Pittsburgh, says John Gunther, “is indeed steel’s own citadel; civilization based on industrial aggrandizement reaches here its blackest and most brilliant flower.” A fitting site, then, for the wide-ranging and provocative Fourth National Study Conference on the Church and Economic Life, convened in November by the National Council of Churches through its Department of the Church and Economic Life. Long before its post-World War II renaissance, the city heard itself described by Charles Dickens as “hell with the lid lifted.” While manfully striving to keep such lids firmly clamped down, the NCC conference reflected a borrowed glow from Hell’s Kitchen itself, onetime scene of social gospel prophet Walter Rauschenbusch’s ministrations.
It was not that the four-day conference shared Rauschenbusch’s zeal for socialism, nor did it even speak often of the “Kingdom.” And if it lacked to a degree the prophet’s optimism regarding the Christianization of the social order, it did seem to share his pervasive concern for social processes, his relaxation of emphasis upon individual salvation, and to an extent his deep-rooted conviction that society was evolving, that it was in fact process and in its measureless plasticity awaited the choice and decision of the will.
Conference theme was “Ethical Implications of Rapid Economic Change in the U.S.A.” and the conference mood reflected priority of emphasis to explosive locomotion rather than to divinely appointed destinations. President William Howard Taft’s son Charles was in the chair most of the time, but there was a Bull Moose cry in the air: “faster, faster!” Theologian Roger Shinn harked back to an Old Testament time when God preferred to live in tent rather than temple “for he was a ...1
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