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Title pageAbout the Book

Goucher, John Franklin.

Christianity and the United States.


New York: Eaton & Mains; Cincinnati: Jennings & Graham, 1908.



John Franklin Goucher was completing the ninth of his ten productive years as the second president of the Women's College of Baltimore when he traveled to Japan to give the keynote address at the Tokyo Conference of the World's Student Christian Federation in March 1907. Goucher was no stranger to world travel; he served as a member of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Church between 1884 and 1922, and had already in 1907 set up mission schools in China, Japan, Korea, and India. The WSCF had been founded in 1895 as an outgrowth of university student evangelical enthusiasm in the United States and Europe, thanks in part to the spread of the Young Men's Christian Association to college campuses. Founded somewhat as a international Protestant competitor to the Roman Catholic Church, its young founders, men like the youthful American Methodist John Raleigh Mott, who served as its first secretary-general and much later won a Nobel Peace Prize for his life's work in ecumenicalism, encouraged its ecumenical scope and evangelical reach. They sought to form and strengthen existing student religious organizations around the world.

Goucher's address, published when he had returned to Baltimore, was entitled simply "Christianity in the United States." In essence, it is a fifty-page essay covering four hundred years of American history that places Christianity ("not the Church") at the center of all developments for good, and at the heart of all bastions against evil. "Christianity," he writes, "accounts for the discovery and settlement of America, it determined our governmental organization, and has been the dominating influence in our national development." (p.9) Clearly, his truncated historical account must move quickly from the first explorations driven by religion, to the populating of the continent in its early day with men and women fleeing persecution for their faith. Quoting James Bryce and his well-known American Commonwealth, the Constitution, when it came, did not make an established church, however Christianity was still, though "not the legally established religion, yet the national religion." (Many of Goucher's points are illustrated with quotations from well-known sources.)

By now, when Goucher speaks of Christianity, he means evangelical Protestantism. The nation's development under this guiding hand was challenged since many new Americans were illiterate, ignorant of evangelicalism, and taken with "a spirit of intolerance and anarchy, which they smuggled in under the naturalization papers." (p.23) On top of this, four million slaves were suddenly freed. The Bible - with 800 million copies distributed from the beginnings of the American Bible Society in 1813 up until 1908 - and education were to be the salvation. Christianity is essentially educative, opines Goucher. Every colonial college was of Christian origin, and still in 1884, 307 out of the 370 institutions of higher learning were under the control of some denomination or another. He pays tribute to the growth of the YMCA and the Sunday schools and notes that nineteenth century evangelical church membership increased three and a half times as fast as did the population. Goucher gives a detailed inventory of the statistical success of evangelical Protestantism and its now 187,800 churches. The sanctimony and mysticism that had blurred the early protestant life of the nation has now subsided and ecumenicalism among Protestants is the norm. Morality will continue to aid national life, labor relations are improving, and so is the lot of the poor. The new challenges of empire in Cuba and the Philippines will certainly be met. This should be assured with seven out of the nine members of the present Cabinet and most of the Supreme Court belonging to evangelical churches, as well as - he claims - every president since Lincoln.

Goucher's overwhelmingly uncritical version of American history seems somewhat remarkable, delivered as it was in Tokyo to an international audience. There are hints of the current worries about heavy southern and eastern immigration, but the speech reflects the confidence, even triumphalism, among American elites - Protestant elites among them - at the time the United States was moving into the twentieth century as the dominant industrial global power. For them, from Christianity came liberty of thought, independence of action, and morality of purpose in justice and society that had made a unique nation. Modern America was the example to the world and evangelical Protestantism was its engine room.

Researched and authored by John Osborne, Ph. D.


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