Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Chapter 12: The Progressive Social Gospel

Chapter 12: The Progressive Social Gospel

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy:

How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest


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The original draft of this book contained 172 pages of endnotes, which had to be shed in the name of economy. Thanks to the Internet, readers can access them here. Unfortunately, of course, the author had to substitute page and paragraph numbers for the original superscripts in the text, but in most cases it should be clear which sentences in a given paragraph match up with which sources.

Paragraphs appearing in their entirety on a single page are identified by the page number (e.g., p. 122). Paragraphs divided between two pages are identified by those pages (e.g., pp. 92-93). Paragraphs that share a page with another complete paragraph are identified by the page number and paragraph number (e.g., p. 103, ¶ 1).





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Chapter 12: The Progressive Social Gospel:

117-18: Alonzo L. Harriby in Sidney M. Milkis and Jerome M. Mileur, eds., Progressivism and the New Democracy (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1999), p. 40 neatly describes the current state of Progressive studies: “a plethora of scholarship in the last half of the 1950s left the old consensus in shreds while producing a plethora of alternative views that defy rational synthesis.” William Leuchtenburg, “Progressivism and Imperialism: The Progressive Movement and American Foreign Policy, 1898–1916,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39, no. 3 (1952): 483–504 (quote, pp. 501-2).

118: Bruce Kuklick, A Political History of the USA: One Nation under God (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), p. 190.

119: Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven: Yale University, pp. 410-33 (quotes pp. 412-13).

119-20: Richard M. Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2003), pp. 25-47 (quotes pp. 30-31); Robert T. Handy, Undermined Establishment: Church-State Relations in America, 1880-1920 (Princeton: Princeton University, 1991), Ely quote p. 672; Rauschenbusch quoted in Kuklick, Political History of the USA, p. 191; on the Social Gospel and Progressive reform see Henry May, The Protestant Churches and Industrial America (New York: Harper, 1949). Revival movements generally in American history are explored by Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000).

120-21: The classic study is Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915 (New Haven: Yale University, 1967). Major works by its leaders include Washington Gladden, Being a Christian: What It Means and How to Begin (Boston: Pilgrim, 1885); Lyman Abbott, Theology of an Evolutionist (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1897); George Herron, The Christian State (New York: Crowell, 1895) and Between Caesar and Jesus (New York: Crowell, 1899); Charles Monroe Sheldon, In His Steps: “What Would Jesus Do?” (Chicago: Advance Publishing, 1899); Walter Rauschenbsch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (New York: Macmillan, 1907) and Christianizing the Social Order (New York: Macmillan, 1912). Stephen R. Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), pp. 294-95, concludes that “As the American experiment unfolded, Americans gradually liberated Jesus from divinity, dogma, and even Christianity itself…. Jesus became a personality and then a celebrity under the aegis of liberal Protestants after the Civil War.”

120-21 cont.: Thomas G. Woods, Jr., The Church Confronts Modernity: Catholic Intellectuals and the Progressive Era (New York: Columbia University, 2004). Traditionalists such as J. Gresham Machen of Princeton called it a war between two world views: “Is Christianity a means to an end, or an end in itself, an improvement of the world, or the creation of a new world. Is sin a necessary stage in the development of humanity, or a yawning chasm in the very structure of the universe? … Is God identified with the world, or separated from it by the infinite abyss of sin?  Modern culture is here in conflict with the Bible”: “History and Faith,” Princeton Theological Review 13 (July 1915), 337-51.  Machen said the question was not whether Fosdick was winning men, but whether he was winning them to Christianity.  Fosdick’s reply was the pamphlet “Shall the Fundamentalists Win,” which Rockefeller had printed and mailed to every Protestant pastor in America!  Paul T. McCartney, Power and Progress: American National Identity, the War of 1898, and the Rise of American Imperialism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2006), examines the “cultural milieu” of the war because he believes it was not just a case of humanitarianism that morphed into imperialism.  It was tinged with many other features of American identity including racism, but also the Methodist themes of “duty and obligation” that resound so powerfully in McKinley’s sincere speeches.

121: Matthew Bowman, “Sin, Spirituality, and Primitivism: The Theologies of the American Social Gospel, 1885-1917,” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 1 (Winter 2007): 95-126 (quote p. 111). That Americans are an “Old Testament people akin to Jews” is an insight many observers, both Gentile and Jewish, have made. See for example Waldo David Frank, Our America (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1919), H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1959 <orig. 1937>); Edward McNall Burns, The American Idea of Mission: Concepts of National Purpose and Destiny (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 1957), Conrad Cherry, God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971;and David Gelernter, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion (New York: Doubleday, 2007).  On Rockefeller and the Social Gospel, see Robert Moats Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick: Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (New York: Oxford University, 1985).

122: Albert J. Beveridge, “March of the Flag” (16 September 1898):

William Norman Guthrie, The Religion of Old Glory (New York: George H. Doran, 1919), p. 415, gave eloquent voice to the common view of most Protestant churches that U.S. entry into the Great War had eschatological significance: “We raise our flag the more proudly then, we men of self-disciplined mind, we patient, urgent never-surrenderers of the Cause; we abiders of the propitious times and the prophetic seasons, – but aspirers, conspirers always; we constructive meliorists….  ‘Solidarity’ as Walt Whitman was wont to sing, the divine ‘en masse.’  No other upheaval is to us an uprising.  And for that we watch, and wait and work” (p. 233).

122-23: Josiah Strong’s major works were Our Country (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1885); The United States and the Future of the Anglo-Saxon Race (London: Saxon and Co., 1889); The New Era (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1893), quotes p.80; The Challenge of the City (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1907). Thousands of young missionaries, many from Ivy League colleges, were inspired by preachers like Strong to devote their lives to the cause of exporting, not only the gospel, but the whole of American civilization to Asia. Their collective memoirs would fill a small library, but for a poignant example see Rick Nutt, “G. Sherwood Eddy and the Attitudes of Protestants in the United States toward Global Mission,” Church History 66, no. 3 (1997): 502-21.   Eddy labored tirelessly and for the most part futilely to plant YMCA’s in India and China.

123: L. B. Hartman, The Republic of America: Its Civil Polity as Outlined by the Prophets, Its Politico-Religious Mission in the World’s Civilization, and Its Need of the Soldier, pp. 9-10, cited by Paul T. McCartney, “Religion, the Spanish-American War, and the Idea of American Mission,” Journal of Church and State on-line (July 2011); William H. Berge, “Voices for Imperialism: Josiah Strong and the Protestant Clergy,” Border States On-Line: https://spider.georgetowncollege,com/htallant/border/bs1/berge.htm

123-24: On transnational movements see Ian Tyrrell, Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University, 2010). On the war party see Julius Pratt, Expansionists of 1898: The Acquisition of Hawaii and the Spanish Islands (New York: Peter Smith, 1951); Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1956); Michael H. Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven: Yale University, 1987); Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1995).  See also Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (New York: Knopf, 2012), pp. 207-32 (quotes, pp. 225).  Southern Methodist missionaries in Cuba from 1898 to 1941 are the subject of Mark Brennan’s Penn dissertation.

p. 124: Congressional Record, 56th Congress, 1st Session, vol. 33, part 1, p. 711 (1900), cited by Smith, Civic Ideals, pp. 430-31.  Henry Cabot Lodge might have winced at the pitch of the remarks by the junior Senator from Indiana, but he rewarded his fellow Progressive Imperialist with a seat on the oversight committee for the Philippines and Puerto Rico.



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