Social Reform and Applied ChristianityChristian Socialism | The Social Gospel Movement
In order to fully understand George H. Gibson’s involvement with Populism, it is necessary to place both his ideology and his faith within the context of late-nineteenth century America. The Gilded Age refers to the period immediately following the Civil War to roughly the end of the nineteenth-century. It was a time of immense growth and change for the United States. Industrialization spurred extensive economic expansion, which fostered significant social and political transformations. The Gilded Age is generally characterized as a time of extreme disparity in wealth between the nation’s upper and lower classes, increased influence of business, political corruption, increased tension between labor and industry, and shifting ideas regarding the relationship between the individual and society (Trachtenberg 2007, 3-10). The historical circumstances of the Gilded Age led to the birth and rise of many influential social reform movements.
Although he was involved with several of these social reform movements throughout his lifetime, Gibson’s reform ideology was firmly rooted in social Christianity. Social Christianity, or “applied Christianity” as it was also known at the time, was used to describe a liberal form of Christianity which emerged in response to the social problems created by industrialization and urbanization. It emphasized the practical application of Jesus Christ’s teachings as a means of solving such problems. The term “social Christianity” was first used in the mid-1800’s by a group of Christian Socialists in England, who believed that socialism was the realization of Christ’s teachings. It is important to note, however, that at the point in history when the term “social Christianity” first emerged, socialism had not yet developed into the Marxist economic theory which is associated with the term today. Adherents of social Christianity, at least at first, understood socialism as little more than “the principle and practice of cooperation as opposed to economic competition” (White, Jr. and Hopkins 1976, 26). Social Christianity eventually developed into several, more distinct forms, two of which Gibson was affiliated with during the course of his life: Christian Socialism and the Social Gospel movement.