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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Connecting the Dots of the Social Gospel Movement with Changes Afoot Today

by Krista Tippett, host

"Social issues," Walter Rauschenbusch wrote, “are moral issues writ large.” Maybe that sounds like a straightforward statement. But it holds an emphasis, enwraps a whole theology that gave rise to the split between what we now experience as two branches of Christianity: Evangelical and mainline Protestant.

Walter RauschenbuschWhile pastoring a German Baptist church in Hell’s Kitchen in New York at the turn of the last century, Walter Rauschenbusch saw poverty and desolation at every turn. That he lived in a moment kindred to ours is immediately evident in the subject headings of his most famous book Christianity and the Social Crisis: the morale of the workers, the physical decline of the people, the crumbling of political democracy, the wedge of inequality.

This book was going to print as Rauschenbusch set off for a year’s sabbatical in Germany in 1907. He returned as a best-selling celebrity, a galvanizing figure in movement that became known as the Social Gospel. Though, as his great-grandson Paul Raushenbush tells us in our show "Occupying the Gospel," Walter never liked that catchphrase. It’s just the Gospel, he said.

Looking at the Bible with eyes fresh from the suffering he witnessed in Hell’s Kitchen, Walter Rauschenbusch saw a call for social healing, social renewal, and social justice in and between every line. The dedication page of his book contained these shortened lines from the end of The Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Will be Done on Earth!” Walter Rauschenbusch believed in a transcendent God and an afterlife, but he came to feel that Christians had focused too much on the afterlife and not enough on their responsibilities in this life.

In the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. cited Walter Rauschenbusch as a formative teacher in his understanding that “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the…social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

I read Walter Rauschenbusch too, when I studied theology in the early 1990s. He’s still studied at all kinds of seminaries — evangelical to mainline. He is not remembered in American culture like the twentieth-century public theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, for example. But I’m sensing some spirit, some essence, of Social Gospel theology as 21st-century Americans apply faith to social issues and crises now. And as Paul Raushenbush points out, a most interesting example of this is the way in which new generations of Evangelicals have been engaging on matters of social justice — taking on the environment, global poverty, and human trafficking. They may care as deeply about what we think of in our time as “moral values issues.” But they’re seeing a Gospel, as Walter Rauschenbusch did, that compels them to see social issues as moral issues too.

Paul Raushenbush & Sami AwadPaul Raushenbush moderates an online chat with Sami Awad for the Global Voices of Non-Violence conference. (Photo courtesy of EGM Ethnographic Media)

In connecting these dots, Paul Raushenbush is a lovely conversation partner. He grew up largely unaffected, at least overtly, by the legacy of his great-grandfather. He became a rock and roll producer in Europe after college. He flamed out. Recovery, “getting clean,” was part of his return to faith. He ministered to street youth in Seattle and San Paolo, Brazil, and worked at Riverside Church in New York, and then became a chaplain and associate dean of religious affairs at Princeton. He was there for eight years before leaving to be full-time senior editor of the Huffington Post religion section, which he helped launch in 2010.

He has many interesting things to tell about the Social Gospel, religiosity among the young in our time, and his view of modern religion from an ultra-modern online perch. None is more counterintuitive, perhaps, than the fact that he is constantly urging contributors to the religion section of the Huffington Post to “be more religion-y.” The posts that go viral are often about getting grounded in tradition — learning the basics of the Bible, for example. In his piece of the famously liberal Huffington Post universe, he welcomes conservative voices. A progressive Christian himself, he is impatient when his fellow liberal faithful are less passionate than others, less articulate in communicating the Gospel they believe in. I have a feeling, in Paul’s presence, that he doesn’t merely give voice but embodies the theological spirit of his great-grandfather, in a most intriguing way.


A Turn of the Century Thanksgiving Prayer by Walter Rauschenbush

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Wide OpenPhoto by Brian Auer/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

Thanksgiving is a time when many families gather in gratitude, and sometimes in prayer. Paul Raushenbush says his family prayer was written by his great-grandad, Walter Rauschenbusch. Composed around the turn of the twentieth century, the theologian and Baptist social reformer’s words remain as beautiful and poignant today as they did a hundred years ago.

Thanksgiving Day Prayer
by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918)

For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Do you have a family prayer that you recite on Thanksgiving? How does your family give thanks?


Paul Brandeis Raushenbush: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Paul Brandeis RaushenbushKrista’s interview with Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the senior religion editor at the Huffington Post, is in the can. His pedigree reaches back to towering figures of the 20th century:  social gospel reformer Walter Rauschenbusch (great-grandfather) and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (grandfather). He reminds us that religion is a valuable and increasingly essential vehicle for communication in our modern world.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with him in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

  1. "I’m the only one in the history of the Presbyterian Church to fail confirmation…I just didn’t show up."@Raushenbush 1:09 PM Oct 5th
  2. "Only later did I realize what a big deal it was that Louis Brandeis’ daughter married a goy." @Raushenbush on his grandparents’ marriage. 1:15 PM Oct 5th
  3. If you have any questions for Paul @Raushenbush of @HuffPostRelig about contemporary religion, the social gospel movement, etc, please ask! 1:17 PM Oct 5th
  4. "(Walter) Raushenbush was in some ways a skeptic of religion…People can be converted and be worse than they were before."@raushenbush 1:21 PM Oct 5th
  5. "Social problems are moral problems on a larger scale." ~Walter Raushenbush, as quoted by his biographer/grandson Paul @Raushenbush 1:24 PM Oct 5th
  6. "Even if everything was perfect, we’d still need to be aware of the spirit moving in our lives so we continue to grow." @Raushenbush 1:28 PM Oct 5th
  7. Correction: great grandson! 1:30 PM Oct 5th
  8. "I have an interfaith heart. That’s just where I live." @Raushenbush 1:34 PM Oct 5th
  9. "What young people are looking for more than anything is authenticity." @Raushenbush 1:36 PM Oct 5th
  10. "It’s very hard to hurt someone who has shown you vulnerability." @Raushenbush 1:38 PM Oct 5th
  11. "I wrote Arianna an email and told her you’re not doing religion. You have to do religion."@Raushenbush on the launch of @HuffPostRelig 1:43 PM Oct 5th
  12. "The idea of liberal vs. religious is a crazy dichotomy." @Raushenbush 1:45 PM Oct 5th
  13. "What I’m not looking for is political view + Jesus." ~Paul @Raushenbush on bloggers + commenters for @HuffPostRelig 1:46 PM Oct 5th
  14. "Figure out what you believe and why you believe it." @Raushenbush 1:49 PM Oct 5th
  15. "To be an educated leader in the world you…have to be able to talk to people across religious divides." @Raushenbush 1:52 PM Oct 5th
  16. "I want people to feel that there’s a basic humanity to the site." -@Raushebush on cultivating @HuffPostRelig 1:58 PM Oct 5th
  17. "The question is are we willing to be on the same page; some people are just not." @Raushenbush 2:06 PM Oct 5th
  18. "I want you to reference the richness of your tradition, so I can learn." -@Raushenbush 2:09 PM Oct 5th
  19. "Interfaith dialogue is for people who take religion and big ideas seriously and want to go deeper." -@Raushenbush 2:11 PM Oct 5th
  20. "The power of religion is to offer a transcendent vision of more than just me." -@Raushenbush 2:16 PM Oct 5th
  21. "The idea that religious people have some sort of monopoly on morality is absurd." -@Raushenbush 2:18 PM Oct 5th
  22. "The Internet is basically neutral; it’s what we bring to it." -@Raushenbush 2:20 PM Oct 5th
  23. "My primary sense of who I am is as a minister." -Paul @Raushenbush 2:23 PM Oct 5th