Heath Carter has an informative article about Protestantism and the rise of labor rights early in the last century.
Northern Methodists crafted the 1908 Social Creed, mostly focused on labor rights, in 1908, with approval from President Teddy Roosevelt. The Federal Council of Churches quickly endorsed it.
As Carter recalls, establishment Protestantism was often partial to wealthy patrons, becoming indifferent to and unappealing to working class families. Supporting labor rights became one corrective.
Many of the original founders of the Social Gospel movement were orthodox and still believed in the imperative of evangelism and personal holiness. They sought a holistic Gospel concerned about personal and societal righteousness.
Unfortunately the Social Gospel coincided with the rise of mostly German-imported revisionist theology that denied the Gospel’s historicity. Mainline Protestant elites early in the 20th century abandoned insistence on orthodoxy in favor universalism and social action.
Improving the living standards of the working class remained central to Mainline Protestant political witness until the 1960s advent of the New Left. The old Social Gospel was patriotic and democratic, claiming for working people the rights America should guarantee for all.
The post-1960s Religious Left lost interest in laborers, who were deemed themselves often too reactionary. Laborers wanted access to higher living standards in capitalist and Christian America. The New Religious Left rejected America and wanted revolution.
IRD was founded in 1981 partly by labor leaders who represented the old Social Gospel. They believed in democracy while many Mainline Protestant elites and activists rejected democracy for Marxism. The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries threatened to withdraw cooperation with the AFL-CIO if the union didn’t reign it one of its officials active with IRD. The threat was ineffective.
The new Religious Left essentially abandoned the Social Gospel for boutique elite causes rooted more in academic fads than in the reality of American laborers. While no longer touting Marxist revolution per se, the Religious Left of today is primarily about identity politics and sexual liberation, not improving the material lives of working people.
Uplifting laborers materially and spiritually should always be a chief focus for the church. American Christianity has again become disproportionately white collar and upper middle class. Meanwhile the working class, disconnected from the church, is increasingly victim to destructive pathologies: illigitimacy, serial divorce, addictions, social isolation.
Today’s Religious Left and Evangelical Left have little to say to working people. Instead they focus on campus-centered educated elites who obsess ironically over victimhood. This Labor Day is good time for pondering how churches might again minister to the real needs of laborers.Google+