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The SocialGospelandthe Reform Tradition in Canada, 1890-1928 RICHARD ALLEN xm• L•ameaaxamOF SOCIn•.}W•ORM has not been extensive in Canada eventhough a sizable movement of reform wasabroad in theland fromthe 1890s through the 1930s, a movement thatwasfoundin church andin secular society, and at municipal, provincial, and, progressively, federallevels.In the last chapterof hisProgressive Partyin Canada, Mortonsees thedecline of thatpartyasa resultin partofthewaning oftheimpulse towards reform insociety asawhole. Underlyingand accompanying the movementtowardsreform through thepolitical system hadbeenthesocial gospel, a movement of whichthe mostimportant function wasto forgelinksbetween proposed reforms andthereligious heriraeofthenation, thusendowg ingreform withanauthority it could nototherwise command. At the same timeit attempted to createthe religious andsocialattitudes thought necessary forlifein a worldreformed. Buttheworldproved too intractable for the realization of the movement's high socioreligious hopes, andin thewakeof thefrustratinexperiences of the g early1920s, supporters of thesocial gospel, andotherreformmovements ,tookdifferentpaths;somewithdrewfrompolitics, someretreatedto pragmatic politics, sometransferred theirenthusiasm to othercauses (notably peace movements andpersonal religion),and others movedtowards a newradicalism. The reformmovement may beviewed frommanystandpoints, butonlywhenit islooked at asa religious manifestation, a striving to embed ultimate human goals in thesocial, economic andpolitical order, isitssuccess andfailurefully appreciated. Thehistory ofthesocial gospel in Canada isanaccount ofthatprocess. Thesocial gospel rested onthepremise that'Christianity wasasocial 381 Vol. XLIX, No. 4, December,1968 38 •, THE CANAI)IAN HISTORICAL REVIEW religion,concerned, whenthe misunderstanding o]{the ageswas stripped away, withthequality o]{ human relations onthisearth. More dramatically, it wasa callœor mentofindthemeaning o]{ theirlivesin seeking torealize thekingdom o]{ Codinthevery]{abric o]{ society. It wasa measure o]{ theradicalism implicit in theSocial Cospel thatthe Methodist church in 1918called ]{or complete social reconstruction by a trans]{er o]{thebasis o]{society ]{rom competition to co-operation. It wasa measure o]{ theconservatism inevitably associated withsuch a callthatevensome o]{ themost radical supporters o]{ thesocial gospel believed that in the ]{amily as theyknewit, and in the political democracy o]{ theirtime,twoessential elements o]{ thesociety toward whichJesus pointed menwerealready in existence, or virtuallyso. Such areduction wasnecessary toapply apan-historical andtranscendentconcept to immediate needs. And withoutsuchreduction the re]{orm movement wouldhaveenioyed considerably less power. TheProtestant background outo]{ whichtheCanadian social gospel hadto emerge wasonedominated overwhelmingly by theAnglican, Methodist, andPresbyterian churches. Thesimilarities anddisparities in thesocial outlook o]{ these churches priortotheonset o]{ depression inthelatenineteenth century maybesuggested bytheirreactions toa strikeo]{ the TorontoPrinters' Unionin 1872.The Anglican Church Heraldcondemned thelabourers ]{or usurping theroleo]{ theemployer andblamed thestrikeupon"theinsidious whimperings oœ a ]{oreignborn league." ThePresbyterian Witness argued thatlabour's campaign •strikes attheveryrooto]{... personal independence andperpetuates theirsocial demoralisation .... Nomaneverrose above alowlyconditionwhothought moreo]{hisclass thano]{hisindividuality." The Methodist Christian Guardian declared a pro]{ound sympathy withall honest workingmen andasincere desire ]{or theirbetterment, butwent onto say:"weseriously question thewisdom andadvantage oœ this movement--especially thestrikes towhichit islikelytolead. "•When news o]{ HenryCeorge's Anti-Poverty Society reached Toronto in 1887, theothertwochurches wouldprobably haveechoed theresponse o]{ theChristian Guardian on29June: "Wehavenofaithintheabolition o]{ poverty by anylawsthatcanbemadein legislatures .... Thebest •Thesereactions of the churchpressare cited in StewartCrysdale, The Industrial Struggle andProtestant Ethicsin Canada(Toronto,1961),pp. 18-19.It isnotunlikely that amongthe strikers andthosewhoralliedto theirsupport weresome whowerenot prepared to accept the editors' opinions asto theirChristian duty(SeeDorisFrench, Faith, Sweat and Politics,Toronto,1962). For a fuller accountof the socialstanceof Methodism andPresbyterianism in these years, seeMarionRoyce, "The Contribution of the Methodist Churchto SocialWelfarein Canada"(unpublished M.A. thesis, Universityof Toronto,1940), andE. A. Christie, "The Presbyterian Churchin CanadaandIts Official Attitude Towards Public Affairs andSocial Problems, 1875-1925" (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Toronto, 1955). THESOCIAL GOSPEL IN CANADA, 1890--1928 383 anti-poverty society isanassociation ofmenwhowouldadopt astheir governing principles in life,industry, sobriety, economy andintelligence ." Suchanindividualistic ethicwasunable, however, to withstandthe combined onslaught of extended depression, the rapid growth of industrial urbancentres, and the spread of new social conceptions. It hasbeenargued thatthesocial gospel in Canada wasanindigenous development? Although it ispossible thata Canadian social gospel mighthavedeveloped simply inresponse todomestic urban and industrial problems, it didnotinfacthappen thatway.Tobesure, the earliest expressions of the socialgospel in Canadamay stilllie in sources untouched byhistorians' hands. Andin those sources, therise of the social gospel maybe obscured by the gradual natureof its separation fromolder forms ofChristian social expression characterized by a concern forchurch-state relations, education, political corruption, andpersonal andsocial vice.Butalmost all evidence regarding the emergence of thesocial gosel fromthistradition pointsto currents p ofthought andaction which weresweeping thewestern world, none of whichoriginated inCanada. Totracethis"NorthAtlantic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 381-399
Launched on MUSE
2016-04-06
Open Access
No
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