Social concern by evangelicals in the 1800s

Once in a while it is good to remind ourselves that Bible believing Christians over the centuries have been in the forefront of social concern, demonstrating the character of Jesus by good works of compassion.  Things changed somewhere in the early 1900s, but especially before that the church was a model for many social programs.

In Glasgow, Scotland, Thomas Chalmers operated a church school in the early 1800s, with an aim of lifting up the lives of children who had no access to education. His church also took on responsibility “for raising and distributing poor relief in its parish.”*

“In a society without state social welfare provision, a large range of philanthropic effort was undertaken by churches and Christian organizations. Children were a particular focus of concern. Education was largely in the hands of the churches until the State began its own efforts in the 1870s. Anglican and Catholic orphanages were widely established. The London Congregational minister Andrew Reed (1787-1862) started three orphanages, a hospital for children with severe learning difficulties and a home for people with incurable illness. George Muller’s Ashley Down Orphanage supported some 2,000 children in Bristol in the 1880s. In the East End of London, Thomas Barnardo (1845-1905), who started a mission for young people, had by the time of his death rescued around 60,000 children. He pioneered approaches to fostering, operating a ‘no destitute child refused admission’ policy. In 1905 Barnardo’s children’s homes were caring for over 8,500 children, of whom 1,300 were disabled or suffering from serious illness.

“One of Britain’s most widely respected philanthropists and social reformers was Lord Shaftesbury (1801-85). He was strongly motivated by his evangelical social conscience, and steered legislation through Parliament to outlaw the employment of children in underground coal mines, to reduce the hours of children worked in mills, and to improve housing conditions and the care offered to people with mental illness. Evangelical social reformers and philanthopists in Britain helped ameliorate some of the worst social ills of the Industrial revolution; indeed the nineteenth century has been called ‘the Evangelical Century.’ However, other issues remained unaddressed, and the biggest social reform provisions such as universal pensions and unemployment pay had to wait until government intervention at the start of the new century.”

*See “Christianity: The Biography — 2000 Years of Global History” by Ian J Shaw (Zondervan 2016)

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Doctor, epidemiologist, husband, father, Christian missionary physician

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