Walter Rauschenbusch


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

Author Quotes

The Church had its own law code and its own courts of law which were supreme over the clergy, and had large rights of jurisdiction even over the laity, so that it could develop and give effect to its own ideas of law and right.

The religious ideal of Israel was the theocracy. But the theocracy meant the complete penetration of the national life by religious morality. It meant politics in the name of God.

When the machinery of [Roman] imperial administration broke down in the provinces under the invasion of the barbarians in the fifth century the machinery of the Church remained unbroken... Ancient families became extinct and the Church became the heir of their lands and slaves and serfs. Small proprietors sought security by committing their lands to the Church and becoming its tenants.

Against this current conception of religion the prophets insisted on a right life as the true worship of God. Morality to them was not merely a prerequisite of effective ceremonial worship. They brushed sacrificial ritual aside altogether as trifling compared with righteousness, nay, as a harmful substitute and a hindrance for ethical religion.

In so far as men have attempted to use the Old Testament as a code of model laws and institutions and have applied these to modern conditions, regardless of the historical connections, these attempts have left a trail of blunder and disaster. In so far as they have caught the spirit that burned in the hearts of the prophets and breathed in gentle humanity through the Mosaic Law, the influence of the Old Testament has been one of the great permanent forces making for democracy and social justice.

The Church owns property, needs income, employs men, works on human material, and banks on its moral prestige. Its present efficiency and future standing are bound up for weal or woe with the social welfare of the people and with the outcome of the present struggle.

The social effects which are usually enumerated do not constitute a reconstruction of society on a Christian basis, but were mainly a suppression of some of the most glaring evils in the social system of the time.

When the prophets conceived Jehovah as the special vindicator of these voiceless classes it was another way of saying that it is the chief duty in religious morality to stand for the rights of the helpless.

Amid the general anarchy, against the coarse vice and brutality of the barbarians, herself harried by the rapacity of the nobles and weakened by the ignorance and barbarism of her own clergy, the Church did what she could, but a thorough social reconstruction was impossible. In modern life her power is broken by the prevalent doubt and apostasy, and the current of materialism and mammonism is now too great to be stemmed.

It became one of the fundamental attributes of their God that he was the husband of the widow, the father of the orphan, and the protector of the stranger. The widows and the fatherless were those who had no concrete power to back their claims, no "influence," no "financial interest," no "pull" with the police, judges and aldermen of that time. The "stranger" was the immigrant who had no part in the blood-kinship of the clan, and hence no share in the land and no voice in the common affairs of the village.

The Church was the preserver of the remnants of intellectual culture, the sole schoolmistress of the raw peoples. Her clergy long had almost a monopoly of education, and were the secretaries of the nobles, the chancellors and prime ministers of kings.

The social revolution has been slow in reaching our country. We have been exempt, not because we had solved the problems, but because we had not yet confronted them.

Whoever uncouples the religious and the social life has not understood Jesus. Whoever sets any bounds for the reconstructive power of the religious life over the social relations and institutions of men, to that extent denies the faith of the Master.

Apart from the organized Church, the religious spirit is a factor of incalculable power in the making of history. In the idealistic spirits that lead and in the masses that follow, the religious spirit always intensifies thought, enlarges hope, unfetters daring, evokes the willingness to sacrifice, and gives coherence in the fight.

It is important to note, further, that the morality which the prophets had in mind in their strenuous insistence on righteousness was not merely the private morality of the home, but the public morality on which national life is founded. They said less about the pure heart for the individual than of just institutions for the nation.

The Church, the organized expression of the religious life of the past, is one of the most potent institutions and forces in Western civilization. ...It cannot help throwing its immense weight on one side or the other. If it tries not to act, it thereby acts; and in any case its choice will be decisive for its own future.

The sympathy of the prophets, even of the most aristocratic among them, was entirely on the side of the poorer classes. ...The edge of their invectives was turned against the land-hunger of the landed aristocracy who "joined house to house and laid field to field," till a country of sturdy peasants was turned into a series of great estates; against the capitalistic ruthlessness that "sold the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes," thrusting the poor free-man into slavery to collect a trifling debt; against the venality of the judges who took bribes and had a double standard of law for the rich and the poor.

Why has it [the Church] never done what it was sent to do? Others ...will say it has done so. Has it not lifted woman to equality and companionship with man, secured the sanctity and stability of marriage, changed parental despotism to parental service, and eliminated unnatural vice, the abandonment of children, blood revenge, and the robbery of the shipwrecked from the customs of Christian nations? Has it not abolished slavery, mitigated war, covered all lands with a network of charities to uplift the poor and the fallen, fostered the institutions of education, aided the progress of civil liberty and social justice, and diffused a softening tenderness throughout human life? It has done all that, and vastly more.

Ascetic Christianity called the world evil and left it. Humanity is waiting for a revolutionary Christianity which will call the world evil and change it.

It is only when social movements have receded into past history... that the Church with pride turns around to claim that it was she who abolished slavery, aroused the people to liberty, and emancipated woman.

The essential purpose of Christianity was to transform human society into the kingdom of God by regenerating all human relations and reconstituting them in accordance with the will of God... I have never met with any previous attempt to give a satisfactory historical explanation of this failure.

The twin-evil against which the prophets launched the condemnation of Jehovah was injustice and oppression.

Christian ritual grew up not as the appropriate and aesthetic expression of spiritual emotions, but as the indispensable means of pleasing and appeasing God, and of securing his favors, temporal and eternal, for those who put their heart into these processes. This Christian ceremonial system does not differ essentially from that against which the prophets protested; with a few verbal changes their invectives would still apply.

It is this diffused spirit of Christianity rather than the conscious purpose of organized Christianity which has been the chief moral force in social changes. It has often taken its finest form in heretics and free-thinkers, and in non-Christian movements. The Church has often been indifferent or hostile to the effects which it had itself produced. The mother has refused to acknowledge her own children.

The fundamental purpose of Jesus was the establishment of the kingdom of God, which involved a thorough regeneration and reconstitution of social life.

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