Social Gospel

Saskatchewan residents embraced the Social Gospel message sweeping across Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its proponents argued that a society reflecting and striving for the “common good” would be a healthy and economically equitable society. People in the west tried to cope first with a huge influx of immigrants, then with the aftermath of World War I, and finally with the financial and social devastation experienced during the Great Depression. Worries over growing numbers of non-British immigrants, the widespread use of alcohol, and the rise of liberalism prompted an evangelical zeal amongst the Protestant elite in Canada. Concerned politicians, clergy, and others equated “social problems” like poverty, the threat of communism, and rising unemployment rates with a lack of religious morals. Proponents of the Social Gospel promised eternal salvation to those who were patriotic, followed the Bible, attended Church, and worked to eliminate drunkenness, poverty and greed. During the early 1900s, Saskatchewan women enthusiastically supported this doctrine, and actively participated in the Suffrage Movement and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Having political influence as new voters, they combined religious dogma with social activism to push for social change, lobbying the federal and provincial governments to legislate abstinence from alcohol, observation of the Sabbath, and an end to prostitution.

Traveling across the prairies in the 1930s, politician William Aberhart likened federal politicians to thieves and sinners, and offered salvation to the “common workers” if they voted for the Social Credit Party. Methodist minister J.S. Woodsworth used the tenets of the Social Gospel to foster strong social consciousness through political activism in Saskatchewan. He was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which united labour groups, socialists, and farmers in pursuit of a better society. The name Co-operative Commonwealth Federation reflected the Social Gospel philosophy and practice of co-operating for the common good. Eschewing capitalism and favouring social programs, Woodsworth traded his earlier religious affiliation for a broader-based political platform dedicated to social reform. Baptist minister T.C. Douglas was another activist who used Social Gospel beliefs to further a socially conscious political agenda. His career paralleled Woodsworth’s, first as a Christian minister and then as leader of the CCF. Douglas was elected as Premier of Saskatchewan in 1944 and led the first socialist government in North America. Well known for his oratory skills, honesty, and religious fervour, Douglas and the CCF dramatically altered Saskatchewan and federal politics. Universal medicare, old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, and the family allowance programs originated with T.C. Douglas and the CCF in Saskatchewan.

Social workers are employed in child welfare and family service settings, health organizations, mental health clinics, business and industry, schools, correctional systems, welfare administration agencies, community organizations, and in private practice. Client populations served by social workers include children and youth at risk, people with disabilities, low-income people, those with chemical dependencies, the homeless, offenders, the elderly, employees, neighbourhoods, and families. Social work roles range from direct practice to community development to policy-making. Since 1995, the Social Workers Act has required that a person using the title “social worker” be registered with the Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers (SASW). Registration indicates that social workers have met the professional standards to practice social work. As the regulatory body, SASW carries a central responsibility for the protection of the public: it establishes, maintains, and develops standards of ethical practice, and supports development of skills and competency among its members.

Since 1973 social work education and training in Saskatchewan has been offered by the Faculty of Social Work, University of Regina. Both undergraduate and graduate studies programs are available through the faculty. Social work classes are available in Regina and Saskatoon as well as in other urban, rural, and northern communitites using face to face, audio, video, and internet teaching methodologies. The Faculty of Social Work also works with a wide variety of government and community agencies to help social work students obtain practical experience to integrate with their academic training. Also, unique in Canada is the School of Indian Social Work of the First Nations University of Canada, the aim of which is to develop social work knowledge and skills based on the culture, values, and philosophy of First Nations.

Elizabeth Mooney

Further Reading

Kerr, D. 1992. Talking Back: The Birth of the CCF. Regina: Coteau Books; Whelan, Ed and P. Whelan. 1990. Touched by Tommy: Stories of Hope and Humour in the Words of Men and Women Whose Lives Tommy Douglas Touched. Regina: Whelan Publications.