Sometimes it helps to step outside our little moment in American life to seek wisdom from an earlier time.
Among the few books on my desk top is a collection of prayers first published in 1910. This morning we share part of one of those prayers.
O thou great Champion of the outcast and the weak, we remember before thee the people of other nations who are coming to our land, seeking bread, a home, and a future. …
We, too, are the children of immigrants, who came with anxious hearts and halting feet on the westward path of hope.
We beseech thee that our republic may no longer fail their trust. We mourn for the dark sins of past and present, wherein men who are in honor among us made spoil of the ignorant and helplessness of the strangers and sent them to an early death. In a nation dedicated to liberty may they not find the old oppression and the fiercer greed. May they never find that the arm of the law is but the arm of the strong. …
Make our great commonwealth once more a sure beacon-light of hope and a guide on the path which leads to the perfect union of law and liberty.
Walter Rauschenbusch, Prayers of the Social Awakening, The Pilgrim Press, New York and Chicago, 1925 (originally published by The Phillips Publishing Company in 1910.
The language is dated. The substance is not. As the Senate sets about its debate of universal background checks and other measures to improve public safety, the children of Sandy Hook and their families also come to mind as those who find themselves “homeless” in a violent, uncaring world.
O Heavenly Father, whose unveiled face the angels of little children do always behold, look with love and pity, we beseech Thee, upon the children of the streets. Where men, in their busy and careless lives, have made a highway, these children of Thine have made a home and a school, and are learning the bad lessons of our selfishness and our folly. Save them, and save us, Lord. Save them from ignorance and brutality, from the shamelessness of lust, the hardness of greed, and the besotting of drink; and save us from the greater guilt of those that offend Thy little ones, and from the hypocrisy of those that see and see not, whose sin remaineth. Amen.
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861 – 1918), “father of the Social Gospel Movement”
“All human goodness is social goodness. Man is fundamentally gregarious and his morality consists in being a good member of his community.”
“The chief purpose of the Christian Church in the past has been the salvation of individuals. But the most pressing task of the present is not individualistic. Our business is to make over an antiquated and immoral economic system….”
The Rev. Walter Rauschenbusch had a profound impact on Christian theology and activism that led to the end of child labor and to legislation that protected worker rights in the early 20th Century. The man whose theology was shaped by his ministry with the poorest of the poor in the “Hell’s Kitchen” of New York City is the man from whose “Social Gospel” Glenn Beck now urges church members to flee for their lives.