Tag Archives: poverty

Poverty and racism: What would Charles Sheldon, “Mr. WWJD,” do?


In researching the man who originated the phrase “What would Jesus do” for Patron Saints for Postmoderns, I discovered something exciting. This novelist, whose In His Steps immortalized the idea of asking oneself “What would Jesus do?” before making any major decision, was no starry-eyed dreamer who lived only in his writing. Rather, he was one of the most active men of his day in the cause of social justice. Here’s what minister-novelist Charles Sheldon did when, as the brand new pastor of a Topeka, Kansas church, he was suddenly confronted with the problems of urban poverty and racism. [The following is an excerpt from the chapter on Sheldon in Patron Saints.]

Crossing Class Lines

From the first, Sheldon did well for his new church. The upper room over the butcher was often full, and soon the group was building a big stone edifice. When the new building opened, on June 23, 1889, Sheldon preached a defining sermon to what would be his lifelong flock. We can imagine their mix of pride and discomfort—“what had they gotten themselves into?”—as the young pastor announced that he would always preach “a Christ for the common people. A Christ who belongs to the rich and to the poor, the ignorant and the learned, the old and the young, the good and the bad. A Christ who knows no sect or age, whose religion does not consist alone in cushioned seats, and comfortable surroundings, or culture, or fine singing, or respectable orders of Sunday services, but a Christ who bids us all recognize the Brotherhood of the race, who bids throw open this room to all.” Little did those unsuspecting congregants know what concrete shapes their activist pastor’s dreams would assume in the years to come. Continue reading

24 reasons to be “bountiful” to the poor


The following is a brief summary and some reflections on the second of August Hermann Francke’s (1663 – 1727) Three Practical Discourses. I did this while in Dr. Richard Lovelace’s class on the Pietist renewal, in 1994 at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The edition I was looking at was (a copy of?) an edition printed in 1716; translated into English from the High-Dutch:

[If you want to jump right to “doing something about it,” then you might be interested in Tyler Blanski’s music project for the homeless]

2. OF CHARITY TO THE POOR

Twenty Four Motives to a faithful Discharge of the Duty of Bounty to the Poor

Mark 8:1ff

‘In those days, the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his Disciples unto him, and says unto them:  I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat, etc.’

1.  The unspeakable and incomprehensible love and mercy of God towards mankind.

‘There is no doubt, but whosoever does duly ponder this love with himself, and revolve it again and again in his mind, but his heart will be excited thereby to bestow a like love on his poor and indigent neighbour.’ (26) Continue reading

Did you know men slept on the bridges?


This piece, from Christian History & Biography Issue 82 (the Phoebe Palmer/Holiness Movement issue) did a number on me as I was preparing it. The Salvation Army rocks.

Eyewitness
Did you know men slept on the bridges?
William Booth

When did the plight of the homeless first pierce your heart? Bramwell Booth, son of the beloved Salvation Army founder William Booth, remembers this moment in his father’s life—and how the senior Booth responded:

One morning, away back in the eighties, I was an early caller at his house in Clapton. Here I found him in his dressing-room, completing his toilet with ferocious energy. The hair-brushes which he held in either hand were being wielded with quite eloquent vigour upon a mane that was more refractory than usual, and his braces were flying like the wings of Pegasus. No good-morning-how-do-you-do here!

“Bramwell!” he cried, when he caught sight of me, “did you know that men slept out all night on the bridges?” Continue reading

Salvation Army: The church behind the kettles


It’s that time again: the bells are ringing and the red kettles swinging in front of grocery stores and other public places all over America. And in this holiday season, when even the staunchest of of Scrooges can’t help but think of what part they should play in “goodwill to all men,” a historical Wesleyan church has its hour of highest profile. That’s right. The Salvation Army is a church, and an “evangelical” one to boot. In 2004, this church got an extra dose of publicity when McDonalds heiress Joan Kroc sent 1.5 billion dollars their way. And we did an e-newsletter for Christian History about this much-misunderstood group:

The Blood-and-Fire Mission of the Salvation Army
Where did this tuba-playing, kettle-wielding social force come from, and what’s it all about?
Chris Armstrong

Joan Kroc’s 1.5 billion dollar bequest recently put the Salvation Army on the front pages of many newspapers (and raised important questions about the potential effects of wealth on Christian organizations). But we didn’t need the reminder—we’ve known all about the Army for a long time.

Or have we?

We tend to associate them with Christmas kettles, brass bands, and the upright, do-gooder stance gently mocked in the Loesser musical (and Marlon Brando movie) Guys and Dolls. Continue reading