First in a Series: Peace and War

“For one brief day—Wednesday, January 27—Jesus Christ stood at the door of the United States senate and knocked.”

Thus spoke The Christian Century in 1926 (Feb. 18, p. 216), in connection with a cause then of crucial importance to its editors—the outlawry of war. But in so speaking, the Century was indulging in a practice common to exponents of liberal social ethics, and later to be rigorously condemned by neo-orthodox, no less than by conservative theologians, that of equating or confusing societal developments with the kingdom of God.

To undertake a study of liberal social ethics is to sense the vital nature of the subject for Protestant modernism in view of its tendency to elevate the ethical and minimize the doctrinal or theological.

And to undertake a study of twentieth-century American Protestant liberal ethics requires automatic tribute to the Century, since one almost inevitably turns to its pages for the one foremost continuing commentary on the social developments from this perspective. Historian Donald B. Meyer has named the Century “the greatest of all social gospel organs” (The Protestant Search for Political Realism, 1919–1941 [University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960], p. 44). Its editor for some 40 years, Charles Clayton Morrison (who “refounded” the Century in 1908, that name having been adopted at the turn of the century by The Christian Oracle which was established in 1884), himself asserted: “… I think it will go without saying that The Christian Century did afford a unique leadership for this new movement of Christian faith” (Oct. 5, 1938, p. 1187). Indeed, Meyer attests that “by the mid-1920s it ranked as the leading voice of liberal Protestantism” ...

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