Protesting Classes through Protestant Glasses: Class, Labor, and the Social Gospel in the United States

Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


One way to consider the relationship between religion and class in the United States today is through an interpretation of select Protestant social gospel responses to conflicts between labor and capital from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I. This chapter will explore the social gospel’s nuanced engagement with class, through the perspective of Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch as representative figures, to show how it was actually more attuned to class issues than many of its critics and even well-wishers suspect.1 The discussion to follow is not whether class mattered but how it mattered for them—especially with respect to members of the working class, the permissible range of their activity and the legitimacy of their agency. The social gospel has long been criticized for being idealistic, moralistic, and unable to address edgy questions of class. The question is whether Protestants (and other legatees of this tradition) are rendered unable to think about structures of economic inequality through the lens of class.


Social Order Common Good Social Ethic Class Division Catholic Social Teaching 
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  1. 1.
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© Joerg Rieger 2013

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