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    Jane Addams reading a storybook to children

    A Joy Hitherto Unknown

    The desire to express the spirit of Christ through social service is as old as Christianity itself.

    By Jane Addams

    October 29, 2023

    Social worker and pacifist Jane Addams, together with Ellen Gates Starr, opened Hull House in a poor area of Chicago in 1889 to support the many European immigrants that lived in the area. Hull House offered services such as childcare for working mothers, an employment bureau, a library, residential housing, and educational classes in citizenship, skills, and the arts. Over time the thirteen buildings that formed the Hull House settlement became a vibrant intentional community.

    The impulse to share the lives of the poor, the desire to make social service, irrespective of propaganda, express the spirit of Christ, is as old as Christianity itself. We have no proof from the records themselves that the early Roman Christians, who strained their simple art to the point of grotesqueness in their eagerness to record a “good news” on the walls of the catacombs, considered this “good news” a religion. Jesus had no set of truths labeled “Religious.” On the contrary, his doctrine was that all truth is one, that the appropriation of it is freedom. His teaching had no dogma to mark it off from truth and action in general. He himself called it a revelation – a life. These early Roman Christians received the gospel message, a command to love all men, with a certain joyous simplicity. The image of the Good Shepherd is … beyond the gentlest shepherd of Greek mythology; the hart no longer pants, but rushes to the water brooks. The Christians looked for the continuous revelation, but believed what Jesus said, that this revelation to be held and made manifest must be put into terms of action; that action is the only medium man has for receiving and appropriating truth. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17, KJV).

    Jane Addams reading a storybook to children

    Jane Addams, American social activist. Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo

    That Christianity has to be revealed and embodied in the line of social progress is a corollary to the simple proposition that man’s action is found in his social relationships in the way in which he connects with his fellows, that his motives for action are the zeal and affection with which he regards his fellows. By this simple process was created a deep enthusiasm for humanity, which regarded man as at once the organ and object of revelation; and by this process came about that wonderful fellowship, that true democracy of the early church, that so captivates the imagination. The early Christians were preeminently nonresistant. They believed in love as a cosmic force. There was no iconoclasm during the minor peace of the church. They did not yet denounce, nor tear down temples, nor preach the end of the world. They grew to a mighty number, but it never occurred to them, either in their weakness or their strength, to regard other men for an instant as their foes or as aliens. The spectacle of the Christians loving all men was the most astounding Rome had ever seen. They were eager to sacrifice themselves for the weak, for children and the aged. They identified themselves with slaves and did not avoid the plague. They longed to share the common lot that they might receive the constant revelation. It was a new treasure which the early Christians added to the sum of all treasures, a joy hitherto unknown in the world – the joy of finding the Christ which lieth in each man, but which no man can unfold save in fellowship. A happiness ranging from the heroic to the pastoral enveloped them. They were to possess a revelation as long as life had new meaning to unfold, new action to propose.

    The early Christians were preeminently nonresistant. They believed in love as a cosmic force.

    I believe that there is a distinct turning among many young men and women toward this simple acceptance of Christ’s message. They resent the assumption that Christianity is a set of ideas which belong to the religious consciousness, whatever that may be, that it is a thing to be proclaimed and instituted apart from the social life of the community. They insist that it shall seek a simple and natural expression in the social organism itself. The Settlement movement is only one manifestation of that wider humanitarian movement which throughout Christendom, but pre-eminently in England, is endeavoring to embody itself, not in a sect, but in society itself. Tolstoy has reminded us all very forcibly of Christ’s principle of nonresistance. His formulation has been startling and his expression has deviated from the general movement, but there is little doubt that he has many adherents, men and women who are philosophically convinced of the futility of opposition, who believe that evil can be overcome only with good and cannot be opposed. If love is the creative force of the universe, the principle which binds men together, and by their interdependence on each other makes them human, just so surely is anger and the spirit of opposition the destructive principle of the universe, that which tears down, thrusts men apart, and makes them isolated and brutal.

    I cannot, of course, speak for other Settlements, but it would, I think, be unfair to Hull House not to emphasize the conviction with which the first residents went there, that it would simply be a foolish and an unwarrantable expenditure of force to oppose or to antagonize any individual or set of people in the neighborhood; that whatever of good the House had to offer should be put into positive terms; that its residents should live with opposition to no man, with recognition of the good in every man, even the meanest. I believe that this turning, this renaissance of the early Christian humanitarianism, is going on in America, in Chicago, if you please, without leaders who write or philosophize, without much speaking, but with a bent to express in social service, in terms of action, the spirit of Christ.

    Source: Jane Addams, Robert Archey Woods, Franklin Henry Giddings, Philanthropy and Social Progress: Seven Essays … Delivered before the School of Applied Ethics at Plymouth Mass., During the Session of 1892 (T. Y. Crowell and Company, 1893) 18–20.

    Contributed By JaneAddams Jane Addams

    Jane Addams (1860–1935) was an American social reformer and the cofounder of Hull House in Chicago.

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