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The Labour Church was founded by John Trevor, a former Unitarian minister. The first service took place in Manchester in October, 1891. Other Labour Churches were soon established in other industrial towns including Barnsley, Birmingham, Bradford, Bolton, Dundee, Halifax, Leeds, London, Nottingham, Oldham, Plymouth and Wolverhampton.

These churches were sometimes formed in response to church ministers supporting Liberal and Conservative candidates in parliamentary elections. For example, the Bradford Labour Church was formed in 1892 after a Nonconformist minister supported the Liberal Party candidate against the socialist, Ben Tillett, in the 1892 General Election. By 1895 there were over fifty of these Labour Churches in Britain.

John Trevor and his followers were Christian Socialists who believed that the labour movement could be the driving force in obtaining "the Kingdom of God on earth". Many of Britain's leading socialists were active in the Labour Church and included Keir Hardie, Ben Tillett, Tom Mann, Fred Jowett, Philip Snowdon and Margaret McMillan.

When a conference was held in Bradford to form the Independent Labour Party, John Trevor organised a church service to accompany the event. It was estimated that over 5,000 people attended the service in the Bradford Labour Church.

Labour Churches usually attracted congregations of between 300 and 500 people. Dundee averaged 400 but had to close the doors when Keir Hardie spoke at one meeting. The Halifax Labour Church was one of the popular and regularly attracted 500 worshipers. The normal service was (1) Hymn, (2) Reading, (3) Prayer (4) Choir, (5) Notices and Collection, (6) Hymn, (7) Address, (8) Hymn and (9) Benediction. The hymns used were taken from the Labour Church Hymn Book, and although it included some approved traditional hymns, mainly comprised socialist songs and poems written by Edward Carpenter, Charles Kingsley and William Morris. Church readings tended to taken from the work of socialist writers rather than from the Bible.

Most of the Labour Churches were involved in charity work. The London Labour Church, under the leadership of Paul Campbell, the editor of the Christian Socialist magazine, and Margaret McMillan, established a school, whereas D. B. Foster in Leeds, led a campaign to improve the condition of the slums in the city. John Trevor in Manchester ran a Shelter for the Homeless and provided a Cinderella Club for underprivileged children in Deansgate.

John Trevor began publishing a monthly magazine, The Labour Prophet in January, 1892. The motto on the cover was "God is our King" but later it changed to "Let labour be the basis of civil society'. This resulted in complaints as the word God was not included and eventually Trevor reverted to the original motto. The Labour Prophet continued until 1898 when it was replaced by the smaller, quarterly, Labour Church Record.

John Trevor left the Labour Church in 1900. Without his leadership the church went into decline. There was a brief revival after the 1906 General Election but by the outbreak of the First World War, the Labour Church had ceased to exist.

The Church and the Unions

The defense of nascent trade unionism in late-nineteenth-century America is a bright chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. When a nervous Vatican was prepared to write off trade unions as the kind of “secret societies” the Church had long opposed, Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore defended the Knights of Labor in Rome and forestalled a Vatican condemnation of American unions&rdquoan accomplishment that helped the Church retain the loyalty of working class people.

Gibbons’s defense of the Knights of Labor may or may not have had much influence on Pope Leo XIII’s endorsement of labor-organizing in the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum , but it set a pattern of Catholic support for trade unionism that continued in the United States for a century. That support seemed vindicated anew when the “independent self-governing trade union” Solidarity played a crucial role in the collapse of European communism in the 1980s.

But times and social realities change. The developing social doctrine of the Church has had to take account of new economic, demographic, and fiscal realities&rdquoand that process has sometimes required serious rethinking of the Church’s approach to public policy and the positions the Church’s leaders habitually take on specific issues. Similarly, the social doctrine must take account of the changing realities of American trade unionism: one of the most salient of which is that the majority of union members now belong to public-sector workers unions, not unions in the private sector. Most unionized American workers today are government workers.

The very idea of public-sector workers unions was resisted by such stalwart liberals as Franklin D. Roosevelt and AFL-CIO president George Meany. Now that public-sector unions are a large part of the American landscape, some of the theoretical concerns that were debated before government workers became unionized are no longer simply theoretical.

Social scientists typically raise three cautions about the distinctive character of public-sector workers unions: public-sector unions can distort labor markets by politicizing hiring and firing public-sector unions tend to put serious pressure on public finances (for which weak politicians, seeking electoral support, are at least as much at fault) and public-sector unions tend to diminish the quality of public services (by making it more difficult to apply the “good government” standards American trade unionism once supported).

To which cautions might be added the self-interest of public-sector unions in expanding government (more government = more jobs more government jobs = more members of AFSCME, NEA, and other public sector mega-unions) the resistance of union-organized government workers to change (does any serious student of American elementary and secondary education doubt that the immense and humanly tragic failures of America’s K-12 public schools have something to do with unions’ resistance to performance standards for teachers?) the capacity of public-sector unions and their political allies to hold hostage the normal processes of democracy (see “Wisconsin”) and the ways in which public-sector unions’ demands for ever-higher wages and benefits distort public finance and drain resources from other areas where social justice is at stake.

The right of workers to organize is a settled matter in Catholic social doctrine. But organized labor, like other parts of society, has responsibilities to the common good. No one will begrudge a union the right to defend its own that’s why it exists. But when unions defend only their own, to the detriment of the rest of society (and, in a prime American case, the detriment of poor, inner-city children), something is wrong.

Solidarity in Poland was a movement of social, cultural, moral, and political renewal. It would be hard to say that about the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or the National Education Association, just as it is impossible to draw an analogy between twenty-first-century AFSCME or NEA members and the union members of the pre-1960 AFL-CIO (much less the Knights of Labor in their sweatshops). Appeals to the Solidarity experience, or to “tradition,” as a Catholic reason for uncritically endorsing public-sector unions’ demands is not readily squared with either reality or Catholic social doctrine.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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Keeping Faith With Labor: Can Unions and Churches Maintain Their Longtime Friendship?

For much of America's history, labor unions have enjoyed support from religious leaders and their followers. But those ties show signs of unraveling, as unions embrace the radical Left and oppose the priorities of church leaders.

It's really a natural fit," said AFLCIO executive vice president Linda Chavez-Thompson about ties between religion and the labor movement. On the last Labor Day of the 20th century, she had chosen to address Catholic parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in north Denver.

The Catholic Church places an individual's dignity at "the center of her social messages," Chavez-Thompson said. That concern for human dignity is the basis of the longtime partnership between labor unions and Catholics and also many other Christians, Jews and other faithful but it is also the reason that ties between some churches and labor have loosened in recent years. Churches are increasingly concerned that unions are a leading source of funding for political candidates opposed to traditional values. In addition, unions' traditional bond of support for struggling blue-collar workers and immigrants is eroding as union membership in the private sector reaches historic lows and as unions focus their organizing on higher-income public employees, teachers and other professionals.

The AFL-CIO is attempting to reverse these trends and strengthen church-labor bonds. Its success is far from certain.

An Ecumenical History of Support

Although the Catholic Church is historically the most recognizable and organized church advocate of U.S. labor unions, it's not alone.

Protestant churches were union advocates during the Progressive era at the turn of the twentieth century. While the Catholic Church was still ministering to off-the-boat immigrants, Protestant leaders of the Social Gospel movement provided some support for a faith-based, prolabor activism. But Monsignor George Higgins, a prominent Catholic labor activist, saw the limits of the movement. In Organized Labor and the Church he writes:

Jews also were active in the labor movement. The Jewish Labor Committee was founded in New York in 1934 by leaders of a coalition of groups including the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the Workmen's Circle and the Jewish Daily Forward Association. But the focus of the committee was getting Jews out of Europe and safely into the United States. Only later, in the 1950s and 60s, would it become a more traditional labor-movement group.

The Catholic Church "did not come easily to labor's support until the late 19th century," writes Julia Vitullo-Martin in the Wall Street Journal. Even though the U.S. Church hierarchy largely had workingclass roots, the Vatican was uncomfortable with the concept of the labor union. The Church rejected union rhetoric of class warfare, and the rituals of union brotherhood (secret handshakes and the like) reminded Church leaders too much of anti-Catholic groups like the freemasons. Moreover, some union leaders did not welcome Catholic immigrants. Still, unions inevitably were drawn to immigrants as a source of members, and the Church saw it had to accommodate itself to them.

Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore realized a lot was at stake in the Church's growing friendliness to unions. Writes Vitullo-Martin, "In a pluralistic society, people could just walk away from their faith if a church did something sufficiently troubling to alienate them." Gibbons believed "workers were the church's core membership" and must "be persuaded to stay in the church."

In an 1886 memo approved by the U.S. Catholic bishops, Gibbons wrote:

In no small part due to Cardinal Gibbons' nudging, the Catholic Church would play a leading role in "supporting labor's legitimate goals, such as just wages, and in moderating its radical impulses," as Vitullo-Martin put it. Enthusiasm for unions would last well into the 1970s as labor's organization of the private sector peaked.

From 1935 to 1955, as many as 150 labor schools around the U.S. were run by local Catholic parishes, Jesuits and chapters of the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists especially in Chicago, Denver, Detroit, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh and San Francisco. The so-called "labor priests" who ran them assisted by attorneys, labor leaders and teachers "supported the God-given right of workers to organize and collectively bargain," writes Higgins. At the labor schools, immigrant and rank-and-file workers would show up at nights and on weekends. They "received training in the nuts and bolts of organized labor, rudiments such as public speaking, parliamentary procedures and democratic elections," Higgins recalls. "They also got a dose of American labor history and Catholic social teaching."

Higgins, who died last year, was perhaps the most recognizable religious leader in the labor movement and one of the last "labor priests." He led the Catholic bishops' Social Action Department, mediated the dispute between grape-growers and followers of César Chávez in California, and vowed to never turn down an invitation to speak to union audiences. In 1990, President Bill Clinton awarded him the presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award presented to American civilians.

Rev. Robert Sirico, a free-market advocate and president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty (, writes that Higgins was as much a moral influence on labor unions as he was a supporter: "Monsignor Higgins dedicated his life to helping to guarantee the rights of workers and to improving the conditions under which they fulfill their vocations in the workplace. His moral voice made a difference, not only in championing worker rights but also when he broke ranks to denounce unions for corruption, racism and violence."

Big Labor vs. Religious Liberty

Title VII, the religious-protection clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is perhaps the least known and least used part of that landmark law. It states that unions cannot force workers to pay dues to a union if doing so violates their religious beliefs. Yet remarkably, employees have had to fight to vindicate their right, even in religious institutions.

In one case, a Catholic teacher was fired from the University of Detroit, a Jesuit school, because he objected to a requirement that he join the National Education Association and its local affiliate. The teacher, who opposed the union's advocacy of abortion, won an important 1990 court-of-appeals decision. But it took what his lawyer calls a "long, hard fight."

Then there is the case of Robert Beers, a Southern Baptist, who nearly lost his job as an electrical technician at Lockheed Martin's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station facility, when he raised religious objections to union membership. In his "religious dues exemption application," filed in the fall of 2000, Beers wrote, "As the union supports organizations who support causes such as abortions, homosexuality, pornography and others, with the money that I and others are forced to pay, I am now forced to become a partaker in causes that, according to Romans 1:20-32, are irreconcilable to my life as a Christian." Beers' bosses didn't find that sufficient reason and fired him. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission eventually ruled in Beers' favor, which has led him to sue Local 610 of the International Association of Machinists to ensure the permanent recognition of his religious objections, reimburse his lawyers' fees and refund union dues that he was forced to pay.

Dennis Robey, an industrial arts teacher at Huber Heights City School near Dayton, Ohio, is another religious believer who has constitutional objections to union politics. In 1995, he read a National Education Association publication entitled "Deceptions by the Radical Right Against the National Education Association." A member of the Church of God, Robey realized that the NEA positions on significant issues abortion, school choice and birth control in schools were contrary to his own. In the 1999-2000 school year, union officials required that he submit to an annual grilling. To be exempt from union dues, Robey was required to fill out a lengthy and invasive application. It mandated that he get a signature from a "religious official" verifying that Robey belonged to the church he said he did. It took the EEOC to rule that the inquisition violated federal law.

Union officials stopped short of making the EEOC rule against them in the case of Kathleen Klamut, another teacher. Klamut battled the Ohio Education Association for 18 months before it gave in and agreed to follow the law and send her compulsory union dues to a charity of her choice, the American Cancer Society.

Bruce Cameron, who litigates many cases for NRTW, observes that a union even has gone so far as to deny a nun's religious objections. Cameron is representing several of the more than 100 professors in the California State university system who say they have been denied religious accommodation. He reports that those he represents are "desperate for a way out of having to choose between supporting their families and offending God."

But progress is being made. As NRTW's Stefan Gleason notes, the government has slowly come to support workers' rights claims. "Foundation attorneys," he says, "have persuaded the EEOC over the years to take our litigation position believe it or not. So often the EEOC will come into a case on the side of the employee against the union."

"Thirty years ago," Gleason remembers, "when we first entered this area of litigation, the only employees who could be exempted from conditions of compulsory unionism on the basis of religion were those who were members of established churches with specific anti-union doctrines. That limited the exemption to only two churches the Mormons and the Seventh-Day Adventists."

"Now that Higgins is gone, where is his legacy?" asks the AFL-CIO website. "It is all around us. The seeds he has been planting for decades are sprouting. There are countless signs of budding new strength a new activism in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the union movement."

The AFL-CIO and its president John Sweeney have been hard at work trying to maintain traditional relationships between labor and America's churches and synagogues. Indeed, Sweeney claims to have developed an interest in unionism because of his Catholic blue-collar upbringing.

"My father was a bus driver, and my mother was a domestic worker," Sweeney has said. "They were immigrants from Ireland who had come to this country hoping for just a small share of the American dream. In our modest home in the Bronx, there were three things central to our lives: our family, the Church and the union." In a 1996 speech in Rome, Sweeney said:

Sweeney's answer to the challenge is Labor in the Pulpit, a coalition project with the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NICWJ). The effort "calls upon our religious values in order to educate, organize and mobilize the religious community in the U.S. on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits and working conditions for workers, especially low-wage workers."

On NICWJ's website ( the focus is apparent: organize, organize, organize. The biggest day for organizing unions is the Sunday before Labor Day. It could be dubbed: Operation Pulpit. Getting into churches and preaching the message of militant unionism is the goal.

The Labor in the Pulpit initiative seeks widespread support from members and leaders of all religious denominations. Early on, the program managed to secure money from the influential Catholic Campaign for Human Development, sponsored by the Catholic bishops and funded by a nationwide church collection. The initiative also has been endorsed by and collected resources from Jewish, Muslim and all varieties of Christian groups and congregations.

In May, the AFL-CIO was well-represented at NICWJ's conference in Washington, D.C., titled "The Prophetic Work: Religion and Labor Uniting for Work Justice." Keynote speakers included AFLCIO secretary-treasurer Richard Trumka and Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders.

The alliance of the AFL-CIO and NICWJ seems to be meeting with some success. Since the Labor in the Pulpit initiative began in 1996, hundreds of churches and temples nationwide have opened their doors and altars each Labor Day to labor leaders.

For instance, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles allowed Sweeney a pulpit to preach to parishioners at a Sunday Mass in 2001.

"We're a nation of immigrants, yet we daily visit injustice upon new arrivals to our shores, a cruel irony not lost on those of us who share experiences as children of immigrants," Sweeney lamented to more than 1,600 people, including Democratic Governor Gray Davis and Los Angeles Times reporters. Emphasizing issues of concern to California Catholics, Sweeney advocated amnesty for undocumented workers.

Mahony joined in, telling congregants that "while immigrant workers continue to be a vital part of our economy, their immigration status leaves them vulnerable to many different types of abuses in the workplace." He promoted one of labor's leading causes by calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage.

Organizing in the Pews

It's not just the Labor in the Pulpit initiative rallying the faithful from church altars. There are a number of groups and coalitions of groups dedicated to increasing church-labor ties. And the ties go beyond recruitment. It is not uncommon to see churches as headquarters for anti-globalization rallies, for instance.

"Religion and labor together creates a kind of synergy," a Presbyterian pastor in Minnesota told a reporter for the magazine Sojourners at a nursing-home-worker rally. "I'm excited about the coalitions that are developing, and that we are seeing the natural connections between religion and labor. We are both justice-minded people."

Prayer of the Worker

Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and Executive Director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), a Los Angeles-based "interfaith association of over 400 religious leaders throughout Los Angeles County who come together to respond to the crisis of the working poor," explains the importance of building a coalition of churches, immigrant groups and labor unions:

The effort to build union-church ties has its limits. Some observers see the role self-interest plays in loosening of church-labor ties.

"One dynamic that has changed between religion and organized labor is the result of economic circumstances," says Bruce Cameron, a lay pastor in the Seventh- Day Adventist Church and a lawyer who has represented workers against their unions. "As organized labor makes our heavy industry less competitive in the world market, and this work gets 'exported,' the unions lose members in those industries. To try to make up for this, organized labor has turned to organizing public employees, private school employees and health care employees.

"Since churches often operate schools and health care facilities as part of their religious outreach, they suddenly find they have a 'NIMBY' ['not in my backyard'] problem with organized labor," Cameron says. "It was fine to have organized labor organize the employees of someone else, but when they start organizing church ministry employees, well, that is something quite different."

But principles are also at stake. Some churches like the Mormons, Seventh day Adventists and Mennonites have always been doctrinally anti-union. And many union leaders increasingly only show interest in working with churches that help preach a leftist social and economic policy agenda. These are primarily mainline Protestant denominations and subgroups of other churches where the Left is still a powerful force.

"Among church hierarchy, there is precious little understanding of the economics of sound policy," says Lawrence Reed, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy ( in Midland, Michigan. "'Thou shalt not steal' should be a pillar of church doctrine in support of private property, but you wouldn't know it from the public policy pronouncements of most mainline denominations. Christ's admonition against wealth redistribution in Luke 12:13-15 doesn't keep those same denominations from frequently endorsing the most harmful proposals in organized labor's agenda from 'living wage' laws to nationalized health care. So for those of us who believe in things like contract, free trade, private property and baking a bigger pie for everybody, it's probably a good thing that the influence of both church hierarchy and organized labor is dwindling."

It's also a fact that labor unions have powerful enemies among America's faithful. The AFL-CIO readily condemns the "Religious Right," opposing groups like the Christian Coalition, the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the National Association of Christian Educators. These "religious extremists pose a significant threat to those candidates who would best represent America's working families," reported the AFL-CIO News in 1997.

Why the antipathy? Because the more unions move to the Left, the less traditional churches are willing to lend them a hand, says Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation. In his new book The Dark Side of Liberalism: Unchaining the Truth, Kent points out that "the church of St. Trendy is losing members across America" just look at the Episcopal and Methodist churches while more conservative and traditional houses of worship and evangelical Christian churches continue to grow nationwide. Polls show more Americans are thirsting for the old-time religion, and the liberal churches have nothing to offer them.

Says Charles W. Baird, a professor of economics at California State University at Hayward: "The union-church ties in the mainstream Protestant denominations are still as strong and perverse as ever. However, among the nondenominational, evangelical churches, traditional unions rarely get a hearing."

It's the unions' penchant for delving into social issues that gets them into trouble.

"Priests and ministers even Catholics have increasingly publicly parted from union activism," notes Stefan Gleason of the National Right to Work Foundation ( "You now have bishops publicly supporting school vouchers and loudly criticizing union positions on abortion, homosexual special rights and contraception health benefits."

Churches on Unionism & Labor

"We reaffirm our position that workers have the right to organize by a free and democratic vote of the workers involved. This right of organization carries the responsibility of union leadership to protect the rights of workers, to guarantee each member an equal voice in the operation of its organization, and to produce just output labors for income received." American Baptist Churches Resolution, 1981


"Church membership and membership in a labor union are compatible as long as the union does not warrant or champion sin in its regular activities. Church members should discontinue membership in any unions whose common practices are clearly in conflict with the principles of the Word of God. Christian conscience cannot condone membership in a union if it continues in sinful practices in spite of protests against them."

"We reaffirm the right and desirability of workers in the United States to organize and form unions. . We decry the growing wage of anti-unionism mounting in the nation today which asks people to forget the struggles that led to this form of negotiation as a just way to settle differences." Urban Bishops Coalition of the Episcopal Church, 1982

"When you hire, compensate the workers and treat them fairly." Prophet Mohammed, The Holy Qur'an

"Jewish leaders, along with our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, have always supported the labor movement and the rights of employees to form unions for the purpose of engaging in collective bargaining and attaining fairness in the workplace." Preamble to Workplace Fairness Resolution, Annual Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1993

"Among the basic rights of the human person must be counted the right of freely founding labor unions. These unions should be truly able to represent the workers and to contribute to the proper arrangement of economic life. Another such right is that of taking part freely in the activity of these unions without fear of reprisal." Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Second Vatican Council, 1965

"A Seventh-Day Adventist cannot either join or support a labor union because: 1) His allegiance to Christ forbids it. 2) The Scriptures do not permit it. 3) The Law of God rejects it. 4) The Spirit of Prophecy counsels against it. 5) The law of service does not harmonize with it. 6) It is contrary to baptismal vows. 7) The Seventh- Day Adventist Church clearly exhorts otherwise." Seventh-Day Adventists and Labor Unions by W. Melvin Adams

"As the union hierarchy become more militant on these subjects, we're seeing increasing rifts from what has historically been a pretty cozy relationship between many major churches and unions," says Gleason.

Stan Greer, also of the National Right to Work Foundation, observes that "the union hierarchy's increasingly strident support for abortion the other year the AFL-CIO brass voted to make universal insurance coverage for so-called 'emergency' contraceptives an open objective and gay rights is causing a backlash, especially among Catholics, but also among many other Christians."

Losing Catholic Support

Most damaging to unions is the declining interest in labor issues among average Catholics. Sympathetic bishops like Cardinal Mahony may let John Sweeney take to the lectern at Sunday Mass, but Catholic ties to unions are nowhere what they once were.

In 1993 Higgins wrote: "Will the Catholic Church, my church, reclaim its heritage of support for the organization of average working people? I am afraid I cannot say for sure. In fact, the church stands in danger of losing forever its tradition of cooperation with organized labor."

The disenchantment starts at the top, with a pope who became famous for supporting the Polish labor movement that helped bring down the Soviet empire. In his little-noticed encyclical Laborem Exercens issued in 1981, Pope John Paul II criticizes the politicization of unions:

It's clear that American labor unions are deeply involved in partisan politics and use political power to achieve their goals.

"The Church's social teaching clearly supports the right to free association for all citizens, especially workers," Sirico explained in an interview with the Catholic news service Zenit. "However, we must recognize that not all unions are based on the principle of free association. Many workers in North America and Europe are forced to join unions, pay union dues and operate under union rules. The free association of workers does not necessarily include collective bargaining, forced membership or the politicization of the work force. Very often, the considerable funds amassed by unions is employed in causes, political parities and policies that are destructive to the family and even, at times, to the very dignity of life itself."

Baird writes in Liberating Labor: "Insufficient attention has been paid to the details of that [Catholic] endorsement [of unions]. What sort of unionism is consistent with papal encyclicals from Rerum Novarum to Centesimus Annus? Too often Catholics, lay and ordained, have simply assumed that Catholic social teaching supports all trade unions set up under the auspices of democratic governments."

However, union participation in politics is not the main reason why the Catholic labor relationship is unraveling. The root causes of the disengagement are threefold: 1) the long-term decline in the number of private sector union members (who are more apt than public sector union members to be immigrants and blue-collar workers) 2) the decline in the percentage of Catholics who themselves are immigrants and blue-collar workers 3) the Church's vocal stand against abortion.

Before his death, Monsignor Higgins tried to convince labor leaders to stay out of the contentious abortion battles. But the AFL-CIO and other unions have largely ignored his advice, siding with abortion and family planning advocates on issues ranging from employee health care to political candidate endorsements.

In a 1991 interview with U.S. Catholic/ magazine, Higgins said:

Sweeney understood Higgins' warning too late. Ironically, when Sweeney accepted the first annual Monsignor George Higgins Award from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington earlier this year, prolife Catholics angrily protested his selection.

"I don't think previous AFL-CIO presidents would have been similarly protested, because they were not seen as advocating a left-wing social agenda," says Greer.

Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), a Catholic, points out in a column in the March Crisis magazine, a Catholic publication, "In his official capacity the capacity in which the Archdiocese of Washington honored him Sweeney is probably the individual most responsible for the pro-abortion majority in the U.S. Senate. The tens of millions of dollars he wields in political campaigns throughout the country assists pro-choice candidates almost exclusively."

The role of Catholicism in public life is probably the foremost Catholic concern today, not the Church's position on unionism. In 1998, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops prepared a statement "Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics" which underscores the issue of identity. It proclaims, "Both as Americans and as followers of Christ, American Catholics must be committed to the defense of life in all its stages and in every condition."

Only a few months before Sweeney accepted the Higgins award, the Vatican issued a document titled "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life." The Vatican warns that "those who are involved directly in lawmaking bodies have a 'grave and clear obligation to oppose' any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them."

Clearly, politicized unions that take positions contrary to Catholic teaching will not enjoy the church's confidence and are likely to suffer a continued loss of support from Catholics.

Pro-Justice, But Anti-Union

The tables are turning on labor union leaders. These days being pro-worker doesn't mean being pro-union. Political conservatives can be every bit as concerned about justice as old-fashioned political liberals in the tradition of Monsignor Higgins. And because of their commitment to justice they are proponents of paycheck-protection legislation, right-to work laws and the right to withhold dues because of their religious objections to union political endorsements.

Union leaders and their allies call that anti-union. The leftist magazine In These Times sarcastically titled an article "Does God Hate Unions?" when it reported on a local Christian Coalition chapter that supported paycheck protection. But the odds are that God does not hate unions, nor do most churches. Church support for organized labor will never completely dissipate. But the relationship will be more and more strained for good reason.

Kathryn Jean Lopez. "Keeping Faith With Labor: Can Unions and Churches Maintain Their Longtime Friendship?" Labor Watch (July, 2003).

Labor Watch is published by Capital Research Center, a non-partisan education and research organization. Reprints are available for $2.50 prepaid to Capital Research Center.
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Reprinted with permission from the Capital Research Center (CRC). Capital Research Center was established in 1984 to study non-profit organizations, with a special focus on reviving the American traditions of charity, philanthropy, and voluntarism.


The term Social Gospel was first used by Charles Oliver Brown in reference to Henry George's 1879 treatise, Progress and Poverty, [5] which sparked the single tax movement.

The Social Gospel affected much of Protestant America. The Presbyterians described their goals in 1910 by proclaiming:

The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God the maintenance of divine worship the preservation of truth the promotion of social righteousness and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. [6]

In the late 19th century, many Protestants were disgusted by the poverty level and the low quality of living in the slums. The social gospel movement provided a religious rationale for action to address those concerns. Activists in the Social Gospel movement hoped that by public health measures as well as enforced schooling the poor could develop talents and skills, the quality of their moral lives would begin to improve. Important concerns of the Social Gospel movement were labor reforms such as abolishing child labor and regulating the hours of work by mothers. By 1920 they were crusading against the 12-hour day for workers at US Steel.

Washington Gladden Edit

Washington Gladden (1836–1918) was an American clergyman. His words and actions earned him the title of "a pioneer" of the Social Gospel even before the term came into use. Gladden spoke up for workers and their right to organize unions. [7]

For Gladden, the "Christian law covers every relation of life" including the relationship between employers and their employees. [8] His 1877 book The Christian Way: Whither It Leads and How to Go On was his first national call for such a universal application of Christian values in everyday life. The book began his leadership in the Social Gospel movement. [9] Historians consider Gladden to be one of the Social Gospel movement's "founding fathers". [10]

In the 20th century, the mantle of leadership was passed to Walter Rauschenbusch.

Walter Rauschenbusch (1861–1918) Edit

Another of the defining theologians for the Social Gospel movement was Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist pastor of the Second German Baptist Church in “Hell's Kitchen”, New York. [11]

In 1892, Rauschenbusch and several other leading writers and advocates of the Social Gospel formed a group called the Brotherhood of the Kingdom. [12] Pastors and leaders will join the organization to debate and implement the social gospel. [13]

In 1907, he published the book Christianity and the Social Crisis which would influence the actions of several actors of the social gospel. [14] His work may be "the finest distillation of social gospel thought." [15] Rauschenbusch railed against what he regarded as the selfishness of capitalism and promoted instead a form of Christian socialism that supported the creation of labor unions and cooperative economics. [16]

A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917) Edit

The social gospel movement was not a unified and well-focused movement, for it contained members who disagreed with the conclusions of others within the movement. [17] Rauschenbusch stated that the movement needed "a theology to make it effective" and likewise, "theology needs the social gospel to vitalize it." [18] In A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), Rauschenbusch takes up the task of creating "a systematic theology large enough to match [our social gospel] and vital enough to back it." [18] He believed that the social gospel would be "a permanent addition to our spiritual outlook and that its arrival constitutes a state in the development of the Christian religion", [19] and thus a systematic tool for using it was necessary.

In A Theology for the Social Gospel, Rauschenbusch states that the individualistic gospel has made sinfulness of the individual clear, but it has not shed light on institutionalized sinfulness: "It has not evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion." [20] This ideology would be inherited by liberation theologians and civil rights advocates and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

The "Kingdom of God" is crucial to Rauschenbusch's proposed theology of the social gospel. He states that the ideology and doctrine of "the Kingdom of God," of which Jesus Christ reportedly "always spoke" [21] has been gradually replaced by that of the Church. This was done at first by the early church out of what appeared to be necessity, but Rauschenbusch calls Christians to return to the doctrine of "the Kingdom of God." [22] Of course, such a replacement has cost theology and Christians at large a great deal: the way we view Jesus and the synoptic gospels, the ethical principles of Jesus, and worship rituals have all been affected by this replacement. [23] In promoting a return to the doctrine of the "Kingdom of God", he clarified that the "Kingdom of God": is not subject to the pitfalls of the Church it can test and correct the Church is a prophetic, future-focused ideology and a revolutionary, social and political force that understands all creation to be sacred and it can help save the problematic, sinful social order. [24]

In this book, he explains that Christians must be like the Almighty who became man in Jesus Christ, who was with everyone equally and considered people as a subject of love and service. [25]

Settlement movement Edit

Many reformers inspired by the movement opened settlement houses, most notably Hull House in Chicago operated by Jane Addams. They helped the poor and immigrants improve their lives. Settlement houses offered services such as daycare, education, and health care to needy people in slum neighborhoods. The YMCA was created originally to help rural youth adjust to the city without losing their religious faith, but by the 1890s became a powerful instrument of the Social Gospel. [26] Nearly all the denominations (including Catholics) engaged in foreign missions, which often had a social gospel component in terms especially of medical uplift. The Black denominations, especially the African Methodist Episcopal church (AME) and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church (AMEZ), had active programs in support of the Social Gospel. [27] Both evangelical ("pietistic") and liturgical ("high church") elements supported the Social Gospel, although only the pietists were active in promoting Prohibition. [28]

Progressives Edit

In the United States prior to the First World War, the Social Gospel was the religious wing of the progressive movement which had the aim of combating injustice, suffering and poverty in society. Denver, Colorado, was a center of Social Gospel activism. Thomas Uzzel led the Methodist People's Tabernacle from 1885 to 1910. He established a free dispensary for medical emergencies, an employment bureau for job seekers, a summer camp for children, night schools for extended learning, and English language classes for immigrants. Myron Reed of the First Congregational Church became a spokesman, 1884 to 1894 for labor unions on issues such as worker's compensation. His middle-class congregation encouraged Reed to move on when he became a socialist, and he organized a nondenominational church. The Baptist minister Jim Goodhart set up an employment bureau, and provided food and lodging for tramps and hobos at the mission he ran. He became city chaplain and director of public welfare of Denver in 1918. Besides these Protestants, Reform Jews and Catholics helped build Denver's social welfare system in the early 20th century. [29]

Mark A. Matthews (1867–1940) of Seattle's First Presbyterian Church was a leading city reformer, who investigated red light districts and crime scenes, denouncing corrupt politicians, businessmen, and saloon keepers. With 10,000 members, his was the largest Presbyterian Church in the country, and he was selected the national moderator in 1912. He built a model church, with night schools, unemployment bureaus, kindergarten, an anti-tuberculosis clinic, and the nation's first church-owned radio station. Matthews was the most influential clergymen in the Pacific Northwest, and one of the most active Social Gospelers in America. [30]

The American South had its own version of the Social Gospel, focusing especially on Prohibition. Other reforms included protecting young wage-earning women from the sex trade, outlawing public swearing, boxing, dogfights and similar affronts to their moral sensibilities. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, took on new responsibilities with the enlargement and professionalization of missionary women's roles starting in 1886 with the Southern Methodist Woman’s Parsonage and Home Mission Society. [31] By 1900, says historian Edward Ayers, the white Baptists, although they were the most conservative of all the denominations in the South, became steadily more concerned with social issues, taking stands on "temperance, gambling, illegal corruption, public morality, orphans and the elderly." [32]

New Deal Edit

During the New Deal of the 1930s, Social Gospel themes could be seen in the work of Harry Hopkins, Will Alexander, and Mary McLeod Bethune, who added a new concern with African Americans. After 1940, the movement lessened, but it was invigorated in the 1950s by black leaders like Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. [ citation needed ] After 1980, it weakened again as a major force inside mainstream churches indeed, those churches were losing strength. [ citation needed ]

Examples of the Social Gospel's continued influence can still be found in Jim Wallis's Sojourners organization's Call to Renewal and more local organizations like the Virginia Interfaith Center. [ citation needed ] Another modern example can be found in the work of John Steinbruck, senior pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC, from 1970 to 1997, who was an articulate and passionate preacher of the Social Gospel and a leading voice locally and nationally for the homeless, Central American refugees, and victims of persecution and prejudice.

Social Gospel and Labor Movements Edit

Because the Social Gospel was primarily concerned with the day-to-day life of laypeople, one of the ways in which it made its message heard was through labor movements. Particularly, the Social Gospel had a profound effect upon the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The AFL began a movement called Labor Forward, which was a pro-Christian group who "preached unionization like a revival." [33] In Philadelphia, this movement was counteracted by bringing revivalist Billy Sunday, himself firmly anti-union, who believed "that the organized shops destroyed individual freedom." [33]

Legacy of the Social Gospel Edit

The Social Gospel movement peaked in the early 20th century, but scholars debate over when the movement began to decline, with some asserting that the destruction and trauma caused by the First World War left many disillusioned with the Social Gospel's ideals [34] while others argue that the war stimulated the Social Gospelers' reform efforts. [35] Theories regarding the decline of the Social Gospel after the First World War often cite the rise of neo-orthodoxy as a contributing factor in the movement's decline. [36]

While the Social Gospel was short-lived historically, it had a lasting impact on the policies of most of the mainline denominations in the United States. Most began programs for social reform, which led to ecumenical cooperation in 1910 while in the formation of the Federal Council of Churches. Although this cooperation was about social issues that often led to charges of socialism. [33] It is likely that the Social Gospel's strong sense of leadership by the people led to women's suffrage, and that the emphasis it placed on morality led to prohibition. [33] Biographer Randall Woods argues that Social Gospel themes learned from childhood allowed Lyndon B. Johnson to transform social problems into moral problems. This helps explain his longtime commitment to social justice, as exemplified by the Great Society and his commitment to racial equality. The Social Gospel explicitly inspired his foreign-policy approach to a sort of Christian internationalism and nation building. [37]

The Social Gospel Movement has been described as "the most distinctive American contribution to world Christianity." [10]

The Social Gospel, after 1945, influenced the formation of Christian democracy political ideology among Protestants and Catholics in Europe. [38] [b] Many of the Social Gospel's ideas also reappeared in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. "Social Gospel" principles continue to inspire newer movements such as Christians Against Poverty. [39]

Reinhold Niebuhr has argued that the 20th century history of Western democracies has not vindicated the optimistic view of human nature which the social gospelers shared with the Enlightenment. [40] Labor historians argue that the movement had little influence on the labor movement, and attribute that failure to professional elitism and a lack of understanding of the collective nature of the movement. Labor did not reject social gospellers because they were unaware of them but, rather, because their tactics and ideas were considered inadequate. [41]

The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, a political party that was later reformulated as the New Democratic Party, was founded on social gospel principles in the 1930s by J. S. Woodsworth, a Methodist minister, and Alberta MP William Irvine. Woodsworth wrote extensively about the social gospel from experiences gained while working with immigrant slum dwellers in Winnipeg from 1904 to 1913. His writings called for the Kingdom of God "here and now". [42] This political party took power in the province of Saskatchewan in 1944. This group, led by Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister, introduced universal medicare, family allowance and old age pensions. [43] This political party has since largely lost its religious basis, and became a secular social democratic party. The Social Service Council (SSC) was the "reforming arm of Protestantism in Canada", and promoted idea of the social gospel. [44] Under the "aggressive leadership of Charlotte Whitton", the Canadian Council of Child Welfare, opposed "a widening of social security protection. " and "continued to impede the implementation of provincial mothers' pensions", instead pressing for the "traditional private charity" model. [45] Charlotte Whitton argued that children should be removed from their homes "instead of paying money to needy parents" [46] Charlotte Whitton, as Christie and Gauvreau point out, was also a member of the SSC, [47] The SSC's mandate included the "intensive Christian conquest of Canada". [48]

The Social Gospel was a significant influence in the formation of the People's Church in Brandon, Manitoba, in 1919. Started by Methodist minister A. E. Smith, the People's Church attempted to provide an alternative to the traditional church, which Smith viewed as unconcerned with social issues. In his autobiography All My Life Smith describes his last sermon before starting the People's Church, saying "The Church was afraid it might give offense to the rich and powerful." [49] The People's Church was successful for a time, with People's Churches founded in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, and Calgary. [50] In Winnipeg, Methodist minister and Social Gospeler William Ivens started another workers church, the "Labor Church," in 1918. [51] Both Smith and Ivens tried to take leaves of absence from their Methodist ministries, which were initially granted. Upon a decision to bring all such special cases before the Methodist Stationing Committee, however, the decisions were rescinded.

The Social Gospel theme is reflected in the novels In His Steps (1897) and The Reformer (1902) by the Congregational minister Charles Sheldon, who coined the motto "What would Jesus do?" In his personal life, Sheldon was committed to Christian socialism and identified strongly with the Social Gospel movement. Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the leading early theologians of the Social Gospel in the United States, indicated that his theology had been inspired by Sheldon's novels.

Members of the Brotherhood of the Kingdom produced many of the written works that defined the theology of the Social Gospel movement and gave it public prominence. [13] These included Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and Christianizing the Social Order (1912), as well as Samuel Zane Batten's The New Citizenship (1898) and The Social Task of Christianity (1911).

In the United States, the Social Gospel is still influential in liberal Protestantism. [52] [53] [54] Social Gospel elements can also be found in many service and relief agencies associated with Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church in the United States. It also remains influential among Christian socialist circles in Britain in the Church of England, and Methodist and Calvinist movements.

  1. ^ They rejected premillennialist theology. which held the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and Christians should devote their energies to preparing for it rather than addressing the issue of social evils.
  2. ^John Witte Jr. wrote:

Concurrent with this missionary movement in Africa, both Protestant and Catholic political activists helped to restore democracy to war-torn Europe and extend it overseas. Protestant political activism emerged principally in England, the Lowlands, and Scandinavia under the inspiration of both social gospel movements and neo-Calvinism. Catholic political activism emerged principally in Italy, France, and Spain under the inspiration of both Rerum Novarum and its early progeny and of neo-Thomism. Both formed political parties, which now fall under the general egis of the Christian Democratic Party movement.

Both Protestant and Catholic parties inveighed against the reductionist extremes and social failures of liberal democracies and social democracies. Liberal democracies, they believed, had sacrificed the community for the individual social democracies had sacrificed the individual for the community. Both parties returned to a traditional Christian teaching of "social pluralism" or "subsidiarity," which stressed the dependence and participation of the individual in family, church, school, business, and other associations. Both parties stressed the responsibility of the state to respect and protect the "individual in community." [38]

Catholic priests and the labor movement

If you attend a labor union meeting or a rally for workers’ rights anywhere in the country, don’t be surprised to spot a Catholic priest in the crowd. Priests have long played a key role in the labor movement, helping workers to fight for their rights and spreading the message of Catholic social teaching and the dignity of work. And after becoming less visible in recent decades, the “labor priest” is making a comeback.

Leading the charge is Father Clete Kiley, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. As a young priest, Kiley had many opportunities to help workers and to learn from the previous generation of labor priests. He eventually received the permission of Cardinal Francis George, Chicago’s archbishop at the time, to pursue this work full time as the director of immigration policy for the labor union UNITE HERE.

In 2012, Kiley followed in his mentors’ footsteps by organizing a new generation of priests in the labor movement. Working with the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, Kiley founded the Priest-Labor Initiative, a group of bishops, priests, and scholars committed to supporting worker justice.

In this web-only excerpt from his interview in the September 2015 issue of U.S. Catholic, Kiley discusses the history of the labor priests and their role in the church today.

How did the labor priest movement get started?

If you go back in history, Catholics had a lot of influence in the labor movement. Cardinal James Gibbons, who was the archbishop of Baltimore in the late 19th century, really was a key influence. Cardinal Gibbons defended the Knights of Labor, the country’s first large labor organization, which was really under the gun after the Haymarket Riot. A lot of Catholics were critical of the Knights of Labor and Rome was considering condemning them. Gibbons really went to bat for them in Rome, so much so that history would reveal that he influenced Pope Leo XIII to support labor organizations.

There was a second influential priest around the same time, in the late 1800s, named Msgr. Edward McGlynn. He was known as “the people’s priest.” He was a New York priest, the son of Irish immigrants. He defended the rights of workers but clashed with Cardinal Michael Corrigan, who was the archbishop of New York at that time.

McGlynn built up a number of unions for different trades. A lot of them started in his church basement. The cardinal forbid him to do it and banned him from organizing. McGlynn said, “I’d rather die.” So Corrigan excommunicated him.

When Pope Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum, the encyclical on capital and labor, in 1891, it affirmed everything McGlynn had done. Cardinal Corrigan had no choice but to lift the excommunication and restore McGlynn to the priesthood.

There have been other influential priests. When we did the first training for labor priests with the National Federation of Priests’ Councils we had Professor Joseph McCartin of Georgetown University put together a presentation looking at the history of the U.S. Catholic labor movement through the lives of six priests. What was striking was that by the time we got to the sixth priest, everyone in the room realized that this isn’t just an add-on to the priesthood, or something that priests on the fringes do. This is part of who we are.

Who were the labor priests that influenced you?

My first pastor in Chicago was Msgr. John Hayes. When I was ordained in 1974 I went to his parish, but I never knew his whole history. I had no idea that he’d been sent to Rome and got a doctorate in the late 1930s in Catholic social teaching. He must have been one of the first people to ever get that degree. Then he came back and was sent to Washington to help set up the labor schools. None of that was on my radar when I was assigned to his parish.

I was there with him for three years. I remember the first year—and this became a yearly ritual—he would invite all of the labor priests for lunch. There was a priest from Brooklyn who would always come. There was one from Detroit. Msgr. George Higgins, who was a great, nationally-known labor priest, would always be there, and so would Msgr. Jack Egan. Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand and his brother Msgr. Fred Hillenbrand would come. It was a fascinating group. As the rookie, my job would be to get more ice, frankly.

They’d get there at noon and would leave at about 5 p.m. It was a long lunch but there were great stories. It was this whole crowd of priests who had this sensitivity to labor issues. That’s what began to make me pay attention to these issues, and to what an extraordinary guy Msgr. Hayes really was. But I suppose that Higgins and Egan were really my mentors.

What did they teach you about helping workers?

One day I got a phone call from Jack Egan. He says, “I’m sending some people to see you.” There were three organizers, and they were trying to organize food service workers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I said, “Jack, what do you want me to do?” He said, “Whatever they need.”

That’s how I first got involved with the UNITE HERE, which was just HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees) International Union at the time. So these folks came out to meet me and I listened to them. I was rector at Niles College Seminary at the time, so I gave them a key to a classroom to use. I told them we had a 16‑passenger van if they needed to bring people from O’Hare over to meet with them. I said we’d get them lunch, or open the chapel up for them if they wanted to use it.

Egan somehow got Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to write letters to the food service workers at O’Hare in English, Spanish, and Polish, maybe a few other languages. Then I got seminarians to help. The next thing I know, those guys were out with the letters going through the airport to every food stop in the place. They were so excited, saying to people in Spanish or Polish, “You can have a union. Here’s a letter from Cardinal Bernardin in support of it.” It wasn’t high, preachy theology or anything. It was just, “Here are people in need, you’ve got to do it.”

That was so Jack Egan. It wasn’t, “I’m inviting you to step into Catholic social teaching.” It wasn’t a sermon at all. It was a personal favor to help these people, do whatever you can. And really it was life changing.

How did priests get separated from the labor movement?

I think there are some very significant factors there. When Msgr. Hayes was doing his work in the ‘40s, the big threat was communism, and the labor movement was right at the edge of that. The labor priests took that fight against communism very seriously and they pretty much prevailed. Msgr. Charles Owens Rice of Pittsburgh was one of the great labor priests he was strongly anti‑communist and made some strong waves.

They got through that period of time. Then you had Father John Corridan, the Jesuit in New York who was the inspiration for the movie On the Waterfront. He was fighting corruption and fighting the influence of mob control.

I think another thing that began to strain the labor priests was the issue of race and civil rights. There were some clergy and some unions that marched in Selma and other things, but other unions did not and really resisted it. So there were those kinds of tensions. The Vietnam War was another one. I think the culture wars of the last several years have created tensions, too.

Msgr. Higgins was really strong on trying to stay out of the culture wars and to stay focused on workers, wages, job safety, those kinds of issues. Once labor started getting mixed with other cultural issues, there starts to be less common ground between the labor movement and the church. And in some dioceses, if a priest wanted to get involved in labor the question was, “Aren’t you busy enough that you don’t need to get involved with that?”

But when you actually talk to people about the issues they deal with at their work today, it feels like you’re back in 1890. Nothing has changed. I think that’s why there’s been a reawakening for priests on this issue.

Are labor priests making a comeback?

As I began to meet priests in different parts of the country who were leading immigrant advocacy groups, they would often talk about what these immigrants are dealing with when they go to work. I saw those priests had the fire. Sometimes they would get hooked up with interfaith groups like Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice in California, or Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago. I began to realize that I’m not the only labor priest. There are labor priests all over, we’re just not organized.

I said the same thing to our union president when I was with him at an AFL-CIO meeting. This was probably three and a half years ago. I don’t know how he did it, but the next thing I know, I’m sitting next to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who wanted to hear what I had to say.

I told him there were priests all over the country working on labor, but we’re not organized, and who organizes better than the AFL-CIO? Trumka said, “Count us in.” Other labor leaders joined him in that support—from IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), UNITE HERE, United Steelworkers, Laborers International Union, and other unions.

So it has been a collaborative effort, and we started a national training program. We partnered with a lot of other Catholic and interfaith labor groups, and when we did the first training we had 28 priests from across the country.

I would say more than half of them were under 40. Another thing I’ve heard from the older generation is that these young priests today aren’t interested in this. That’s not true. They are, but you’ve got to find the right trigger. Now our list of priests is over 100. Many of those have come to a day-long training or have expressed an interest in doing so.

We’re trying to formalize that training structure. It’s a pretty loose movement at the moment. I’m really adamant that we have to have a structure because otherwise I’ll retire, like Msgr. Higgins and other people retired, and it all will fade again. We don’t want that to happen. We need priests to continue working in the labor movement.

Labour Church - History

Dr. Art Lindsley
September 20, 2017

Like most things over time, the popular attitudes toward work and calling have not been the same throughout history. In fact, they have changed quite a bit over thousands of years. The culture has often supported a view of work that contradicts the Bible. Understanding the historical context for work is essential for our understanding of God’s calling for our lives.

From the time of early Christianity to the Reformation, a sacred/secular divide developed between “holy” vocations (e.g., becoming a priest or nun) and everything else, but reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin taught that all work was God’s work.

Here are some key highlights of the history of work:

[Creation of the world] Cultural mandate

God created work in the very beginning. In Genesis 1:26–28, we are created as image-bearers of God to work. God is a worker who worked six days and rested on the seventh, so he also created us to work. The Fall makes work more difficult, but work itself is not cursed as many people think.

[300 BC] Greek view of work

The ancient Greek culture did not regard manual work as good. Trevor Saunders writes in The Politics that Aristotle believed in the value of unemployment “since leisure is necessary both for development of virtue and for the performance of political duties.”

Ideally, life was spent in contemplation and in working for the good of the polis, or city.

The Greek view emerged in the church’s thinking about work at the end of the third century through the writings of Augustine and Eusebius.

[0–30 AD] Jesus as a worker

In the New Testament, Jesus practiced manual labor. If Jesus was a small-business man for about eighteen years—working as a carpenter—then working with your hands must be a good thing. God calls us to work to please him, not other people (Eph. 6:6).

[Fourth to the Fifteenth Century] Middle Ages

Augustine adopted Aristotle’s view that the “contemplative life” was preferable or a higher calling than manual labor. An unbiblical sacred/secular split then emerged in the Middle Ages. Calling was viewed as a spiritual thing, as in a calling into the monastic life. Secular roles were second order or inferior to the monastic life.

[Sixteenth Century] Reformation

The Reformation recovered a biblical view of work and calling with Martin Luther leading the way, followed by John Calvin and the English Puritans, such as William Perkins. As we have written, there is no hierarchy with secular work being less “spiritual” work.

[Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries] Sacred/Secular split

Even though the Reformation reestablished a biblical understanding of work, many Christians have readopted the sacred/secular split. Some view “full-time Christian ministry” either explicitly or implicitly as a higher calling. Many have largely forgotten the cultural mandate and view work primarily as a place to evangelize and make money to support missions and the church. In this perspective, work is not good as an end, but as a means to an end.

Work should be done to glorify God, but it is also valuable for building up God’s kingdom. The Lordship of Christ is also demonstrated in all areas. Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian, said,

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’

[Twenty-first Century] Today

In recent years, there has been a growing faith and work movement with many Christian organizations and churches working to recover the biblical vision of work. There are numerous large and small groups in various cities around the country. Yet still, only a small fraction of evangelical Christians have heard this message.

Why does this history matter for your calling today? The historical views of work give us a better understanding of our work today. Today, many people are dissatisfied with their jobs and struggle to find fulfillment in their work. I would argue that we need to recover the biblical view of work that was reestablished by the reformers and reject cultural views like the sacred/secular divide that denigrate work.

We pray that through our blogs and other resources, IFWE is helping you incorporate a biblical theology of work into your life in a way that you find yourself more fulfilled and contributing to the flourishing of those around you.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about the history of the church’s view of work in Hugh Whelchel’s How Then Should We Work? available in the IFWE bookstore.

Help reach more people with the important message that their work matters to God! Donate to IFWE today.

Dr. Art Lindsley

“The culture has often supported a view of work that contradicts the Bible.” Twitter Facebook

“Secular roles were inferior to the monastic life, which was viewed as a higher calling.” Twitter Facebook

“Work should be done to glorify God, but it is also valuable for building up God’s kingdom.” Twitter Facebook

Rebellion and education

It is no coincidence that in the African diaspora, leaders in the black community are invariably men and women of faith - a trait that is traceable to slavery. During this era, a religious leader was deemed to be called by God and given wisdom and power to lead.

Practically all the leaders of slave insurrections were men and women of faith (or were protected by prayers or hexes) such as Tacky (Tacky's Rebellion), Nanny of the Maroons, Toussaint l'Ouverture and Boukman (St Domingue/Haiti), Sam Sharpe (Jamaica), Nat Turner (USA) and Quamina (Guyana).

Moreover, many slave insurrections such as the Tacky, Bussa and Christmas Rebellions, occurred during Christian religious festivals. There is little doubt that Africans took umbrage at the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be followers of a merciful God, yet forced his 'children' to work on holy days.

Africans in Britain also used the so-called 'slave masters' tool' to destroy his house. The status of slavery in England remained ambiguous during the 18th century because of parliament's failure to address the issue directly in law.

English Common Law suggested that Christians could not be enslaved, and the subsequent ruling of 1772 by Lord Chief Justice William Mansfield held out the mistaken hope for many Africans that a baptised slave living in England was free. Consequenlty, scores of Africans, such as Olaudah Equiano, were baptised in St Margaret's Church in Westminster, London.

Africans took umbrage at the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be followers of a merciful God, yet forced his 'children' to work on holy days.

England proved a magnet for want-away Africans, and many such as Equiano joined the campaign to end slavery. Once he had obtained his freedom, Equiano wrote his autobiography and worked with a group called the 'Sons of Africa for African Freedom'.

Equiano petitioned parliament and Queen Charlotte on the question of slavery, and was a regular writer for publications such as the Morning Chronicle, London Advertiser and Public Advertiser. He also exchanged theological arguments on slavery with the number one slave trade apologist for the Church - the Liverpool-based Clergyman, Rev Raymond Harris.

Through their writing and speaking, these Africans dispelled notions of racial inferiority and black people's complacency towards slavery. Unlike their white counterparts, Africans had little option but to oppose slavery as they were always susceptible to enslavement by unscrupulous traders.

Consequently, Africans such as Ottobah Cugoano, who published his 'Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species' demanded immediate, not gradual freedom for enslaved Africans in the late 18th century, at a time when his white counterparts were concentrating on the limited goal of ending the slave trade.

Labour’s lost working-class voters have gone for good

I s the Labour party dying? It’s a question that commentators have asked since the devastating election defeat last week. But in fact, as a party of working-class self-representation, Labour is already dead.

Throughout much of the 20th century, there were parts of northern England where jobs came with firm expectations about Labour party membership. Labour, the unions and the nonconformist churches were the great social institutions of 20th-century working-class politics. Secularisation in the 1960s saw the decline in the role of the church. Then the unions were dismantled in the 1980s. Now the Labour party, as we once knew it, is gone. Constituencies that had been held by Labour almost since the modern two-party system was born – such as Don Valley and Wakefield – have voted in the Tories.

Change does not happen overnight. The roots of the present defeat take us back several decades. Labour’s dramatic victory of 1997 was built upon a shift in the composition of the Labour vote: more middle class, more concentrated in the home counties. In the 2000s, Ukip’s rise was widely seen as a threat to the Tory vote. But as Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin documented so well in Revolt on the Right, Ukip was also starting to erode the working-class Labour vote. It shifted from its origins as an anti-EU party, criticising instead the government’s commitment to an open labour market and its embrace of EU free movement rules. Lacking real debate within Labour, the immigration issue became a symbolic one for voters, exemplifying the detachment of the London leadership from grassroot concerns.

Ideologically, Corbynism was a break from New Labour centrism but sociologically, it was more Blairite than Tony Blair. As the Labour MP Jon Cruddas has argued, the Corbyn revolution in the Labour party has narrowed its social base even further, making it the party of young, middle-class southerners, popular in London and some prosperous university towns.

A final nail in Labour’s coffin has been Scotland where, for different but not unrelated reasons, the party has lost almost all its seats. The collapse of the Scottish Labour vote over the past decade is one of the great electoral shifts in recent times, making the geographic retrenchment of the party’s vote in England all the more damaging.

The Labour party grandees currently reflecting on why the 2019 election went so wrong have been quick to blame Brexit. This is too easy. Brexit was both catalyst and cause. The Labour party’s response to the 2016 referendum reflected the sociological changes already under way at the heart of the Labour movement. Labour leave voters were concentrated in those parts of the country that were of little interest to many of the activists driving the party forwards.

Inevitably, this lack of interest was reflected in how the party responded to Brexit. Some – including Jeremy Corbyn himself – were sympathetic to an old-school left Euroscepticism of the kind articulated by Tony Benn. But that tradition has died within the party. Much of the party leadership and its membership believed that Brexit was evidence of working-class xenophobia and a general ignorance of all things EU-related.

John McDonnell: 'If anyone’s to blame it’s me, full stop' – video

There were some MPs, such as Caroline Flint, who warned against this and stood out as Labour defenders of the referendum result. But after a protracted struggle, ardent Labour remainers succeeded in making a second referendum a party promise. After three years of leave supporters being dismissed as racist and stupid, and seeing Labour eventually get off the fence and back the People’s Vote campaign, how on earth did the party expect its leave supporters to react?

Brexit was also a cause in its own right. It pitted a dogged commitment to the politics of democratic consent against an ideologically charged promise of socialism in one country but at the cost of negotiating a softer Brexit and rerunning the EU referendum.

For leavers, Brexit has always been about more than just policies. Membership of the EU denoted a fundamental change in society – a movement from being a nation state to being a member state. Governments increasingly seemed to be getting their legitimacy and sense of purpose not from their voters but from their association with other governments across Europe. Over time, a gap opened up between politicians and voters. Many people felt as if it didn’t matter who they put in Downing Street – they still had little say over the country’s governing structures or the most important decisions that shape society.

The current Labour leadership was often portrayed as dogmatic Marxists but on Brexit they demonstrated an incredible willingness to compromise on the question of rule by democratic consent. Because of what Brexit meant to them, voters were far less willing to compromise. When Theresa May first brought her withdrawal agreement to the House of Commons, the near-unanimous response by the British left was to reject her deal. Labour’s fate would have been very different had the policy instead been to accept the result of the 2016 vote, support her deal and then push for a post-Brexit election.

British politics post-Brexit will not be any kinder to Labour. With the social structures of Labourism in the north of England and in Scotland now in terminal decline, there is every possibility that the Tories will hold on to the new seats they won last week.

As an indication of what may lie ahead for Labour, it is worth looking across the Channel. On the Rue Solférino, a stone’s throw from the River Seine, stands the historic headquarters of the French Socialist party. It was recently sold off and converted into luxury flats.

Chris Bickerton teaches politics at Cambridge University and is a founding member of The Full Brexit


T he history of the Utah labor movement is to a large extent one of a symbiotic relationship with the Mormon Church. They have been intrinsically bound together even though they often have been in conflict. Because of Mormon dominance in Utah, any attempt to understand Utah unionism without understanding its relationship to Mormonism would be ineffectual. Interestingly, Utah's relative isolation in the nineteenth century did not prevent its unionism from closely paralleling the history of the American labor movement.

When the Mormons entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847, they brought with them a tradition, albeit a short one, of craft and merchant guilds in their short-lived capital, the city-state of Nauvoo, Illinois. Contributing to this tradition was the heavy influx of working-class converts from Great Britain with their experience in the growing British trade union movement, along with workers from the not yet industrialized northeastern states. In the seven years of Nauvoo's Mormon history, guilds were established among at least the tailors, smiths, boot and harness makers, coopers, actors, wagonmakers, spinners, and printers--apparently with the blessings of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith.

Within five years of their arrival, Salt Lake actors formed the Deseret Dramatic Association. While not intended as a union, it did serve as a precursor of such union-like organizations as the Actors Guild, Musicians Union, and Stage Employee's Union established later in that century. The first concerted action of the association, taken in 1852, was the petitioning for the use of the church's tabernacle for their performances. The petition was turned down by Brigham Young, a patron of the theatre, but a much better facility, the Social Hall, was soon on the drawing boards. No further concerted action was noted until 1864, when the theatre workers successfully demanded pay from Young for their work, which up to that time had been considered in the Mormon tradition as unpaid missionary service. The association appears to have died out in the early 1870s.

Utah's first permanent craft guild to evolve into a full-fledged labor union was established at least as early as 24 February 1852 when Brigham Young opened the First Annual Printers' Festival with prayer. This was also the year of the founding of the first permanent national union, the National Typographical Union. On 13 January 1855 a more formalized Typographical Association of Deseret was organized, consisting only of Mormon typographers, who were associated with the church-owned Deseret News . Phineas Young, a brother of Brigham Young, and a local church leader in his own right, was its first president. Involved with the association over the next few years were a number of other church leaders including some apostles and a future church president, Wilford Woodruff. In 1856 the requirement of church membership was dropped, and in 1868 the association evolved into the Deseret Typographical Union, Local 115, associated with the International Typographical Union. The local president, Henry McEwan, was a devout Mormon, as were at least eight of the ten charter members.

Paralleling like developments on the national scene, other union-like organizations were the product of the Civil War years. In the Fourth of July parade of 1851 in Salt Lake City, numerous groups of workers marched carrying banners with religious, political, and economic messages the latter were most numerous, and many of them had union themes. These included the blacksmiths, tinsmiths, and coppersmiths, carpenters and joiners, coopers, painters and glaziers, boot and shoemakers, stonecutters, and printers. Of the fifty-one identified trade leaders in the parade, at least forty-eight were Mormons.

While the Civil War brought unionism to Utah, it also brought conflict as unionized workers, most of them Mormons, sought to protect their standard of living from the inflation of the war years with higher wages. However, they were strongly counseled by church leaders not to engage in strikes. In the following years, higher wages were seen by church and community leaders as a drag on the local economy, reducing the ability of locally produced goods to compete with cheaper goods imported by the growing number of non-Mormon merchants.

With the coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the competition from national markets became even more intense, threatening the economic viability of local producers. The church took organized action to induce workers to lower their wages, understandably not a very popular position among Utah workers. Church, not secular, institutions, including a Mormon cooperative movement, were seen as the answer to all social, political, and economic problems.

However, with the subsequent feared and heavy influx of non-Mormon workers, especially railroad workers and miners, the Mormon-established guilds and unions were "invaded by strangers," who were not beholden to and often were antagonistic toward Mormondom. The result was a growing independence of the unions from LDS Church influence.

The long, nationwide depression of the mid-1870s produced a hiatus in both the Utah and national labor movements. In addition, the Mormon Church renewed attempts to create a solution for Mormondom's economic ills in the form of the United Orders. These organizations were intended to organize Mormon workers and capital under the ultimate control of the church and into a socio-politico-economic system independent of the outside world. Yet by the time of the death of Brigham Young in 1877, the attempt was essentially dead. However, one of its effects was to pull many Mormon workers out of the weak and fledgling unions, often leaving the unions in the hands of non-Mormons, and thus almost eliminating a moderating Mormon influence on union activities.

With the economic rebirth of both the nation and Utah in the 1880s came the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, a national federation of labor unions. The Utah Knights began activities as early as 1883 their first known local was the Fidelity Assembly No. 3286 in the coal mines of Grass Valley, near Coalville, and consisted mostly of Mormons. The Knights formed a district assembly in 1886-87 and by 1888 had reached a peak membership in Utah of about eleven hundred, with miners and smelter workers predominant. Unfortunately for its Mormon members, the organization became allied in Utah with the anti-Mormon Liberal party and attempts were made to exclude those practicing polygamy, then practiced by many devout Mormons. During this period, LDS Church leaders counseled church members through the Deseret News not to become members of the Knights.

The meteoric rise of the Knights was short-lived. Many national and local trade unionists remained independent. By 1889 there were about twenty local unions in Salt Lake City, most associated with independent national unions. Fourteen of these, representing 2,400 men, organized into the Utah Federation Trades and Labor Council under the leadership of Robert Gibson Sleater, a Mormon polygamist and leader of the typographers. About half of the sixteen initial officers were Mormons. While the Knights declined after 1888, most Utah unions soon became associated with the rapidly growing American Federation of Labor (AFL). This move was engineered by Sleater, who attended the AFL's 1889 convention and served as its Utah organizer in 1891-92. However, the first known charter for the Utah AFL was not granted until 1893, just as Utah and the rest of the nation were sinking into a devastating, union-destroying depression. Railroad workers throughout the nation remained independent.

In 1890 Sleater attempted to bring about a political alliance between the unions and the Mormon Church with the creation of the Workingmen's party in support of the Mormons' People's party campaign of that year. His efforts were made without the cooperation of his fellow union leaders, however, and he failed, his reputation as a unionist somewhat tarnished. However, it was not enough to prevent his election as the first president of the new Utah Federation of Labor, chartered in 1896, just as Utah was finally achieving statehood. Sleater was also a national vice-president of the International Typographical Union for a short period of time.

In the 1880s and 1889s, Utah's growing numbers of precious metal miners began to organize, becoming associated with the rapidly expanding, radically oriented Western Federation of Miners. By the turn of the century, miners frequently came to dominate the Utah labor movement. When they became associated with the even more radical Industrial Workers of the World--the Wobblies--Utah became an unofficial headquarters of revolutionary unionism. But with the execution in 1915 of Joe Hill, poet laureate of the Wobblies, for an alleged Salt Lake murder, Utah's anti-union posture took on national significance. The Mormon Church, supposedly in alliance with the "copper bosses" and politicians, was seen by many unionists as sharing responsibility for what they perceived as a political execution. The nationwide campaign against the IWW following World War I ended the Wobblies' power in Utah as elsewhere.

By the turn of the century, the LDS Church and Utah were in the process of joining the United States politically and economically. The transition meant the ascendancy of capitalism, with its anti-unionism. Mormon leaders, who had not been exactly comfortable with unions, became increasingly supportive of capitalists and more and more critical of unionism. Especially under church attack was the union practice of closed shops, which often resulted in the lack of union membership (and hence, work) of devout Mormons, who often looked on union membership as opposed to church policy. Such practices were seen by Mormon leaders as a violation of the Mormon doctrine of "free agency."

The national, anti-union, open-shop American Plan of the 1920s became particularly evident in Utah with church, industrial, and government officials prominently involved in promoting the movement. Utah was often portrayed as its originator. Whether this was true or not, once the sociopolitical revolution of the New Deal had run its course, Utah, with the active support of Mormon Church leaders, became one of some twenty states to pass an updated version of the American Plan, a "Right-to-Work" law, in the 1940s.

Utah's increasingly numerous coal miners, who had organized locally as early as the 1870s, experienced special problems during the decade of the 1920s. They had been organized into United Mine Worker locals at the turn of the century, but were deserted by the United Mine Workers and defeated in a series of disastrous strikes. Organizing began again in 1918, and by the time of the national coal strike of 1922 they were highly organized. Faced by a thirty percent cut in wages and the refusal of operators to recognize their unions, they struck, supported by the UMW and the Utah AFL leadership. The ensuing conflict with mine operators frequently resulted in violence. The entrance of the Utah National Guard into the conflict did not prevent fatal shootings on both sides. Trials were held for union men, who were convicted and sent to prison. Mormons were involved on both sides of the conflict, but were more evident on the side of management and were frequently seen as the primary source of strikebreakers, as unions called them, "scabs."

Utah unionism, along with that of the nation, went into a significant decline in the 1920s. However, the 1930s saw the rebirth of unionism in the form of trade unions, associated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the industrial unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

The latter organization in Utah was dominated by the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, successor to the defunct Western Federation of Miners and carrying with it much of the radicalism of the earlier organization. At the national level, this union was controlled by communists, and Utah's union, primarily associated with the copper and lead industries, had its share of communists. However, under the leadership of Clarence Palmer, a devout Mormon, about half of the Utah MMSW members and locals left that organization in the mid-1940s because of its communist leanings. Palmer had also been a leader in an abortive attempt to oust the communist leadership at that union's 1946 national convention.

After the war, Utah's increasingly conservative congressmen were in strong support of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. This act permitted states to pass legislation outlawing all forms of union security, including those allowed by the act itself. Utah's increasingly conservative state legislature responded with the passage of Utah's version of the restrictive legislation. It is one of about nineteen states still retaining such a law.

The decline of the national union membership and power in the 1950s through the 1980s was paralleled in Utah. In 1956, Utah unionists, following the lead of their national unions, created the Utah AFL-CIO, in part as an attempt to forestall the decline. However, reunification did not halt the reduction. In 1960 approximately 19.9 percent of Utah's non-agricultural labor force was unionized, compared with 33.3 percent for the United States. By 1970 the figures were 13.1 percent and 29.2 percent respectively. The decline continued, with approximately 8.5 percent of the Utah non-agricultural labor force unionized in 1989. In addition, following national patterns, Utah unionists have been on the defensive in the collective bargaining process, losing in the 1980s many of their earlier hard-won gains and rights.

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994.

An Immense Labor

“Cooperative stores have sprung into existence in almost every place throughout the territory where a store is needed,” wrote George Q. Cannon in a May 19, 1869, editorial in the Deseret Evening News. “Let every female in the territory have an interest in these stores, and the trade will flow as naturally to them as water downhill.” 1

The editorial’s views on women and their importance in the cooperative movement impressed Sarah Kimball, the president of the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward Relief Society. Cooperation was crucial for the Saints to become a self-sustaining people. Women made many of the goods sold at co-ops and frequently purchased stock in the institutions.

Brigham Young taught that all efforts to establish Zion, no matter how mundane, were part of the sacred work of the Lord. Recently, he had urged the Saints to shop only at cooperatives and other businesses where the words “Holiness to the Lord” appeared somewhere on the establishment. By supporting these stores, the women worked for the good of the Saints, not outsider merchants. 2

Sarah and her Relief Society were already working to promote the ideals of cooperation. The year before, they had begun building a Relief Society hall in their ward. Patterned after Joseph Smith’s store in Nauvoo, where the original Relief Society was organized, the new hall had two floors. On the upper floor, the women would have a workroom dedicated to worship, art, and science. On the ground floor, they would run a cooperative store that sold and traded wool cloth, spools of cotton, carpet rags, dried fruit, moccasins, and other goods made by Relief Society members. 3 Like other small cooperative stores, it could also act as a retail distributor for the largest co-op in the city, Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (Z.C.M.I.).

When completed, the Relief Society hall would be the first of its kind in the Church. Relief Societies usually met in homes or in ward buildings. But Sarah, who had been a founding member of the original Relief Society in Nauvoo, had wanted a place where the women of the Fifteenth Ward could develop and strengthen their God-given powers and abilities. 4

Sarah had been a driving force behind the hall’s construction over the last year. Though a man had offered to donate a city lot to the project, she and the other women in the society had insisted on paying one hundred dollars for it. 5 Later, after the ward had broken ground on the new building, Sarah used a mallet and silver trowel to help a mason lay the cornerstone.

“The object of the building,” she had declared, standing atop the stone, “is to enable the society to more perfectly combine their labors, their means, their tastes, and their talents, for improvement—physically, socially, morally, intellectually, spiritually, and financially—and for more extended usefulness.” 6

In the six months since then, the women had hired builders and supervised the construction work, which was now nearing completion. In the spirit of cooperation, they had raised money and pooled their resources to furnish the hall with window blinds and carpets. When some people asked how the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society had been so successful, considering they were hardly the wealthiest ward in the Church, Sarah had simply replied, “It is because we have acted in unison and have kept in motion that which we received.” 7

The day after the editorial appeared in the Deseret Evening News, Sarah shared it with her Relief Society. “With woman to aid in the great cause of reform, what wonderful changes can be effected!” it read. “Give her responsibility, and she will prove that she is capable of great things.”

Sarah believed a new day was dawning for women. “There never was a time,” she told her Relief Society, “when woman, and her abilities and duties, were as much spoken of both in public and private as the present.” 8

As the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society built their meeting hall, powerful steam engines sped passengers and freight across the country. Though wary of worldly influences coming to the territory, the First Presidency believed the new transcontinental railroad would make it easier and more affordable to send elders to the mission field and gather people to Zion. So, one week after workers completed the transcontinental line, Brigham Young broke ground for a Church-owned railroad connecting Salt Lake City to Ogden. 9

Joseph F. Smith, meanwhile, worked as a clerk in the Church Historian’s Office in Salt Lake City. He was thirty years old and had more responsibilities in the Church than ever. Three years earlier, not long after returning from Hawaii, he had been called to the apostleship and set apart as a counselor in the First Presidency. 10

Now, as the spring of 1869 was turning into summer, Joseph F. was preparing for a new challenge. His cousins Alexander and David Smith were coming to the territory. Sons of the prophet Joseph Smith, they lived in Illinois and belonged to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Alexander and David sustained their older brother Joseph Smith III as a prophet and the rightful successor of their father’s work.

Like Joseph III, Alexander and David believed that their father had never taught or practiced plural marriage. They claimed instead that Brigham Young had introduced the principle after their father’s death. 11

Though Joseph F. sometimes exchanged letters with his cousins, they were not close. He had last seen Alexander three years earlier, in 1866, when Alexander had stopped to preach in Salt Lake City on his way to a mission in California. Knowing the Saints would dispute his claims about his father and plural marriage, Alexander had come prepared with statements that his father and Hyrum Smith had published in the Times and Seasons, the Church’s newspaper in Nauvoo, which appeared to condemn plural marriage and to deny the Saints’ involvement in that practice. 12

In 1866, Joseph F. had wanted to counter his cousin’s claims, but he was at a loss. To his surprise, he could find little documented evidence connecting the prophet Joseph to plural marriage. He knew that Joseph Smith had taught the principle to several faithful Saints, including Brigham Young and others now living in Utah Territory. But he found that they had documented almost nothing about the experience.

There was also the Lord’s revelation on marriage, which had been recorded by Joseph Smith in 1843 and published for the first time in 1852. The revelation described how a man and woman could be sealed together for eternity by priesthood authority. It also explained that God sometimes commanded plural marriage to raise up children in righteous families and help fulfill His covenant to bless Abraham with a numberless posterity. 13

The revelation was strong evidence that Joseph Smith had taught and practiced plural marriage. Alexander had refused to accept its authenticity, however, and Joseph F. had been unable to find additional written evidence of the prophet’s plural marriages. 14 “So far as the books are concerned,” he had acknowledged to his cousin, “you have them on your side.” 15

After learning that Alexander would be returning to Utah with David, Joseph F. began again to look for evidence of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages. 16 Plural marriage had become a fundamental part of Joseph F.’s life, and he was determined to defend it. A few years earlier, his first wife, Levira, had divorced him, partly because his marriage to a second wife, Julina Lambson, had aggravated existing tensions in the relationship. Since then, Joseph F. had married a third wife, Sarah Ellen Richards. 17 For him, an attack on the practice threatened the covenant relationships that formed the foundation of his family.

Over the last three years, Joseph F. had also understood more about how his uncle and father responded to the grave dangers they faced in Nauvoo. To defend themselves and the Church against critics, they had sometimes deflected rumors of plural marriage in Nauvoo by publishing statements that carefully denounced false practices without condemning the authorized practice itself. Their caution helped explain why almost no written evidence existed to connect the prophet and Hyrum to the practice. 18

To remedy this gap in the historical record, Joseph F. began collecting signed statements from people who had been involved in early plural marriages. Some of the women he spoke to had been sealed to Joseph Smith for this life and the next. Others had been sealed to the prophet for eternity alone. Joseph F. also gathered information about what his aunt Emma knew about the practice. His oldest sister, Lovina, had lived with Emma for a time after most of the Saints had traveled west. She testified that Emma had once told her that she consented to and witnessed her husband’s sealings to some of his plural wives.

Through the early weeks of summer, Joseph F. continued to collect statements, every day waiting for his cousins to arrive. 19

On July 22, 1869, Sarah Kimball called to order the first meeting in the Fifteenth Ward’s newly completed Relief Society hall. “The house has been built for the good of all,” she announced to the women in the room. 20

Two weeks later, on August 5, the First Presidency dedicated the building. At the ceremony, a choir sang a new hymn that Eliza Snow had written about the Relief Society hall’s role in protecting Zion:

May union in this Hall abide

With God-like strength and skill:

And Father, let Thy wisdom guide,

We dedicate this House to Thee,

May Zion’s welfare ever be

The First Presidency was pleased that the building embraced the ideals of economic cooperation and local manufacturing. In his remarks to the society, Brigham emphasized the importance of women and men working together for Zion. “The earth has to be revolutionized,” he said. “There is an immense labor to be performed, and all the means, talent, and assistance that can be procured will be required.”

“The assistance of the ladies is as requisite as that of the men,” he continued. “Our Relief Societies are for the benefit of the poor and for the benefit of the rich. They are for the benefit of every condition and for the benefit of the whole of the community of the Latter-day Saints.” 22

Sarah added her testimony of the value of cooperation at a meeting later that month. She taught that cooperation was a part of the Lord’s pattern for Zion. In her mind, local manufacturing was crucial to the Saints’ well-being.

“The subject must not be lost sight of,” she insisted, “even for a single meeting.” 23

Alexander and David Smith arrived in Salt Lake City that summer and stayed their first night with Joseph F.’s older brother John, the presiding patriarch of the Church, and his wife Hellen. Two days later, Alexander and David called at Brigham Young’s office, hoping to get permission to preach in the tabernacle, which was sometimes made available for other religious groups to hold meetings. Brigham considered the brothers’ request, but he and other Church leaders were wary of their motives and did not grant permission. 24

In the Historian’s Office, Joseph F. Smith continued to collect evidence that Joseph Smith had taught and practiced plural marriage, greatly expanding what he and the Church knew about plural marriage in Nauvoo. Aside from gathering more statements, he combed through the journals of William Clayton, who had been the prophet Joseph’s clerk, friend, and confidant. William’s journal was one of the few records from Nauvoo that detailed early plural marriages, and it provided evidence of the prophet’s participation. 25

When Joseph F. was not in the Historian’s Office or with his family, he was officiating in the Endowment House. In early August, he and George Q. Cannon administered the endowment to their friend Jonathan Napela, who had come to Salt Lake City from Hawaii in late July to receive the ordinance, visit Church headquarters, and meet Brigham Young and other Saints. 26

Alexander and David Smith, meanwhile, were still in the city, attracting crowds whenever they spoke. Hoping to weaken Brigham Young’s authority, wealthy merchants who opposed the Church’s cooperative movement rented a large Protestant church where the brothers could give lectures criticizing Brigham’s leadership and the Church. As Alexander had done three years earlier, they also relied heavily on quotations from the Times and Seasons to deny their father’s involvement in plural marriage.

At the same time, Joseph F. Smith and other Church leaders gave sermons on Nauvoo plural marriage in ward buildings throughout the city. 27 On August 8, Joseph F. spoke to a congregation in Salt Lake City. He presented some of the evidence he had collected about early plural marriages and addressed his father’s and uncle’s statements about the practice in the Times and Seasons.

“I only know these facts,” he told the congregation. “Everybody knows the people then were not prepared for these things, and it was necessary to be cautious,” he said. “They were in the midst of enemies and in a state where this doctrine would have sent them to the penitentiary.”

Joseph F. believed his father and uncle had done what they did to preserve their lives and protect other men and women who were also practicing plural marriage. “The brethren were not free as they are here,” he continued. “The devil was raging about Nauvoo, and there were the traitors on every hand.” 28

In September, a Latter-day Saint editor named Elias Harrison mocked Alexander and David Smith’s mission in a column of the Utah Magazine, a periodical he published with the financial backing of his friend William Godbe, one of the wealthiest merchants in the Church. With an unsparing pen, Elias belittled the Reorganized Church and accused the Smith brothers of being “singularly ignorant” of their father’s ministry.

“Their especial zeal is spent in trying to prove that their father did not practice polygamy, basing their arguments on certain assertions in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and in the Times and Seasons, ” wrote Elias. “But what does this amount to? David and Alexander can prove Joseph Smith denied polygamy, and we can prove he practiced it.” 29

Though Elias often defended the Church in his writing, he did so to conceal his real motives for publishing the Utah Magazine. Since the beginning of the cooperative movement, he and William Godbe had quietly resisted the First Presidency’s counsel to support fellow Saints and avoid merchants who did not use their profits to strengthen the local economy. 30 For William, opposing the First Presidency required great subtlety. Aside from being a successful businessman, he was a Salt Lake City councilman and a member of the Thirteenth Ward bishopric. And he was a son-in-law and close friend of Brigham Young. 31

Like Elias, William believed the prophet was old-fashioned and exerted too much influence over the lives of the Saints. Before the cooperative movement began, merchants like William had enjoyed more control over the local market, allowing them to charge high prices and get rich. Under the new system, however, the Church sought to keep prices low to benefit poor Saints and the local cooperative stores.

With his grasp on the market weakening, William had become irritated with Brigham’s emphasis on the sacredness of cooperation. More and more, he and Elias had begun using the Utah Magazine to prepare other like-minded people to stage a revolt within the Church. 32

Their desire to revolt had taken shape one year earlier on a business trip to New York. At that time, both men had begun trying to communicate with the dead through Spiritualist séances. Spiritualism had become popular in the aftermath of the American Civil War as people yearned to communicate with loved ones who had perished in the conflict. Church leaders had long condemned such practices, however, as counterfeit revelations from the adversary.

Ignoring these warnings, William and Elias immersed themselves in séances and came to believe that they had spoken with the spirits of Joseph Smith, Heber Kimball, the apostles Peter, James, and John, and even the Savior. Convinced these communications were real, William and Elias felt called on a special mission to rid the Church of everything they considered to be false. When they returned to Utah, they began to publish subtle criticisms of Church leaders and policies alongside more positive columns in the Utah Magazine. 33

Soon after publishing his column on the Smith brothers, Elias grew more aggressive in his attacks on Brigham Young and Church policies. He argued that the cooperation movement robbed the Saints of the competitive drive necessary to stimulate Utah’s economy, which he thought was too weak to sustain itself on local manufacturing. He also reasoned that the Saints were too selfish to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the community. 34

Then, on October 16, Elias published an editorial urging the Saints to develop Utah’s mining industry. Over the years, Brigham Young had approved of some Church-supported mining, but he worried that the discovery of valuable minerals would bring greater social problems and class divisions to the territory. This concern had led him to preach aggressively against independent mining ventures in the territory. 35

It soon became clear that Elias and William were carefully conspiring against the Church. On October 18, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and George Q. Cannon met with the two men and some of their friends. Elias was full of bitterness, and neither man was willing to sustain the First Presidency. Five days later, at a meeting of the Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, William stated that he had followed Brigham’s economic counsel against his better judgment and did not believe the prophet had a right to guide the Saints in commercial matters. Elias spoke even more defiantly against Brigham’s leadership. “It is false! It is false!” he shouted. 36

A few days later, the Salt Lake City high council met with Elias and William at the city hall. Elias accused Church leaders of acting as if they and their words were infallible. In rejecting counsel, William claimed that he and Elias were only following a higher spiritual authority, an allusion to their Spiritualist séances.

“We do not ignore the priesthood by any means,” he insisted, “but we do admit the existence of a power behind the veil from which influences and instructions do come and have always come by which the will may be guided in its onward path.”

After the two men spoke, Brigham addressed the high council. “I have never sought but one thing in this kingdom,” he said, “and that has been to get men and women to obey the Lord Jesus Christ in everything.”

He affirmed that all people had a right to think for themselves, just as Church leaders had a right to counsel them according to revelation. “We work in harmony with our Savior,” he declared. “He works in harmony with His Father, and we cooperate with the Son for the salvation of ourselves and the human family.”

Brigham also rejected the idea that Church leaders could not make mistakes. “Man having the priesthood may be fallible,” he declared. “I do not pretend to be infallible.” But his fallibility did not mean God could not work through him for the good of the Saints.

If William and Elias wanted to continue criticizing the Church in the Utah Magazine, Brigham believed they were free to do so. He would continue to preach and practice cooperation, regardless of what they or outsider merchants did or said. “I will leave it to the people to do as they have a mind to,” he said. “I have the right to counsel them, and they have the right to take my counsel or let it alone.”

When the hearing ended, the stake president proposed excommunicating William and Elias from the Church for apostasy. The high council sustained the motion, and all but six people in the room—each an associate of Elias and William—sustained the decision. 37

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