Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Theory of Change #075: Gene Zubovich on the forgotten history of liberal Protestantism

Theory of Change #075: Gene Zubovich on the forgotten history of liberal Protestantism

Ecumenical Protestants of the mid-20th century largely created the culture and institutions that today's religious right is still trying to dismantle
President Dwight Eisenhower (left) confers with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in September 1953.

Episode Summary

The middle part of the twentieth century wasn’t that long ago, and yet in some ways, it seems like it was an eternity. That’s particularly true in regards to the public branding of American Christianity, which nowadays is often associated with right-wing evangelicalism, including among Christians who disagree.

In the Mid-20th century, however, American Christian public discourse was very different, and it was dominated by Protestants who were theologically liberal. Public intellectuals and leaders like John Foster Dulles, G. Bromley Oxnam, and William Ernest Hocking are mostly unknown to people today but, in their time, they were nationally famous.

They often disagreed on the particulars with each other. But overwhelmingly, this group of ecumenical Protestants wanted interfaith dialogue and alliances, and they were some of the earliest white supporters of black civil rights.

They also worked for the creation of global systems that they hoped would protect human rights and religious freedom, such as the United Nations. Nowadays, the only people who use the term new world order are far right conspiracy theorists, but it's worth understanding that the ideas that today's right wing activist rail against actually have a history of their own.

Joining me to talk about the religious left and how it came to play a major role in the creation of the political order of the 20th century and what later came afterward with the religious right is Gene Zenovich. He is the author of a new book called Before the Religious Right, Liberal Protestants, Human Rights and the Polarization of the United States. He is also an assistant professor of history at the University at Buffalo.

The video of our conversation is below. A machine-generated transcript of the audio follows.



MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: It's nice to have you here today, Gene.

GENE ZUBOVICH: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so, let's maybe just start with kind of the overview in what, who is this book about?

ZUBOVICH: So this book is about a group of folks that are not [00:04:00] particularly prominent, familiar to most people. If you were like me and you grew up in the wake of the religious right, you forget that in the middle of the 20th century if you were to turn on a radio or a television set and you were to hear a religious voice, odds are it would be a liberal religious voice. So my book is about the liberal Protestants who dominated the American public sphere from about World War I until the 1960s.

And it's so, it's a particularly prominent religious community at the time, these were folks who represented maybe a between a quarter and a third of the American population. But their power over American religious life and over American politics was much greater than that because in the middle of the 20th century, if you came from if you were, in charge of something big in American life, if you were an American president a Supreme Court Justice senator corporate executive, odds are you came from the liberal mainline community.

SHEFFIELD:  Yeah, and that's a really important point to understand is that these people, they were everywhere. They were, in some of their cases, world famous. Certainly nationally famous and yeah, nowadays, pretty much no one knows who they were. And it's really kind of a stunning thing to contemplate.

So let's maybe talk about who specifically are some of your main figures in the book here?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah, yeah. It's hard to define any group with a religious group with specificity. For liberal Protestants, we talk about Protestants today, we're talking about over 30,000 different denominations.

Liberal Protestants were liberal theologically. They believed in the compatibility between science and religion. They believed in a kind of historical approach to the Bible. And they constituted themselves around the Federal Council of Churches nationally and the World Council of Churches internationally.

Most of them came from about 30 different [00:06:00] denominations, the most important of which were the seven sister denominations. These are denominations like the United Methodists, American Baptists, Northern Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and so on. And so these were the major denominations from which people came from.

But the book talks about people with kind of funny names. G. Bromley Oxnam, key Methodist leader social gospel and a kind of world traveler. John Foster Dulles, the longtime kind of religious Presbyterian layman before he became Eisenhower's hawkish Secretary of State. Thelma Stevens, an underappreciated figure who was central to the Civil Rights Movement.

So, my cast of characters in this book really revolve around the three things, three political movements that I trace in the book, which is the efforts to diminish racism in the middle of the 20th century, to make the economy more fair and more just, and to get the United States to engage more internationally and to diminish colonialism and the nefarious actions of the American state overseas.

 So the folks that I discuss are kind of central to those three movements of race, the economy, and foreign relations.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And one figure that I noticed you did not mention, and maybe he's kind of more out earlier than your timeframe were the Bellamy brothers. (cousins) Maybe if you could talk about who they were for people who don't know who they were?

ZUBOVICH: Sure. Yeah. So, Richard Bellamy is the author of Looking Backwards, a kind of, utopian novel.

SHEFFIELD: It's Edward, I believe.

ZUBOVICH: Sorry. Yeah. Excuse me. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Edward Bellamy was the author of Looking Backward, a kind of late 19th century utopian novel, imagining Boston in the year 2000, and the kind of solutions to all the social urban unrest. These guys were social gospel guys. It's kind of a complicated story, but they probably authored the Pledge of Allegiance or some version thereof.

And they [00:08:00] believed in a kind of strong state kind of government intervention in order to better the world. You're right that my book kind of picks up at the end of World War I and so their most kind of creative moments came in the late 19th and early 20th century. So that kind of Progressive Era, social and gospel era spirit of ambition and reform that continues all the way into the 20th century.

So that social gospel heritage of the Bellamys and many other folks who promoted that idea. What's new after World War I is that the social gospel heritage meets kind of Wilsonian internationalism. So what happens for people like G. Bromley Oxnam as they are influenced by the Bellamys, they're influenced by the social gospel, but they're also taking the social gospel internationally, they're traveling abroad to places like the United Kingdom, Germany, the Soviet Union, and they're transforming and reforming these inherited ideas and making them a new in the 1920s and 1930s.

SHEFFIELD:  Yeah. And it's important to kind of also think about in that framework is that they were, as you were saying, they were very internationally engaged and they were responding to the scholarship trends like the documentary hypothesis and things like that, that had been emerging in Europe. And you kind of talk about to some degree that they gradually became, I don't know what, maybe less theologically oriented perhaps? Is that an accurate way of saying it?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. I wouldn't say that in those exact terms. I think that there's a lot of theological substance to what liberal Protestants are doing. I think they get knocked for essentially not being orthodox enough. And the people who believe that are the kind of the religious enemies or religious rivals of liberal Protestants.

So if you are an Orthodox Catholic [00:10:00] or a conservative evangelical, what liberal Protestants are doing and saying theologically doesn't make any sense, it just sounds kind of secular, but they had strong, coherent belief systems that just looked different from the kinds of theological systems that, say, evangelicals subscribe to.

But it was important to them. What I would say is that professional theologians, that sort of like small sliver of folks who are in seminaries who are talking about Carl Bart and people like that, those don't feature us prominently. What I found is that anybody but theologians became activists.

So social ethicists, missionaries, denominational executives. These were the folks who were really on the front lines of the political initiatives of liberal Protestants in the mid-20th century. So I will say that sort of professional theologians who are not particularly central to the political story, but they did have clear theological commitments and they followed through on them to try to make the world into the kind of place they thought, they were commanded to create, right?

They were, they wanted to create the kingdom of God on Earth. And they tried to do that.

SHEFFIELD: What I'm saying theological, they're less interested in sort of the controversies of doctrine or history and more thinking more about values and sort of: 'We say we believe these things. So, how do we put them into practice?' Kind of--

ZUBOVICH: They're concerned about lived theology.

One of the innovations of liberal Protestantism is they start paying attention to the body as much as the spirit, right? They come to believe that, taking care of people's bodies is a prerequisite to taking care of their souls. And so for them, making sure that people are fed and clothed and are thriving physically, economically, that's a necessary part of them thriving spiritually.

So, what you see is the work that they're doing, right? The political work, the activism, the social welfare stuff that they're [00:12:00] doing, but there is a kind of deeper theological basis for that work that's maybe not as evident, maybe not as central. They're not as concerned about, the nitty-gritty debate, theologically debates, but it's there, nonetheless.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And then, so let's maybe just go to the different organizations that they started creating at this time period. So you mentioned what later became the National Council of Churches. Tell us about that organization and what was the impetus behind it.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. The Federal Council of Churches, which was renamed the National Council of Churches in 1950, the Federal Council of Churches, the predecessor organization, was founded in 1908. It was this kind of social gospel moment. It was a kind of a combination of a kind of a think tank and a political action committee on behalf of mainline Protestant groups.

So sometimes it's kind of, described as a bulldozer. It kind of clears the way for denominations to engage socially and politically. So it came about in 1908 at this moment when there was a lot of enthusiasm for the social gospel and social reform and trying to make the lives of working-class folks better.

By World War I, it became really engaged in anti-racist initiatives as well. In the wake of the race riots that took place during World War I, it became engaged on that issue as well, and it really was part of the ecumenical movement. It's kind of an old-fashioned word, but what ecumenical Protestants thought they were doing was bringing different denominations that had split apart over the course of history for various reasons, Northern Presbyterians and Southern Presbyterians, Northern Methodists and Southern Methodists, all these various kinds of German reformed denominations.

 Liberal Protestants came to conclude that these were all kind of accidents of history and that Christianity demanded unity. And so this was a kind of theological commandment that they were trying to live out is to bring Christians [00:14:00] across denominational boundaries together.

So that began with the Federal Council of Churches, but by the 1930s, they were working to create the World Council of Churches, which was doing the same thing on an international scale, bringing Protestants and Orthodox denominations. Catholics were kind of kept out until the 1960s. They brought together Protestant and Orthodox denominations across national and racial boundaries into some kind of world community and world communion.

So that was the goal, was to unite Protestants and other kinds of Christians together, both nationally and internationally. And as they were doing so, they found that, even though they had lots of theological disagreements, the one thing they could mostly agree on is social work, political action, right?

It's the kind of activist stuff that really brought them together.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and I think it's important to note and I do want to discuss the Catholic context as well. But you know, during that time period, the United States was overwhelmingly Protestant. I mean, people who live today and don't really have a knowledge of that, of the religious history of that moment.

I mean, it was, what was it, like 75% or something like that, Protestant. Catholicism was obviously there as a minority, but there was nothing else. Like there were no Muslims, there were no "Nones," as they're called now, non-religious people. America was overwhelmingly Protestant, and they really did kind of see what they were doing as almost the fulfillment of the Protestant mission that 'we fixed Christianity and now we're going to fix the world.' Something like that, right?

ZUBOVICH: I think that's right. I should point out that, in the United States, there were Muslims in what is now the United States before there were Protestants. And so there were lots of religious minorities present in the United States.

But they weren't recognized in the way that maybe they are today. So even though there was lots of [00:16:00] religious diversity, the key power figures in the United States in, say, the 19th and early 20th century really believed that the United States was essentially a Protestant nation. And okay, you have these kinds of minor groups off to the side, the Catholics being the largest, Jews and maybe Muslims as well. Maybe a couple of Buddhists here and there.

But essentially, the United Nations belongs to Protestants. The United States was founded without an established church. But as historians have pointed out, there was a kind of moral establishment, a Protestant moral establishment that kind of acted like an established church for much of the 19th and 20th century.

And so in a sense, our Constitution made the United States different from, say, European countries because of that lack of established church. In practice, Protestant denominations essentially ran the show in somewhat similar ways.

And so you're absolutely right to point out the kind of exclusivity and sort of possession of the nation by Protestant elites. This is something today that we talk about Christian nationalists want the United States to become conceived of as a kind of Christian or maybe Protestant nation. We had that in the past. We had that sort of moment where Jews and Catholics were kept out of positions of power and there's a very ugly side to that history.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And even if it wasn't official, it was kind of unofficial. And again, the difference with today's Christian nationalists is that really, they are Christian supremacists and that they want to not just go back to the way things were. They want to make it far more discriminatory against people who disagree with them. And also, more doctrinally to their liking. Whereas before it was just kind of, it was in sort of an ecumenical consensus, if you will, more than anything else.

ZUBOVICH:  Yeah.  

SHEFFIELD: So let's maybe, before we get into the relationship and the ideas of Catholics within this milieu, let's talk about the [00:18:00] Soviet Revolution because that did also play a role in kind of jumpstarting international Christian politics to some degree. Would you agree with that?

ZUBOVICH: Absolutely right. Yeah. The Soviet Union is kind of a part of the way in which liberal politics were structured in the middle of decades of the 20th century. What I was expecting when I began my research was to see the sort of Cold War anti-communist stuff from the very beginning.

When I started researching before the religious right, expected that when liberal Protestants thought about the Soviet Union in the twenties and thirties, that they were essentially going to come to the same conclusions as they did in the 1950s, which is, the Soviet Union is evil. It is the kind of the mere opposite of what a Christian nation ought to be.

But what I found is that, as they traveled there in, say, 1926, there was this initiative by the wealthy socialist evangelist Sherwood Eddie, who took some of the youngest and brightest minds of ecumenical Protestantism and traveled with them across the world to India and to western Europe, to China, and to the Soviet Union for the first time in 1926 on something called the American Seminar, where these young Protestant leaders who were kind of taking the reins of power in the 1940s were chatting away with Stalin, right? And with Georgy Chicherin, Soviet foreign minister.

And they went there with an open mind. I mean, they didn't like atheism. They didn't like Marxism, particularly, but they tried to understand what was going on in the Soviet Union in the context of that place and what they found right when they were talking with Chicherin, for example were ideas that ended up changing their minds.

So one of the folks that I talk about in the first chapter of my book, G. Bromley Oxnam, who's the leader in the 1940s of the movement to create the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a really prominent Methodist bishop who's very close to [00:20:00] presidents when he was traveling in the 1920s, he was really sympathetic to imperialism.

He went to India, and he was in India during the Amritsar massacre, where the British put down a kind of rebellion against British colonial rule, and he was sympathetic to the British. He thought that the Indians were getting what they deserved. But when he traveled to the Soviet Union, he spent time reading up on the place and studying the place and trying to understand its history and its people.

He came to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was essentially going to get rid of colonialism one day, and Protestants needed to abandon their commitment to supporting European imperialism and American imperialism. And so there is this kind of complicated tangled history between liberal Protestants and the Soviet Union that I found really surprising.

I had expected there just to be antagonism, but actually the Soviet Union was a site where Protestants kind of reconceived ideas about their own society and their own place in the world.

SHEFFIELD:  Well, and then I guess also, and you mentioned the Cold War era ideas about that. So maybe talk about those. What was the change after that?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. Well, with the Cold War, one of the hardest things for liberal Protestants was that they were constantly accused of being sympathetic to the Soviet Union, right? Liberal Protestants were figures who took ideas that arose out of the labor movement, out of the socialist movement, sometimes from the Soviet Union itself and they kind of made it their own and gave it a kind of theological blessing, right? That was one of their functions in American history, to take ideas that seem threatening to the American middle-class public, socialist ideas, and to endow them with the cultural capital of Christianity and to repackage those ideas and to make them safe for consumption by Americans who otherwise wouldn't engage with these ideas.

And so this was hugely [00:22:00] important. And one of the problems is once you do that, when the context of the Cold War arises, when you know people are hunting for reds in the United States, those ideas that you've been promoting and in many ways continue to promote all throughout the Cold War, those become suspect and they lead you into trouble.

And so what you see by the 1950s is that ideas that had once brought Protestants together in the ecumenical movement are now dividing it apart. You see tensions and divisions emerging during the Cold War, and one of the fault lines is an economic fault line that the liberal Protestant leaders who are promoting socialist ideas in the guise of Christianity, and doing it publicly and sincerely, are now facing resistance not only from communist hunters and politicians, but members of their own rank who now see these ideas as really threatening.

SHEFFIELD: It was to some degree kind of a mutual interest as well. I mean, there, there is some evidence that the Soviet Union and the KGB itself was interested in the World Council of Churches and had some individuals that were spies that were inside the organization.

You want to talk about that a little bit?

ZUBOVICH: Sure. Yeah. I will just say that I did go to the archives in Moscow before the war when these things were accessible and looked at some of the Soviet era files from the government bureaucracy that kept charge of orthodox affairs. I'm a native Russian speaker so I can read these things.

And what I found is that there was an interest and the Orthodox, Russian Orthodox Church was sort of used as a foreign policy tool on behalf of the Kremlin. But what they really cared about is Catholics and the Catholic Church in the Vatican. That's where most of the energy went because there were lots of Catholics living in Warsaw Pact countries and parts of the Soviet Union.

So they didn't see the World Council of Churches and liberal Protestants as particularly threatening and they didn't use a lot of resources, [00:24:00] but nonetheless, they did eventually send the Russian Orthodox Church to join the World Council of Churches. It took some time in haggling. At first, the World Council of Churches said no, and the Russian Orthodox Church wasn't particularly interested, but eventually there was a rapprochement between the two and they ended up kind of cooperating and working together on basically anti-racist initiatives.

And they found the one area of common ground between liberal Protestants and the Russian Orthodox Church was to call out racism wherever it existed. And so they were trying to focus the attention of the World Council of Churches away from issues like religious liberty, which kind of presented the Soviet Union in a negative light for obvious reasons, and trying to shift the dialogue away from issues of religious liberty to issues of western racism and white supremacy. So there's a lot of that in the sixties and seventies going on.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And now what about Metropolitan Nikidim? Sorry, I'm probably butchering the pronunciation there. Talk about him. Who is he?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. I don't write much about him in this book. I'm working on a new book that might mention him a bit more often. He was higher up in the church. I think he was for a while, the kind of, the person who was in charge of kind of, essentially like the church's foreign policy or, international diplomacy. Kind of a mysterious figure. I couldn't get much of a sense of who he was as a person from archival information, but probably Soviet specialists know more about him than I do.

SHEFFIELD: Well at the very least apparently in the Mitrokhin archive he was listed as a Soviet KGB agent.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. I will say that what it means to be an agent is not as sort of clear as you would think, right?

These are just folks oftentimes who agree to cooperate and send reports based on what they're doing once their trip was done overseas somewhere, it was actually quite common in the United States as well. [00:26:00] Matthew Sutton has a great book called Double Crossed. It's about American missionaries essentially working as spies, sometimes willingly cooperating.

Sometimes a member of the OSS or the CIA would just pose like a journalist and just kind of 'oh, tell me about your time in China, what was that like?' and they'd ask them some specific questions. And so I just say that because, on both sides of the divide, right, the iron curtain divide, there was a lot of cooperation between religious figures and state intelligence agencies. But what that cooperation looked like and what it means to be a CIA asset or a KGB agent really could mean very many different things. If that makes sense.

SHEFFIELD: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely it does. And I guess another example of that would be William F. Buckley, the right-wing media impresario. He was apparently had some sort of relationship with CIA during his lifetime for a few years. But to that end, though, I guess, one of the key figures that you talk about quite a bit in the book is John Foster Dulles.

I think to the extent that people nowadays know who he was, they know that there's an airport named after him. But he was just a huge presence in both American and religious and political life. Let's talk about him for a little bit if we could.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. Yeah. A really interesting guy, of course, Dulles Airport is named after him. He is probably most famous for being Dwight D. Eisenhower's very hawkish secretary of state. He was a close advisor during the early Cold War to Eisenhower and was a proponent of taking a tough line on the Soviet Union.

He was a hawk, and he was a proponent of, oftentimes, using nuclear weapons, which never ended up happening. But in the archive, you could see him again and again, sort of, pushing to use nuclear weapons either as a deterrent or to win this or that conflict.

So he's known as this kind of hawkish guy, which makes his long association with liberal Protestantism all the more [00:28:00] interesting. He grew up in a diplomatic family. His grandfather had been a Secretary of State. His uncle Bert, the Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, also served in that position and took a young John Foster Dulles to Paris in 1918, 1919 when World War I was coming to an end and the Treaty of Paris was being negotiated and the League of Nations being negotiated. So he comes from this pedigree of foreign policy and that's kind of what he eventually does.

But he also comes from a religious family, a Presbyterian family. His grandfather was a longtime missionary, and he himself becomes a prominent layman. And for most of his early life he works as an international lawyer, but he also works as a religious lawyer. He gets involved in the 1920s in these heresy trials.

This was a moment when the modernists and the fundamentalists are fighting it out between the two of them over Protestant theology. It's one of these moments when theology really does matter and it's at the heart of things. And people like Henry Pitney Van Dusen get put on trial by their denominations because they say, I don't believe in the virgin birth of Christ, or I don't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And then there's this trial that happens where you're tried for heresy to figure out whether you can remain a minister of good standing in this denomination. And John--

SHEFFIELD: And I'm sorry, that is the original cancel culture.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah, that's, that's a great way of putting it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. The today's Christian right has literally flipped, flipped the history on its head, that they the far-right Christians, were continuously throughout Christian history been the ones that were interested in censorship and canceling people.


SHEFFIELD: But I'm sorry, go ahead.

ZUBOVICH: No, just to add to that, I mean, the, it's a perennial question in any religion [00:30:00] including Protestantism, right?

How, to what extent can you honestly reassess your faith, your theology, and your values in a community that usually has sort of standards for what orthodoxy means, right? This comes up again and again. In a community like Catholicism, this is easier to figure out, right? There is an authority, right? He's in the Vatican and he gets ultimate say of what is and is not Catholic theology.

Protestantism, it's much messier, right? There's no Protestant pope. Even lots of denominations which follow, for example, the congregational model, they, each church essentially gets to decide what theological orthodoxy is for themselves.

And so it gets really messy and tricky, right? And there's lots of innovation and change and flux in these communities that makes it a really interesting group to study. But Dulles is very much on the kind of liberal, modernist side. He believes you can be a good Christian without having to believe in certain forms of miracles or certain kinds of doctrines that other people consider orthodox.

And he's really good at getting these people off the hook. And the people for whom he acts as a lawyer in these heresy trials mostly end up retaining their pulpits. And in this way, the modernists kind of win out over the fundamentalists who split off and create their own institutions.

It'll become really important later on in life. Dulles after this kind of religious work is also an international lawyer. And he's thinking through the challenges of international order in the 1930s. He's attending the meetings of the League of Nations, the kind of precursor to the United Nations, which is falling apart in late 1930s and after one of these particularly contentious meetings where the League of Nations tries to stop the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, but can't do anything about it, he goes to Oxford, England in 1937 from Geneva. And at Oxford, he sees many [00:32:00] people from the same countries cooperating with one another. And this is the conference where the World Council of Churches is being created. And he thinks that there's something about Christianity that's especially good at binding people across national boundaries and promoting cooperation.

And he thinks to himself, we need more of this in the world. We need religious values to be more prominent in international politics so that there is goodwill and brotherhood promoted, and he thinks that the World Council of Churches is going to do a much better job creating that unity than the League of Nations.

And so he essentially gets really close to the churches and all throughout the 1940s, prior to the election of Dwight Eisenhower, he's working with church groups and he's working on essentially creating a kind of world government, the thing that becomes the United Nations. This is Dulles's main project all throughout the 1940s.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And well, and also for him, it's, I think there, there seemed to have been some real concern that, I mean, he kind of maybe saw himself as sort of betwe in between, like, and wanted to see the World Council of Churches and liberal Protestantism as the reasonable middle between atheistic communism and, Christian fundamentalism. Is that, would you say that's an accurate assessment?

ZUBOVICH: I think that's right. Yeah. I think lots of people believe this. What's distinct about John Foster Dulles is, from his point of view, there's really no difference between a liberal international order premised on Christian values and American values, right?

There's no conflict between creating an international community and spreading American influence throughout the world. These two things are [00:34:00] basically the same project for Dulles. So in the late thirties, 1940s, you could hear him saying, we need a world government that, that'll essentially be like, the early history of the United States when, the states were sort of coming together slowly but surely and eventually evolved into a kind of, a kind of more serious government structure, right?

He wants, he has that vision for the world. He wants like a proper world government. He says things like, we need a new deal for the world. And I think he's genuine. I never quite figured out Dulles, but I think, he's really taking seriously the issue of war and conflict and really believes that world government is the thing that.

The world needs. And once the Cold War comes and once he figures out, oh actually, right, this world government's going to involve the Soviet Union is going to involve lots of countries that don't want to promote American values. And once he sees there's actually quite a cleavage right between the spread of American, wealth and power and ideas, a kind of true world government. Then he abandons the project and becomes much more of a nationalist. So that, that's kind of my read on him. This fascinating trajectory where he is really involved in kind of world government debates to becoming a kind of hawkish, nationalistic figure in the Eisenhower administration.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Now what about the idea though, of sort of, I mean, so yeah, the idea of world fellowship or world government, I mean, obviously these are different things. But there was and to go back to Edward Bellamy for him, he, the key kind of the main reason in his book looking backward of why Americans created this sort of socialist utopia was that.

For him that they were making the world ready for Jesus to come back to.  That's why they were [00:36:00] doing that. And how much is this sort of eschatological thinking animating liberal Protestantism? And not everybody had it, but some of them did, right?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. So there are two ways of looking at, I mean, broadly speaking, two, two ways of looking at eschatology.

And historians often make the distinctions between. Premillennialism and post millennialism. Premillennialism is the idea that, just really, really roughly speaking that the world is going to become a much worse place before the return of Christ. And so if you hold the premillennialist view like many fundamentalists and evangelicals did in the 20th century then you know, you're not going to invest quite as much in institution building because all of that's going to fall apart right in the tribulations.

And, in, during the rapture most liberal Protestants also had an eschatological view, but they believed that essentially in the post millennialist view that the way in which the second coming is going to be accomplished is that peace by peace, the kingdom of God on earth is going to be built.

Built right. So the, the kind of trials and tribulations were, a thing of the past, right. That, you could slowly but surely right. Make the world an increasingly Christian place. Right. An increased place where, harmony is harmony, peace and justice thrive.

And after that happens, then Jesus returns, right? And it's a much a view of eschatology that is much more amenable to, social welfare and racial justice and international engagement in that, in the post-millennial view, those things seem much more important.

SHEFFIELD:  Well, and so I mean, so how much was that?

Animating some of these key figures that we're talking about here.

ZUBOVICH: Huge. Yeah. Hu hugely. Yeah. The idea of the Kingdom of God is, all throughout Protestant literature in back in the social gospel and all throughout the middle decades of the [00:38:00] 20th century, right? The context in which, they're doing all the very kind of specific things that, that I talk about, if they're in a, picketing as part of the Civil Rights movement, if they're, lobbying to get this law changed so that, Whatever, farmers can get social insurance or something like that.

They're doing that within a broader theological context. And those two things are the main two things of that theological context are building the kingdom of God on Earth and Right. The ecumenical movement, bringing Christians across the world together into unity. Right. Those two things were, part and parcel right of the same sort of movement to make the world better, right.

In order to bring about the second coming essentially.

SHEFFIELD:  And yet it was in their political rhetoric, not something that they really did talk about too much. It was something that they kind of said amongst themselves. Is that accurate, would you say?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. There was an internal rhetoric, right, meant for, fellow believers.

So if you look at like, the Methodist press and what they're talking about this stuff would be all over it. But ecumenical Protestants also recognized that they lived in a country and in a world where there were lots of Protestant denominations and didn't believe the same thing.

They were early cooperators with Jews and Catholics and so they recognized that there were lots of Americans, who weren't. Christians who weren't even or Protestants, and they recognized that, in the broader world, there were officially atheistic countries. There were predominantly Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist countries.

There were lots of different types of people in the world. There was a very diverse world. And so the justifications, right, maybe the motivation for the work that they were doing came from their own specific theological belief, but in a diverse world, you need to justify your actions beyond your [00:40:00] own community.

And when speaking to broader communities, they found that they could talk about these, the same ideas, right? In a way that would appeal to people beyond their own specific Protestant denominations. And so one of the languages that they started using was the language of human rights, which for them felt like it was saying much of the same stuff as the Bible was saying as their own religious traditions were saying, but in a way that wasn't overtly couched in.

In specifically Protestant values. And so they came to believe that the language of human rights was one way of, building a more Christian world without making it explicitly Christian, right? Inviting, Jews and Catholics and Muslims, and even atheists to take part in building the kingdom of God on Earth, even if these other groups would do it for their own reasons, right?

That didn't necessarily come from, Protestant theological commitments. So that's one of the reasons why I highlight the language of human rights in my book, is that I think essentially, it's a translation of Protestant theology for a broader, more cosmopolitan, more diverse world.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And I guess, well, two things really quick, I guess let's maybe cover one that you don't talk about too much in the book is like this idea of Judeo Christian, that this concept was invented, the term was invented in, in your time period here, roughly like the 1920s, 1930s, I believe.

And you note that Franklin Roosevelt was one of the people who used that. But so specifically though, why did this term get invented and what did people say before this term? Why did they say it? What did they say instead before?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. For much of American history the United States was conceived of as a Protestant nation and beginning in the [00:42:00] 1930s and accelerating after World War II, more and more public figures started talking about the United States as either a tri-faith nation or a Judeo-Christian nation.

So the goal of calling the United States, not a Protestant nation, but a Judeo-Christian nation, was to welcome in Catholics and Jews into the American public sphere. Now there were two ways of doing this.

One way was, it was to, it was about increasing pluralism, right? It was about inviting different kinds of religious communities into the public sphere and accepting them and promoting greater tolerance of Catholics and Jews. So there was a kind of more liberal version of Judeo-Christianity.

But there were other folks who believed that the focus of Judeo-Christianity would be to find only really religious Catholics and only really religious Jews in order to create a kind of tri-faith alliance to combat atheism. And so in the Judeo-Christian rhetoric, you kind of had a tension within it.

There was the increasingly pluralistic attention to diversity strand of that rhetoric, right? Let's welcome in Catholics and Jews. And there was another strand that talked about really keeping out atheists from the American public, making sure that anybody who's prominent in American public life is deeply and devoutly religious.

So that rhetoric sort of did both of those things at the same time. And the United States, just to kind of conclude the story, started abandoning this rhetoric in the 1960s when it became kind of solely the province of the religious right. So lots of folks on the left thought, okay, the Judeo-Christian moment served its purpose. It welcomed in Catholics and Jews. But now, right, we have all these people coming from Asia and Africa. Many of them are non-Christians, right? They're Buddhist and Muslims, and the world is a [00:44:00] very diverse place and lots of people actually don't believe anything at all. So we need new ways of discussing the American nation that's less religiously specific, and that's when the religious right really grabs onto the rhetoric of the Judeo-Christian nation. And that's why today, you only hear about Judeo-Christianity coming out of the Republican party and not, the Democratic Party.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it is notable also though, that I think, within the historiography of religion, Judeo-Christian never really caught on as a term because it's largely inaccurate in terms of specific doctrines. Christianity and Judaism have extremely different interpretations of many of the key stories in the Hebrew Bible. And so to say that in some limited sense—that they have the same text that they both claim to believe in. That's true. That exists. But in terms of political history of these two religions they're really not related to each other. And Judaism has no influence on Christianity after the establishment of Christianity. Not really. Would you agree with that?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. I think that's more or less right. I mean Jews were one of the, along with liberal Protestants, were one of the communities that was really forceful about this rhetoric. And it served a purpose for them in the 1930s and 1940s when anti-Semitism was unimaginably popular in the United States. It was common, it was widespread. People talked about it openly and in public. Franklin Roosevelt essentially said that we're a Protestant nation and Jews and Catholics are here under forbearance. And he said this at an event where there were Jews and Catholics in the room.

So people were openly anti-Semitic and, weren't particularly shy about expressing these [00:46:00] sentiments. And so it was a— Judeo-Christianity was a strategic move that made sense for Jews and certain kinds of liberal Protestants in the thirties and forties. But by the 1960s when pluralism was sort of more in the air, more rooted, more established, Holocaust memory started rising up then, the differences between these religious communities and the theological distinctions became more prominent once the feeling that anti-Semitism is going to make a huge comeback, kind of seemed more remote. That's when in the sixties, right? You've kind have more of this theological parsing those that was happening.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. All right. Well, so let's we've talked about Catholics in this conversation a bit here, but let's maybe focus on them directly, so  I think to a large degree, and you talk about it That, Catholicism had its own tradition of international order. And it had, many centuries of doctrine about, the relationship between church and state.

And so to some degree the people who were doing this creating liberal Protestantism, they were doing it as a way in a, in some sense maybe to create something that is a mirror to what the Catholic tradition was. But the Catholic tradition also, up until the Vatican two reforms was, in very skeptical of democracy and skeptical of separation of church and state.

So let's, I mean, there's a lot to, there's a lot in there, I acknowledge. So, let's maybe just start wherever you want to start with that, and then we'll continue with the Catholic discussion.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah, let me just backtrack to say that the reason why I wrote this book about liberal Protestants, not about Christianity more broadly is because these liberal Protestants in the mid-20th century were essentially the last establishment in the United States, right?

Evangelicals and conservative Catholics today wish they [00:48:00] had that kind of cultural power. But they're just partisan groups among many partisan groups, right? I don't know if the United States is ever going to have a kind of truly established, religion in the way that mid-century Protestantism was.

And so the reason I was interested in this community is because of its, kind of, hegemonic role, right? The last establishment essentially, and their history is really weaved into American history. So is the history of American Catholicism. It's a really interesting story, a minority faith in a country that is predominantly Protestant, as you had mentioned under siege for much of the 19th century, both in the United States and in Europe.

And so over the course of 19th century, Catholicism becomes much more conservative, we could say. Much more anti-republican, anti-liberal more focused on cementing the power and authority of the Vatican because in Europe, ever since the French Revolution, the Catholic church is sort of losing power and influence on the European continent.

And there the Vatican looks at the United States with a lot of skepticism. All this stuff about, pluralism, individualism, mobility, right? These are values that look from the perspective of the 19th century Vatican's point of view as antithetical to Catholicism. And so they are they essentially condemn what they view as quote unquote Americanism.

All these liberal values that are being promoted in the United States. But that's not to say that Catholics are just following along the lines of the Vatican. There are lots of folks in the United States, both clergy and especially in the laity. Who essentially acculturate to American political norms and start thinking of themselves as essentially both good Americans and good Catholics. And they don't see a conflict between the two, but on the Vatican’s line[00:50:00] essentially is the predominant one until the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s.

And so for much of the period that I discussed in my book, right, Catholics essentially position themselves as a kind of conservative alternative and a set of institutions that are alternative to the kind of mainstream liberal Protestant project.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And this is definitely beyond the scope of your book, but the Catholic church's response to the Adolf Hitler regime, kind of does, I think, well let's maybe talk about that a little bit in sort of the aftermath of that.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. The I mean, it's an extremely controversial and complicated nuanced subject. We're getting more and more information about it now that the Vatican archives from this era opened. And so there's much more nuanced takes on what, Pius XII was trying to achieve.

And there's a lot of debate among historians, and I'm not an expert on this stuff, so I'll leave it to them to sort it out. But what you could see from the American vantage point is that most, the vast majority of American Catholics to take another example--Catholic institutions, I should say--when they were looking at the Civil War in Spain and the ascendancy of Franco in during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, almost every single one came down on the side of Franco. And so, Catholic institutions were not afraid to side with fascist or proto fascist forces in Europe in the 1930s.

I think the only magazine that didn't take Franco's side is Commonweal Magazine, which is sort of today known as a liberal journal. They had a debate about it. They weren't sure kind of which side they wanted to take. But I think every other Catholic publication in the thirties took Franco's side.

And so, this was a community whose [00:52:00] elites, whose clergy were very much, had a very complicated and distant relationship from liberalism. These were not promoters of liberal values. They had kind of their own project that they were that they were promoting, which wasn't fascist, I should say that clearly. But could sort of sway between liberalism and fascism as the winds turn essentially.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and I think that's an important point to make though, because especially for 21st century Americans and people who are not, may not be religious themselves, there's this tendency to label everything that is reactionary or far-right as fascism. And that there may be some commonalities with that with the historic term, things that were called fascism. But the reality is that these are ideas that are a lot older than Benito Mussolini, and Franco, and Adolph Hitler. So you have to understand that if you're going to try to counter it, I believe.

ZUBOVICH: There's a certain kind of conservatism by which I don't mean like, libertarian economics, right? Or like William F. Buckley or Ronald Reagan. I mean, like a rootedness in tradition that Catholic institutions are really good at promoting. Evangelicals are not particularly good at this, partly because I think they've, really like imbibed the spirit of American individualism and freedom and libertarian economics.

But Catholics are really good institution builders. And, their elites are really good at kind of reproducing, right? Like a really rooted conservatism. And so, in, in some way, I think that the history of Catholic institution in the United States, one of the most important roles they serve is being a kind of bastion of conservatism.

One that oftentimes is not favored or, one that doesn't, have a lot of sympathy from the laity. [00:54:00] Most churchgoers, most Catholic churchgoers in the United States today are to the left on many issues when compared to, say the Catholic Bishop's Council or something like that.

So I should make it clear that I'm not talking about all Catholics, right. But there is a way in which, you know Catholic institutions and Catholic elites are create the institutional setting that can kind of reproduce generation upon generation of, conservative values in the kind of Burkeian sense of conservatism in a way that other religious groups are not particularly good at doing.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and actually to that end the. The, this liberal protestant establishment that we're talking about here, it also failed to reproduce. And, and we've talked about how that they, in the political sense they were able to create things that, that lived after they, they themselves, like DOIs and these other people, Truman and FDR, I think you could say were in this group that, they were able to create international and national institutions that, that outlived them.

But in terms of their, theological influence or their congregational influence, that just drastically declined since then. And let's talk about why you believe that happened and some of the key moments for that.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. So when you say, they fail to reproduce themselves, I mean, I think you're right in a certain sense, but we have to ask,

SHEFFIELD: I mean Yeah, they're still there, obviously, so Yeah.

It's just that their dominance has not been preserved religiously.

ZUBOVICH: Yeah. Yeah. So yeah. Part of the kind of reproduction of what question has to do with-- like part of my objection to that would be, oh, they still constitute 13% of the American population. They're still really important and producing presidents, or near presidents. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama come out of this tradition. Groups like the UCC, the United Church of Christ is really important in the Black Lives Matter movement.

And I can give examples of the ways in which they are prominent. [00:56:00] But the other way I think in the liberal Protestants continue to be prominent in the United States is not through their churches and demographics, but through the values they promoted. The language of human rights is still here with us.

Even though the community that, helped promote this language has shrunk quite a bit. And so I do think that they're better at reproducing their values, ideas, and politics and worse at reproducing their institutions and churches. Liberal ecumenical Protestants were at their height in the 1950s and 1960s, and they got involved in a number of politically controversial movements.

We talked about the Cold War in which, you know, and the ways in which the Cold War kind of, made the kind of left-leaning folks in this community kind of come under attack. That was sort of one, one example of this. They were, closely aligned with the Civil Rights movement, which again, especially within their own community, was very unpopular.

They took a stand early on against the Vietnam War, right. And as they were doing all this stuff, taking clear stances on politically controversial issues that put them out of touch with the vast majority of churchgoers, right? There were consequences to this. On the one hand, there were lots of young people in these liberal Protestant churches who took these ideas seriously, right?

Anti-war activism, anti-poverty activism, anti-racist activism. And they started practicing these things. And what they oftentimes found is that they could express those ideas and those values better in non-religious institutions compared with, their home churches, right? And so one of the things that starts happening in the 1960s is that young folks start leaving liberal ecumenical churches.

Some of them return, but many don't. [00:58:00] Many choose to live out their theological values in contexts outside of the church, right? Outside of the community in which they grew up. So that's one thing that starts happening. The other thing is you get this kind of rebellion of the laity conservatives who are continuing to attend these churches start withholding funds and donations leading to kind of financial crises. They're the ones that stick around as the young people are leaving.

And so liberal mainline churches in some ways kind of become more conservative after the sixties as they start shrinking, they start shrinking and aging. But the majority of mainline quote unquote denominations in the most recent elections, I think the majority of them voted for Donald Trump, not Joe Biden even though the leadership of these communities is, kind of in the Democratic camp for the most part.

So essentially, the dynamics set forth by the political commitments that liberal ecumenical Protestants make in the mid-20th century, on the one hand, promote these values beyond the church community while also leading to the shrinking and aging of their denomination.

So it's a complicated legacy, right? And how you feel about this legacy really has to do with what you think is more important, right? Is the more important legacy that these churches are shrinking, that fewer and fewer people are remaining committed Christians. Is that the important thing?

Are you bothered by the fact that many of these folks are becoming Nones, N-O-N-E-S. Not nuns. People who don't affiliate with any religious tradition. Is that the most important legacy?

Or is the more important legacy, the kind of promotion of social justice and liberal values in the public sphere? In the human rights movement, in the anti-racist movements and the laws and regulations that, help poor folks. If that's where you think the real commitment of Christianity lies, then you're likely to take a more positive view. So [01:00:00] it's really a perspectival question, right? Like, which of these two things do you think is of greater value? What do you find more important?

SHEFFIELD: Hmm, yeah. Well, and what is kind of interesting is that while the growth in the None has definitely happened in--we have seen a decline in so-called mainline denominations.

Historically, what is kind of interesting is that the mainline in the very recent years actually has seen a slight uptick depending on the survey that you're looking at. And that probably is, and it seems to be, at least in part, that there is some dissatisfaction among younger evangelicals with the tradition that they have.

And so that tradition has seen a large drop off because and that's what it's kind of interesting looking at that in terms of affiliations that for the longest time that, in the nineties and early two thousands, the evangelicals and the more fundamentalist Christians were, they were crowing about how they were the only ones who were going to be left in Christianity and now the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, has had massively declining numbers year after year, after year.

ZUBOVICH: Yep. About 20 years ago, you would've heard a lot of talk about how secularization theory is a bunch of bunk, that the people who predicted that the United States was going to become secular were really just focused on liberal Protestants. But here are these, thriving megachurches and thriving evangelical communities that are actually doing quite well.

And so that would've been the position you would've heard about 20 years ago. But from our own vantage point today, it's becoming much clearer that the evangelical community didn't avoid secularization, they delayed it.

Essentially, they got an extra 20, 30 years, something along those lines. But groups like the Southern Baptists and the others are experiencing what the mainline [01:02:00] experienced beginning in the 1960s. It was just delayed.

To your point about liberal Protestants, one of the ways in which they kind of sustained themselves and sustained their numbers, say in the thirties or forties, if you were, upwardly mobile in the United States and you grew up as a Pentecostal or one of the Methodist sects or something like that, and you were kind of upwardly mobile, at some point you might switch from a more fundamentalist or evangelical church to a mainline one as you kind of rose through the ranks of society as you kind of raised your cultural or class status.

By the sixties, what happened was that the evangelical movement created a kind of politics of respectability for evangelical denominations. And so you could be, by the seventies, eighties, nineties, a good Christian businessman or a politician without having to change your affiliation, right? You can kind of remain with your own denominational tradition even as you were upwardly mobile.

And so the evangelical movement was really good after World War II in creating a space where people can be upwardly mobile and respectable without needing to become members of mainline churches. And this essentially cut off one of the sources that was kind of replenishing the numbers of mainline Protestantism and is one of the reasons why we get this kind of a shrinking of the mainline.

So what you're describing more recently, maybe a slight uptick in the numbers of folks who are switching from evangelical to mainline churches, if that is in fact happening, actually seems to sort of follow a historical pattern. Interestingly enough, it kind of hearkens back to a phenomenon that had existed earlier.

SHEFFIELD: And we'll see to what extent that continues, if it does or not. But it is, I mean, it is notable also though that a lot of that seems like almost all the growth when you look at demographic studies on religious switching, that people who were joining [01:04:00] these more fundamentalist denominations, they were not non-Christians.

They, that they were basically sort of cannibalizing the other Christians. And now that those groups themselves have had their own secularization and disaffiliation that's kind of eaten away a lot of their numbers, there's not really any pool of people to draw on for the fundamentalist denominations anymore.

So now things may be going back in the opposite direction as people who were born and raised in a fundamentalist tradition are saying, ‘Oh, I don't think I believe this stuff is literally true. And I see these other people don't believe that either. So maybe I'll go talk to them.’

ZUBOVICH: Yeah, it, I know it sounds like we're getting really into the weeds here, but there's a really important broader point about this that, this kind of like stuff about denominations and denominational switching. I think really points to one of the big themes that I try to highlight in my book, which is that in order to understand the religious landscape today, you have to go back and understand the history of liberal Protestantism.

And I think that's because a lot of the rise of the Christian Right and Evangelicalism happens in the context of their rivalry with the Religious Left. It's essentially an intramural religious rivalry. By the seventies, evangelicals are essentially saying, we're out to combat atheism and secularism, we're rebelling against the secular state.

But what I think is a better description of what they're doing is they're fighting back against religious liberal values, right? Not secular values, but a specific version of Christianity that they, that they're dismissive of and dislike.

I think in order to understand what's going on today, you really have to look at the history of this kind of intra religious rivalry between liberal Protestants and conservative Protestants.

SHEFFIELD: Oh, yes, absolutely.

And I guess maybe let's do, this has been a great [01:06:00] conversation but let's maybe end with that you talk about as part of sort of the difficulties that the liberal Protestant establishment had and sort of perpetuating itself from a sectarian standpoint, you talked quite a bit about this idea of a clergy-laity gap as something that began to grow larger and larger over time. What did you mean by that?

ZUBOVICH: Yeah, the clergy-laity gap is one of the central dynamics that I think helps explain the decline of liberal Protestantism and the kind of numerical terms and the creation of a religious vacuum into which the evangelicals and the Christian right steps into essentially.

The liberal Protestant leadership, all these ministers and denominational executives, missionary heads, theologians, and others are promoting increasingly liberal values all throughout the mid-20th century on topics that are controversial and unpopular, right?

Diminishing racism lessening poverty and economic inequality. Providing an alternative framework to the Cold War to create a more sort of peaceful, less confrontational world. These are all things that in the pews of the churches among churchgoers are deeply unpopular.

And what you have emerging over time, and I think this has a really long history, but in the middle of the 20th century, especially by the Cold War, you really see the clergy-laity gap developed into a chasm, right? That the ministers and the people in the pews really don't agree politically, right?

And so what happens is that you get this sort of divide between the liberal clergy and the more conservative church going public that I think is at the heart of the story of the decline of the mainline and the ascendancy of more conservative religious [01:08:00] values.

The liberal Protestant ministers, and especially the national leadership, are asking people in small towns and villages and big cities across the country to really reckon with human rights, anti-racism anti-war protesting, things like that.

And church goers just don't want to hear it. They're deeply resistant to it. And it's this kind of fracturing this community that essentially undermines the leadership and allows for evangelicals to kind of step in to say, our values are more in line with yours to the laity. Our version of Christianity, the kind of Billy Graham version of Christianity that doesn't really ask you to change your mind or your values about the world.

It's essentially a version of Christianity that is telling you that what you grew up with is good enough. What you believe is what the Bible says. The Bible is not telling you to go protest the Vietnam War. It's telling you actually the opposite. It's telling you what you already think about the Vietnam War, just to take one example. And so, the clergy-laity gap is, I think, a central dynamic to the decline of liberal Protestantism and the ascendancy of evangelical religion in the United States.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, there's so many other things we could talk about here today, but I don't want to make the conversation too long here for the audience. But it's been a great discussion. Let me just put up the book on the screen again.

So we've been talking today with Gene Zubovich. He is the author of Before the Religious Right, Liberal Protestants, Human Rights, and the Polarization of the United States. It's definitely worth checking out. I recommend everybody do that. And then of course, you are on Twitter as well. And that is I'll hop to spell it for the listeners since you've got your fine Russian name there. So Gene Z-U-B-O-V-I-C-H [01:10:00]. It's been a pleasure talking with you today.

ZUBOVICH: Thanks so much. It has been lots of fun.

SHEFFIELD: All right, so that's it for this program. Thanks for watching, listening or reading, and if you're interested in more discussion about the religious left and the religious right. I recommend checking out Episode 62 of this program where I talked with historian David Hollinger about the rise of American fundamentalism and its integration into right-wing Republicanism.

And as always, if you like what we're doing here, you can go to, where you can get full access to every single episode with video, audio, and transcript. And I do appreciate everybody who is a subscriber of the show. Thank you very much for your support. I'll see you next time.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? History is filled with stories of people and institutions that spent big and devoted many resources to effect change but have little to show for it. By contrast, many societal developments have happened without forethought from anyone. And of course, change can be negative as well as positive.
In each episode of this weekly program, Theory of Change host Matthew Sheffield delves deep with guests to discuss larger trends in politics, religion, media, and technology.