Methodist History: 1908 Social Creed for Workers
The United Methodist Church is clear in its convictions that work is a means of stewardship and God-given creativity and that all human beings deserve dignity and justice in the workplace. In early twentieth century America, poor labor conditions prompted the Methodist Church of the time to pen a social creed, spelling out the rights of workers.
(Music) “They never learned to read or write, but they learned to spin and spool.”
At the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. was shifting from a rural, agrarian society to an industrial economy. Children as young as four joined adults, working in factories and coal mines.
In 1908, the Methodist Church took a stand for the rights of workers with a Social Creed that called for an end to child labor, a fair wage, and safety standards.
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, Board of Church and Society: “In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was quoting much of the content of the Social Creed which was four years after the Social Creed had been written.”
The idea of a denomination setting these ideals in writing was groundbreaking but the principles had a long history.
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe: “Actually the predecessor bodies of The United Methodist Church had for over 100 years had statements on peace, on world order, anti-slavery, fairness for all. So our history, since the time of Wesley really, there were always statements in the Books of Discipline about the Methodist commitments to social holiness and to justice. So, it’s never not been there.”
In Washington, D.C., the Reverend Susan Henry-Crowe heads the General Board of Church and Society, the United Methodist agency tasked with advocating for the values contained in the Social Creed. The former pastor gained an appreciation for the church’s clear stance during an early appointment, pastoring a church amidst the textile mills of South Carolina.
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe: “I was visiting one of my parishioners, several of whom worked in the textile mill right beside the church. And he was standing in ankle-high water. And I said, ‘Mr. Smith, what happened today?’ And he said, ‘Oh, this is normal.’ And I was so shaken by it.”
Henry-Crowe’s office overlooks the Supreme Court and is just steps from the U.S. Capitol.
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe “As members of Congress come to work and their staff members come to work every day, they walk by this building and see what our witness is.”
Labor conditions in America have changed over a century but there’s still a need for people of faith to embrace the United Methodist Social Creed, says Church and Society’s John Hill.
John Hill, Board of Church and Society: “We have been calling for a living wage in every industry since 1908. And I reflect on both how inspiring that is and how frustrating that is. We take faithful positions on a number of issues, and the our job is to make sure that those words don’t just gather dust on the shelf somewhere, that we live them out in our lives, and that we challenge those systems that prevent them from being realized in the world.”
This video was first posted on August 24, 2017.