Clarence Bertrand Thompson.

The churches and the wage earners; a study of the cause and cure of their separation online

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University of California.











OF -.




Cepyright, 1909, by Charles Scribner's Sons, for the
United States of America

Prioted by the Scribner Press
New York. U. S. A.


M. K. T.


A KEENLY analytical friend of mine is fond
'^ *■ of remarking that nearly all vicious reason-
ing is due to the attempt to answer two ques-
tions at once. This error, at least, I have tried
to avoid. I have devoted my attention to a
specific, clear-cut problem — that of the gulf be-
tween the masses of the laboring people and
the churches of to-day; and I have endeavored
to limit myself strictly to this question, in spite
of numerous temptations to wander into neigh-
boring fields.

I mention this in order to forestall a certain
class of criticisms aimed at what, to some, may
appear to be inadequacies of treatment. I am
well aware, for example, that there are many
people alienated from the churches besides the
workingmen. Professional men, both within
and without the churches, stand in a peculiar
relation to them which is vastly interesting and
significant; but with this I have at present
nothing to do. Similarly with the economics of
the "social question" and of socialism. Their
discussion from a scientific point of view is of
vital importance; but it is quite outside the

-1 c\r/^A '>


scope of this study. I am concerned primarily
with the relations of the churches to these prob-
lems; not with the problems themselves.

If it be asked why, in the chapter entitled
"Facts," I have made no use of the numerous
published statistics of church membership, the
answer must be simply that they are not trust-
worthy. The Federal Census made several at-
tempts, between 1850 and 1890, to enumerate
the population of the United States by church
connection; but the results were so extremely
unreliable that the effort was finally abandoned.
The "censuses" published year by year in the
denominational and interdenominational jour-
nals are quite useless until we know in detail
how they were compiled. Tests of church mem-
bership are so loose and so variable, and there
is such a large subjective element in ministers'
estimates, that the margin of error is very great
indeed. Further, the motives for evasion and
misrepresentation in regard to church affilia-
tion are so strong that it is questionable whether
accurate statistics on the subject can ever be

That other and perhaps more vahd criticisms
of this work may be urged I have no doubt.
No one can be more painfully aware of its de-
ficiencies than myself. I can only plead in


mitigation, first, that, so far as I know, it is the
first venture into this particular field; and, sec-
ond, it is written in the sincere desire to be
helpful to the institution and the class in which
I am most deeply interested — organized religion
on the one hand and toiling humanity on the
other. If it succeed in the slightest degree in
clearing up their mutual misunderstandings, I
shall feel amply repaid.

My indebtedness to other writers may be
suflRciently obvious from the footnotes and the
Bibliography. It remains only to acknowledge
my obligations to Professor Francis G. Peabody,
of Harvard University, and to my wife, for
criticism and assistance at all stages of the work.


Peabody, Massachusetts,
February 2, 1909.





Chapter I: Facts 5

Chapter II: Causes 13

1. Ascribable to the Wage Earners .... 14

2. Workingmen's Complaints against the

Churches 24

3. General Criticisms 41

4. Inherent in Modem Conditions .... 46

Chapter III: Conclusions and Queries . . 50




Chapter I: Equality 57

1. Spiritual 57

2. Social 59



Chapter II: Charity 65

1. The Old Way 65

2. The Institutional Church 70

3. The Mission 79

4. The Settlement 82

Chapter III: The Social Question .... 86

1. The Teaching of Jesus 87

2. The Churches' Present Theory 96

3. The Churches' Present Practice .... 102

Chapter IV: Government 114



Chapter I: Atheistic Socialism 128

Chapter II: "Christian Soclalism" .... 140

Chapter III: Inherent Incompatibilities . . 145

1. Early Christianity and Socialism . . . .145

2. Aims 148

3. Methods 151

4. Moral Values 155

Chapter IV: Origin and Correction of the
Error 161





Chapter I: The Nature of the Opportunity . 173

Chapter II: Social Preaching 179

Chapter III: Social Practice 190

Chapter IV: Modern Methods 196

Chapter V: The Modern Minister . . . .212






In any discussion of the subject of the present
relations of the workingmen to organized re-
ligion it is of the utmost importance to distin-
guish clearly between the Church and the
churches. The Christian Church is an abstrac-
tion which stands for a certain fairly definite
set of principles; the churches are collections of
concrete individuals who profess allegiance to
those principles. Men may be entirely out of
sympathy with the churches, while believing in
the principles of the Church; the principles of
the Church may be entirely favorable to the
aims and efforts of the workingmen, while the
members of the churches are entirely opposed
to them.

Failure to recognize this difference is respon-
sible for a great deal of current misunderstand-
ing. The laborer becomes an opponent of the
Church because dissatisfied with the churches;
church-members accuse the laborer of base in-
gratitude and callousness, in view of all that the
Church has done for him in the past and its


good intentions toward him in the present. This
discussion will be concerned primarily with the
churches. It will have to do with the Church
only in so far as its principles may be considered
as binding upon and reflected by individual
churches and church-members.

By "wage earner," "workingman," "labor-
er," etc., is meant, wherever used in this work,
the person who is employed by another, for
wages, to work with his hands. The term
thus excludes "brain-workers," "soft-handed"
workers, and all salaried, professional, and "in-
dependent" business men.



'T^HE fact of the alienation of the masses from
■^ the churches has been so frequently noted
of late years that it has become a commonplace.
It is not, to be sufe, altogether a recent phe-
nomenon. As far back as 1813, Rev. Rector
Campbell said: "I know it is the boast of the
Church of England to be the poor man's church,
but I am afraid it is only our boast." The sep-
aration of the "poor man" from the churches
was then apparently viewed without any great
concern; but now it is the cause of considerable
alarm. To-day it is frequently referred to as the
churches' crisis, and it is observed, with anxiety
and deep foreboding, that the alienation is in-
creasing. The decHne is felt in all denomina-
tions. Small congregations and empty churches
are noted everywhere. This is the case not only
throughout England and America, but on the
Continent also. In France "it would be diffi-
cult to find an assembly of Republicans in which
the great majority are not atheists." ^ Ger-

' Mority Kaufmann, "Christian Socialism," 146.


mzrvyj which sets the tone for m ost of the north-
ern nations, i s the home of materia lism. The
southern nations are deeply infected with the
infideHty of France. Russia, encased in eccle-
siastical form, is also seething with disbelief.
This "ecHpse of faith," as Kaufmann calls it, is
"peculiar to the masses of the workingmen of
Europe"; and he might have added, of the
whole civilized world.

Statistically, the rough statement that "the
people are leaving the denominations by the mil-
lions"* is at least partially confirmed by the in-
vestigations reported by Dr. Josiah Strong.^ After
an exhaustive study of a number of selected
representative fields in different parts of the
United States, Strong concludes that less than
30 per cent, of the population of America are
regular attendants, perhaps 20 per cent, are
irregular attendants, while fully one-half never
attend any church at all, Protestant or Cath-
olic. This percentage for attendance seems to
be too high. Investigations made by the writer
in New England towns, and by a friend in a large
part of Boston, would not warrant an estimate
of even 15 per cent, of the population as regular
attendants. In the United States popular in-

* Algernon S. Crapsey, "Religion and Politics," 315.
^ Strong, "New Era," 203^.


terest in church-going seems to be greater in the
West than in the East; but Strong's figures are
unduly Hberal estimates for any part of the

Statistics also show that church membership
is steadily declining in proportion to popula-
tion. Dr. Strong says:* "If the gain of the
Church on the population during the first half
of the [nineteenth] century is represented by 80,
during the last half it is represented by 20,
during the last twenty years it is represented
by 4, and during the last ten years it is repre-
sented by I."

The attitude of the non-attendants is of all
grades of opposition, from mere indifference to
positive antipathy. Sometimes it is described
as "indifference to theology" (this is found
within the churches also); more often it takes
the more serious form of indifference or even
hostility to religion itself. Occasionally there
appears a personal distrust of the church or the
minister, and even a decided "antipathy to par-
sons." ^ As we shall soon have abundant occa-
sion to see, the attitude of the majority of class-
conscious workingmen is, on the whole, an atti-

> Cited in Literary Digest, June 13, 1908; cf. Joseph H.
Crooker, "The Church of To-day," 56.

*Paul Gohre, "Three Months in a Workshop," 175.


tude of active hostility to anything and every-
thing connected with the churches.

It is a noteworthy fact that the people who
are left in the churches are either the well-to-do
and wealthy, "the hereditary rich, sheltered
classes," or the young people from the shops
and the offices, the "soft-handed" workers.
The Protestant churches, as a rule, are not made
up of the common people, but rather of the em-
ployers. * There is an apparent exception to
this rule in the Negro churches in America,
which are made up mainly of workingmen.^
This is to be explained, probably, on the same
ground as the other apparent exception, that of
the Catholic churches in Ireland: the fact that
the people as a whole are struggling together
for justice and freedom. In both cases the an-
tagonism of their environment drives them to-
gether to the consolations and hopes of religion,
and in both cases, also, the usually superior edu-
cation of their clergy leads all classes to look
naturally to them for leadership.

* It is just this shifting of the churches "from the plain people
to the rich" which "must be looked upon with discomfort and
alarm," according to President Roosevelt. There is a danger of
religion itself becoming a class matter, thus aggravating the al-
ready increasing tendency toward "class" alignment.

2R. R.Wright, "Social Work and Influence of the Negro
Church, 30; Annals 0/ the American Academy of Political and
Social Science," 516.


The non-church-going class consists mainly
of farmers, factory-workers, and, in America,
immigrants. Strong's investigations in New
England, Pennsylvania, and Ohio show a very
small percentage of attendance from farmers.
As for the factory-workers, it has been said by
a churchman ^ who spent part of his life among
them, that so far as they are concerned the
church has been an utter failure. The attitude
of some of them toward the churches he de-
scribes as "indecent." The extent of the hos-
tility of some of them is illustrated by the state-
ment of a labor leader:^ "The American
workingman hates the very shadow that the
spire of the village church casts across his path-
way." In England, Charles Booth, perhaps the
most competent observer we could cite, says
that the attitude of the workshop is "contempt-

In a study of the relations of immigrants to
the churches considerable allowance must be
made for the strong Protestant prejudices of the
investigators. Josiah Strong says ^ that "a
majority of immigrants believe either in a per-
verted or superstitious form of Christianity or

* Gohre, /. c. 187.

2 Cited by H. F. Perry, "The Workingman's Alienation from
the Church," 4 American Journal of Sociology, 626.
^L.c. 191.


in none at all." The figures of Grose ^ show
that 52 per cent, of the immigrants are, when
they land, nominally Christian. But residence
in America soon begins to tell on their nominal
allegiance, and there is everywhere a falling off.
The Catholics are losing the Italians, the
French, the Germans, the Hungarians, the Bo-
hemians, and the Poles. There are over 300
Bohemian freethinking societies in the country.
The Irish and the recent flood of immigrants
from south-eastern Europe — Slovaks, Sloven-
ians, Bosnians, Herzegovinians, Bulgarians,
Servians, Montenegrins, Ruthenians, and some
of the Lithuanians — remain devout Catholics.
Time, and the efforts of Protestant "mission-
aries," will probably destroy the allegiance of
these peoples, with the possible exception of the

This tendency toward defection is not by any
means limited to the Christian immigrants. In
America and in England the Jews are leaving
their ancestral synagogues in great and increas-
ing numbers.

Women have always preponderated in church
congregations, and they are now relied upon as
the main support of the average church; but

' N. B. Grose, "Aliens or Americans?"; the most elaborate
investigation of this subject I have seen.


there is a falling off even in their attendance
now becoming noticeable. "Women are begin-
ning to stay away as they take their place in
economic Hfe," says Campbell.* The churches'
disregard of their economic and social needs is
driving many of them, especially in cities, into
other movements. Unions and lodges have
reached the women with their appeal; and to it
the women are responding, to the manifest dis-
advantage of the churches.

This movement away from the churches is
more accentuated in cities than in their suburbs,
as might be expected from the usual difference
in the nature of their populations, as well as for
other reasons. In the cities, the centres of man-
ufacture and of commerce, "the overwhelming
proportion of workingmen is out of touch with
the churches." ^ Their indifference and hos-
tility in London, New York, and Chicago, is
particularly noticeable. In London only 6 per
cent, of the people attend church, while in the
suburbs the percentage is 29. In other large
cities and their environs the percentages are

One who is actively engaged in evangelistic

' Campbell, "Christianity and the Social Order," 2; of. Math-
ews, "The Church and the Changing Order," 201.

^J. W. Cochran, "The Church and the Working Man," 30
Ann. Am. Ac, 451.


work may sometimes be led to think that popu-
lar attendance is increasing rather than decreas-
ing, because he finds his own congregations
full. A famous preacher will observe that he
meets large congregations wherever he goes.
But he is apt to overlook the fact that the large
congregation his reputation has drawn means
smaller congregations somewhere else; that he
is only taking members out of other churches,
and is leaving the mass of the people untouched.
When a brilliant preacher settles in a parish and
"builds it up," he has usually, in the picturesque
language of Judson,^ "only given the ecclesias-
tical kaleidoscope a turn, and produced a new
arrangement of the same old bits of colored
glass." This method is worked frequently and
in all places. It may be an advantage to the in-
dividual who finds thereby a more congenial
church home; but obviously it does not in the
least alter the proportions of those "in" and
those "out" of the churches.

'Edward Judson, "The Church in Its Social Aspect," 30
Ann. Am. Ac, 430.



T X rHEN we turn to seek the causes for this
' ^ widespread movement we shall find them
to be numerous and complex. Some of them
seem to be rooted in the very constitution of hu-
man nature; some are the results of recent de-
velopments in social Hfe. Some causes may be
called the "fault" of the workingmen or of the
churches; others are no one's fault, but are sim-
ply inevitable conditions of development. Fair-
bairn's statement * that the causes of alienation
are involved in the whole process which has
evolved the present social order is in a sense
true; but the process referred to is an exceed-
ingly complex one, and we shall find it more
profitable to seek for more specific reasons.

What is needed at present is a comprehensive
and detailed study of the reasons, whether ulti-
mately valid or not, which are currently assigned
for the popular indifference to churches. Espe-
cially do we need such a study from the point of

> Fairbairn, "Religion in History and in Modern Life," 19.


view of one who believes that the churches alone
are or should be the generators and conservators
of that religious spirit without which the high-
est civilization cannot persist; and who believes,
therefore, that the problem now under discussion
is the most important problem that could pos-
sibly engage our attention. In view of the facts
as they are, the best friend of the churches is not
the man who, ostrich-like, compliments himself
and his little congregation on "the flourishing
state of religion," but is rather the man who, in
the spirit of the physician intent upon effecting
a cure, ascertains and describes the truth, at
whatever risk of misunderstanding and personal
inconvenience to himself.

I. Ascrihahle to the Wage-Earners

The wage- workers' indifference to the churches
is at least partly for the same reason as that of
any one else — indifference and resistance to the
call of the higher life. They have no conscious-
ness of guilt or sin, or of special need, and they
assume that the churches are only for those who
have. Moral flabbiness, weakness, viciousness —
whether in the cities, where they are the results
of overcrowding and bad influences, or in the
country, where isolation has brought about de-
generation and demoralization — are largely re-


sponsible for the present straits of the churches.
The people have no longer any feeling of duty
toward organized religion. The churches have
no charm for them, and they use their Sundays
for rest and recreation. This "total depravity"
theory, hov^ever, applies to the "classes" as
well as to the "masses"; to the professional
and business man as well as to the laboring man;
and it therefore does not entirely account for the
movement under investigation, which is so dis-
tinctively a working-class movement.

Another reason, and one of great importance,
is the growth of materialism among the masses.
"Men have grown hard," said a workingman,^
"under bitter conditions, and think of God as
unjust and unkind, if there be any God." The
belief in Providence has disappeared. If there
is any purpose in the universe, it is felt to be evil
rather than worshipful. Further, the dealings
of the average artisan with the forces of nature
are such as to drive from his mind any thought
of the supernatural. " Force " and " matter " are
all that the mechanic needs to answer all the
questions he is wise enough to ask; he has no
place for the hypothesis of a God. In Germany
this tendency has been greatly fostered by the
anti-Christian nature of the literature created

' Perry, 4 Am. Jour. Soc, 625.


within the last forty years to satisfy the popular
demand for an education. This literature is sat-
urated with the materialism of the third quarter
of the nineteenth century. It has spread through
all nations. The workman has taken a ma-
terialistic, negative attitude toward the soul,
toward all things of the spirit, all ideals; conse-
quently religion has no content for him. But
this factor, again, is not pecuHar to the working
people; hence is not a sufficient answer to our
particular problem.

Another reason, and one of such vast po-
tency as to demand special study, is the spread
of socialism. "Among the more radical social
reformers the attitude toward religion is hos-
tile." * Says Mr. Charles Stelzle, Secretary of the
Presbyterian Department of Labor: "Socialism
has become for thousands of men a substitute
for the church." The organized opposition to
Christianity which is represented by socialism
has been too long overlooked and neglected; but
the detailed discussion of it must be reserved for
another part of this book.^

Short of socialism, however, there is the
whole "labor movement," including trade un-

• Francis G. Peabody, "Jesus Christ and the Social Question,"
2 See below, Part III.


ionism and all the numerous movements for the
alleviation of the laborers' lot, which do not go
the length of social revolution. With the ad-
vance of economic and social science, v^ays and
means for the betterment of the position of the
working people are becoming more and more
clear; " social work" has become practicable and
effective, and its urgent appeal is drawing
thousands of the best natures into its service.
As will appear later, the churches have allowed
this work to develop independently of them, and
now absorption in it is working deleteriously to
the churches' interests. The churches also are
or may be centres of social service and agents of
social reform; but differences in aim and in
method have engendered a certain distrust and
hostility between them and the later "secular"
forms of service. Thus, the insistence of the
churches on the upholding of law and order is
distasteful to the more ardent reformers. And
for those whose chief aim is the destruction of the
existing order of things, which is certainly the
aim of the most radical, a negative religion, or
the negation of religion, has, as might be ex-
pected, superior attractions.

Connected in a way with some of these re-
form movements are numerous misunderstand-
ings of the object and meaning of religion which


are partly responsible for the hostile attitude of
the people. Christianity is charged with failure
to eliminate poverty — religion, it is said, may
have been of some use once, but is of none now.*
The church is looked upon as the bulwark and
tool of capitalism, and may be referred to thus:
"The church and the brothel, police powers and
peace powers; in fact, all those things which we
look upon as necessary for capitalistic stability." ^
The workingmen's contact with their employers
in competitive and selfish dickerings gives them
the impression that the church stands for the
principles they there see exemplified. Further,
they are inclined to identify religion with " belief
in the Bible," and when they have outgrown the
antiquated view of the Bible which is taught in
most Sunday-schools, parochial schools, and in
many common schools (as, for example, in Ger-
many), they discard religion at the same time
that they are forced to give up their old view of
scriptural authority. Then follows a period,
common to all half-educated people, when "le-
gal proof" of religion is demanded. The falla-
cies involved in all these misunderstandings can
be easily pointed out; but the fact in which we

' Gohre, /. c. 164, 173.

2 Chicago Convention Industrial Workmen of the World (a la-
bor organization of Socialistic tendencies), 1905.


are now interested is that the workmen do have

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Online LibraryClarence Bertrand ThompsonThe churches and the wage earners; a study of the cause and cure of their separation → online text (page 1 of 12)