Previous studies of the Social Gospel movement have acknowledged the fact that Social Gospelers were involved in multiple social reform movements during the Gilded Age and into the Progressive Era. However, most of these studies have failed to explain how the reform experiences of the Social Gospelers contributed to the development of the Social Gospel. The Social Gospelers’ ideas regarding the need to transform society and their strategies for doing so were largely a result of their personal experiences as reformers and their collaboration with other reformers. The knowledge and insight gained from interaction with a variety of reform methods played a vital role in the development of the ideology and theology of the Social Gospel.
George Howard Gibson is exemplary of the connections between the Social Gospel movement and several other social reform movements of the time. He was involved in the Temperance movement, was a member of both the Prohibition Party and the People’s Party, and co-founded a Christian socialist cooperative colony. His writings illustrate the formation of his identity as a Social Gospeler as well as his attempts to find an organization through which to realize the kingdom of God on earth. Failure to achieve the changes he desired via prohibition encouraged him to broaden his reform goals. Like many Midwestern Social Gospelers Gibson believed he had found “God’s Party” in the People’s Party, but he rejected reform via the political system once the Populists restricted their attention to the silver issue and fused with the Democratic Party. Yet his involvement with the People’s Party demonstrates the attraction many Social Gospelers had to the reforms proposed in the Omaha Platform of 1892 as well as to the party’s use of revivalistic language and emphasis on producerism and brotherhood. Gibson’s experimentation with a variety of ways to achieve the kingdom of God on earth provides new insight into the experiences and contributions of lay Social Gospelers.
Adviser: Kenneth J. Winkle