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The History of
"The Social Creed"


"The Social Creed originated to express Methodism's outrage over the miserable lives of the millions of workers in factories, mines, mills, tenements and company towns. It was adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church (in 1908), the first denomination in Christendom to adopt an official Social Creed. "

[ from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Creed_(Methodist) ]
        The following article was published 1988 :

Ever since 1908, the "Social Creed" has been part of the struggle of Methodist churches against intolerable social conditions.
by George D. McClain

"Maureen, a young Irish-American girl, began work at the age of 14 in a woolen mill in Lawrence, Mass.  Beginning at 6 o'clock each morning, except Sundays, she worked at the machines until evening.  For this 56-hour week, Maureen was paid $3.50, ten cents of which was deducted for polluted drinking water.  While working Maureen saw many older workers seriously injured by the mill machinery, because they were forced to work so fast.
        Maureen and her family, who left Ireland to escape famine, lived in one room in a boarding house.  Lunch and supper each day consisted of black bread, molasses and beans.  On Sundays they might have a piece of meat with the meal.
        The Methodist Social Creed originated 80 years ago (early 1900's) to express Methodism's outrage over the lives of the millions of workers in factories, mines, mills, tenements and company towns.  They, like Maureen, were paying the human price for the rapid industrialization and growing prosperity of the United States.
        Methodism had some catching up to do.  Although John Wesley had declared that there was no holiness that was not social holiness, ( See Wesley_on_social_holiness.html the preaching of an overly individualized gospel had been a restraint to American Methodism in addressing the social crisis.  Thus, in the late 19th century, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians pioneered in proclaiming a "social" gospel that ministered to material as well as spiritual needs and raised questions of justice in industry.
        Once involved, Methodists emerged as leaders of the Social Gospel movement.  This leadership was symbolized by the origin and spread of the Social Creed.  The fascinating story of the Social Creed began with discussions among five Methodist Episcopal clergyman who believed the denomination required an organization to lead it into social ministry.  The five included New York urban evangelism executive Frank Mason North, Ohio Wesleyan University president (and later bishop) Herbert Welch, church editor Elbert Robb Zaring, Cleveland pastor Worth Tippy, and Chicago pastor Harry F.  Ward.
        As director of a settlement house, Mr. Ward had become friends with pioneer social workers Jane Addams and Mary McDowell.  Later, while serving as pastor in the stockyards district, he conducted funerals for packinghouse workers killed in frequent factory accidents.  Moved by their oppression, Mr. Ward strongly supported the workers' drive to form a union to improve their conditions.
        Inspired by the organization in England of the Wesleyan Methodist Union for Social Service, these five leaders organized a meeting in Washington, D.C., Dec. 3-4, 1907, during which the Methodist Federation for Social Service was formed.  At the conclusion of this historic meeting, the whole group was received at the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt and Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks."

"What We Stand For"

The Methodist Federation for Social Service immediately took up the challenge of getting the 1908 General Conference to address the social crisis.  The key strategy was to secure adoption of a statement on "The Church and Social Problems."  The Methodist Federation leadership, especially Mr. Welch and Mr. Ward, worked closely with a General Conference legislative committee in writing this report.
        One evening as federation leaders met in the back room of a Western Union telegraph office, Mr. Ward suggested that the wordy report needed a succinct "what we stand for" platform to summarize its main points.  So, on the back of telegraph blanks, Mr. Ward wrote out a list of 11 social reforms the group believed the church should champion, including the abolition of child labor and an end to the sweatshop system.  This list was ...  into the report.
        One-fourth of the Episcopal Address to the 1908 General Conference was devoted to social issues, especially those involving child labor and the union movement.  On May 21, a thousand people attended a rally at the conference hall sponsored by the Methodist Federation, where the Governor of Kansas gave the concluding challenge.  Finally, on May 30, the 1908 General Conference in Baltimore enthusiastically adopted the entire report, including the 11-point platform of social reform composed by Harry F. Ward.  The Methodist Episcopal Church had joined the Social Gospel movement."

" The platform almost immediately became known as the "Social Creed of Methodism" and became a rallying point for the church's mission.  Later that same year, Mr. North secured the adoption of his expanded version of the Social Creed at the organizational meeting of the Federal Council of Churches, which embraced 33 denominations.
        This expanded version included provision for workers in their old age and, in a very contemporary sounding phrase, defended "the right of workers to some protection against the hardships often resulting from the swift crises of industrial change."  At the same time the Federal Council extended greetings "to all the toilers of our country" in the name of the "Son of the carpenter.
        This expanded, 14-point statement, known as the "Social Creed of the Churches," gradually was taken up by one denomination after another.  Within the Wesleyan family, the Social Creed in either the Methodist or ecumenical form was adopted by the United Brethren in 1913, by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1914, and by the Methodist Protestant Church in 1916."

The Federal Council of Churches'
"Social Creed" of 1908

        We deem it the duty of all Christian people to concern themselves directly with certain practical industrial problems. To us it seems that the churches must stand —

  • For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
  • For the right of all men to the opportunity for self-maintenance, a right ever to be wisely and strongly safeguarded against encroachments of every kind.
  • For the right of workers to some protection against the hardships often resulting from the swift crises of industrial change.
  • For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
  • For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational disease, injuries and mortality.
  • For the abolition of child labor.
  • For such regulation of the conditions of toil for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
  • For the suppression of the "sweating system."
  • For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practicable point, and for that degree of leisure for all which is a condition of the highest human life.
  • For a release from employment one day in seven.
  • For a living wage as a minimum in every industry, and for the highest wage that each industry can afford.
  • For the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
  • For suitable provision for the old age of the workers and for those incapacitated by injury.
  • For the abatement of poverty.

To the toilers of America and to those who by organized effort are seeking to lift the crushing burdens of the poor, and to reduce the hardships and uphold the dignity of labor, this Council sends the greeting of human brotherhood and the pledge of sympathy and of help in a cause which belongs to all who follow Christ.

Frequent Modifications

Despite efforts to develop a common text, the Social Creed was continually modified.  In 1932 Mr. North played a central role in updating the text when the Federal Council of Churches adopted an extensive revision called "Social Ideals."
        When three branches of Methodism merged in 1939 to form The Methodist Church, the Uniting Conference harmonized the three uniting denominations' different texts of the Social Creed.  In addition, several new concerns were added, including respect for conscientious objection to war and the recommendation that the Social Creed be presented to each congregation at least once a year.  By this time most religious bodies had discontinued the use of a social creed, eventually leaving the Methodist Church as the sole bearer of this tradition.

Creed Expanded

Over the years the Methodist Social Creed expanded.  Between 1908 and 1964, it grew from 20 to 300 lines.  From an original focus on economic justice, the creed expanded to include sections on family life, sexual practice, alcohol and drug abuse, crime and rehabilitation, gambling, mental health, civil liberties, peace, and racial, class or gender discrimination.
        Notable statements in the 1964 creed included: "We refuse to identify Christianity with any economic system" and "We believe that Christianity cannot be nationalistic," as well as statements defending "the right of employees and employers alike to organize for collective bargaining" and disallowing that "any person be denied equal political, economic, or legal rights or opportunities because of sex."
        The writers of the creed sought to articulate God's word of judgment and grace toward a changing social order through the statement of principles intended to be valid over decades.  This desire for relevance led to several revisions and expansions of the creed.
        The creed was completely redesigned in 1972, following the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church four years earlier.  Instead of simply merging or harmonizing the existing Methodist Social Creed and the EUB Basic Beliefs and Moral Standards, a new document was created.
        In 1972 the General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted what was called the Social Principles.  The term "Our Social Creed" was reserved for the final section, which was designed for frequent use in the public worship.
        A major innovation was a section on "The Natural World," emphasizing care for God's total creation.  The entire document was more than twice as extensive as the previous Social Creed.
        The Social Principles, including the Social Creed, did not change greatly between 1972 and 1984, although some changes were made every four years.  In 1980, for instance, alterations were made to recognize the "gifts of persons with handicapping conditions" (no longer referred to as "handicapped persons"); to expand the section on the rights of women and specifically call for attention to the needs of dual career families; to urge protection of children from sexual as well as economic exploitation; and to declare "that persons come before profits" and deplore "the selfish spirit which often pervades our economic life."
        These changes illustrate the adaptable, vs. unfinished, character of the Social Creed and Social Principles.  Some aspects of the unfinished agenda include the statements regarding homosexual people; abortion; the international debt crisis; the communications industry; and the role of advertising in fostering non-Christian attitudes toward sex, status, power and material consumption.  Some of these issues are sure to be debated at the 1988 General Conference."

A Living Tradition

The Social Creed tradition in United Methodism and its predecessor bodies has:

The "Methodist" church has a very varied history, having split off from its roots in England, and divided between black and white in America and then between northern whites and southern whites, and then reunited the whites along with others during the 20th century.  But at least part of the "social gospel" which has characterized the majority of Methodists over the years comes straight from their founder, John Wesley.  Wesley showed concerned for society as a whole and for its neediest members from the start, and he probably opposed slavery earlier and more vigorously than many of the other religious leaders of his day. 
        There are many people who imagine that those who exploited fellow human beings for centuries before our own time should not be judged by the high standards we hold in our day because their moral standards were so inferior to ours in their day. But anyone who reads what John Wesley published in the mid to late 18th century will see how unjustified that excuse was then, as it would be in our time:

        Starting with 1928,the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America for six consecutive elections was a socialist Christian Presbyterian minister, named Norman Thomas.
        the author of the original United States' Pledge of Allegiance (without the "under God") was a socialist Christian Baptist minister, named Francis Bellamy.
        For a study of the history of the whole movement surrounding this great Creed, see The Social GOSPEL.

The Opposition

  • Spiritual Mobilization (S.M., 1935–61) was a Los Angeles–based "spiritual libertarian" and free market–oriented national organization formed by Rev. James W. Fifield Jr. (1899–1977) to counteract not only the political collectivism spawned by the New Deal,  but also a variety of leftist trends in organized religion such as the anti-capitalist "Social Gospel" advocacy of the National Council of Churches.
  • The tiny "American Council of Christian Churches" (ACCC) is a fundamentalist organization set up in opposition to the Federal Council of Churches in 1941 (now National Council of Churches).
  • The World Christian Fundamentals Association, was an interdenominational organization founded in 1919 by the Baptist leader of the First Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was originally formed to launch "a new Protestantism" based upon premillennial interpretations of biblical prophecy, but soon turned its focus more towards opposition to evolution, and died after 1929.
  • The Independent Fundamental Churches of America was founded in Cicero, Illinois, in 1930. The name was officially changed to IFCA International in 1996.
  • The "Moral Majority"
  • The "Christian Coalition"
  • "Focus on the Family", and any number of other ultra-Conservative groups

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