Christianity and Social Work
It would be hard for anyone to deny that the Christian church is one of the true originators of charity. Out of ancient Israel’s concern for justice and mercy toward the sick, the poor, the orphaned, the widowed—from Micah and Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah—grew the compassion of Jesus and the devotion of Paul. The justice and love of God set forth and exemplified tin the Judeo-Christian tradition has given drive and direction to much of western culture’s charities. Historically the whole shape and operation of organized welfare is inexplicable apart from this religious conviction and commitment. Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant thought have all along continuously shaped the ideological basis of social work practice. P. 2
Both in congregations and in church agencies, church social workers have the task of building and strengthening communities. The most effective outreach ministries of the church (i.e. “evangelism”) are those which extend the hospitality and care of the church community to those who do not have such a community. P. 16
Ed Bacon, Rector of All Saints [Church in Los Angeles], has pointed out that when the church gives birth to a ministry, then successful calls on society to support that ministry, and finally the ministry is secularized and integrated into society, then the church has facilitated social transformation (Bacon, 1996). P. 17 [Bacon, E (1996). Presentation: Louisville Institute Conference, Louisville, KY]
Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, in response to the demands of the industrialization of American cities and towns, the religious settlement workers created, financed and staffed outreach programs to the most marginalized inhabitants of the inner cities. They formed Bible classes, kindergartens, industrial schools, clubs, loan banks, job bureaus, dispensaries, reading rooms and other programs that laid the groundwork for later social reforms p. 27
Between 1860 and 1900, some fourteen million immigrants came to America and about another nine million, mainly from southern and eastern Europe…arrived between 1900 and 1910” (Trattner, 1979, p. 135). The massive crowding illnesses, and social problems created by the influx of largely unskilled, illiterate, foreign-speaking individuals was unparalleled in our history. In New York City, two-thirds of the population lived in tenements in 1890, while Chicago, then the fastest growing city in the world, packed inner-city residents near the putrid-smelling, unsanitary stockyards where slaughtered animal carcasses fouled water and air. P. 29 [Trattner, Walter I (1979). From poor law to welfare state. (2nd. Ed.), New York: Free Press.]
The solution to these changes was to set up a specialized form of city missions in these abandoned churches to Americanize, and hence Christianize, the new arrivals by offering them resources and support. These citadels against the onslaught of massive social problems were called Institutional Churches. Programs and activities developed in these “open” or “free” churches (because there was no charge for the pews) were adopted by the social settlers and others following in their footsteps (Bremmer, 1956). These churches viewed themselves as “Institutions” that ministered seven days a week to the physical and spiritual wants of all the people within their reach. [They] sponsored clinics, free Saturday night concerts, self-supporting restaurants and lodging houses, wood wards for the unemployed, “fresh air work” for women and children, and “gold-cure” establishments for drunkards. There was a marked emphasis on practical education. Institutional churches sponsored libraries and literary societies and carried on kindergartens, trade schools, and community colleges (McBride, 1983, p.xi) p. 30 [Bremmer, Robert H. (1956). From the depths: The discovery of poverty in the United States. New York: New York University Press.] [McBride, Esther Barnhart. (1983). Open church: History of an idea. U.S.A., By the author.]
Much of the philosophy undergirding the mission societies’ work came from a societal view of women as the moral guardians of the home. In the North, missionary society members organized under the banner of “evangelical domesticity,” the notion that the natural spiritual superiority of women gave them the authority to protect their homes and children from the evil influences of society (Lee, 1981). P. 31 [Lee, Susan Dye. (1981). Evangelical domesticity: The Woman’s Temperance Crusade of 1873-1874. In Hilah Thomas & Rosemary Skinner Keller, (Eds.), Women in new worlds, (pp.293-309). Nashville: Abingdon Press.
Deaconesses were distinguished from the city missionaries by the clothing they wore, their communal living arrangements, their formal connecting to the church, and their unsalaried service (Deaconess Advocate, February 1901)….Their task was to “minister to the poor, visit the sick, pray for the dying, care for the orphan, seek the wandering, comfort the sorrowing, [and] save the sinning…” Thoburn & Leonard in Lee, 1963, p. 37)….In the first thirty years of the Methodist diaconate, the Chicago Training School, founded by Lucy Rider Meyer, sent nearly 4,000 deaconesses and city missionaries to work in hospitals, schools, settlements, rescue homes and churches. P. 33 [Lee, Elizabeth Meredith. (1963) As among the Methodists: Deaconesses yesterday tody and tomorrow. New York: Woman’s Division of Christian Service, Board of Missions, Methodist Church.
Additionally, “the spontaneous will to serve, “so evident in earlier church volunteers was subverted by the drive for professionalization. Previous values that had stressed compassion, emotional involvement, and vigorous love of humanity, according to social work historian Roy Lubove (1965), were “educated out” in preference for a “scientific trained intelligence and skillful application of technique” (p. 122). This new climate of professionalism at the beginning of the twentieth century changed the relationship between helper and those helped. Agencies became bureaucratic rather than evangelical, more contractual than spontaneous, and more removed from their clients. P. 36 [Lubove, Roy. (1965) The professional altruist: The emergence of social work as a career 1880-1930. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
In the 1930’s America was a phenomenally rich country by world standards. When the Russians viewed the film, The Grapes of Wrath, they marveled that the Okies had cars. P. 145
Yet, in one respect at least, the medieval church protected the poor. Only the church was large enough and universal enough to speak for those outside the [feudal] system….It is significant that the three services most typical of the church at that time were the hospital, the hospice, and the sanctuary. With the fragmentation of the church following the Reformation, this safeguard was lost and did not appear, in America, at least, until the federal government assumed something of this role in the 1930’s. p.151