In his discussion of Christian Socialism in The Victorian Church Owen Chadwick points out that “in June 1851 Kingsley attained the national press by getting himself publicly denounced in church” (358). G. S. Drew, the minister at St. John’s in Charlotte Street, with the assistance of F. D. Maurice had arranged six evening sermons on the message of the Anglican Church in part to attract visitors to the Great Exhibition and those who attended “the celebrated John Street Literary Institution, palace of London socialistic atheism.” Kingsley spoke on “The Message of the Church the Labouring Man.” According to Chadwick, who describes Kingsley delivering sermons “like a man wrestling with demons,” in this famous one the Christian Socialist

seemed to identify his enemy with the English clergy. He sounded as though he was telling the people that the gospel was liberty, equality and fraternity and that any priest who did not preach liberty, equality and fraternity betrayed his God and his church. In trumpet-tones he said that the message of Christ was Freedom, that all systems of society which favour the accumulation of capital in a few hands or which oust the masses from the soil are contrary to the kingdom of God. He besought the poor not to judge the church by its diseases. Let the clergy be as tyrannical, luxurious, bigoted, ignorant, careless as they may, the Bible proclaims freedom to the poor, baptism proclaims the equality of all men, the Lord’s Supper proclaims their brotherhood, not as a dim and distant possibility but as an absolute and eternal right. It is God’s will that the degraded masses shall share in the soil and wealth and civilisation and government of England. [358-59]

Not surprisingly, once Kingsley had finished Drew, the incumbent, criticized his sermon, provoking a near riot in the working class members of the audience. The national press, as Chadwick puts it, “Seized the moment and heightened it” (359), thereby both disseminating Kingsley’s incendiary charges and establishing his credibility with many liberals and radicals. “They could no longer be dismissed by the workers as parsonical amateurs and by the Tories as sill and harmless sentimentalists. To be denounced by a parson for equating Christianity with socialism was the quickest route to the confidence of the Chartist labourer. Antichristians took a stance of respect towards the Christian socialists, antichristian institutes offered their platforms” (360). Chadwick concludes that the “Christian Socialists achieved among working men an influence astonishing in so small a group. They were driving their coach through the multi-barred gate which sundered upper and middle classes from labourer” (360).

One result of this new credibility appears in the fact that the leading “Chartist newspaper confessed them to be the leaders of the co-operative movement,” and in 1852 leaders of the striking wireworkers — “the first national conflict between employer and labourer in English history” —  looked to them “for advice and sympathy.” Christian Socialists did more than inspire and inspire, for [J. M.] Ludlow and [Vansittart] Neale and Thomas Hughes helped to secure an act of Parliament (Slaney’s act) securing adequate legal protection for co-operative societies and their business” (360).

Related material


Chadwick, Owen. The Victorian Church. London: Adam & Charles Black. 1966.

Last modified 26 May 2020