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Buttigieg’s Pragmatic Ideals of the Social Gospel Movement



How Pete Buttigieg is reviving the pragmatic, progressive ideals of the Social Gospel movement

by David Mislin for The Conversation

IOWA — Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign has attracted new attention since his aggressive performance in October’s Democratic primary debate.

One late October poll of Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, the first voters to weigh in on the party’s 2020 nominee, showed the South Bend, Indiana, mayor in third place. He trailed front-runners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren but had surpassed Bernie Sanders. Other polls have shown a similar rise in support for Buttigieg.

Several factors explain the growing interest in Buttigieg, a former naval intelligence officer who is the first openly gay presidential candidate.

At age 37, he is considerably younger than his leading rivals. Buttigieg appeals to the many Iowa voters who are seeking, in the words of pollster Ann Selzer, a “new generation of leadership.” He has also drawn the support of many centrist Democrats, especially with his criticism of Warren’s Medicare for All plan to provide government-paid health care for all Americans.

As a historian of religion, I believe that Buttigieg’s popularity also stems from another source: his linking of faith to his political positions. In interviews, Buttigieg has said that “Christian faith” can lead one “in a progressive direction.” He has also said that Christianity teaches “skepticism of the wealthy and the powerful and the established.”

With these arguments, Buttigieg has tapped into a tradition of religious liberalism that once flourished in the American Midwest.

Focus on improving the world

Much of my scholarship examines the vibrant period for religious liberalism of the early 1900s. In this era, Midwestern states were at the center of a movement – the Social Gospel movement – that linked Christianity with progressive politics.

The movement gained wide popularity in American Protestantism at the beginning of the 20th century. Its proponents proclaimed the need to improve the world rather than focusing on being saved in the next life – a common message espoused in most U.S. churches.

One exemplar of the Midwestern roots of the Social Gospel was the Methodist clergyman Francis J. McConnell, who became known as an advocate for progressive policies.

McConnell grew up in a small town in Ohio before attending Ohio Wesleyan University. From 1909 to 1912, he served as president of DePauw University in central Indiana.

Washington Gladden. Ohio History Central

While there, McConnell published a book arguing, as Buttigieg does today, that faith should inspire social action. He wrote that “moral impulse calls for the betterment of all the conditions of human living.”

In this way, McConnell “participated in the promotion of an evolving welfare state,” according to historian Susan Curtis.

Other prominent Social Gospel proponents lived and worked across the American Midwest at the time. From his Columbus, Ohio, church, pastor Washington Gladden became famous for urging greater protection for workers and the poor. Farther west, in Kansas, the Congregationalist minister Charles Sheldon urged Christians in his 1896 book, “In His Steps,” to improve the lives of those around them.

Challenge to big business

At the time, small cities and towns in the Midwest were the heartland of the Social Gospel.

Leaders of the movement sought to apply Christian principles to daily life. They focused particularly on economic issues, and advocated for better conditions for workers and greater government oversight of business.

The movement emerged in response to the development of massive national corporations in the U.S. in the late 19th century. These companies consolidated wealth and power in large cities, often quite distant from Midwestern communities.

Demands for a social safety net for workers were rising in places like Columbus and Indianapolis as much as in larger metropolises like New York or Philadelphia.

These leaders urged the creation of a social safety net to provide a living wage for all workers. They also advocated increased government oversight of corporations, which they believed had grown too large. At a time when many churches supported big business, this was a controversial position.

Lecturing back in his home state of Ohio in 1912, McConnell likened modern “corporate kings” to the absolute monarchs of previous centuries. Corporate titans exerted great power at a distance and could inflict harm.

McConnell believed organized Christianity could inspire people to challenge big business. “Corporations thrive best morally when they enjoy the full light of publicity,” he wrote.

Not radical, but pragmatic

Pete Buttigieg speaking about his presidential run. AP Photo/Richard Shiro

While some Social Gospel movement leaders on the East Coast openly advocated socialism, their Midwestern counterparts tended to be more restrained in their proposals. The Social Gospel in the Midwest had a pragmatic nature.

People like McConnell objected to socialist proposals such as government ownership of industry, suggesting that such solutions were impractical. Noting that Americans are “on the whole conservative,” McConnell saw little hope for those who desired “any radically changed social system.” A better solution, in his view, was an improved social safety net and efforts to reform the excesses of capitalism.

Pete Buttigieg’s emphasis on policies that appeal to centrists rather than liberal positions reflects this pragmatic tradition.

He has echoed previous generations of religious liberals in that his Christian beliefs make him skeptical of concentrated corporate wealth. But his advocacy of a gradual approach to issues like expanding medicare and breaking up major technology firms places him firmly in the midwestern tradition of the Social Gospel.

David Mislin is Assistant Professor of Intellectual Heritage at Temple University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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RAGE is Latest Venue to Fall Victim to the Pandemic



Another LGBTQ+ Nightlife Destination Has Fallen Victim to the Pandemic

WEST HOLLYWOOD (L.A. Magazine) — Rage nightclub has been a destination for LGBTQ+ nightlife in the bustling Santa Monica Boulevard corridor of West Hollywood for decades. Now, nearly 40 years after first opening its doors, the club has announced it has permanently closed, yet another local business to collapse amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rage nightclub management lays some portion of the blame on their landlord, Monte Overstreet. The club’s now-former general manager, Ron Madrill, told Q Voice News that rent for the location was already “very high” prior to operations shutting down in March. He says he believes an impasse over rent payments may have contributed to Rage’s closure.

Overstreet also reportedly owns the space formerly occupied by neighboring bar Flaming Saddles Saloon, which also announced […]

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Anderson Cooper Reveals He’s a Dad, Welcomes New Baby Boy



Anderson Cooper Reveals He's a Dad, Welcomes New Baby Boy

NEW YORK CITY (TMZ) — Anderson Cooper is the proud new father of a baby boy … revealing Wyatt Morgan Cooper to the world.

The CNN anchor took to Instagram Thursday night to reveal earlier this week Wyatt was born via surrogate. Cooper said, “As a gay kid, I never thought it would be possible to have a child, and I’m grateful for all those who have paved the way, and for the doctors and nurses and everyone involved in my son’s birth.”

As for Wyatt’s name, 52-year-old says it’s in honor of his dad, who passed away when he was just 10, saying, “I hope I can be as good a dad as he was.”

Anderson also shared a sweet message about his surrogate, saying, “Most of all, I am grateful to a remarkable surrogate who carried Wyatt, and watched over him lovingly, and tenderly, and gave birth to him. It is an extraordinary blessing – what she, and all surrogates give to families who cant have children.”

Finally, Anderson says, “I do wish my mom and dad and my brother, Carter, were alive to meet Wyatt, but I like to believe they can see him. I imagine them all together, arms around each other, smiling and laughing, happy to know that their love is alive in me and in Wyatt, and that our family continues.” His mother, Gloria Vanderbilt died last year.

Wyatt is Anderson’s first child … Congrats!!

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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Mister Rogers Told Co-Star Don’t Come Out as Gay, and Marry a Woman



Mister Rogers Told Co-Star Don't Come Out as Gay, and Marry a Woman

(TMZ) — “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was no place for gay people … so says one of the stars.

Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons from 1968 – 1995, says in his new memoir, Fred Rogers got wind of the fact Clemmons was gay, pulled him aside and said, “Franc, you have talents and gifts that set you apart and above the crowd. Someone has informed us that you were seen at the local gay bar downtown. Now, I want you to know, Franc, that if you’re gay, it doesn’t matter to me at all.”

And, then the other shoe dropped … “Whatever you say and do is fine with me, but if you’re going to be on the show as an important member of the ‘Neighborhood,’ you can’t be out as gay.”

Clemmons told People Rogers told him secrecy was the only way … “You must do this Francois … because it threatens my dream,” adding, “I was destroyed. The man who was killing me had also saved me. He was my executioner and deliverer. But, at the same time, I knew that he would know how to comfort me.”

According to Clemmons, whose memoir is titled, “Officer Clemmons,” Rogers also told him the audience didn’t care who he was sleeping with … “especially if it’s a man.”

And, there’s more … according to Clemmons, Rogers urged him to marry a woman, and he obliged. Clemmons married La-Tanya Mae Sheridan. They divorced in 1974 and later Clemmons came out.

He says he forgives the legendary TV host … “Lord have mercy, yes. I forgive him. More than that, I understand. I relied on the fact that this was his dream. He had worked so hard for it. I knew Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was his whole life.”

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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