Men and Religion Forward Movement

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Time Period
9/1/1911  - 4/1/1912
Description
The Men and Religion Forward Movement was a national, ecumenical movement that aimed to evangelize and recruit men for Protestant churches. The movement was an attempt to reclaim male leadership in Protestant congregations, which some organizers believed was threatened by the increasing leadership of women in mission and reform work. Moreover, leaders discouraged the use of emotional appeals in worship services, believing that sentimentality was deterring men from attending church.

Leaders conducted eight-day-long religious meetings across the country from September 1911 through April 1912. The movement received support from a variety of Protestant denominations, as well as the YMCA and the International Sunday School Association.

In spite of the movement’s seeming popularity, it was apparent that the eight-month-long campaign produced fewer conversions than desired and failed to attract many participants outside of Protestant churches.

It remains a strong example of "Muscular Christianity," which emphasize the manly characteristics of the Christian message.
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Narrative
The Men and Religion Forward Movement was a national, ecumenical movement that aimed to evangelize and recruit men for Protestant churches. Leaders conducted this revivalistic campaign from September, 1911, through April, 1912. The movement received support from a variety of Protestant denominations, as well as interdenominational organizations such as the YMCA and the International Sunday School Association. It is one example of "Muscular Christianity," which emphasized the manly characteristics of the Christian message.

The Men and Religion Forward Movement began as a reaction against the feminization of 19th-century U.S. Protestantism. The movement was an attempt to reclaim male leadership in Protestant congregations, which some organizers believed was threatened by the increasing leadership of women in mission and reform work. Movement leaders called on men to renew their commitment to the church in order to narrow the gap between male and female membership. The movement was interdenominational from the outset. Director Fred B. Smith was a former minister with the Young Men’s Christian Association and several other prominent leaders in the movement included men who, like Smith, had worked with either the YMCA, the International Sunday School Association or other ecumenical organizations. In spite of its roots in interdenominational cooperation, however, the Men and Religion Forward Movement failed to attract many participants outside of Protestant churches.

The Men and Religion Forward Movement was driven by "sweeps," or eight-day-long religious meetings in towns and major cities across the nation. Leaders sought ultimately to enlist 3,000,000 men and boys for Protestant churches. The movement’s ideology was grounded in the belief that Christianity was an inherently masculine religion. Believing that sentimentality in worship was deterring men from attending church, movement leaders discouraged the use of emotional appeals in their services. Instead, they sought to bring a rational, masculine, Christian message to United States men. Indeed, movement leaders preached that true Christianity was not sentimental and effeminate but virile and masculine. As purveyors of “Muscular Christianity,” the Men and Religion Forward movement encouraged revival leaders to engage in vigorous exercise, believing it to be an important component of their Christian message. Not all leaders of the movement were opposed to women’s rights, but several prominent leaders publicly praised the concept of separate spheres and denounced woman suffrage.

The Men and Religion Forward Movement emphasized five areas for Christian growth and outreach: Bible study, evangelism, missions, boys’ work and social service. In doing so, movement leaders placed great importance on traditional evangelical emphases, such as Bible study, prayer and conversion, but also made social Christianity part of the movement’s focus. Across the United States, the Social Service Committee of the Men and Religion Forward movement educated men on social problems and briefly heightened awareness of and interest in the Social Gospel. In fact, presentations by members of the Social Service Committee typically attracted the largest crowds during city sweeps. Due to its emphasis on social ministry, the Men and Religion Forward Movement received support from Social Gospel ministers, such as Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch, who praised the movement’s emphasis on developing a greater social consciousness among men.

The middle and upper class base of the movement can be seen in movement leaders’ attempts to make Christianity relevant for businessmen. Leaders in Men and Religion Forward were influenced by modern business practices, such as mass advertising. In order to reach the largest number of men, publicists printed advertisements for conferences in sports pages and made use of electric signs.

Significant Contributions to Christianity in the United States

The Men and Religion Forward Movement concluded with the "Christian Conservation Congress," in New York, which was attended by such national leaders as Booker T. Washington and William Jennings Bryan. Approximately 1.5 million men participated in the 7,000 meetings held between 1911-1912. In spite of the movement’s seeming popularity, by April 1912, it was apparent that the eight-month campaign produced far fewer conversions that anticipated. In the same way, the enthusiasm that the movement created for the Social Gospel was not long-lasting and did not radically alter the mission of many Protestant churches. Still, one of the long-reaching legacies of Men and Religion Forward was a great effort on the part of many Protestant Churches to attract more men and boys to their congregations. For example, in part because of Men and Religion Forward, churches increasingly offered opportunities for men to become part of church athletic teams. Such efforts came to fruition by the 1920s, when more men and boys were joining Protestant congregations than during the Victorian era. At the same time, many churches eliminated opportunities for women to become involved in mission work.

Photographs

The Chistian Conservation Congress at Carnegie Hall- Hathi Trust- from The Independent, vol 72 (1912)

Fred B Smith portrait- Internet Archive- from Extracts of Letters from Mr. Fred B. Smith

Men listening to Raymond Robins speak on the Social Gospel- Hathi Trust- from Young Men, vol 37 (1912)

Christian Conservation Congress advertisement- Hathi Trust- from New-York Observer v. 91 (1912)
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Joanna Lile

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