July 2: Walter Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden, and Jacob Riis, Prophetic Witnesses, 1918, 1918, 1914

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Walter Rauschenbusch
Jacob Riis

About these commemorations:

Born the son of a German preacher in upstate New York, Walter Rauschenbusch’s childhood was steeped in traditional Protestant doctrine and biblical literalism. While attending Rochester Theological Seminary, he came to believe that Jesus died “to substitute love for selfishness as the basis of human society.” For Rauschenbusch, the Kingdom of God was “not a matter of getting individuals to heaven, but of transforming life on earth into the harmony of heaven.”

In works such as Theology for the Social Gospel (1917), Rauschenbusch enumerated the “social sins” which Jesus bore on the cross, including the combination of greed and political power, militarism, and class contempt. In 1892, he and some friends formed the Brotherhood of the Kingdom, a group whose mission was to open the eyes of the church to the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Like Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden’s ministry was dedicated to the realization of the Kingdom of God in this world. Gladden was the acting religious editor of the New York Independent, in which he exposed corruption in the New York political system. Gladden was the first American clergyman to approve of and support labor unions. In his capacity as Vice President of the American Missionary Association, he traveled to Atlanta where he met W.E.B. Dubois and he became an early opponent of segregation.

Washington Gladden

Though not a pastor like Rauschenbusch and Gladden, Jacob Riis’ “muckraker” journalism did much to awaken the nation to the plight of the urban poor. Born in Denmark in 1849, Riis arrived in New York City in 1870 as multitudes of immigrants flooded the city seeking work following the devastation of the Civil War. Riis found a job as a police reporter for the New York Tribune, and his work took him to the poorest, most crime-ridden parts of the city. Teaching himself photography, he combined word and image to display the devastating effects of poverty and crime on so many in New York. His work led future President Theodore Roosevelt, then City Police Commissioner, to close down the police-run poor houses in which Riis had struggled during his first months in New York.


I Loving God, who dost call us to do justice and love

kindness: we offer thanks for the witness of Walter

Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden and Jacob Riis,

reformers of society; and we pray that, following their

examples of faithfulness to the Gospel, we may be ever

mindful of the suffering of those who are poor and work

diligently for the reform of our communities; through

Jesus Christ, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and

reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II Loving God, you call us to do justice and love kindness:

we thank you for the witness of Walter Rauschenbusch,

Washington Gladden and Jacob Riis, reformers of society;

and we pray that, following their examples of faithfulness

to the Gospel, we may be ever mindful of the suffering of

those who are poor and work diligently for the reform

of our communities; through Jesus Christ, who with you

and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and

ever. Amen.


Isaiah 46:8–11, James 2:14–18 Matthew 7:7–12

Psalm 72:12–17

Preface of the Epiphany

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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14 thoughts on “July 2: Walter Rauschenbusch, Washington Gladden, and Jacob Riis, Prophetic Witnesses, 1918, 1918, 1914

  1. Is there, or will there be, a guide to pronouncing the names of those commemorated? Many are obvious, but with the 100 or so new names there are bound to be some challenging ones. Perhaps an online guide would be useful for most users of HWHM. Thanks.

    • Great suggestion, Scott! Since you posted it as a comment on this blog, it will definitely be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music as we all work through the trial use period of “Holy Women, Holy Men.” If you haven’t already, you might think about filling out the trial use survey that is linked to elsewhere on the SCLM blog. Yours would be a great suggestion to include there as well.

  2. It would never have occurred to me to add Harriet Beecher Stowe to the calendar, but since you’ve done it, it makes sense. Her book in in many ways parallel to the parliamentary work of William Wilberforce in England.
    We set a precedent by adding Martin Luther King to the calendar,so the fact that she was not an Anglican does not seem a bar to her inclusion.

  3. The social gospel is an important part of American Church History, even though Episcopalians were only peripherally involved. Anglicans like Fr. Huntington, O.H.C., worked closely with the Social Gospelers since they saw the Incarnation is central to work for social justice.

  4. I get the inclusion of Rauschenbusch, and Gladden, the role of theological and spiritual matters in their lives seems pretty clear. I would think that some mention of the same in the paragraph about Riis would be helpful. I almost got the feeling that he was sort of added on to make sure that there would be a “lay” representative on the commemoration.

  5. Rauschenbusch, Gladden and Riis has been one of my favorites in the new proposed calendar. I spent an hour or so reading various on-line bios. For those of us in the Bible Belt 4-Spiritual-Laws South, Rauschenbush stands as a hero, countering the John Nelson Darby dispensationalist stuff and the evangelism that images God the Son coming to save us from God the Father. Delightful day.

  6. “Et de son père arrêter le courroux” (“and from his father, to end the wrath” is a line from the first verse of “Cantique de Noël,” a French poem written in the 1840s and set to music in the 1850s. The line “pour effacer la tache originelle” (“tache” = “spot”–the line has to do with erasing original sin) also occurs in the first verse. Nothing to do with the Bible Belt 4-Spiritual Laws South. A Unitarian ministier in New England translated the hymn into English (“O Holy Night”) and didn’t change the meaning. I think Rauschenbusch and others had a limited understanding of original sin and the atonement. Jesus most certainly preached love and selflessness over their opposites. But why he died had more directly to do with the charge by some Jewish leaders that he was taking on responsibilities attributed to God alone, like the forgiveness of sins, and they accused him of blasphemy. The desire to do ethical, selfless behavior–which Raushchenbusch makes central to Christ’s life and teaching–is good. But the “traditional” theology which Raushchenbusch seems to oppose makes it more possible to do that selfless behavior–not relying on ourselves, but on Christ, our “mediator and advocate.”

  7. Apologies for partially misrepresenting Rauschenbusch above–should have said that the ethical behavior he was concerned about was corporate and social, and (reading elsewhere) that where individual behavior was concerned, it was his/her responsibility to society that was key. Rauschenbusch and the two others mentioned influenced much of the Progressive legislation of the early 20th century, which very much shaped our society for the better. I don’t agree, however, with some of the things R. said; for instance, that Jesus did not die “in any real way” for “some (early) Briton who beat his wife or Tennessean mountaineer who drank too much.” I think Jesus did die, in a very real sense, for little people and their individual sins. Little people need to know that Jesus cares about them personally, and what they do to themselves and their families and communities. And in that sense, we are all “little people.” Rauschenbusch seems to say at one point that individual sins are the result of corporate sins rather than personal estrangement from God, or not being “converted” to Christ in the sense of repentance and amendment of life. A group I belong to which helps people move out of generational poverty stresses the importance of personal relationship in effecting change, as well as just social structures. I don’t think it’s an “either/or” issue, as R. seemed to be saying. In his time, however, it must have seemed that way: no unions, no Pure Food and Drug Act, child labor, and people in many churches not seeming to realize broad social change was badly needed.

  8. These three are not treated equally in the bio. Each needs a statement about who they were, and why they are important – and when they died. Each paragraph reads a little differently and from a different perspective. It is almost as if they were written by different persons.

    Rauschenbursh was the son of a preacher in “upstate New York.” Those that live in New York City believe that everything North of Manhattan is upstate. Those of us who live in the regions of the Adirondacks, Catskills, Finger Lakes, Central and Western New York are often confused when someone says ‘upstate.’

    In Riis’ bio the crime ‘on so many in New York” should read “on so many in New York City.”

  9. Somewhere in the bio, there should probably be a mention of Jacob Riis’ involvement in his church, and that he was, at some point, a deacon, though it seems to be in more of a vestry/elder role than what we understand the diaconate to be.

  10. Line 1, first paragraph: add “on October 4, 1861,” after “born”.

    After line 6, second paragraph: add “He died on July 25, 1918.” I have been unable to discover where he died.

    Line 2, third paragraph: add “born on February 11, 1836, in Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, and became” after “was”.

    Line 7, third paragraph: delete “he”.

    Line 8, third paragraph: add “He died in Columbus, Ohio, on July 2,1918.” after “segregation.”

    Line 3, fourth paragraph: add “Ribe,” after the first “in”.

    Line 3, fourth paragraph: substitute “on May 3, 1849,” for the second “in”.

    Penultimate line, fourth paragraph: substitute “poorhouses” for “poor houses”.

    Last line, fourth paragraph: add “He died in Barre. Massachusetts, on May 26, 1914” after “York”.

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