Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Obama or Bush? Doesn't make a difference for Israel-Palestine

It's been a while yet again, but I felt I needed to post a few words about Israel-Palestine, since it's in the news again, and as always for unfortunate reasons.

American President Barack Obama had a letter published in one of Israel's two major newspapers, Haaretz, about the need for peace in Israel-Palestine. The newspaper hosted a "Peace Conference" today and had a number of articles written specifically for that topic (they can be found here).

It's incredible that such a letter can be written without any mention of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, including not a word about Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the Israeli blockade of Gaza's land and sea borders. And although Obama states that "any Palestinian government must uphold these long-standing principles: a commitment to non-violence, adherence to past agreements, and the recognition of Israel", he makes no such call for any Israeli government to reciprocate on any of those things to Palestine. The same letter could have been written by George W. Bush at any time during his presidency, once again showing that neither American political party is truly in favour of peace or justice in Israel-Palestine.

Those are my brief thoughts now. I've been thinking a lot about this issue in relation to Canada's political parties and will likely write a longer piece about that soon. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 11 Book Recommendations for the New Year

I haven’t posted on this blog in forever, yet again. I’ll call it a New Year’s resolution to blog more often, but as you know, many resolutions, including possibly this one, are never followed through on. Since reading is something I like to do and something I think is valuable for the common good, I've decided at this year-end to post 11 book recommendations (it was going to be 10, but I needed room for one more) for the New Year, with a sentence or two to explain why each book is worth reading. I have listed only books I’ve had a chance to read from cover to cover. These books were not all published in the past year, and some are quite a bit older than that. These are also not necessarily my favourite books of all time, though a number of them would probably make that list. Here goes (in no particular order):

1. "The Political Mind" by George Lakoff

A great read by an American neurologist on how language choice can be used to give voters/citizens a positive impression of progressive political policies. An extremely useful read to anyone involved in politics. HIGHLY recommended.

2. "Misquoting Jesus" by Bart Ehrman

Recounts the history of the making of the Christian New Testament and thoroughly lays out why the books included in it cannot rationally be taken as inerrant.

3. "The Great War for Civilisation" by Robert Fisk

A gigantic book recounting his decades of reporting for British media outlets throughout the Middle East, as well as the background context to the events he covered. Pretty much gives you a history of the entire Middle East for the past 100 year when all is said and done.

4. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

This is the only fiction book on my list, since I haven’t been reading many. This one is a classic and a very quick read. Sit down with it for a day or two and take it in.

5. “Deadly Spin” by Wendell Potter

This book doubles as a tip guide for political communications and a history of health care in the United States. Potter was a top communications executive for private health care giant CIGNA until he left to become one of the country’s most prominent supporters of single payer universal public health care. He’ll likely be touring across Canada in the spring, so read it before he comes!

6. “Moral Minority” by David Swartz

This is an intriguing history of the many branches of progressive Christianity in the United States and how they came to be overshadowed by the “religious right” beginning with Ronald Reagan’s 1980 electoral victory. It’s a great reminder that Christianity wasn’t always a very public part of politics, and even after it became so, it was far from inevitable that conservatives would be the ones to capitalize on it the most.

7. “On Six Continents” by James Bartleman

These are the memoirs of one of Canada’s longest-serving diplomats, who worked in countries around the world. It’s not a very ideological read of any sort but is highly entertaining and engaging for the many stories he tells to show what it was like to spend a life in Canada’s foreign service.

8. “Memoirs” by Pierre Trudeau

The nature of the book is obvious by its title. It’s a quick and easy read and recounts his incredible life both before and after becoming Prime Minister of Canada. It’s a timely reminder of who he was while many or comparing him to his son, Justin. Hint: the two have very little in common on their resumes.

9. “Grant Notley” by Howard Leeson

This book is the closest I’ve found to a history of Alberta’s NDP. It’s very well-written. It recounts the life of a former Alberta NDP leader who was highly respected by politicians and Albertans of all stripes before he tragically lost his life in 1984.

10. “Kicking Ass in Canadian Politics” by Warren Kinsella

Despite his constant treatment of the Liberals and the NDP as essentially having the same values, a lot can be learned from this book about high-level political campaigning (media, messaging, images, etc – ie. not “ground campaigns”). Most of the book recounts Kinsella’s experiences as one of the federal Liberal Party’s top strategists during the Chretien years.

11. "Christianity and the Social Crisis" by Walter Rauschenbusch

The author of this book was one of the founders of the Social Gospel movement in the United States in the early 1900s. It was a huge influence on many progressive political leaders in North America, including J. S. Woodsworth, Tommy Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr. It's a must-read for those wanting to understand the roots of modern progressive Christianity.


There are many others books that could have been on this list. Feel free to offer me suggestions on what I should read next (though I currently have no shortage on that list). Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think if you get a chance to read some of these.

Best wishes for the New Year!


Monday, August 26, 2013

Why Cutting My Program at the U of A Makes No Sense

First off, my apologies for not blogging in so long. I’ve got a number of excuses, including that the past year has been the most intense year of my university life, but I won’t go through everything. I’m thankful to say that I recently finished my last course for my Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Alberta, so I’ve got much more time now to do things like blog! I’m going to try to get back into the swing of blogging things more regularly (did that make sense?).

The two majors I took for the degree I just finished were Religious Studies and Middle Eastern & African Studies (MEAS – pronounced “mee-az” by those of us who study it). It was the latter program, MEAS, that I recently learned was one of 20 programs cut as a result of budget cuts from Alberta’s Conservative government. The university has said all students who have already started the programs will be able to finish them, but any students getting ready to start their first years in any of those 20 programs will not have access to those programs (Edmonton Journal article about the cuts: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/University+Alberta+suspends+admission+arts+programs/8803692/story.html).

I did a bit of research to see where else in Canada one can find an undergraduate program with an option for a Middle East-focused major or minor. When I started at the U of A five years ago, I remember there being only three such programs in Canada. Looking today with the suspension of the program at the U of A, it appears the only one left is at McGill University in Montreal (Simon Fraser University in Vancouver used to have one too, but it appears they no longer offer it).

I came to the University of Alberta specifically because I wanted to study Middle Eastern politics. One of the things I want to focus on in my life is solving the Israel-Palestine conflict (no easy task, I’m well aware). If it weren’t for the MEAS program at the U of A, I think I would have ended up at a university either in Vancouver or Montreal to pursue the same goal. If Canada wants to play any kind of productive role in our relationships with other countries, how will we do that without people educated about the histories and politics of other parts of the world? If we want to have a strong voice in the international community and be able to solve the world’s big problems, how will we do it without understanding the world? I’m convinced that these questions are not priorities for either our provincial or federal Conservative governments, but I believe they should be.

From my experience in the program, students take MEAS for a number of different reasons. Some, like me, want to work on solving political problems, though not everyone had the same focus I did. There were also students passionate about solving issues in places like Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt, among other places. I would guess that maybe half or so of the students in the MEAS program had some kind of family ties to the regions we studied; the other half, like me, developed a passion for that part of the world anyway. Some of the students who had those family ties wanted a deeper understanding of where their families came from. Many of them were born in Canada and rarely, if ever, visit the countries their parents came from. And even for those who grew up in the countries they were studying, academic studies gave them an understanding of their home region they would never get from living in those societies (though both types of education are beneficial). Others wanted to work in international business and therefore wanted a better understanding of different parts of the world.

The suspension of the MEAS program was not a large step for the university. They tell us it’s because the enrollment levels were too low. What they don’t want to talk about is how the program has been slowly eroding over a number of years. When I began the program 5 years ago, there were at least 6 professors in the MEAS program. Last year, there were only 3, and 1 of them was on sabbatical for the whole year. Because MEAS is not a full department (it’s a program within the Office of Interdisciplinary Studies), its professors are all shared with other departments. That means each professor attached to the program only spend part of their time teaching MEAS; the rest of their time is spent teaching in full departments like Political Science and History & Classics. So last year the MEAS program actually only had two half-time professors teaching (kind of defeats the budget argument, doesn’t it?).

What was most noticeable in the teaching cuts over my time in MEAS was the disappearance of any Africa-specific courses. The three professors left in the program this past year were all focused on the Middle East & North Africa. That was fine for my interests, but for anyone wanting to study Sub-Saharan Africa, there were no courses left to take because there were no professors left to teach them. One of my professors last semester was the one who brought that change to my attention. He said the Alberta government had been directing resources in the program, and since they have business interests in the Middle East and North Africa (read: oil), that part of the program survived. Why that interest is no longer a priority I have no idea.

There are many reasons, some of which I outlined above, why it makes sense to have a MEAS program. It doesn’t cost much. It trains leaders to solve international conflicts. It prepares people for business world. If you want to study the Middle East, you can now either move to Montreal or look to another country. And the bottom line for me is this: we live in by far the wealthiest province in Canada and one of the richest jurisdictions in the entire world. Why would we cut a program (or 20 programs) with so many benefits for so little cost? The answer: we prioritize the profits of oil companies above all else. Our province’s GDP continues to grow, yet our government’s policies bring in so little revenue that we’re slashing university programs, struggling to keep our health care system afloat, and reducing teaching positions when we have more kids in schools than ever before. Yes, the people at the top of the university’s administration make way too much money, but their wages are nothing compared to the amount Alberta’s Conservatives are giving away to their friends who own oil companies (many of them not Albertan). The program cuts at the U of A are just another sign that we need a change in government in this province. And as our late friend Jack Layton used to say, don’t let them tell you it can’t be done!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Few Initial Thoughts on Palestinian Statehood at the UN Today

I was extremely happy to see the UN General Assembly resolution to recognize Palestine as a "non-voting observer state" pass by a large margin (138 in favour, 9 against). The countries voting against were Canada, Israel, United States, Czech Republic, Panama, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands.

Here are my initial thoughts:

- There is still much to do for Palestinians to have a sovereign state of their own. Israel still occupies, both with their military and civilian populations, a ton of Palestinian territory. This step is a positive one, but it is a small one.

- The US Ambassador Susan Rice said today that her country opposes "any or all unilateral actions." Apparently that doesn't include bombing civilians in Gaza.

- The US and Canada say Palestine can only have a state if it is negotiated with Israel, but when Israel became a state 65 years ago, they didn't require any negotiation with the Palestinians. The American and Canadian governments are being hypocrites with this approach.

- Even though Canada and the US see today's move as "counterproductive", thankfully only 7 other countries in the world agree with them.

- It is significant that Hamas actually came out in favour of this resolution, which recognizes Palestine within its pre-1967 borders.

- Despite what Canada, the US, and Israel are saying, this move by Palestine was not "unilaterial"; 138 countries supported them.

- The most tangible change that comes with this change is status is that Palestine will now be able to take Israel to the International Criminal Court for war crimes, if it so chooses.

Here in Canada, the NDP was the only party that came out in favour of the resolution before it was voted on. The Liberals and Conservatives both came out against it before the vote. The Liberals issued a press release moments after the resolution passed. The release did not take any explicitly different stance on the resolution itself, but it did call on the Canadian government not to punish the Palestinians for the initiative, something the Harper government has said it will do. It remains to be seen if the Conservatives will actually follow through on their threat to send the Palestinian representatives in Canada home.

Only time will tell what the actual impact of this change will be. We'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Jesus of the Emerging Canadian Social Gospel Movement

This is a paper I wrote for one of my classes at the U of A. Since a number of people I talked to were interested in reading it, I thought I would post it for all to read. It think it's pretty self-explanatory, but please let me know if you have any questions. There was a lot of research I did for this paper that I didn't use, so if there is something I didn't touch on that you're interested in, there's a chance that I have already researched the answer to it. Enjoy!



The turn of the twentieth century was a time of crisis for the Protestant Church in the West. Attendance was continually dropping, and the new generations were finding the happenings inside the church doors to be less and less relevant to the problems they faced in their daily lives. In Canada, the dominant Protestant denominations were Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, and Methodism.[1] It would be primarily out of the Methodist Church that Canada’s Social Gospel movement would emerge. According to Richard Allen, the most prominent contemporary historian of the Social Gospel in Canada, “No major Protestant denomination in the nation escaped the impact of the social gospel.”[2] The two most prominent figures in the movement were both Methodist ministers based in Manitoba, Salem Bland and James Shaver (J. S.) Woodsworth. They were both strongly committed, as the movement as a whole was, to reducing social inequality in Canada.The main point this paper will set out to prove is that the Jesus of Canada’s Social Gospel movement was one focused on the social issues of its day, based on a simple, yet firm, intepretation of the Jesus of the New Testament.
In addition to the trials faced by the Protestant Church, the same time period was also a time of flux in society more broadly in the industrialized nations of the West. On the Canadian Prairies, where agriculture had been the overwhelmingly dominant occupation since the European settlers arrived, the factories were drawing more and more people away from the farms to the cities. At the same time, wealth inequality was increasing drastically. Individual workplaces employed more and more workers as the factories grew. With bigger factories came more power for the factory owners, but a counterbalance was growing that prevented the owners from exercising absolute power over their employees. Organized labour was gaining influence as workers across industries formed organizations that would serve to defend their collective interests against the often opposite interests of their employers. Most significantly, the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC), a pan-Canadian labour organization, was formed in the late nineteenth century.[3] The rise of organized labour would play a major part in the direction, development, and theology of the Social Gospel, and to it I will return in a moment.
Before getting into the details, I should clarify two factors. The first is the time period. The scope of this paper is limited to the time period from the emergence of the Social Gospel movement in Canada until about 1920. Before that year, it can reasonably be argued that the movement was still developing and determining what direction it would go. That is not to say its path was rigid after 1920 or that it did not continue to develop, but major events in the early 1920s drastically changed the movement and would require a much larger or separate work to analyze. Salem Bland’s work which laid out the fundamentals of Canada’s social gospel, A New Christianity, was published in 1920. In 1921, J. S. Woodsworth, along with his Methodist colleague and former fellow student at Wesley College, William Irvine, was elected to Parliament. The shift of focus from the pulpit to institutionalized politics brought important changes to the Social Gospel movement. The Social Gospel movement certainly did not end in 1920 and arguably is still present in Canada today; however, those developments are beyond the scope of this paper.[4] The second clarification is that this work will not deal with the later movement starting in the 1930s within the Church in Alberta led by William Aberhart and formulated around the ideas of Social Credit. In sum, the Social Gospel movement I am referring to throughout this paper is the one clearly on the left of the political spectrum and is restricted only to the developments of the movement up until about 1920.
The Social Gospel’s interpretation of Jesus, as can be expected from most Christian movements, was at the core of the movement.There is a contemporary debate among some historians of the Social Gospel about whether the movement’s primary motivation was to tranform Canadian Protestantism’s theology of individualism into one of addressing social issues or if its main impetus was to save the Protestant Church from fading into irrelevance in the lives of Prairie Canadians. Allen has been the most prominent proponent of the former view, while Ramsay Cook espouses the latter.[5] It may be useful to begin with a commonality between the two scholars’ views on the theology of the Social Gospel. Both agree that Woodsworth, undoubtedly the most prominent figure of the Social Gospel, held views that can be seen “as an escape from theological perplexities.”[6] Indeed, Allen writes, “The social gospel could be described as a movement in search of a theology.” Cook’s view is that those who founded the Social Gospel movement were motivated by the need for the Church to change in order to survive.[7] This view downplays the theological beliefs of the Social Gospellers, I think without sufficient justification. Granted, they tended to, either explicitly or implicitly, de-emphasize the importance of a complex theology, but at the heart of their interpretation of Christianity was a very firm, though simple, theology based largely on the concept of brotherhood taught by Jesus.[8] The call of the Social Gospellers was not to dispose of theology but rather to cast aside what for them were unnecessarily complex theological debates in favour of a theology free from complications, allowing Church members to focus their time and efforts on social issues rather than theological ones. It was precisely the Social Gospellers’ firm confidence in the core aspect of their theological beliefs that allowed them to turn so much attention to the social issues of their day.
While it can be argued that the works that laid out the substance of the Canadian Social Gospel were published relatively late in the movement’s history, the views of others who wrote earlier outside of Canada had provided the theological underpinnings for the movement at least until it could develop its own.[9] Cook’s view is that the Social Gospel removed the theology from Christianity and replaced it with sociology, a substitution he pegs as the movement’s primary weakness.[10] While it is quite clear the Social Gospel had a strong sociological emphasis, it is something entirely different to suggest that social concerns displaced theology’s role in the movement. In Woodsworth’s work My Neighbor, he urges his readers to think on the phrase “Re-Christianize the Church” and suggests that the Church must take part in what he believes is a coming “great social and religious reformation.” While at first glance, this statement may seem like Woodsworth’s impetus is solely to go along with what he believes are inevitable changes in the social and religious realms, in the next paragraph he provides a theological rationale for wanting to fill that role. He cites an article by Prof. Graham Taylor which says, “...the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount should govern” society.[11] Woodsworth’s strong feeling that the Church must stay relevant to stay alive is not exclusionary to theology, and in fact is based on it.
The focus of the theology of the Social Gospel was the life and message of Jesus in his most human, and therefore least supernatural, form. The Reverend A. E. Smith, a contemporary of Woodsworth’s and also a Methodist minister, gave the following description of his view on Jesus:
In my sermons no miracle was required to explain the birth of Jesus or His life and teachings. Jesus was not the founder of the church. He never formulated its harsh theologies. The mumblings and genuflections, the robes and censers and incantations of the church were completely foreign to Jesus, the Nazarene Carpenter. His name was to be cherished because He died as a leader of the people, for His principles and in protest against the unjust rulers of His day.[12]

An argument can be made using a narrow definition of theology that the above quote does not constitute a theology because it does see Jesus as a divine subject; however, if that is Cook’s point, he does not make it clear.
                Rather than declaring that theology did not have a role to play in the Social Gospel movement, aside from being a means to the end of saving the Church from irrelevance, it would be far more accurate to say that theology was not oft discussed in detail, nor was it held in any complex form. It could reasonsably be said that although a theological underpinning was present and held quite strongly by the movement’s most prominent figures such as Woodsworth and Bland, their presentations of their Christian message did not have theology as the primary focus. Indeed, a skim through either’s best-known works, My Neighbor and The New Christianity, respectively, leaves the reader dwelling primarily on social issues. Rather than being the focus, the teachings and actions of Jesus are held up as a firm foundation from which the social problems of the day could be addressed. As Allen writes, the Social Gospel forged “links between proposed reforms and the religious heritage of the nation, in the process endowing reform with an authority it could not otherwise command.”[13] Similarly, historian Walter Young writes that Woodsworth’s Protestant background, teachings, and presence with his followers in the labour movement assured them that the radical reforms they were calling for were acceptable, and even essential, within the realm of Christianity.[14] The fact that Woodsworth was a Methodist minister with a family history in the Methodist Church helped to give legitimacy to the Social Gospel for many, or rather, they felt legitimized in their social activities because there was a theological justification for their activities. In other words, the teachings of Jesus through the existing institutional Church served to validate the proposed social reforms. Allen goes on to write, “The social gospel rested on the premise that Christianity was a social religion, concerned...with the quality of human relations on this earth.”[15] It was a belief that went to the very core of the Christian message for the Social Gospellers.
                More than anything else, for the proponents of the Social Gospel movement, Jesus was about social change. Bland’s The New Christianity concludes by saying that the key aspects of Jesus’ teachings are “love, and a willingness, like His, to find a throne in a cross.”[16] In other words, love and sacrifice are the keys to Jesus’ teachings. Love, for Bland, is most sincerely expressed in the pursuit of social equality.
As Bland was one of the key figures in the Social Gospel movement and the core of his theology pointed to social equality, it is worth looking in some depth at his justification for that belief. In his work The New Christianity, Bland broke the history of the Christian Church into three different phases, which were each accompanied by parallels in social order. He began with what he called the “Aristocratic phase”, which was characterized by a social order dependent on the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. He characterized the Catholic Church as the Roman Empire’s mirror image in the religious realm.[17]
The Aristocratic phase ended, according to Bland, at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the beginning of Protestantism. This next phase was called the “Bourgeois phase” and took the Church up to 1914, very close to the year he was writing (1920). As the bourgeois began to form out of disillusionment with the aristocracy, Bland drew a parallel with the Protestant movement forming out of disillusionment with the Catholic Church; the middle class was taking authority from the Emperor and the Protestants were taking authority from the Pope. What Bland saw as lacking in bourgeois Christianity (and certainly in its earlier aristocratic form as well) was the “passion for brotherhood,” which as mentioned earlier was for him the most fundamental teaching of Jesus.[18] This passionate brotherhood only existed at the level of the working class for Bland. He saw the Catholic and Protestant churches as ignoring the working people, who were the people society should be built to serve. The bourgeios were the least class-conscious for Bland because their chief concern was trying, as individuals, to move up to the upper class – to become the aristocracy.
The working class, conversely, was beginning to organize collectively through the organized labour movement, which was growing at an unprecedented rate with the large-scale industrialization happening in the West. As with the two previous phases, Bland saw the Church going through a parallel transformation with the social order. He predicted that “...institutional Christianity will undergo a third transformation and, in a society dominated by Labor organizations, will become democratic and brotherly.”[19] He believed both Protestantism and Catholicism would necessarily fade away and be replaced by this new form of Christianity, which would have a deeper affinity with “the Christianity of Jesus” than either of the two previous forms. Therefore, the true Jesus, for Bland, was the Jesus embodied by the twentieth-century labour movement. The message of brotherhood that was at the heart of Jesus’ teachings for Bland, had taken hundreds of years to manifest itself in both the Church and in society, but with organized labour it had finally arrived. The deepest meaning of Jesus’ message was that the members of the lowest classes of society were to live in brotherhood with each other and work collectively to improve society as a whole.
Bland’s view was that throughout the history of the Church, the Christian message had been kept secret and was only in his time being revealed. He quotes Jesus in Luke 8:17 (“Nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and brought to light.“) in order to explain his method for extracting what he considered the true message of Christianity out of the scriptures.[20] He goes on to explain that Paul “hid” in his writings his personal views of “contempt of marriage and lack of reverence for women.” In other words, Paul wrote his own personal views into his letters and disguised them as the views the Christian Church itself should hold. Likewise, he says Christ also hid something in the scriptures – “the equality of brotherhood.” This concept, for Bland, was the very heart of Christianity. He calls it a “the secret force, the most deeply vital essence of Christianity.” For Bland, social equality was the most important message Jesus delivered.[21]
                It is true that the Social Gospel meant widespread engagement with those outside of the Church without the primary goal of converting them to adopting a Christian theology. The reason I specify “theology” is that the Social Gospel would try to recruit followers to its version of Christianity. The difference is that the Social Gospel tended to see living by the Christian principles of love and brotherhood as living the Christian life, despite what one’s theological beliefs might be. It is in this way that the movement attempted to have appeal across the theological spectrum. Its proponents did not want the movement’s goals to be limited to a shift within Methodism or Presbyterianism, nor even a shift within the whole of Christianity, but rather a shift in the entire society. This idea is perhaps shown most clearly by Bland in his analysis of organized labour.
Before the Christianization of the labor movement was complete, he said, two things must happen. First, it needed to broaden its base to include others of the same social class who were not already part of organized labour. Second, and most importantly for our purposes in this paper, he said “Labor must recognize the Christianness of its own principles.”[22] He went on to say that he did not mean the movement, or the members of the movement, needed to convert to Christianity, but rather that it needed to recognize that its principles had as their basis the teachings of Jesus. For Bland, the organized labor movement already was Christian by its very nature. Because it was a movement based on the brotherhood of humanity, it embodied what was at the very heart of Jesus’ message. Therefore, it was not coincidental in the least that the key message of Jesus corresponded with the working class in Bland’s own time; rather, the organized labor movement was a Christian movement because Jesus himself was from the working class. It is worth quoting this section of Bland’s book verbatim because it is the key to his interpretation of Jesus:
It is not strange, after all, that among working men should arise the Church which is to give the truest interpretation of Christianity. The Lord Jesus was Himself a working man and brought up in a working man’s home; His chief friends and chosen apostles were mostly working men. How can He be fully understood except through a working man’s consciousness?[23]

Organized labour clearly was the primary vehicle in Bland’s theology through which the future of the Church would realize its main purpose: to address issues of inequality in society.
                J. S. Woodsworth had his own views on how Christianity fit into society, and although the implications of his theology resulted in a similar approach to how one is to live in the world, he framed it much differently. Woodsworth put a much bigger emphasis on “Kingdom” theology, which shows the strong influence Walter Rauschenbusch had on him.[24] The idea of Kingdom theology was essentially that instead of God’s kingdom, referenced a number of times in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, being a goal for the afterlife, the teachings of Christ were to turn the present society into the Kingdom – another word for the ideal society. According to McNaught’s biography of Woodsworth:
[The Social Gospel’s] central purpose was to work for ‘the Kingdom’ in this world. It laid heavy emphasis upon the doctrine of love and proclaimed the principle of co-operation as opposed to that of competition. It asserted the brotherhood of man and decried excessive individualism and the adoration of the profit motive in economic life. It placed greater emphasis upon the temporal welfare of individuals and society than upon the salvation of particular immortal souls.[25]

The purpose of the kingdom theology was to teach churches about “the social content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[26] Woodsworth took great pride in the official stance of his Methodist church that it recognized its “specific task...as the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth.”[27][28] Establishing the Kingdom heavily involved loving one’s neighbour as oneself, popularly known as the Golden Rule of Christianity. For that reason, Woodsworth’s book on his view of the Christian role in society took on the title My Neighbor.
Early in this book, Woodsworth wrote, in reference to the parable of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, “And who is my neighbour?”[29] He did not answer the question directly but used the parable as the foundation for the views he expressed in the rest of the book by interpreting it in his own contemporary context of early twentieth-century urban life in Canada. Rather than applying the parable to helping only individuals one by one, Woodsworth believed his contemporary social context called for helping many individuals at the same time by reforming the system.[30]
Both Bland and Woodsworth formed their views, and informed the views of their followers, based on an interpretation of Jesus that saw him primarily as an ethical teacher. For them, he was not simply a good ethical teacher; he was the best. The life and teachings of Jesus were held up as ideals for everyone to follow in society. The goals of Bland, Woodsworth, and the Social Gospel movement more broadly, were not to convince people of a particular view of the relationship between Jesus and the divine, nor were they much concerned with the divine at all, at least in the traditional sense of the term. They were, however, extremely motivated to convert people to their point of view that the teachings of Jesus, or at least the ones they emphasized, should be followed. The shift this motivation caused, for those going from traditional Protestant views to those of the Social Gospel, was necessarily about changing the way people thought about Jesus and God, not as an end but as a means. The primary goal, the end they set out to achieve, was about changing the way people lived.  The Jesus of the Social Gospel movement was not a complex one; for many social gospellers, he was the most remarkable man ever to have lived, and his life served as a model for how one ought to treat one’s neighbours. It may have been a movement rife with utopian idealism, but one cannot deny that the Social Gospel movement in Canada had an immense impact on the Church and on the country.


Allen, Richard. The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada, 1914-28. Toronto,
                University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Allen, Richard. The View from Murney Tower: Salem Bland, the Late Victorian Controversies, and
                the Search for a New Christianity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Bland, Salem Goldworth. The New Christianity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Cook, Ramsay. “Ambiguous Heritage: Wesley College and the Social Gospel Re-considered.” Manitoba
                History Number 19 (Spring 1990): 1-34.

Fraser, Brian J. The Social Uplifters: Presbyterian Progressives and the Social Gospel in Canada,
                1875-1915. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1988.

Irvine, William. Can a Christian Vote for Capitalism? Ottawa: Labour Publishing Company, 1935.

McCormack, A. Ross. Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical
                Movement, 1899-1919. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.

McNaught, Kenneth. A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J. S. Woodsworth. Toronto: University
                of Toronto Press, 1963.

Smith, A. E. All My Life: Crusade for Freedom. Toronto: Progress Publishing Company, 1949.

Woodsworth, J. S. My Neighbor: A Study of City Conditions; A Plea for Social Service. Toronto:
                The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1913.

Young, Walter D. The Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932-61. Toronto: University of
                Toronto Press, 1969.

[1] Allen, Richard. The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada 1914-28. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973, p. 8.
[2] Allen, The Social Passion, p. 15.
[3] Until about 1900, the TLC was somewhat of a regional organization, but by the turn of the century it had expanded to cover most of the nation.
[4] A recent example of note is former Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert’s paper, “Beyond the Social Gospel”, presented in 2009 (http://www.knowles-woodsworth.org/docs/LorneCalvert_BeyondtheSocialGospel.pdf).
[5] Cook, Ramsay. “Ambiguous Heritage: Wesley College and the Social Gospel Re-considered. “ Manitoba History Number 19 (Spring 1990), pp. 30-31.
[6] Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage,” p. 18.
[7] Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage,” p. 11.
[8] The implicit downplaying of complex theological matters is clearly evident in the works that provided the foundations for the Social Gospel, such as Woodsworth’s My Neighbor and Bland’s A New Christianity. Both works are filled with commentary on the social situation of their day while discussions of Jesus and theology fill very little space.
[9] Woodsworth and Bland did not publish their books on the foundations of the Canadian social gospel until 1911 and 1920, respectively. However, both were influenced by Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis, first published in 1907, and the theology of the German scholar, Albrecht Ritschl, who lived only until 1889.
[10] Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage,” p. 20.
[11] Woodsworth, J. S. My Neighbor: A Study of City Conditions; A Plea for Social Service. Toronto: The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1913, p. 336.
[12] Smith, A. E. All My Life: Crusade for Freedom. Toronto: Progress Publishing Company, 1949, p. 43.
[13] Allen, The Social Passion, p. 3.
[14] Young, Walter D. Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932-61. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969, p. 158.
[15] Allen, The Social Passion, p. 4.
[16] Bland, Salem Goldworth. The New Christianity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973, p. 92.
[17] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 42.
[18] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 50.
[19] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 54.
[20] Bland, The New Christianity, pp. 22-23.
[21] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 23.
[22] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 54.
[23] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 55.
[24] Rauschenbusch was the author of what is probably the most widely-known theology of the Social Gospel, his 1907 book Christianity and the Social Crisis, which placed a strong emphasis on Kingdom theology.
[25] McNaught, Kenneth. A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J. S. Woodsworth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963, p. 49.
[26] McNaught, A Prophet in Politics, p. 59.
[27] Woodsworth, My Neighbor, p. 172.
[28] It is important to note that not all prominent Methodists coming out of Manitoba were a part of the Social Gospel movement. Clifford Sifton, as one of the most prominent examples, was one of Woodsworth’s contemporaries; like Woodsworth, he had been a part of the Methodist Church in Brandon, MB, and also had attended Victoria College in Toronto. However, Sifton took a very different path from there by joining the Liberals and later becoming a key member of Prime Minister Laurier’s government (McNaught, 38).
[29] Woodsworth, My Neighbor, p. 19.
[30] Woodsworth, My Neighbor, p. 21.