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Social Reform Movements

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According to John, religion is what connects man with the rest of the world through its teachings, rites and symbols. He further adds that religion tends to dwell around what he refers to us an “ultimate limit” of our perfection quest. He defines the function of region as being that of fortifying that we can overcome the barriers blocking our way in our attempt to ultimate fulfillment. Religion thus becomes relevant to humanity through its effectiveness in guiding our way through the obstacles that are most difficult along our path to achieving our goals. In short religion according to John is a tool for us to find our path in fulfilling our life’s goals (John 5).

Raj (1) talks of social reform movements as those with an informal organization structure that that have significantly shaped the modern world where he cites an example of India. In trying to understand social reform movements Raj looks at how they have impacted on the political issues and their consecutiveness to the religious movements or religion, Their ideologies and the active political role they played in shaping the society (Raj 1).

Basing on my topic of discussion this research paper is going to try and clearly analyze the impact religion and social reform movements have had in the 1830s and the 1960s on political, social and economic and cultural reforms in American.

According to Mary etal 311, in 1801 the “second greatest awakening” was born and by 1830s the south had become the region with most churches in America. This region comprised of both white and Black Americans. It is further reported that half the white population and about a quarter of the southerners converted to Christianity and thus had accepted the Bible as the word of God. This region was henceforth known as the Bible belt. Basing on the differentials in the religious manifestations between the south and the north there was no better reason to explain why the two regions has slip divergent believes. The split came in 1840s when the Methodists and Baptists from the south decided to walk out on the organization that had been formed in opposition to the people who owned slaves from attending church. The two religious group’s withdrawal was later embraced by the Presbyterians. Mary etal further reports that the southern emphasized that people be converted against sins a factor that qualified it as a protestant region (Mary etal 311).

By the 20th century a new crop or religious believers sprouted by the name, the fundamentalists this group reinforced the resistance to modernization and but subsequently talked about reading of the bible liberally. On the other hand the southern Protestants had lost their grip on the opposition of evolution for its continual support of groups that were against immigrants. Religion has lingered on in America since then but in the 1960s Evangelicalism was noted to have risen in America. When J.F Kennedy became the American president on a democratic ticket a big group of evangelicals switched camps to the Republican Party. It is also reported that 1976 came to be known as the evangelical year when Jimmy Carter who was a southern born-again Baptist was elected president (Mary etal 311).

The Bible belt was the base for evangelical political actions spearheaded by majority who were moral in nature. This took place at around the 1980s and the 1990s.The southern evangelists started advocating for the holding of school prayers and the strong rejection for the Gay rights, abortion and the Equal rights amendment. It is prudent to further note that the religious opposition to the war in Iraq cost the republican candidate the presidency in 2008.The above is an example of how religious differences have been a key player in shaping of American’s politics and culture (Mary etal 311).

A cause for the formation of social reform movements

Through out the 1830 to early 1900s religion was viewed as either a cause for the formation of social reform movements or the force behind the social reform movement groups in America. With in the period 1830 to early 1900 the had emerged several social movements that called themselves names such as; leagues, belts and so on.Examples of such groups included; Anti-Catholicism, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Anti-Masonic Movement, Antinomian controversy, Anti-Saloon league, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Sunday Law Convention among others. This will only shed some light on a few of the movements (John and Lain 17-19). According to (Thomas 117), the years between 1830s and 1840s was marked by a remarkable social change, mostly around Massachusetts (Thomas 117).

It is reported in Mary etal 311, that religion was the key recipe in the brewing of social reform movements, Karl Marx was once quoted of having remarked that “religion was the opium of the masses” this meant that if the faithful are pumped by rebellious ideas by the minister on the pulpit they will definitely rebel. By the emergence of revivals in the church or religion, during the second greatest awakening the ministers used the pulpit to emphasize the need to people to seek salvation before the second coming of Christ. Through their preaching on salvation as a ticket to the Kingdom of Heaven, they inspired more and more people to seek both moral and social reforms. These reforms included but were not limited to the following; improvement in education, temperance, and asylums for orphans and reformatories for wayward youths and the rehabilitation for criminals (Mary etal, 311).

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It is reported by (John and Lain 17),that religion has been the basis for social reform movements in America since the 1830s.With the emergence of the Anti-Catholicism reform movement in the 1830s in America a new order was henceforth born. The Catholic religion had in very many years considered itself as the one and only true religion, it  boast of having over 58 million faithful today. The catholic religion insisted on authoritarianism, clerical and individualistic values spearheaded by the pope. It is also in order to note that through out the 18th and 19th century the Catholic priest and Bishops had a greater say in the American affairs than the Protestant clergy men. It is also reported that in the1830s and 40s the tide of change swept across the religious sphere of America, with the Birth of the “Know-Nothing Party” of nativist puritan values started to brew all geared toward the opposing of the papal values. A Catholic riots were witnessed in Boston and Philadelphia in 1834 and 1844 respectively (John and Lain 17).

Michael 10 notes that religion and social movements were inseparable as he looks at Elizabeth Cady Stanton who used the pulpit to advocate for woman voting rights in American. Elizabeth is reported to have said that all “women had a duty to use the political system to claim their legal rights as Americans”.michael report s that Elizabeth a legal practitioner used delivered a women’s right speech at the Seneca Falls Church on July 19, 1848, and it was as follows. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty  and the pursuit of happiness””(Michael 10).

The 1895 anti-saloon league

According to(John and Lain 18)religion was synonymous with social reform movements in America .The 1895 anti-saloon league that was an interdominational group  used the pulpit and funded by the to convince the masses on the  dangers the saloons paused to the working man and his family. They hence adopted the motto “the saloons must-go”, this movement was also political as it also put its weight behind an individual candidate that supported it during an election. John and Lain further argue that it is through these political alignments that the Ohio league succefully ousted Myron P.Herrick a Governor on a republican ticket and the enthroning John M.Pattison a democrat both linked to the wet and dry campaign euphoria respectively(John and Lain 18).

Mary etal 209 further adds that many Americans in an attempt to reaffirm their dominance over their lives in the rampant social and economic changes .Growing wealth, market economy, immigration, inequality, territorial expansion and the westward thrust of slavery all the above contributed to their fears and hope a factor that made them seek refuse in either religion or in social reform movements. Believing in the perfection of humanity entangled in religious teachings the reform movements endeavored through a quest to make the American people sin free. Among the Midwest and Northeastern dwellers an organization came into place to stop alcohol abuse, prostitution, improve asylum and prison conditions and establishment of public schools. Opposition to slave trade. This reformist groups either aligned with religion or political parties (Mary etal 209).

In the late 1950s to the 1960s reform movements had become a synonymous with life as most Americans now had become enlightened and thus couldn’t just seat back and watch as their rights were being violated. It is also at this point in time that racial segregation had become rampant among the Black American, the colored and the Hispanics population leaving in the south of America. There was reported several incidences of racial segregation at the work place, modes of transport, schools and even entertainment joints. These racial injustices were so rampant that the church started to use the pulpit as a platform for address these social ills in the society (EWRNA).

The Social religion movement

The Social religion movement was out to eliminate all forms of racial segregation, wage war on poverty, and the understanding of all causative factors of “the underclass”group of the poor. By the late 1960s feminist ideologies also sprung up and hence catalyzing the reformist spirit. This new breed of feminist reformers based their agenda on issues such as; the right to equal pay for all basing on the same amount of work done, reproductive rights, Lesbian rights recognition, The recognition of the women’s effort in the struggle against inequality. It thus led to a global out cry by religious and secular women alike for their rights to be addressed. These women suffragist reform movements also wanted the recognition of rape against women as a war weapon, protest against sex trade, condemning female genital terming it as a harmful practice, violence against women. Religion’s linkage with social reform movements here is establishes in that this feminist movements were led by women from the protestant church and other interdenominational women groups (EWRNA 1037).

Bruce 60 reports of Martin Luther King junior’s use of American civil religion, It is true to not that religion was in every single way related to the Social reform movements through out their history in American politics.Dr King was a religious minister who used the pulpit in the 19603 to bring to light the ills the whites were doing by racially segregating the Blacks and other colored Americans. In his 1963 “l have a dream speech”, He inspired countless Americans to rise up and claim their place in America as the constitution guaranteed equal rights to every American citizen regardless of color, race or religious affiliation. It is prudent to not that the infusion of civil religion in Dr King’s speech makes it overt for all that religion and the social reform movements were inseparable through out the 18th, 19th and the 20th centuries .Another notable figure was Cesar Chavez who was quoted in 1969 remarking as follows on immigration and civil religion “Mexicans, Filipinos, Africans and others, our ancestors were among those who founded this land and tamed its natural wilderness. But we are still pilgrims on this land, and we are pioneers who blaze a trail out of the wilderness of hunger and deprivation that we have suffered even as our ancestors did” (Bruce 60-61).

In conclusion, religion and Social reform movements are two inseparable phenomenons that coexisted from the 18th century to date, but their impact was vastly felt in the period between 1830s and 1960s in the American History.

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