Since President George W. Bush's 2004 electoral victory, there has been a flood of books promoting apocalyptic visions of impending theocracy. Reading them, you might think the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition invented Christian political activism in the 1980s.

Christians have long applied the teachings of their faith to their politics. Yet today's activism is an anomaly. Traditionally, faith-based activism has not been so closely associated with one party. During the tumultuous years when America grew into a financial superpower, Christians spread across the political spectrum. They often rallied to their economic allies, such as populists, socialists, and conservatives.

William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, and Abraham Kuyper would have disagreed about plenty. Yet all three brought their faith to bear on the great social challenges of their day and saw politics as an arena in which to serve their neighbors as agents of God's grace.

Williams Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)

The Great Commoner

Williams Jennings Bryan trusted a God who sided with common folk. Bryan made a name for himself in the Progressive Era by fighting the economic elites of his own Democratic Party. His oratorical skills catapulted him all the way to the party's nomination for President in 1896 when he famously harangued the gold standard. "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns," Bryan thundered, stretching out his arms. "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

Three times Bryan ran for President; three times he failed. Nevertheless, besides Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, Bryan dominated the era of reforms that ran from the 1890s to the 1920s. He championed four constitutional amendments enacted during this ...

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