"Life's most
and urgent
question is,
'What are
you doing
for others?' "

Martin Luther King, Jr.
                      MFSA HISTORY                          
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    John Wesley considered the purpose of the Methodist movement “to reform the nation…and to spread Scriptural holiness over the land.” Drawing on this heritage, the founders of MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action) wrote the first Social Creed in America as part of their response to the abuses of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800's and early 1900's. 

In their creed, they advocated for Christian values to be applied in ways that would reduce the human suffering of the working class. Until then, creeds usually dealt only with matters of theological doctrine, rather than the practical application of Christian belief to the societies in which we live.

    In 1907, Harry F. Ward, who became the first executive director of MFSA, wrote a draft of what became the Social Creed during the meetings in which MFSA was organized. In 1908, the Methodist Episcopal Church became the first denomination to adopt a social creed when its General Conference adopted the Federation's creed [find below].  The church also formally recognized the Federation which became the primary arm of social action for the church for several decades.  Over 1000 persons attend the Federation's first information meeting during the 1908 General Conference.

Later in 1908, Frank Mason North, another founder of MFSA, delivered the report "The Church and Modern Industry" to the newly formed Federal Council of Churches - precursor of the National Council of Churches. At the urging of his report, the Federal Council, with 33 member denominations, adopted a slightly expanded version of the MFSA Social Creed. Many other denominations then formulated social creeds, often using these first creeds as models. 

Collectively, these creeds had a significant impact in the way public policy responded to the nation's social problems.

    Over the last 100 years, various General Conferences modified the Social Creed, causing it to evolve into today's much lengthier United Methodist Social Principles. 

The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church 1908, in the section entitled, The Church and Social Problems, records the Social Creed and its adoption by the church.  The 1908 General Conference then goes on to state:

    “We gladly recognize the increasing sense of responsibility on the part of the Christian Church at large for these great moral concerns of humanity. Our own Church in particular, historically and traditionally in close sympathy with the common people and ever diligent for their welfare, does not fail to recognize the greatness of its own opportunity in the present crisis and the consequent urgency of its duty.

    “In this connection we note with satisfaction the organization of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, composed of members and friends of our Church, and of the Methodist Brotherhood. Their objects are, “to deepen within the Church the sense of social obligation and opportunity, to study social problems from the Christian point of view, to promote social service in the Spirit Jesus Christ.” These objects we heartily approve. (Emphasis added)

    “And now we summon our great Church to continue to increase its works of social service. We summon our ministry, Bishops, District Superintendents, and Pastors, to patient study of these problems and to the fearless but judicious preaching of the teachings of Jesus in their significance for the moral interests of modern society. We look to the press of our Church for enlightenment and inspiration. We look to our Brotherhoods, Sunday schools, and Epworth Leagues to awaken and direct the spirit of social responsibility. We demand of every agency and organization of the Church that it shall touch the people in their human relationships with healing and helpfulness, and, finally, be it remembered that we cannot commit to any special agencies the charge that all the Church must keep. Upon every member rests a solemn duty to devote himself with his possessions, his citizenship, and his influence to the glory of God in the service of the present age. And thus by their works, as by their prayers, let all “the people called Methodists” seek that kingdom in which God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

MFSA…since 1907, a prophetic and independent voice in Methodism for justice, peace and liberation.


The Social Creed as written in 1907 and adopted at General Conference of 1908
The Methodist Episcopal Church stands –
 For equal rights and complete justice for all (people) in all stations of life.
 For the principle of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
 For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries
and mortality.
 For the abolition of child labor.
 For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safe guard the physical and moral health of the community.
 For the suppression of the “sweating system.”
 For the gradual and reasonable reduction of hours of labor to the lowest practical point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life.
 For a release from employment one day in seven.
 For a living wage in every industry.
 For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
 For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the
sure remedy for all social ills.

America’s first “Social Creed,” as it came to be known, was drafted by the founders of Methodist Federation for Social Action (then called Methodist Federation for Social Service), who held their founding meeting at Ebbitt House in Washington DC, in December 1907. This groundbreaking declaration, America’s first formal statement of Christian belief applied to current social issues, led to the development of the Social Principles found today in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church, which is now the United Methodist Church, adopted the creed above as its own in 1908.

 In the years to follow, many Protestant churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church adopted their own versions of a social creed, and the movement of the Social Gospel - the belief and practice that Christians are called to work for the transformation of the society in which they live - took root throughout America.

The impact of the Social Creed and the movement it heralded is incalculable. Social advocacy over the last century by Christians from many denominations, often led by the Methodists, has produced
enormous changes in U.S. state and federal laws, business practices and social norms and has contributed substantially to a greatly improved quality of life for millions of people throughout the
United States and around the world.

Social Creed, Social Principles
Troy Conference Churches asked to Study Key Faith Documents

By Sandra Brands
Communications Director, Troy Conference

September 2006

It’s as much a part of Methodist DNA as class groups, the hymns of Charles Wesley and the Wesleyan quadrilateral.

In 2008, the United Methodist Church (UMC) will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Social Creed. To honor that anniversary, members of the Troy Annual Conference approved a resolution encouraging all United Methodist congregations to study the Social Creed and its offshoot, the Social Principles.

“The 1908 Social Creed is a very significant document,” said the Rev. Clayton Childers, Program Director for Annual Conference Relations with the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) in Washington, D.C. “It was the first creed of its kind that dealt with social issues. Creeds before the 1908 focused more on what we believed and not so much on what God wants us to do.

“It was a model that was used by other denominations to create their own social creed,” he said.

“The Social Principles and the Social Creed are really the foundation of how we operate in the United Methodist Church,” said Virgia Phoenix, Peace and Justice Chair of the Troy Annual Conference Board of Church and Society (BCS). “This is the way we operate in terms of the way we deal with human need and justice.”

Arising out of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, the forerunner of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the original Social Creed was adopted by General Conference in 1908.

Originally, the Social Creed was aimed at the reformation of labor laws—the abolition of child labor, health and safety statutes, paying a living wage, suppression of sweatshops, and a change from the seven-day workweek. Most significantly, the Social Creed called for the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and a sure remedy for all social ills.

While many of the reforms called for by the original creators of the Social Creed have since been enacted into law, the Social Creed and the Social Principles, which grew out of that creed, continue to respond to the political, social, economic and environmental issues that face people today.

That’s because the foundation for the Social Creed is the very fabric of the Wesleyan heritage United Methodists share.

“John Wesley (1703-1791) strongly held that personal holiness and social holiness go together,” said Bishop Susan Hassinger of the Albany Episcopal Area. “For us, understanding how the Gospel connects with daily life and current issues is integral to who we are as a body of Christ. The Social Creed, Hassinger said, is a way of succinctly affirming the core of the Wesleyan tradition of bringing together personal and social holiness.

A denominational heritage

Part of the Methodist denominational heritage is a commitment to being involved in society to make the world a better place, Childers said.
“We say the mission of the church is to make disciples for Christ and transform the world, and if we mean to transform the world, we best understand it and try to make a difference as best as we can,” Childers said.

Relatively brief, the Social Creed is a basic outline of the call to social justice. The Social Principles, part of the Book of Discipline, are a deeper exploration of public policy issues from a Christian social action perspective in the United Methodist tradition.

“As time passed, we added more and more statements that we felt the church needed to take a stand on,” said Childers. “Every four years, [the Social Principles are] reviewed, statements are taken out or put in by General Conference, and all the letters and suggestions [about changes to the Social Principle] are reviewed, amended in committee and also on floor, and it is debated on the floor.”

The General Conference, which is the only body that can speak for the church, then votes on the revisions and additions. Once adopted, the Social Principles are a mandate for the General and Conference Boards of Church and Society to advocate for legal and social reforms reflecting the church’s stance on issues.

“It’s a huge job,” Childers said. “We take the Social Principles and consider the bills before Congress, debates that are happening on Capitol Hill and think about them in light of our church’s official stance. Then we add our voice to the other voices trying to influence lobby.

“We also try to inform the churches so they can become involved in [public policy and advocacy] as well,” he said. “Every United Methodist can participate in our democracy and express their opinion.”

Though the Social Principles are official statements of the church’s stand on issues, it would be unrealistic to believe that all United Methodists agree with every statement in the book.

“No United Methodists would 100 percent affirm every detail of the Social Principles,” Hassinger said, “but any United Methodist out to take a look at what’s there. Before they toss [the Social Principle] out, ask why it’s there and how it connects to our understanding of scripture and the ways United Methodists look at the community and the world.”

For example, she said, “why does our faith make the statements against family violence that it makes? Because every person is a child of God, and deserves respect, every aspect of life is sacred, and abuse dishonors that which is sacred in the other person.  “That looks at what underlies the Social Principles,” she said.

The Social Principles say a lot about the denomination,” Hassinger said, “because we are diverse and we try to speak with one voice. Many Christians debate whether or not we should be separate from the world, or should we be engaged in the world.

“Certainly John Wesley believed we should be engaged in the world, and I think that’s why a lot of United Methodists are part of the church,” she said.

While the Social Principles have been revised, added to, and changed at most General Conferences since their creation, the Social Creed has been revised only once since 1908. After the Methodist-Episcopal and Evangelical United Brethren merged in 1968, the Social Creed was rewritten and approved by the 1972 General Conference.

However, a revised version of the Social Creed will be presented for adoption to members of the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  “We wanted to rewrite the creed for the new generation,” said retired Bishop Susan M. Morrison. Morrison chaired the committee revising the board charged with the task of rewriting the creed.

“We wanted to make it memorable so it would inform young people about their faith in language they use,” she told United Methodist News Service earlier this year.

A call to study
For the Rev. Steve Smith, pastor of Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church in Schenectady, N.Y., and co-chair of the BCS, it’s important to study the Social Creed and the Social Principles because they are a reminder that “we were in the forefront of being engaged in the world; saying that our Christian faith requires us to work for justice, for better living and working conditions for people—that the Gospels mean something for our lives, not just as individuals but as a corporate body.”

The Conference Board is encouraging congregations to study the Social Creed and the Social Principles because, Phoenix said, many “congregations are not aware of these foundations. They get caught up in their own problems—like not having enough money to make their budget, or the boiler breaking down.

“We need to advocate for people, it’s part of our teaching as followers of Jesus,” Phoenix said.  Childers suggest that pastors use the Social Creed and Social Principles as part of their sermons. “They are the official stand of the church on a whole range of issues.”

Hassinger agrees. “Just about every issue you read about in the newspaper or see on the news, is covered by the Social Principles in some way.” She also encourages congregations to develop study groups to look at the social Principles in detail and in fullness. “How can we study what our denominational roots say so we can be better citizens and in many cases better neighbors?”




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