Archive for the ‘Matthew 25’ Tag

Feast of G. Bromley Oxnam (August 14)   1 comment

Above:  The Cover of the Dust Jacket to A Testament of Faith (1958)

Image Source =



U.S. Methodist Bishop




Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

–John 14:15, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Bishop Oxnam liked to quote that verse.  For him, Christian faith was not a doctrinal confession one signed at the bottom of the page.  No, Oxnam’s Christian faith was a love-infused lifestyle. This lifestyle entailed obeying Matthew 25:31-46.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

–Matthew 25:40b, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Oxnam was, in many ways, a counterpoint to his fellow bishop and contemporary, Gerald Kennedy (1907-1980).  Yet both men had much in common.  And both of them earned their places here, on my Ecumenical Calendar.  (I admit, though, that I feel more affinity for Bishop Oxnam than with Bishop Kennedy.)

Richard Brookhiser, writing derisively of Oxnam in the February 1992 issue of First Things, commented:

Theologically, Oxnam was a liberal by default, since he barely thought of theology at all.

Yet, as I have written repeatedly in lectionary-based devotions at some of my other weblogs, deeds reveal creeds.  As one thinks, one is.  And as one thinks, one acts.  In Hebrew theology, God is like what God has done and does.  Ergo, we are like what we have done and do.  And, as the Letter of James tells us:

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

–2:26, Revised Standard Version (1952)

Oxnam showed his faith by his works (James 2:26).

I could continue to paraphrase Oxnam, but his words are better than mine in expressing his faith.  So, without further ado:

I find it hard to understand men who “accept Christ” and then become sadistic as they deal with others who try to “love God with heart and mind and soul, and brother as self,” but who cannot in honesty accept the obscurantism that is presented as “the faith,” especially when the presentation is accompanied by the clanking of Inquisition chains and the fires at the stake.  The coercion by the bigoted is in itself a rejection of the spirit of Christ.  He relied on the compulsion of love.  If I were called upon to choose one word to describe Christianity, it would be love.  I believe nothing can separate us from the love of God.  I believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  I believe God sent Jesus because He “loved the world.”

A Testament of Faith (1958), viii-ix




Oxnam, born in Los Angeles, California, on August 14, 1891, moved away from his family theological roots.  They were conservative.  Our saint’s father, a mining engineer and a mine owner, oversaw the construction of chapels for inhabitants of mining camps.  Oxnam’s mother was a charter member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.).  At age 17, at a revival, our saint vowed to become a minister.

Oxnam left the conservative religion of his youth behind and embraced the Social Gospel.  He graduated from the University of Southern California (B.A., 1913) then Boston University (S.T.B., 1915).  Our saint, who married Ruth Fisher on August 19, 1914, had joined the Southern California Conference of the old Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) as a licensed preacher the previous year.  The Conference ordained him a deacon in 1915 then an elder in 1917.

After serving in Poplar, California, Oxnam became the pastor at the Church of All Nations, Los Angeles, California (1917-1926), in the Eastside.  The Church of All Nations was a multi-ethnic, immigrant, and impoverished flock.  Our saint presided over an extensive network of social services, openly identified with labor unions, opposed nativism and xenophobia, suggested that teachers’ informed opinions should influence educational policies, aroused suspicions that he was a communist, and ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board.  He also taught social ethics at the University of Southern California.  In fact, Oxnam was neither a communist nor a Marxist; he was a Christian Socialist.

Then Oxnam turned to academia full-time.  He was a Professor of Social Ethics at Boston University (1927-1928).  Next, our saint made his mark as the President of DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana (1928-1936).  Oxnam, a pacifist, first made participation in the R.O.T.C. optional.  (It had been mandatory.)  Then, in 1934, he presided over the end of the R.O.T.C. at DePauw University.  He also helped students to find jobs in New Deal programs, expanded library holdings, and increased attendance at voluntary chapel services.  These were dignified services; Oxnam insisted on that.




Oxnam became the then-youngest Methodist bishop in the United States in 1936; he was 45 years old.  (Gerald Kennedy broke that record, at age 40, in 1948.)  Our saint was based in, in order:

  1. Omaha, Nebraska (1936-1939);
  2. Boston, Massachusetts (1939-1944);
  3. New York, New York (1944-1952); and
  4. Washington, D.C. (1952-1960).

Our saint was active on the denominational level of the old Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939) and the merged Methodist Church (1939-1968). 

  1. He chaired the Division of Educational Institutions, the General Board of Education (1939-1944).
  2. He chaired the Division of Foreign Missions, the General Board of Global Ministries (1944-1952).
  3. He led the Methodist Crusade for World Order (1944-1948).  The Methodist Crusade for World Order opposed a return to pre-World War II isolationism, favored an internationalist foreign policy, and supported the United Nations.
  4. He was active in the Methodist Federation for Social Service (later Social Action), which Frank Mason North (1850-1935) had helped to found in 1917.  The Federation, a target of conservative elements within the denomination, suffered a strong rebuke in 1952.  “Methodist” ceased to be in its name, and The Methodist Church established the new Board of Social and Economic Relations.

Oxnam was also an ecumenist.

  1. He served as the President of the old Federal Council of Churches (1946-1948).
  2. He helped to found the National Council of Churches (1950).
  3. He was one of the Presidents of the World Council of Churches (1948-1954).
  4. He sat on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.
  5. Oxnam’s ecumenism had its limits.  It did not extend to fundamentalists and pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics, who thought he was going to Hell anyway.

Despite what Red-baiting conservatives claimed, Oxnam was a patriot. 

  1. He was a staunch man of the Christian Left.
  2. He was a member of the Civil Advisory Committee to the Secretary of the Navy during World War II.
  3. After the war, he chaired the Commission to Study Postwar Relief Conditions in Germany.
  4. He opposed mandatory military training and service in peacetime.
  5. He argued that using atomic weapons was immoral.

In July 1953, Oxnam testified before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee, which was itself un-American.  He rebutted allegations that he was and ever had been a communist or a Marxist.  Our saint produced evidence to document that charges to the contrary from Representative Donald L. Jackson (1910-1981) were objectively false.  Oxnam also condemned McCarthyism and those who practiced it.

A new breed of self-appointed un-American vigilantes threatens our freedom.  Profaning our American traditions and desecrating our flag, masquerading as defenders of our country against the infiltration of communism and the aggression of Russia, they play the red game of setting American against American, of creating distrust and division, and of turning us from the problems that must be solved in order to become impregnable.  These vigilantes produce hysteria, prepare sucker lists, and live upon the generous contributions of the fearful.  They exploit the uninformed patriot.  They profiteer in patriotism.  These vigilantes do not carry the noosed rope, but they lynch by libel.  They prepare their lying spider-web charts.  They threaten educators and ministers, actors and broadcasters.  Unthinking boards and commissions bow to their tyranny, forgetting that to appease these forerunners of Hitler, of Mussolini, and of Stalin is to jeopardize freedom, and to prepare the wrists for the shackles and the mouth for the gag.  In the name of law, vigilantes break the law.

–Quoted in A Year with American Saints (2006), 281-282

Above:  Wesley Theological Seminary, American University, Washington, D.C,

Image Source = Google Earth

Bishop Oxnam, while based in Washington, D.C., helped to build up the denomination-affiliated American University.  In 1958, he supervised the relocation of Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster, Maryland (founded in 1882) to the campus of American University.  The relocated seminary became Wesley Theological Seminary.  That year, our saint also helped to found the School of International Service at American University.

Above:  The School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C.

Image Source = Google Earth

Oxnam, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, retired in 1960.  He, aged 73 years, died in White Plains, New York, on March 12, 1963.




When evaluating a historical figure, one ought to avoid two opposite errors:  relativizing everything or too much and relativizing nothing or too little.  Timeless standards exist, of course.  Yet context remains crucial.  Also, people change during a lifetime.  To be fair, one must consider that fact.

Oxnam was mostly correct.  He was correct to favor the rights of workers, for example.  He was correct to condemn the greed of those who exploited workers.  He was correct to oppose McCarthyism and to challenge practitioners of McCarthyism to their faces.  Like most Americans, traumatized by World War I, he overreacted in ways that seemed reasonable between the World Wars yet came across as naïve in retrospect after World War II.  

Just as I stand to the left of Bishop Gerald Kennedy, I stand slightly to the right of Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam.  I am a Neo-Orthodox, after all.  I stand with Reinhold, Ursula, and H. Richard Niebuhr in recognizing the limitations of the Social Gospel.  I do so while affirming what was positive about the Social Gospel.

Yet, as I have written in this post, I feel more affinity with Oxnam than with Kennedy.  And I count both of them as members of my family of faith.

I invite you, O reader, if you are so inclined, to read Oxnam’s writings available at

  1. “The Mexican in Los Angeles from the Standpoint of the Religious Forces of the City” (1921),
  2. Contemporary Preaching:  A Study in Trends (1931),
  3. Personalities in Social Reform (1941),
  4. Preaching in a Revolutionary Age (1944), 
  5. I Protest (1954), and
  6. A Testament of Faith (1958).









Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant G. Bromley Oxnam] to use our freedom

to bring justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37


Feast of Frances Perkins (May 13)   Leave a comment

Frances Perkins, 1932

Above:  Frances Perkins, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-1132



United States Secretary of Labor

Frances Perkins read, marked, learned, and inwardly directed potent language from Matthew 25:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave my drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me in:  Naked, and ye clothed me:  I was sick, and ye visited me:  I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee, an hungred, and fed thee?  or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in?  or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat:  I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:  I was a stranger, and ye took me not in:  naked, and ye clothed me not:  sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then they shall also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

–Verses 34-46, Authorized Version

Fannie Coralie Perkins was a native of Boston, Massachusetts.  She grew up a Congregationalist in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Our saint, born on April 10, 1880, was daughter of Susan Bean Perkins (died in 1927) and Frederick W. Perkins (died in 1916), owner of a stationery business.  Both parents were from Maine.  Our saint, with encouragement from her parents, attended the mostly male Worcester Classical High School.  She went on to attend Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she majored in physics and chemistry.  During her undergraduate program she read How the Other Half Lives (1889), by Jacob Riis (1849-1914), the famous muckraking journalist who wrote about, among other things, life in slums.  Perkins graduated in 1902.  For about the next two years she worked for the benefit of her community in Worcester.  Perkins taught part-time and volunteered with social service organizations in the city.

In 1904 our saint moved to Lake Forest, Illinois, to accept a teaching position.  She taught there until 1907 and spent free time in Hull House and similar institutions in Chicago.  On June 11, 1905, at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, she converted to The Episcopal Church.  She also changed her first name to Frances.  Perkins became an Anglo-Catholic mystic whose faith defined her policy positions.  She stood in the tradition of the finest social teaching of Angl0-Catholicism, for she had an active concern for the poor and the downtrodden.

From 1907 to 1909 Perkins studied economics and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.  That program led to her work in New York.  In 1909 our saint, having received a Russell Sage Foundation fellowship, started work on her M.A. degree in political science (Columbia University, 1910).  She surveyed living and working conditions in Hell’s Kitchen.


The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.

–Frances Perkins


From 1910 to 1912 Perkins served as the executive secretary of the National Consumers League.  As she went about her work our saint witnessed the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911.  In that infamous and avoidable event employees faced a terrifying choice–to die in the flames or to jump from window ledges.  The incident added to Perkins’s catalog of motivating factors as she strove for social reform.

From 1912 to 1932 Perkins worked in the administrations of Al Smith and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Governors of New York.  While serving on the Committee on Safety of the City of New York (1912-1917) our saint exposed hazardous practices in workplaces.  Starting in 1918 Perkins worked via the State Industrial Board, becoming its chair in 1926.  Then she served as the state’s Industrial Commissioner.

Perkins was a feminist.  Not only did she advocate for women’s suffrage, she decided to keep her last name when she married economist Paul Caldwell Wilson (1876-1952) in 1913.  She had to go to court to defend that.  Nevertheless, the name engraved on her headstone was “Frances Perkins Wilson,” her name on the records of the federal census of 1930.  (The census records of 1920 listed her as “Frances Perkins,” however.)

Our saint had to contend with the fact of her husband’s bipolar disorder.  In that time period the treatment was apparently institutionalization, for Paul was in and out of mental hospitals.  Perkins became the primary wage earner out of necessity while raising their daughter, Susanna Wilson (1916-2003).


I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain common workingmen.

–Frances Perkins


Perkins served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945.  She made history, for she was the first female member of a presidential cabinet in the United States.  Our saint was also one of the architects of the New Deal.  Her numerous accomplishments included drafting the Social Security Act, helping to establish the federal minimum wage, being instrumental in fighting child labor, helping to create the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), expanding the roles of women in workplaces, extending the rights of labor unions and their members, and advocating for unemployment insurance.  Our saint’s unrealized goal was universal access to health care, which has been on the U.S. political landscape since at least 1912, when former President Theodore Roosevelt campaigned on the issue while seeking his old job as the nominee of the Progressive Party.  Perkins resigned as Secretary of Labor on July 1, 1945.  Later that year she joined the federal Civil Service Commission, serving until 1953.

Most of the sources I consulted regarding our saint’s life and labors ignored or barely mentioned the influence of her faith upon her public life.  Not surprisingly, religious-based sources provided that information, including the fact that, while serving as the Secretary of Labor, she made monthly retreats with the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor at Cantonsville, Maryland.

Perkins wrote books, including the following:

  1. Women as Employees (1919),
  2. A Social Experiment Under the Workmen’s Compensation Jurisdiction (1921),
  3. People at Work (1934), and
  4. The Roosevelt I Knew (1946).

Our saint spent her final years teaching at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Ithaca, New York, starting in 1957.  She died at New York, New York, on May, 14, 1965.  She was 85 years old.

Newcastle, Maine, where our saint spent summers with her grandmother, is the site of the Frances Perkins Center.

The Letter of James offers timeless wisdom:

As a body without a spirit is dead, so is faith without deeds.

–Chapter 2, Verse 26 (The New Jerusalem Bible, 1985)

The faith of Frances Perkins was vivacious.





Loving God, we bless your Name for Frances Perkins,

who lived out her belief that the special vocation of the laity is to conduct

the secular affairs of society that all may be maintained in health and decency.

Help us, following her example, to contend tirelessly for justice

and for the protection of all in need, that we may be faithful followers of Jesus Christ;

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Psalm 37:27-31

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Luke 9:10-17

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 369