The Kingdom of God and American Life includes sermons and papers prepared for various occasions. These essays show the author's mind working along the practical lines of “Christian Socialism.” Don't be confused, though. Rather than a manifesto or political polemic, the short work is a call to the Christian life, rather than the Marxist economic and political diatribe we have become accustomed to hearing from “mainstream denominations,” and which Bp. Brewster explicitly disavows. It was the frankly-expressed belief of the Bishop that, “The problem that immediately confronts the Church is not to Christianize Socialism, bat first to socialize Christians, until their ideal principles shall be real and ruling principles.” In this sense, the work is a distinctly Anglican (the bishop wasn't big on "papalism") version of such major Roman Catholic economic and social encyclicals as Rerum Novarum and Centesimus Annus. It is a social work of lasting importance and timeless issues for the Christian.
The work also is distinctively American in that it addresses the issues unique to our republic (yet faced elsewhere), particularly the Christian’s role in the public square. Here, Bp. Brewster’s writings could have been ripped from any recent news coverage of Tea Party events and other similar reactions to a government grown unresponsive, corrupt and indifferent to the will of the people, and seemingly unmindful of God and His Providence. The bishop noted,
Again, there is the ideal of a courageous citizenship, whether in or out of public office. This is most necessary in a democracy, and is there especially hard to maintain because of peculiar temptations to cowardly compliance and ignoble dependence. We want voters who will shake themselves free from sloth and from servitude. For office we want men who want for themselves nothing but the approval of their own conscience. Let brave independence be more and more valued among us, that we may have officials and lawmakers not wearing the tag and collar of interests that own them, and a body of voters not slaves to party tyranny, that so this may be in very truth a free Republic!
So it is that I have undertaken work on an update of The Kingdom of God and American Life. The current project is to make current the historical setting of the work which appeared fifty years after the American Civil War and on the eve of the Great War. Issues such as universal suffrage have long since been resolved, and the events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire have receded into the sepia-colored pages of long-defunct newspapers and “outmoded” history texts. Some elements of Bp. Brewster’s analysis have been overtaken by events, and contemporary examples are being used to illustrate the bishop's points without doing too much violence to the original text. In fairness, I also will note that my own leanings are not as in tune with late 19th-century progressivism as those of Bp. Brewster, but I will try for balance in re-presenting this key work of Anglican social doctrine.
What is very apparent from Bp. Brewster is that the big questions remain for American Christians generally, and those of the traditional Anglican variety specifically. The temptation to withdraw from contact with the world assails the Church itself now as always, particularly among traditional Anglicans where many, having been buffeted by the world, seek simpy a "place apart". (Indeed, this phenomenon is devastating to evangelism, although that is for another day.) But today there is special need for the Church come close with potent touch.
The goal, then, is to revise The Kingdom of God and American Life over the next several months, and, once in the publication process to serialize the work on The Continuum. To that end, I have posted this brief article and the Revised Preface from the original work for reader comment and reaction, as well as possible incorporation, with due attribution if you wish. No anonymous "suggestions" will be included, however.
OUR politics the past year are a thing few of us in America can be proud of. While one may still cherish faith in American citizenship, the people have become weary of mere politics and “business as usual”. A quickened conscience among many has recognized that, even under democratic forms and methods, there have somehow arisen conditions that are palpably undemocratic, and is manifesting an unwonted interest in the control of “human well-being”, or at least a particular notion of what may constitute human well-being.
Meanwhile masses of the people are stirring in vague unrest and striving often aimlessly after they know not what. They know only that something is wrong and they are angry. On the other hand, many persons are only bewildered spectators. They need guidance to sharpen intelligent activity and effective Christian service. On all sides it is well to endeavor to mount to a new standpoint and a wider outlook.
It may be worthwhile to suggest the possibility that conflicting elements in our national life might be taken up into the synthesis of a higher unity. It may be worthwhile to inquire whither we may be moving and to consider those signs which point the way to a simpler, and fairer and more ennobling social order.
We are wise to face the fact that the social question is ultimately a moral question. It is time to recognize that its solution lies not in biological analogies, not in the exaltation of the State at the expense of the individual, nor again in the destruction of government, but in that Gospel of the Kingdom of God which means the realization of certain ideals at once through social relations and through the highest and fullest development of personality.
There are here included papers and sermons prepared by Bp. Brewster for different occasions. Under the circumstances there will be some almost inevitable repetitions of thought in these pages. The papers, however, have a common theme and purpose, and there will be found, I trust, a progress in their general argument. They are put forth because of my desire, as a minister of Him whose Gospel is the good news of a Kingdom and as a citizen of this nation, to bear my testimony to the signal destinies awaiting our country if, in the face of any and every doubt, difficulty and discouragement, this people be true to the ideals and purposes of the Kingdom of God.
Fr. Charles H. Nalls
Richmond, Virginia, June 26, 2010.