social gospel

Will Bernie Sanders' Defeat Also End America's Latest Great Awakening?

Image via REUTERS / Lucy Nicholson / RNS

As Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination heated up in these past months, so too did comparisons between the fervor fueling Sanders’ political movement and the faith-based mobilization of an old-time religious revival.

“More than any other candidate Bernie draws on the language of right and wrong to make his pitch. Politics for Bernie isn’t a job, it’s a crusade,” Grant Diamond, pastor of Faith Baptist Mill Creek, west of Chicago, wrote on his blog last month.

The Gospel According to George McGovern

WHEN MOST PEOPLE remember George McGovern, the longtime South Dakota senator who passed away in 2012, they probably don’t think first of his evangelical Christian background or see him as a model for evangelicals today.

But McGovern, the Democratic nominee who ran against President Richard Nixon in 1972, actually serves as a worthy exemplar of evangelically rooted social action.

The source of McGovern’s progressive and moral political views may be surprising to some. He was a son of the evangelical church. His father, Rev. Joseph McGovern, was an ordained minister of the Wesleyan Methodist Church (now the Wesleyan Church). It was founded in 1843 as a protest movement against the larger Methodist Episcopal Church. Simply put, they thought slavery sinful and left the denomination to make clear their moral opposition to the “peculiar institution.”

George McGovern enjoyed a good relationship with his father. His childhood was shaped by the rhythms of church life—three or four services on Sunday, prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and daily prayer and Bible readings. The annual family vacation was a two-week campout at nearby Mitchell Holiness Campground. Revival services were conducted nightly.

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'Break My Heart With What Breaks Yours'

High-octane contemporary worship with smoke, flashing lights, and words on huge screens energize and empower 3,400 Pentecostals from 69 countries filling the Calvary Convention Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,. This is the 23rd Pentecostal World Conference, a triennial gathering of pastors, leaders, and youth from around the globe. I’m here as part of a delegation from the Global Christian Forum, warmly invited, seated right in the front, and including representatives from the Lutheran, Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mennonite, African-Instituted and Reformed church bodies, all members of the GCF steering committee. We’re easy to pick out of the crowd, since we’re the only ones who don’t spontaneously raise our hands in worship. I hope that image doesn’t make it to the big screens.

The explosive growth of Pentecostalism is an astonishing chapter in the story of world Christianity’s modern history. In 1970, Pentecostals (including charismatics in non-Pentecostal denominations) totaled about 62 million, or 5 percent of the total Christian population. In the four decades since, Pentecostals have grown at 4 times the rate of overall Christianity, and 4 times faster than the world’s population growth. Today they number about 600 million — one out of every four Christians in the world, and one out of every 12 people alive today. Most of this growth has come in the global South, in places like Africa, South America, and — yes — Malaysia.

The Pentecostal World Conference doesn’t look much like a typical denominational or ecumenical assembly. It’s more like a global revival service. Several of the world’s best-known Pentecostal preachers and leaders deliver stirring messages, complete with altar calls for those seeking the fresh empowerment of God’s Spirit in their lives and ministries. It’s a far cry from a Reformed Church in America General Synod, which I facilitated for many years. But these keynote speakers, along with the workshops held each day of the conference, open a window into global Pentecostalism’s present trends, challenges, and directions.

In writing From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church, I found that one of the most intriguing questions I encountered is how rapidly growing forms of Christianity in the global South deal with social and economic issues within their societies. So in Kuala Lumpur, I was especially attentive to what might be said by the world’s Pentecostal leadership about the biblical call to justice and mercy. And I heard a lot that I wish I could now go back and add to my book.

Justin Bieber Thanks His Mother for Faith, Strength (and Helps Single Moms While He's At It)

Justin Bieber and his mom, Pattie Mallette, in NYC last year. (Getty Images)
Justin Bieber and his mom, Pattie Mallette, in NYC last year. Photo by Getty Images.

You might not be a fan of Justin Bieber, but I'm willing to bet there's at least one young person in your life who is.

And while it may be hard for us adults to believe, young Bieber, the Canadian pop superstar, has brought the Gospel -- of social justice and otherwise -- to millions of fans (who call themselves "Beliebers") around the globe.

Today -- just in time for Mother's Day -- Bieber, 18, released the new single "Turn to You" from his forthcoming album BELIEVE. It's a love song -- a tribute to his mother, Pattie Mallette, who gave birth to her only child when she was just 17 years old. Both Bieber and Mallette are devoted Christians (evangelicals, in fact) and neither is shy about speaking about their faith publicly.

“God is the one that is orchestrating all of this and giving [Justin] such incredible favor,” Mallette said in an interview with the Hollywood Prayer Network last year. “And he knows that it’s for a purpose and a plan. And he’s not sure what all that entails yet and how he fits into that, but he knows that it’s by God’s hand.”

Listen to the new song inside the blog ...

A Turning Point on Immigration

“WHAT A MOMENT you have brought me to,” belted a massive gospel choir of nearly 100 mostly white students and faculty at Cedarville University’s G92 Immigration Conference in Ohio in October. Led by several African-American and white students and staff, the choir swayed, clapped, and worshipped, pressing through years of tradition, partisan loyalties, and cultural isolation.

Founded 125 years ago, Cedarville is rooted in a fundamentalist worldview, which is not generally associated with justice efforts in the social sphere. Carl Ruby, Cedarville’s vice president for student life, said in a recent interview: “I grew up hearing about the dangers of the ‘social gospel.’ The social gospel was always presented as something antithetical to sharing the need for personal salvation. I don’t view it that way anymore. In fact, I think if we approach issues of social justice appropriately, it lends credibility to the gospel message that we want to share. I think we need to both tell the gospel and do the gospel.”

At Cedarville, according to Ruby, a transformation was sparked for faculty and students by the 2007 book UnChristian, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. “They outlined the way that people outside of the church tend to view, particularly, conservative evangelicals as being pushy, hateful, disconnected from issues that matter, backward culturally,” Ruby explained. “I want to see us change those perceptions by providing solutions to real-life problems.”

The following year, Ruby tried to bring Shane Claiborne, cofounder of The Simple Way community and author of The Irresistible Revolution, to campus to lecture. The backlash from bloggers and alumni was so great that Ruby canceled the event.

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The Morning News: Friday, Dec. 2, 2011

Social Muddle: Business, Justice, and the Gospel are Already Social; Obama Refers to His Christian Faith During National Tree Lighting Ceremony; Fount of Blessing, Fount of Youth: Age and the American Church; One-Third of Shelter Residents Are Newly Homeless; U.S. Unemployment Rate Falls to Lowest Level in Nearly Three Years; Gingrich Says Poor Children Have No Work Habits; For Afghan Woman, Justice Runs Into Unforgiving Wall of Custom.

Worth a Listen: Huffington Post's Religion Editor on Social Justice and the Gospel

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

Over the weekend, our friend Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior religion editor for the Huffington Post, was a guest on NPR's "On Being" program with host Krista Tippett, to talk about how the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century is shaping the religious and spiritual reality of 2011.

An ordained American Baptist minister and a former dean of religious life and the chapel at Princeton University, Raushenbush is the great-grandson of both the venerable Christian scholar Walter Rauschenbush and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. He talked to Tippett about the influence of faith on the Occupy movement, religion and emerging technologies and what his great-grandfather Rauschenbush's take on the social gospel — he famously said, "Social problems are moral problems on a larger scale" — has to say to the life of the church and society writ large today.

It's a compelling conversation, well worth your taking the time to listen.

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