Walter Rauschenbusch


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

Author Quotes

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.

Primitive Christianity cherished an ardent hope of a radically new era, and within its limits sought to realize a social life on a new moral basis. Thus Christianity as an historical movement was launched with all the purpose and hope, all the impetus and power, of a great revolutionary movement, pledged to change the world-as-it-is into the world-as-it-ought-to-be.

The position of woman has doubtless been elevated through the influence of Christianity, but... it is probably fair to say that most of the great Churches through their teaching and organization have exerted a conservative and retarding influence on the rise of woman to equality with man.

We are apt... to forget that the moral force of Christianity was usually only one factor in producing such a change as the abolition of slavery or piracy, and that over against the benign influences of the Church must be set the malign and divisive influences which she created by persecuting zeal, intellectual intolerance, or religious wars. In short, we must soberly face the fact that a good many deductions have to be made from the popular panegyrics, and that the Church has not accomplished all that is often claimed for her.

If the question of the distribution of wealth were solved for all society and all lived in average comfort and without urgent anxiety, the question would still be how many would be at peace with their own souls and have that enduring joy and contentment which alone can make the outward things fair and sweet and rise victorious over change.

Primitive religions consisted mainly in the worship of the powers of nature. ...the essential thing in religion was not morality, but the ceremonial method of placating the god, securing his gifts, and ascertaining his wishes. He might even be pleased best by immoral actions, by the immolation of human victims, by the sacrifice of woman's chastity, or by the burning of the first born.

The prophets were not religious individualists. ...they always dealt with Israel and Judah as organic totalities. They conceived of their people as a gigantic personality which sinned as one and ought to repent as one. was only when the national life of Israel was crushed by foreign invaders that the prophets began to address themselves to the individual life and lost the large horizon of public life.

We are to-day in the midst of a revolutionary epoch fully as thorough as that of the Renaissance and Reformation. It is accompanied by a reinterpretation of nature and of history. The social movement has helped to create the modern study of history. Where we used to see a panorama of wars and strutting kings and court harlots, we now see the struggle of the people to wrest a living from nature and to shake off their oppressors. The new present has created a new past. The French Revolution was the birth of modern democracy, and also of the modern school of history.

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