes almost sovereign princes in their own domains, and always with a potent voice in the government of their nations.

To the ceremonial aspects of Jewish religion Jesus was either indifferent or hostile; the thought of the prophets was the spiritual food that he assimilated in his own process of growth. With them he linked his points of view, the convictions which he regarded as axiomatic. ...The real meaning of his life and the real direction of his purposes can be understood only in that historical connection.

History is never antiquated, because humanity is always fundamentally the same. It is always hungry for bread, sweaty with labor, struggling to wrest from nature and hostile men enough to feed its children. The welfare of the mass is always at odds with the selfish force of the strong.

Men are seizing on Jesus as the exponent of their own social convictions. They all claim him... But in truth Jesus was not a social reformer of the modern type... he approached these facts purely from the moral, and not from the economic or historical point of view.

The most important effects of Christianity went out from it without the intention of the Church, or even against its will.

To the more judicial and scientific temper of our day their invective would seem overdrawn and their sympathy would seem partisanship. In Jeremiah and in the prophetic psalms the poor as a class are made identical with the meek and godly, and "rich" and "wicked" are almost synonymous terms.

I can frankly affirm that I have written with malice toward none and with charity for all. ...I have tried?so far as erring human judgment permits?to lift the issues out of the plane of personal selfishness and hate, and to put them where the white light of the just and pitying spirit of Jesus can play upon them. If I have failed in that effort, it is my sin. If others in reading fail to respond in the same spirit, it is their sin.

Our modern religious horizon and our conception of the character of a religious leader and teacher are so different that it is not easy to understand men who saw the province of religion chiefly in the broad reaches of civic affairs and international relations.

The organization in which this movement was embodied, after three centuries of obscurity and oppression, rose triumphant to be the dominant power of the civilized world. Christian churches were scattered broadcast over the Roman Empire. ...Its churches were endowed with the ancient properties and rights of the temples. Its clergy were given immunity from the taxes and exactions which crushed all other classes. Its members filled the civil service. Its great bishops had the ear of the men in power.

Under the warm breath of religious faith all social institutions become plastic.

I have written this book to discharge a debt. For eleven years I was pastor among the working people on the West Side of New York City. ...I have never ceased to feel that I owe help to the plain people who were my friends. If this book in some far-off way helps to ease the pressure that bears them down and increases the forces that bear them up, I shall meet the Master of my life with better confidence.

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American Baptist Preacher, Theological Professor and Key Figure in the Social Gospel Movement