Walter Rauschenbusch advanced the social gospel from a position of wealth and privilege. Washington Gladden at least tried to build a bridge between Protestantism and the working class poor; the same can’t be said for Rauschenbusch. The real-time separation existing between poor, working class people and social Gospel aficionados is a reality with which few supporters openly wrestle. Relevant connections between social gospellers and the people to whom they ministered were very rare, indeed. The only social connection shared between Rauschenbusch and the people he served was the act of ministry itself. Rauschenbusch was neither poor, nor working class. He was a member of the white, male clergy. He was inundated with unspoken authority and power. These supplied him with more than a little prestige and position, for his day. This does not mean, however, the social Gospel was a complete failure. People were unarguably served by Rauschenbusch and other social gospellers, in spite of their superior social positions.
Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement avoided the social problems of Rauschenbusch by establishing the ministry upon incarnational and missional principles. In other words, Dorothy Day first went to the people not to minister to them, but to actually live in their midst. In essence, she embraced and lived the very poverty she railed so hard against. The result was an authentic connection to the people to whom she felt called. There was no social gospellers’ gap. Where Rauschenbusch and Gladden failed, Day succeeded. She established real and relevant connection with the people with whom she lived and ministered. Why? Simply this: she accepted a place among them, and she lived with them there, authentically and equally. The social gospellers came, ministered, and then dismissed themselves to their higher positions of life and living. Day’s approach is incarnational; the other not so much. Day was dedicated to praxis. The social gospellers were dedicated to something else.
Rauschenbusch and Dorothy Day both served many, many people. Each provided blessing to many others, unarguably. The point I am contemplating has to do with the ministry itself and the results (short-term and long term). It has everything to do with economics, socialism, capitalism, ministry and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I immediately resonate with Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement, but I wonder about the long term results. I may be resonating more with her missional approach and willingness to do just about anything â€“ including embracing voluntary poverty â€“ to authentically connect with the people to whom she was called. She was not “pitching” Jesus Christ, like some plastic marketing tool. She is all about praxis. I resonate deeply with such dedication. I must admit, however, that I’m very unclear as to how her specific missional approach solved the long-term issue of poverty. I will have research more to gain a better understanding. I will be thinking about all of this for some time. So, for now, I have to say that Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement is inspirational ministry.
How’s this for a closing celebration of her obviously unruly unction: “Far dearer in the sight of God, perhaps, are these hungry ragged ones, than all those well-fed Christians who sit in their homes, or in fear of the Communist menace â€¦ How little, how puny my work has become since becoming a Catholic. How self-centered, how ingrown, how lacking in a sense of community.” - Dorothy Day