Organized Religious Pluralism

"We, the undersigned individuals of the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish faiths, viewing the present catastrophic results of the G-dlessness in the world...realize the necessity for stressing those spiritual truths which we hold in common...We believe in one G-d...We believe that G-d's fatherly providence extends equally to every human being." (Declaration of Fundamental Religious Beliefs, NCCJ, 1942)1 .

  1. as cited in William Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America. (New Haven: Yale U. Press. 2003)

Though flawed, the liberalism movement primed America for a new age of religious pluralism, one that extended beyond the demeaning ideas of abject superiority to the beginnings of acceptance of a wider range of religions’ ability to equally contribute to America’s religious landscape. The founding of the Federal Council of Churches in 1908, today known as the National Council of Churches, marked the creation of a new ecumenical organization that offered inclusion to a multitude of denominations and Christian groups, notably Black communities and women’s missionary societies. This group aimed to fulfill a social service to the world, as well as to demonstrate the Church’s “primacy among all the forces which seek to lift the plane and better the conditions of human life.”2 In the 1920s, the Federal Council of Churches continued to push forward their ideological expansion to Catholics and Jews. Responding to heightened xenophobia and “organized intolerance” by the Ku Klux Klan, the Goodwill Movement led to the formation of the National Council of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) in 1928, with input from the Federal Council of Churches and the Central Conference of American Rabbis.3 This group recognized the common fundamental religious beliefs between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, including monotheism and recognition of basic human rights, in the hopes of promoting “mutual understanding and goodwill in the place of suspicion and ill will” so each faith would “enjoy the fullest opportunity for its development and enrichment.”4 Though anti-Semitism continued to grow across the twentieth century, the NCCJ was an important step in creating a permanent framework for mutual recognition between religions, led by the Protestant establishment.

  1. William Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America (New Haven: Yale U. Press, 2003).

  2. Tisa Wenger, Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal (Chapel Hill: U. North Carolina Press, 2017).

  3. Hutchison,, Religious Pluralism in America.