New Social Gospel Reading List

I am teaching this again in the spring of 2019. I will probably update some of this given the current crises and a New Social Gospel analysis, but these are the basics. Suggestions welcome


Child labor in 2nd Industrial Revolution; one goal of Social Gospel was social policy on a minimum age for work.

For all those who have wanted to know what sources I am using in my online class, The New Social Gospel, this spring, here you are:

The class method is taken from Freire. Read definitions.

Susan Thistlethwaite, #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power.

This OccupytheBible blog.

The Roosevelt Institute on “The Next American Economy.” 

Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis in the 21 st Century: the Classic That Woke up the Church, ed by Paul Raushenbush.

Washington Gladden and an excellent article on Gladden’s early work and its influence in Social Gospel.

W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk

Gender and the Social Gospel, Wendy Deichmann Edwards and Carolyn De Swarte Gifford

Article on Fr. John Ryan.  This article…

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Trump Got You Down? Here’s Five Action Steps To Take Now

13627159_10210460379050042_4410721546469464087_n“To Struggle for Justice is to Pray,” wrote Ada María Isasi-Díaz, Mujerista theologian and activist.  I have been re-reading Ada’s work this morning for guidance in these times.

I wish Ada were here with us, in (as she so aptly wrote) the “kindom” of God. (See her wonderful chapter, “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 21st Century,” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theology from the Underside.

But actually, in her work, she is here, telling us to get up off the couch and do something.

But what?

I made a little list of action steps for myself and I am working on them every day. This is by no means exhaustive, but I think if you take some of these actions every day, and add your own, you will find your own energy in the kindom enhanced.

Write to members of Congress

I have a stack of envelopes and a print out of the names and addresses of members of Congress and each day I write five letters (be sure to handwrite them as those kinds of letters get the most attention).  I write in a simple and personal style, saying I am a Christian minister and I am concerned about either certain Trump nominees (well, all of them, frankly, but pick one at a time), or investigating Russian interference in our elections, or conflicts of interest by the president-elect or other. Pick an issue. There are plenty. Don’t pile on a whole list of complaints. Politicians are more response to one clear statement.

Can you imagine what would happen if the millions and millions of people who oppose what Trump is doing did that every day?  The stacks of mail would pile up and cover the desks and floors and corridors of the House and the Senate. And all those politicians would be very, very concerned. About their own jobs, of course, but that’s the pressure we need.

Postive Tweets to Those Whom Trump Attacks

In the morning, I look for stories of Twitter attacks by Trump and where I can find a way to send a positive Twitter message to the one attacked, I do so with the hashtag #LoveOneAnother. (I didn’t send a positive Tweet to the CIA, however.)  Here’s one linked here.

Support and Raise Support for Crucial Organizations We Need Now

Here is a good list of crucial organizations to support yourself (and even $5 helps). I would also add the Southern Poverty Law Center  as they have a long and effective history of tracking and countering hate groups. Since neo-Nazis seem to think they won this recent election, SPLC is more crucial than ever.  Even if you cannot give or have given, encourage others to support as they are able. I have also volunteered for the local American Civil Liberties Union.

Learn How Moral Leadership Works and Do It

Moral Mondays, the spirit-filled protest movement begun in North Carolina by Rev. William Barber , is now widely credited with ousting Governor Pat McCrory and then protecting the victory (McCrory finally conceded Dec. 5, 2016)  in this fall of progressive defeats.

What makes Moral Mondays so successful, in my view, is the power of putting the moral message into grassroots civil disobedience and voter education.  This movement has spread to other states and is a model for how we rebuild progressive politics from the grassroots level.

The moral message really matters now in the era of #FakeNews and claims by the Trump campaign that lying doesn’t matter “because there is no such thing as facts.” It is absolutely crucial to call out those kinds of statements as lies and a violation of every (yes, every–don’t be fooled by the lies about Islam) religious and humanist moral code.

In your own social media presence, whatever form it takes, call out the lies (and the lying about lying!) in simple and clear terms.  Lying is wrong. Lying about lying is wrong.

Speak Up

In your personal encounters, you need to speak up.  Silence is our enemy now. Those we encounter on a daily basis who voted for Trump seem to think the rest of us should just ‘go with it.’ The irony of how they treated President Obama seems completely lost on them.

I won’t go along and I will say, as occasion arises, that I think the election of Trump, and his actions since the election show, that this administration will be a danger to democracy, to racial justice, to the environment, to constitutionally protected freedoms of religion and speech, to the full equality of LGBTQ people, and to the security of the United States.

If I am silent, then I am complicit. And I refuse to be. So I need to speak up and join the struggle.

Ada always said (and wrote) that “la vida es la lucha.” Life is struggle. We need to join the struggle because that is where, in my faith, God and abundant life are to be found.

Don’t Forget to Fiesta!

Ada often chided me that I didn’t fiesta enough. She was right.

You’ve got to party and celebrate life, community, justice and love.

And chase as many squirrels as you can.













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Worried About Trump? Get Your Holy Spirit On


Time Magazine trumpets Democrats: Divided and Dispirited. Oh, wait. That news story is from February 16, 1970.

Guess what? The struggle for justice and peace in the United States, and around the world, has a long history. As a progressive person of faith, I know well this struggle has taken big hits before. And make no mistake, the election of one of the worst charlatans to ever run for the office of President of the U.S. is an unfolding disaster.

But the holiness of people cannot be denied when they come together to protest injustice and proclaim that a better way is possible.

I know that because I have seen it before.

Don’t call me dispirited, Time. Not in late 1960’s when I was a student protestor against the Vietnam war.


This is an anti-war rally at Smith College. I’m over by the tree.

So many were dying and being grievously injured in a sham of a war, and our government was lying to us about it. It took years and many lives were lost and broken. But we forced it to end.

As the war dragged on, and I entered seminary, my teacher of theology, Dr. Frederick Herzog, translated Paraclete (Holy Spirit) in the Gospel of John as “draft counselor.” Resisting the draft, Fred said, was one of the works of the Holy Spirit. The other was the Civil Rights movement. The money the U.S. spent on Vietnam could have been used for jobs and justice, as Dr. King so rightly proclaimed. The war was robbery of not only lives but of the possibility of real equality.

So don’t call me dispirited now.

Many lives are at risk because of this election. Private prison stocks jumped the day after the election. The incarceration industrial complex will grow, Wall Street told us. Millions will suffer and die because the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block. Millions more now uninsured have little hope since Medicaid will be next. And then Medicare is will be after that. Schools risk becoming privatized and even “Christianized,” whatever that means. I know it has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. The modest gains in LGBTQ equality may be rolled back, and women’s reproductive rights could very well be no more. Muslim Americans are fearful of future persecution, and they are being treated hatefully even now. Immigrants are being demonized and threatened. The first harvest of this newly elected administration is one of hate.

So don’t call me naive either.

The dispirited disciples gathered after the Romans executed Jesus, but their despair was not the last word. As we learn in the aptly titled New Testament book, Acts, they got their Holy Spirit on and built a movement.

You may not have Black Lives, Mr. Trump, because they matter. You may not make money off of putting people in prison. That has to stop. Health Care is a human right, and death is not a profit-center. Tell that to your cabinet. Women’s bodies are their own, not yours, not to assault or manipulate to get a vote margin with the so-called Christian Right. Got it? Full LGBTQ rights are fundamental to a democracy. Immigrants are a strength of this nation, not a threat to it. Religious freedom for all, not just for your prejudiced “Christian” supporters, is the bedrock of this nation.

What I plan to do is get my Holy Spirit on and join with other people of faith, and people of humanist values in saying ‘no’ to any threats to human dignity and worth put forward by a Trump administration, and offer positive alternatives.

We will not be silent. And neither will the Holy Spirit.

And we will win.






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The Monster in the Mirror: Hillary is Not a Demon, You Are


Tump supporters need to look in the mirror if they wish to find the demon they fear, at least according to the biblical understanding of the devil and the demonic.

The devil is not pure evil. The devil or the demonic represents the temptation within, the human struggle to be good in a very broken and conflicted world.

In this sense, the demonic is really what you most fear in yourself.

This biblically based argument sheds a lot of light on the polling that shows fully 40% of Trump supporters say they think Hillary Clinton is a demon.

And how could we forget Trump himself called Hillary the devil in the second debate?

As with so much else about religion in politics, these accusations reveal a profound misunderstanding of who and what the devil and the demonic are according to the Christian scriptures as well as the Hebrew bible.

Most people just think of the Devil or Satan as the polar opposite of all that is godly and good. The figure of the Devil has been used over and over again in Christian history to personify the forces that oppose goodness in this world.

But isn’t that exactly who the Devil or Satan is, the personification of all evil? Well, no, in truth.

The devil or the demonic is the temptation within, both within the community and within oneself.

Religion scholar Elaine Pagels has aptly summed up what the biblical figure of Satan really challenges us to confront, “that this greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate, as one might expect, as an outsider, an alien, or a stranger. Satan is not the distant enemy but the intimate enemy—one’s trusted colleague, close associate, brother…Whichever version of his origin one chooses, and there are many, all depict Satan as intimate enemy—the attribute that qualifies him so well to express conflict among Jewish groups. Those who asked, ‘How could God’s own angel become his enemy?’ were thus asking, in effect, ‘How could one of us become on of them?’”

This is, of course, also the question that is confronting the followers of Jesus who compose the gospels. In their struggle within and with the traditional Jewish teaching and practice of the time, these reformer Jews who were followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the writers of the gospels (composed between 70 and 100 C.E.), are trying to figure out why their own religious fellows reject them, sometimes violently. Matthew shows Jesus in a titanic struggle with the Jewish religious leaders of his time, the scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus denounces as “children of hell.”(Matt. 23:15). This struggle reaches its Gospel climax in John.

At the deepest level, the figure of the Devil and the seemingly cosmic struggle with evil he represents is always actually an incredibly intimate struggle.

This struggle is not with the enemy far off, but with the friend, the neighbor and ultimately with oneself.

In truth, I also need to look in the mirror, as does any person, of any political persuasion, and ask, ‘am I falling into this trap of seeing those I profoundly oppose in this election as the source of all evil’?

And honestly, I do see a glimmer of my own fear and even loathing staring back at me in that mirror.

I must resist that, and invite you to do the same.

The real monster is demonizing others. Remember, when you mirror your enemy you become your enemy.

I choose to try not to do that, but it is hard.

One thing I do know, however, is that we will never save our democracy if we don’t resist demonizing one another.

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#WWJDAT (What Would Jesus Do About Trump)?


Photo credit.

Well, it’s come to this. Time to #OccupytheBible again.  Some of you may remember the book #OccupytheBible began as a series of hashtags during the Occupy movement

Now, Occupying of the Bible seems very urgent again.

I have created the new hashtag, #WWJDAT to ask “What Would Jesus Do About Trump?” and hope Christians who are concerned about the hateful rhetoric coming from Donald Trump and his campaign will use it to confront this and offer inspiring alternatives.

I wrote about this idea for the Huffington Post as “Love Trumps Hate“.  What would happen, I asked, if protestors at Trump rallies carried relevant quotations from the Sermon on the Mount on signs at Trump rallies?

Would they still be shouted down as well as pushed and shoved, and even punched? It is more than likely, as the trajectory of violent responses to protests at Trump rallies is clearly escalating. Many have pointed to how candidate Trump’s own rhetoric incites this attendee violence.

Trump has advised supporters to attack protestors at his rallies. “Knock the hell out of them. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.”

Yet, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “(Matt. 5:9)

Trump has said American wages are “too high“.

Yet, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)

Trump has said, “Torture works.”

Jesus has said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)

Trump has said, “I’m really rich.”

Jesus has said, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” (Luke 6:24)

Remember, as I teach students in the Public Theology class, we need both denunciation and annunciation. Do not forget to announce the good news.  “Love Trumps Hate.”

I hope you will consider using the hashtag #WWJDAT and tweeting out messages of both annunciation and denunciation.

For more reflection on #WWJDAT, go to Eric Stricklin’s blog post. “Jesus Disrupts the Trumped Up Rally in the City.”





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“Can a Nation Lose its Soul?” Coming to terms with the conscience of the United States and the torture of Iraqi prisoners

article-2451784-00DFD6991000044C-357_634x755 Torture is so emblematic of what is deeply broken in our society. 

On May 4, 2004, I published this editorial in the Chicago Tribune. It is probably one of the best known things I have ever written.  The Tribune published it with this photo, of the hooded Iraqi detainee balanced on a box, with wires attached. A CTS student held up the paper in chapel that day and said, “This is lynching.” And it is.  The editorial discusses the torture of African Americans by police in Chicago in Areas 2 and 3.  

This is what I wrote more than ten years ago:

Almost one year ago, Amnesty International documented the torture of Iraqis by coalition forces. Charges of abuse surfaced again in November and December at the notorious Abu Ghraib Iraqi prison. And now we have photos racing around the world of hooded prisoners attached to electric wires and piles of naked Iraqi men being sexually humiliated by U.S. soldiers.

In the investigation to date, a report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba has found that the reservist military police at the prison were instructed to “set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” In other words, the torture was policy. This “special cellblock” was not under the direct control of Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, now relieved of her command, and her reservists, but under the control of Army intelligence officers. Gen. Karpinski has said that military intelligence officers at the prison went “to great lengths to exclude the ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross] from access to that interrogation wing.”

Torture as a means of extracting information from prisoners is explicitly against the Geneva Convention. It is also spurious to defend it as a means to extract information that will “save American lives.” More Americans in Iraq and around the world will be targeted as a direct result of these photos than ever before. These photos show U.S. soldiers clearly enjoying the physical humiliation and degradation of Iraqis. This is the face of America now imprinted on the world.

The soul of a nation, like the soul of an individual, is the root from which decency arises; it is the basis of any desire to behave according to our collectively expressed values. And we, as a nation, have lost this. We are a nation that tortures prisoners. There is a breakdown between our expressed values of democracy and human rights and the torture of Iraqis.

President Bush has said of this documented torture that it is “not the way we do things in America.”

It is, actually. In John Conroy’s book on the dynamics of torture, “Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture,” he documents, among many cases both domestic and foreign, the alleged pattern of torture by police from Area 2 and Area 3 units in Chicago, torture that included burns and electric shock. Systematic and repeated patterns of torture of suspects and prisoners by police, especially of African-Americans, is not confined to Chicago, of course. As a nation we already have good reason to struggle to make our expressed values better match our actions.

In 1975, the UN defined torture as “an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The United States voted in favor of the definition. In the ever-shrinking list of reasons why the United States felt justified in a pre-emptive attack on Iraq, the documented torture of Iraqi citizens by the regime of Saddam Hussein has been used to demonstrate that Hussein was “evil.” And now what? Is the U.S. evil because we have been shown to do the same? Much of the Muslim world probably thinks so.

The question is, do we as a nation have enough courage to question our consciences and really deal with this issue? Or will we retreat from the reality of what we have done, simply punish a few token individuals and forget about it?

One of the biggest obstacles America faces in confronting these ugly facts is the high moral tone that the Bush administration has taken regarding the conduct of our nation’s foreign policy.

As Bob Woodward has plainly documented in his new book, “Plan of Attack,” President Bush’s faith has given him an extremely high degree of moral certainty that the actions of the U.S. in attacking Iraq are justified. We are fighting the “axis of evil” as the agents of the good. We have left ourselves no room to examine our national conscience in a way that is believable to the rest of the world.

The more Bush distances himself from the fact that we are torturing prisoners, claiming to be “disgusted,” while offering no concrete condemnation of the fact that this is military policy and putting forward no plan for redress, the more unbelievable our claim to live by our values becomes. The most powerful thing we could do as a nation is to acknowledge our national responsibility for how these prisoners (and others) have been treated, confess that this treatment was wrong, repudiate the policy of the torture, and take concrete and verifiable steps to change the treatment of prisoners. We need to hold not only the individuals accountable but also their superiors. We must do this in a way that makes clear not only to the perpetrators and their superiors, up to the highest levels of command, but to the world that this behavior is un-American and will not be tolerated by the U.S. Furthermore, we must invite representatives of well-respected, non-governmental agencies such as Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross to oversee the retraining of all our troops and the treatment and hopefully recovery of those whom we have tortured.

It is said that “confession is good for the soul.” It is. Nations as well as individuals can confess. In 1985, German President Richard von Weizsacker addressed the Bundestag with one of the staggering confessional statements of the 20th Century. In this address, he spoke of the “conquest of self” and the willingness to confront the German nation with the question that after their genocidal acts against the Jewish people “Who could remain innocent?” as a matter of national conscience.

There are moments in life and in history where clear choices emerge. This is one such time. The U.S. could confess torturing is wrong and take decisive and internationally verifiable steps to change the treatment of prisoners, or we can just wring our hands and express “disgust” and let it continue. As Jesus asked, “What does it profit you to gain the whole world and still lose your soul?”

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“No justice. No tree.” No Christmas tree lights until justice is done

Protestors gather outside lighting of tree at Rockefeller Center after Grand Jury fails to indict in Eric Garner death.

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