General Convention, George Bernard Shaw, and the Christian Socialists

Bill Jr:  

THE SOCIAL PREPARATION (For the Kingdom of God) (Autumn, 1919) was published as ‘A Special Number for the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church by the CHURCH SOCIALIST LEAGUE. It listed on the front page articles by: Bp. Paul Jones, bishop of Utah who, because of pacifism, was ‘forced’ from the House of Bishops. His article was entitled: “THE APOSTASY OF THE CHURCH.” Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the NATION, checks in with an editorial; Jessie Wallace Hughan on WEAPONS OF THE SPIRIT; Philo Sprague on PROFIT OR SERVICE; Scott Nearing on A HEATHEN PEACE; Father Shirley Hughson. Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross, on THE CHURCH AND THE PEOPLE; Harold Brewster, rector of the church in Bisbee, Arizona, writing about the effects of a strike there; Norman Thomas on THE CHURCH AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS; Irwin St. John Tucker, who had been convicted on Feb. 19, 1919, to twenty years in the Federal Penitentiary in Fort Leavenworth for obstructing the draft,  on THE MAKING OF A SOCIALIST.  Others were Sailendra Nath Ghose on THE TRAGIC INDIA; Albert Farr with a sermon for lay readers entitled SHALL WE REGULATE THE PROPHET; Dr. Charles Eastman on THE AMERICAN INDIANS’ PLEA FOR FREEDOM; and some poems by Florence Converse, an editor of the ‘Atlantic Monthly’ and life-long partner of Prof. Vida Dutton Scudder. Other poems were by James Smiley. The first page of the issue contained THE MANIFESTO OF THE CHURCH SOCIALIST LEAGUE. It had been passed unanimously at the conference of the League in New York City on June 27, 1919. We are not sure that the General Convention read it gladly:



‘At this supreme hour of the world’s history when God’s truth is desperately needed, the Church is apostate to its divine mission. Christ said, ‘He that saveth his life shall lose it.’ Instead of sacrificing itself for the life of the world, the Church is now struggling to save its own life by a campaign to raise millions for its own development, and is apparently unaware of the profound movements for the fuller, freer life on the part of groups, classes and races. The Church furnishes its own table and the sheep are not being fed. The Church must repent in sackcloth and ashes. It must repudiate its affiliation with and support of the capitalist system of production with its unholy emphasis on profits, privilege and exploitation which have impoverished and fettered the mass of the people of the world. And it must demonstrate that repentance by a wholehearted endorsement of those movements which are seeking to establish a real brotherhood among men. We therefore call upon the Church to endeavor to understand and assist the working out of that social and industrial revolution with the conscious purpose of helping to prepare the way for such a complete revolution of our present economic and social disorder that a Christian order may be evolved.


Bill Jr: 

So, too, there were full page ads for THE CHURCH LEAGUE FOR SOCIAL AND INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY, which affirmed its principles  and THE CHURCH SOCIALIST LEAGUE, which affirmed it was organized to: “MAKE MANIFEST THE KINGDOM OF GOD ON EARTH THROUGH A CONSCIENTIOUS STUDY AND APPLICATION OF THE SOCIAL PRINCIPLES OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. WE ARE NOT REFORMERS, TRYING TO PATCH UP AN OUTWORN GARMENT, BUT REVOLUTIONISTS, STRIVING FOR A COMPLETE REVOLUTION OF OUR PRESENT ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DISORDER SO THAT A CHRISTIAN ORDER MAY BE EVOLVED. WE ARE TRYING TO WAKE UP THE CHURCH SO THAT SHE MAY TAKE HER GLORIOUS PART IN BRINGING IN THE NEW DAY.” It was signed by Bp. Paul Jones, as president. There were three vice-presidents, the Rev. Joseph Paul Morris, Mrs. William Johns Brown (who apparently served as treasurer out of Walbrook, Md.) and the Rev. Charles H. Collett, who was one of the Berkeley-4 under Billy Ladd, and, in his career, taught at St. Paul’s School, Concord; was sometime dean of the Cathedral in Fargo, N.D. and worked for the National Council at 815 2nd Avenue when he died an untimely death from heart disease. The National Secretary was the Rev. A.L. Byron-Curtiss and, in the middle of the ad, boxed, is a form to be mailed to the Rev. William B. Spofford, Organizing Secretary, Claremont, N.H. Since the issue for the General Convention had three items, at least, from George Bernard Shaw, I guess that Dad was probably the main editor of THE SOCIAL PREPARATION. Nowhere, in my copy, is an editor listed.

As for the iconoclastic genius, George Bernard Shaw, he had responded to a request that he send a message to the Episcopal General Convention. He, perhaps, thought it was from an authorized person when, actually, it was from this small group of enthusiasts, and it was originally from Dad. 1

I have Dad’s collection of Shaw’s works on my shelves now, although expanded since his time. One quote was in THE SOCIAL PREPARATION which Dad always used in all of his sermons during funerals, whether the service was for tough-minded activists and newspaper guys or for the gentle communicants of his parishes. It was used at his memorial service in the National Cathedral in January of 1973. It goes:

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatsoever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.  I rejoice in life for its own sake.   Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me.  It is sort of a splendid torch, which I have got hold of for the moment; and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.”

Surely the sentiment fits an existential Christian and whatever the ‘revolution’ was then, and probably now. Significantly, his other author-hero, Leo Tolstoi, has a book reviewed by W.B.S., on pages 27-28 of the same issue. It is called THE PATHWAY OF LIFE and Dad’s comments end with: ‘’It is a storehouse of truth; beyond value to him who would guide the souls of men; beyond value to him who would save his own soul.” 

  1. See, infra, at The Church League,