Spring 1984, Volume 1


John R. Sillito

"Prove All Things, Hold Fast That Which Is Good" Franklin Spencer Spalding: A Christian Socialist Dissenter from Capitalist Values

John R. Sillito is an Archivist and Instructor of Library at Weber State College, and chair of the faculty Research and Professional Growth Committee. He is an assistant editor of Sunstone and The Sunstone Review.

In his book Great Dissenters, American Socialist leader Norman Thomas observes:

The secret of a good life is to have the right loyalties and to hold them in the right scale of values. The value of dissent and dissenters is to make us reappraise those values with the supreme concern for the truth.'

Franklin Spencer Spalding, who served as Episcopal Bishop of Utah in the early part of this century, was one of those individuals described by Thomas. Like many of his contemporaries in the ministry, Spalding came to believe that in order to save souls, the church needed to work to bring about a fundamental change in the social and economic base of society moving it from capitalism to socialism. As a Christian Socialist dissenter, Spalding typified the spiritual injunction he used on his personal bookplates: "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good."

This article seeks to understand better the role of the dissenter-the person who dissociates himself from the prevailing values of his society-by examining the life and philosophy of one such dissenter, Franklin Spencer Spalding.

In 1901, Spalding, then serving as a young Episcopal minister in Erie, Pennsylvania, summarized his twofold personal and political philosophy:

I am a Socialist, and I hope I appreciate every wise and honest effort to do away with the present competitive system.... As a clergyman of the Christian church.... I feel that in the Christian teachings of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men will be found the emotion (to achieve socialism).2

This dual philosophy-socialism within a Christian framework placed Spalding squarely in the camp of those socialist clergymen who constituted the left-wing of the Social Gospel movement spreading through American Protestantism. These individuals believed in and worked for a socialist reorganization of American society. In their view, such a realignment represented the only way of ending the inherently unequal and corrupting values which they believed dominated American capitalism, while at the same time securing a society truly based on Christian principles. Spalding, and other socialist clergymen, believed that God was just as concerned with the temporal lives of his children as he was with their spiritual salvation. Thus, they argued, the church needed to play a dynamic and active role in changing the living and working conditions of the working class in order to do God's will on Earth.

At the turn of the century when Franklin Spalding expressed these sentiments, American Christian Socialists were an integral part of the socialist movement in this country, which was focused largely, but not exclusively, in the Socialist Party of America. The roots of Christian Socialism in the United States extend back to the 1880s when a group of clergymen organized a Society of Christian Socialists, patterned after a similar organization in England. These individuals believed that the aims of socialism were embraced in the message of Christianity and asserted that the teachings of Jesus Christ led directly and inevitably to socialism. Therefore, in their eyes the church was obliged because of its obedience to Christ to strive to bring this system into existence. Spalding shared these sentiments and further believed that a person could not truly be Christian until he came to the realization that "human rights come before property rights." Only under socialism, Spalding believed, could a society be created in which humane conditions could actually prevail.

Because of his commitment to both Christianity and socialism, Spalding found himself in conflict with many of the prevailing values of capitalist America in the early twentieth century. As a socialist, he believed that the future lay not in a society built on competition, but on cooperation. As an Episcopal bishop, he challenged his own church and criticized it for too often favoring the capitalist rather than the worker. Moreover, when he became Bishop of Utah in 1905, Spalding additionally found himself in the position of challenging the values of the hierarchy of the LDS faith theologically, politically, and economically-as Mormonism increasingly identified itself with prevailing capitalistic notions.

An examination of Spalding's early life, however, finds little to suggest him as a likely convert to socialism. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1865, of Revolutionary War heritage, Spalding was preceded in the ministry by several of his ancestors. His father, John F. Spalding, was serving as rector of St. Paul's Church in Erie at the time of Franklin's birth. The elder Spalding was later elected Bishop of Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, and the Spalding family settled in Denver. That move marked the beginning of a lifetime interest in, and affection for, the West on the part of Franklin Spalding.

After attending public and private preparatory schools, Spalding graduated from Princeton in 1887, where he was active as a debater, class officer, and managing editor of the school paper. In 1888, after spending several months in Europe, Spalding entered General Theological Seminary in New York to prepare for a career in the ministry. Though he did well scholastically, Spalding was distressed by what he considered to be the poor quality of instruction at the seminary and the paucity of intellectual stimulation. In later years he noted that his real "seminary" was found in the urban parishes in which he served while attending GTS.

After graduation, Spalding began his ministry as rector of All Saints Church in Denver. A year later his father asked him to take charge of Jarvis Hall, an Episcopal boys' boarding school in Colorado. After several years in this capacity, he returned to the city of his birth at the St. Paul's pulpit once occupied by his father.

It was while serving in Erie that Spalding began to take an active interest in socialism, but his conversion was a gradual process. As a youth he considered himself a Republican, but he endorsed the Democratic party in the 1890s because he supported Bryan and "Free Silver." During his years in Erie, Spalding had his first real contact with conditions facing the working class. After observing the vulnerability of workers when certain laborsaving devices were introduced and large numbers of workers laid off, Spalding became convinced that working people were condemned by capitalism to a life of oppression and exploitation. Many of these unemployed workers were Spalding's own parishioners, and he sensed their frustrations toward the system which seemed to them-and to him-to favor capitalist over worker. Spalding articulated these feelings in a Labor Day sermon at St. Paul's where the congregation consisted mainly of employers, not workers. Charges of "agitating the workers" and stirring up trouble were lodged against Spalding. But the young minister maintained his position. Similar experiences were typical of the conversion process for other ministers who advocated Christian Socialism.

The initial contact began Spalding's lifelong study of socialism and the Marxist analysis of a class society. He began his study with the Communist Manifesto, which he claimed opened his eyes and brought him truth and hope for change. Though somewhat repelled by what he considered the selfish, materialistic approach of some socialists, Spalding came to believe that only in socialism lay the possibility of emancipating the working class.

Moreover, Spalding also believed that only through socialism could the Christian church bring real life and meaning to the teachings of Jesus Christ and realize the society he envisioned. Taking his text from the sixth chapter of Saint Matthew, Spalding proclaimed that the church could not serve two masters, God and Mammon:

The Christian church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race. So far she has failed, but I think that Socialism shows her how she may succeed. It insists that men cannot be made right until the material conditions of life are made right. Although a man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread. Therefore, the church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life. These unequal and unjust conditions must cease and cooperation take its place. Competition will not be stopped by making the victors so pitiful that they will share the spoils,-but by making the vanquished so strong they can no longer be robbed. Therefore, it is my duty to try to make the church see that she must cease to be the almoner of the rich and become the champion of the poor.3

Spalding's commitment to socialism was considerably strengthened after coming to Utah in 1905 as Bishop. Although in Erie he had been briefly exposed to the concerns and aspirations of labor, in the diocese of Utah (which included parts of Nevada and (Colorado), Spalding came into frequent contact with workers in the mining camps. Through his experience in these camps his understanding and compassion for working people deepened considerably.

As a consequence, Spalding advocated that since "it is the duty of the Church to win men to Christ and His righteousness," the Christian message must be actively preached to the men in the mining camps. it is important to help individuals in the "midst of temptation," Spalding argued in an article on the subject in the Episcopal publication The Spirit of Missions. "Men in the mining country answer to this description," Spalding explained, for "it is very easy to be bad, somewhat lonely and conspicuous to be good." Spalding also asserted that the church must also take the gospel message to these individuals by personal representatives in the mining camps-men who "have a message they believe in and without cant or indifference are living the life they recommend." At the same time, he argued, it is important to recognize that the "mining camps know no distinction between Sunday and weekday," and the church must provide reading rooms, shelter for the homeless, hospitals and "decent and healthful recreation," as well as spiritual guidance and conventional Sabbath observances.4

Spalding was often frustrated in his efforts to educate his ecclesiastical colleagues in the role of the church, particularly those at the Board of Missions who supervised missionary work and the allocation of funds. He voiced his disappointment in a letter to John W. Wood, secretary of the Board of Missions:

I'm convinced more and more that in the mining camps and in every other place, the Church ought to do the thing that needs to be done for the social and moral good of the people. In Eureka, Utah the other night I had a long talk with a young Baptist preacher named Stillman ... (who) has been in Eureka ... two years. We have a sort of Guild Hall and having no one to send there, I loaned him the building. He is making good in many ways and is now the justice of the peace and manager of the miners store .... He poured out his woe to me after service. He said that he felt that what the town needed was a sort of institutional church and he showed me the plan he had prepared. It was a remarkable combination of reading room, smoking room, bowling alley, game room, church- mortuary-chapel for men killed in the mines etc., and a lodging house. He thought it would cost $25,000 and had promises (for money) ... but the Baptist church sat on it because it was awful to allow smoking and perhaps card-playing in any house owned by a church. But he said he would not do what they wanted him to do .... just add one more meeting house to the too many already in town. Isn't the kind of Gospel the poor need to have preached to them some relief from saloons, dives, etc.? And yet, how impossible it is to get money to do these things.'

At the same time, Spalding actively promoted socialism as he traveled throughout his diocese, and wherever he went the press played up the novelty of the "Socialist Bishop." For example, Spalding gave a lecture in Rhyolite, Nevada, in 1907, in which, indicative of his belief in gradualism, he told his audience that the system must be changed by a process of natural evolution and not by ignorant radicalism or violence. The Rhyolite Herald commented that the Bishop was "in no way radical" but championed a "safe and sane brand of socialism" which could possibly provide "the means of uplifting the whole human race."

While the Herald emphasized that Spalding did not advocate violent revolution, this should not obscure the fact that the Bishop was, by his own definition, a Marxist who believed that the "interests of labor and capital are not the same." Rejecting sentimentality, Spalding clearly considered himself a scientific socialist who believed that socialism was "the name of a philosophy of history" which is predicated on the assumption that "the abolition of competition based on capitalist exploitation and the coming in of cooperation, based on the supremacy of democracy is inevitable." To accept socialism, he argued, is to be "wise enough to see what is coming . . . and help it rather than stand in the way and-to say the least-be unprepared for it."6

Spalding argued that the term "Christian Socialist" was misunderstood and unfortunate, citing Marx's view that Christian Socialism "was the holy water with which priests consecrate the heart burnings of the aristocracy." At the same time, Spalding suggested that many of his ecclesiastical colleagues who proclaimed themselves to be socialists did not really understand the term but felt that "because they did not limit their duties to preaching on Sunday . . . but take an active part in the reform movements of city and state," that they had a right to the title. These men, he argued, have no right to claim to be socialist, and even putting "the adjective Christian in front of it" could not "make its meaning indefinite enough to include them." Recognizing the importance of collective effort, he stressed that individualism "can never be enlightened enough, can never even be Christian enough to make it socialism."' While Spalding believed that socialism had much to offer the church, particularly in understanding historical and material determinism, he also believed that "Christianity ... has its message to the Socialist." Christianity, he asserted, could help the socialist better understand the nature of man as well as the fact that this is "God's world ... and the forces outside a man's life (which) control his life in large degree . . . are from God." He said that socialism could benefit from the emphasis Christians place on the worth of every living

soul: Where the socialists get their sublime faith in the worth of man, just common, ordinary, everyday man, without getting it from Christ is just beyond my understanding. Without their knowing it, He must have given it to them, and it is for the Christian minister to say, "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him I declare unto you." For if we believe "that about His dignity He wrapped our humanity," we must believe in the worth of humanity. If we believe in the great Elder Brother, we cannot doubt the worth of all his brothers. And if we are Christians, we must believe that right is stronger than wrong and that God's grace is sufficient to prevent the failure of any effort to give the fulness of life to all His children."

The peak year of Spalding's socialist activity was 1908. In January, while preaching at the consecration of his friend, Edward J. Knight, as Bishop of Western Colorado, he articulated strongly and forcefully a socialist analysis of capitalist society. He lashed out at the Church, saying it had not believed Marx's teaching and:

* * , the result is that we are the Church of the well-fed and well-clothed, and that we spend most of our time fattening the sheep of the fold. Surely we forget that the Master said in one of His parables that it matters not how good the seed is unless it fall into the right soil. Yes, we forget the meaning of the prayer He taught us to say-Lead us not into temptation . . . .

Go forth as the Bishop of Socialism and tradeunionism, (he advised his friend), of Communism and Prohibition, of ethical culture, new thought, of truth held by all men, at all times and in all places, and truth which was only discovered yesterday . . . . We are Apostles of Christ, not private chaplains to rich parishoners, not privates required to obey orders of others whom we are not sure of, but leaders, with no superiors, save Christ, the King.9

During Lent, he preached a series of sermons on socialism to large and enthusiatic audiences. Even the conservative InterMountain Republican commented editorially that Spalding had "done more than give good advice to socialists" but also gave the public a better respect for socialism because "they have been told the truth about it in temperate language by a temperate man." In the summer of 1908, Spalding attended the Lambeth Conference in Great Britain where he spoke several times in strongly Marxist terms for the need for socialism.

Though the Inter-Mountain Republican spoke kindly, if not sympathetically, that is not to say there was no opposition to Spalding's socialist activity, particularly among Utah Episcopalians. One communicant referred to the Spalding Episcopate as a "socialist adventure" and the "most lamentable episode" in Utah Episcopal history. Still, such criticism did not sway Spalding from his support of socialism, though, as he told his fellow clergymen at the annual convocation of the diocese in 1911, it was not his custom or intent to bring his "opinion on ... reform" into his activities in such a way as "to cause division or ill-will."

Spalding's activities as a leader in The American Christian Socialist movement came to an untimely and tragic end at the height of his career. On September 25, 1914, as he was crossing South Temple at E Street on his way to mail a letter, he was struck by an oncoming automobile and instantly killed.

For more than a decade, Franklin Spencer Spalding was an articulate and effective advocate of the need for the church to help bring about a new social order. Moreover, the items found on his desk at the time of his death evidence the depth and breadth of his commitments. They included a set of working notes in proposed changes in the Episcopal hymnal, deleting those songs which relied , *0 . on militaristic metaphors to preach the gospel of the Prince of Peace; a draft of a forthcoming speech on world peace, a topic which had in creasingly occupied the Bishop's mind as war spread through Europe; and, lastly, the beginnings of an article which he wrote: "I am trying to help the rich understand the poor, and the poor unders tand the rich. I don't want to scold. I want to speak the truth in love."

Spalding's adult life was characterized by a two-fold com mitment to Christianity and socialism. This duality was accurately identified by his friend, Charles D. Williams, Bishop of Michigan, in a eulogy at Spalding's funeral. It provides a fitting summary of Spalding's life and work:

Spalding was a Socialist in his economic creed. But his Socialism was a unique kind. It was not the Socialism of mere economic determinism or of materialism. It was a spiritual and moral Socialism, the Socialism of justice and righteousness, above all the Socialism ... of Christlike love for all the weak, the disinherited, and oppressed. He was called a Christian Socialist, and . . . yet I would call him a Socialist Christian. For the fundamental, underlying and determining element in all his life work and personality was his personal Christianity, his faith. It was the love of Christ that constrained him here as in every other aspect of his life, work and personality. His socialism was but the expression of his Christianity as applied to the larger problems of industrial and economic relations. But it was the same Christianity which sancitified his personal character and inspired his work as a minister of the Christian church.10


1 Norman Thomas, Great Dissenters (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970), p. 13.

2 John Howard Melish, Franklin Spencer Spalding: Man and Bishop (New York: MacMillan, 1917), p. 237. This work constitutes the best single source on Spalding produced to date.

3 Franklin Spencer Spalding, "Bishop Spalding's Own Story of His Conversion to Socialism," Christian Socialist, November 1914, p. 1.

4 Franklin Spender Spalding, "The Church in the Mining Camp," Spirit of Missions, February 1908, pp. 97-104.

5 Frankline Spencer Spalding to John W. Wood, 14 February 1908, Records of the Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, Box 73, Episcopal Church Archives, Austin, Texas.

6 Franklin Spencer Spalding, "Christian Socialism," Christian Socialist, I March 1909, p. 1.

7 Ibid.

8 1bid.

9 Fankfin Spencer Spalding, "The Bishop of Socialism and Trade Unionism," Christian Socialist_ I February 1908, pp. 1-2.

10 I bid.