Josiah Strong

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Josiah Strong (1847–1916) was an American Protestant clergyman, organizer, editor and author. He was a leader of the Social Gospel movement, calling for social justice and combating social evils. He supported missionary work so that all races could be improved and uplifted and thereby brought to Christ.

Overview[edit]

Josiah Strong was one of the founders of the Social Gospel movement that sought to apply Protestant religious principles to solve the social ills brought on by industrialization, urbanization and immigration. He served as General Secretary (1886–1898) of the Evangelical Alliance for the United States, a coalition of Protestant missionary groups. After being forced out he set up his own group, the League for Social Service (1898–1916), and edited its magazine The Gospel of the Kingdom.

Strong, like most other leaders of the Social Gospel movement, added strong evangelical roots, including a belief in sin and redemption. Strong, like Walter Rauschenbusch and George D. Herron all had intense conversion experiences and believed that regeneration was necessary to bring social justice by combating social sin. Though they were often critical of evangelicalism, they thought of their mission as an expansion of it. Their primitivist desire for noninstitutional Christianity was influenced by liberal, postmillennial idealism, and their attitudes influenced neo-orthodox theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.[1]

His most well-known and influential work was Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis (1885), intended to promote domestic missionary activity in the American West. When the work appeared, Protestants had long been accustomed to meeting the sorts of perils that Strong saw threatening the country’s survival, Christianization, and world greatness. His work flowed from a tradition habituated to perceive threats to “our country.” It was a tradition that, perhaps ironically, helped ensure the end of slavery in defense of the Union during the Civil War, while also predisposing many northern Protestants to look past, if not entirely forget, the ex-slaves following the war.[2] Historians also suggest it may have encouraged support for imperialistic United States policy among American Protestants. He pleaded as well for more missionary work in the nation's cities, and for reconciliation to end racial conflict. He was one of the first to warn that Protestants (most of whom lived in rural areas or small towns) were ignoring the problems of the cities and the working classes[3]

Strong believed that all races could be improved and uplifted and thereby brought to Christ. In the "Possible Future" portion of Our Country, Strong focused on the "Anglo-Saxon race" --that is the English language speakers. He said in 1890: "In 1700 this race numbered less than 6,000,000 souls. In 1800, Anglo-Saxons (I use the term somewhat broadly to include all English-speaking peoples) had increased to about 20,500,000, and now, in 1890, they number more than 120,000,000."[4]) had a responsibility to "civilize and Christianize" the world, sharing their technology and knowledge of Christianity. The "Crisis" portion of the text described the seven "perils" facing the nation, namely – Catholicism, Mormonism, Socialism, Intemperance, Wealth, Urbanization, and Immigration. Conservative Protestants argued that missionaries should spend their time preaching the Gospel; they allowed for charitable activity, but argued that it did not actually save souls.

In 1891 a revised edition was issued based on the census of 1890. The large increase in immigration during this period led him to conclude that the perils he outlined in the first edition had only grown.[3]

The term "Anglo-Saxon" before 1900 was often used as a synonym for people of English descent throughout the world.[5] Strong said in 1890: "In 1700 this race numbered less than 6,000,000 souls. In 1800, Anglo-Saxons (I use the term somewhat broadly to include all English-speaking peoples) had increased to about 20,500,000, and now, in 1890, they number more than 120,000,000".[4] In 1893 Strong suggested, "This race is destined to dispossess many weaker ones, assimilated others, and mold of the remainder until... it has Anglo-Saxonized mankind."[6]

Strong argued that, "The Anglo-Saxon is the representative of two great ideas, which are closely related. One of them is that of civil liberty. Nearly all of the civil liberty of the world is enjoyed by Anglo-Saxons: the English, the British colonists, and the people of the United States....The other great idea of which the Anglo-Saxon is the exponent is that of a pure spiritual Christianity." He went on, "It follows, then, that the Anglo-Saxon, as the great representative of these two ideas, the depositary of these two greatest blessings, sustains peculiar relations to the world's future, is divinely commissioned to be, in a peculiar sense, his brother's keeper.".[7]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Matthew Bowman, "Sin, Spirituality, and Primitivism: The Theologies of the American Social Gospel, 1885-1917," Religion and American Culture, Winter 2007, Vol. 17#1 pp 95-126
  2. ^ Grant R. Brodrecht, "Our Country: Northern Evangelicals and the Union during the Civil War and Reconstruction" (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 2008), p.8.
  3. ^ a b Muller (1959)
  4. ^ a b Josiah Strong, Our Country (1890) p. 208
  5. ^ Irving Lewis Allen, "WASP—From Sociological Concept to Epithet," Ethnicity, 1975 154+
  6. ^ Strong, New Era (1893) page 80
  7. ^ Josiah Strong, Our Country (1890) p. 208-9

Further reading[edit]

Works by Strong[edit]

Secondary scholarly sources[edit]

  • Berge, William H. "Voices for Imperialism: Josiah Strong and the Protestant Clergy," Border States: Journal of the Kentucky-Tennessee American Studies Association, No. 1 (1973) online
  • Bowman, Matthew. "Sin, Spirituality, and Primitivism: The Theologies of the American Social Gospel, 1885-1917," Religion and American Culture, Winter 2007, Vol. 17#1 pp 95–126
  • Herbst, Jurgen. "Introduction," in Josiah Strong Our Country (Belknap Press 1963 edition)
  • Luker, Ralph E. The Social Gospel in Black and White: American Racial Reform, 1885-1912 (1998).
  • Muller, Dorothea R. "Josiah Strong and American Nationalism: A Reevaluation," The Journal of American History 53 (Dec. 1966), 487-503, online at JSTOR at most academic libraries.
  • Muller, Dorothea R. "The Social Philosophy of Josiah Strong: Social Christianity and American Progressivism," Church History 1959 v 28 #2 pp. 183–201] online at JSTOR