The Social Gospel Movement of the late Nineteenth Century emerged in response to the critical social problems of the era: rapid urbanization, massive immigration, child labor, poor schools, slums, labor unrest, and extreme poverty. The Social Gospel Movement called for extending Christian values to everyday life—for bringing the Kingdom of God into the present world. The ideal of social justice permeated the movement: clergy in the more progressive wings of Protestant Churches, most notably Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Baptists, actively promoted economic, social, and political justice as Christian responses to the problems of the times.
While adherents of the movement were few in number they founded settlement houses, established educational programs for immigrants, supported labor unions and workers rights, called to end child labor, and sought to assist the poor. Progressive Era politicians of the early 20th century pursued these issues.
Grinnell, Iowa, became a center of this movement when George A. Gates assumed the presidency of Iowa (Grinnell) College and George D. Herron was appointed Chair of the new Department of Applied Christianity. While Herron became nationally known for his fiery rhetoric about bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, it was George Gates whose Social Gospel ethos transformed the college.