On Earth as It Is in Heaven: The Social Gospel 1
“The individualistic gospel has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart,” wrote Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor serving in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. “But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it.”
Rauschenbusch articulated a theological foundation for the new movement. He didn’t believe that Jesus, by dying, substituted his life for our sins. He understood that Christ died on the cross “to substitute love for selfishness as the basis of human society.”
The Social Gospel sought to establish, literally, Jesus’s promise in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It was not simply about getting souls into heaven, but about transforming life to reflect heaven here on Earth. It meant solving social problems such as income disparity, child labor, poor schooling, and a host of other injustices.
Rauschenbusch set much of the blame for social ills at the feet of religion. He observed how the “Church” had gradually replaced Christ’s “Kingdom.” It was a theme ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would return to often: over time, rituals, dogmas, and superstitions had created a man-made “imitation” of religion. For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, building the Kingdom meant building a just and unified global society.
New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts 2
‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to New York City on Friday afternoon, May 17, and told the waiting friends about the conference.
Talk at Studio Hall, 1219 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C., 21 April 1912
I have come here to visit you. With the greatest longing I have wished to see you. Realizing it was only with great difficulty that you could come to me and that very few could make the trip, I decided to come to you so that all might have the pleasure of meeting. Praise be to God! I am here, and I am looking into your faces—faces radiant with inner beauty, hearts attracted to the Kingdom of Abhá, spirits exhilarated through the glad tidings of God. Therefore, I have experienced the greatest possible happiness. And surely this happiness must be mutual, for the hearts are connected with each other and are filled with the same vibration. The flame and the light of love are reflected in all. Spiritual susceptibilities and heart longings fill every heart. If we should offer a hundred thousand thanksgivings every moment to the threshold of God for this love which has blended the Orient and Occident, we would fail to express our gratitude sufficiently. If all the powers of earth should seek to bring about this love between East and West, they would prove incapable. If they wished to establish this unity, it would prove impossible. But Bahá’u’lláh has accomplished both through the power of the Holy Spirit, and this bond of unity through love is indissoluble. It shall continue unto time everlasting, and day by day its power shall increase. Erelong it shall enchain the world, and eventually the hearts of all the nations of the world will be brought together by its constraining clasp. The world of humanity shall become the manifestation of the lights of Divinity, and the bestowals of God shall surround all. From the standpoints of both material and spiritual civilization extraordinary progress and development will be witnessed. In this present cycle there will be an evolution in civilization unparalleled in the history of the world. The world of humanity has, heretofore, been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reaches its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened intellectual faculties so that in one year of this ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress, and that power of accomplishment whereof each individual human reality is the depository of God—that outworking Universal Spirit—like the intellectual faculty, will reveal itself in infinite degrees of perfection. 3
Friday, 17 May, 1912 4
Many friends came to visit Him and when their numbers increased, the Master went into the assembly room and gave a lengthy talk that began with a description of the Lake Mohonk conference. He said that the influence and practice of peace and the unity of nations could only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When He was tired during these days He would often go alone in the afternoon to the park near Riverside Drive. He explained: ‘When I sleep on the grass, I obtain relief from exhaustion and am freed from cares. If I am not alone, I will talk and perspire and will not become relaxed and free of cares.’ As always, people were continually coming and going both day and night. Everyone was anxious to see Him and He spoke to them continuously. It was impossible for Him to get any rest except when He went out alone.
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
- Sockett, Robert. “On Earth As It Is In Heaven: The Social Gospel.” 239 Days in America, May 17, 2012. https://239days.com/2012/05/17/on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven/. ↩
- Ward, Allan L. 239 Days: ʻAbdu’l-Bahá’s Journey in America. Wilmette, Ill: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979, 69-70. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 37-38. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/3#587491441 ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=3#section54. ↩