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January 26 , 2010

In the Trenches with Jesus and Marx

Harry F. Ward and the Struggle for Social Justice


This absorbing and insightful biography illuminates the life of the controversial champion of Social Gospel in early-20th-century America.

Radical religious and political leader Harry F. Ward started life quietly enough in a family of Methodist shopkeepers and butchers in London. But his relentless pursuit of social justice would lead him to the United States and a long career of religious activism. Ward served as professor of Christian ethics at the Union Theological Seminary and chairman of the board of the American Civil Liberties Union for two decades. He also became a leader in labor groups, Protestant activist organizations, and New York intellectual circles.

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David Duke builds his comprehensive story of this fiery leader from extensive archival sources, including FBI files and private correspondence, sermons, class notes, and other unpublished material. Duke skillfully charts Ward's rise from an idealistic Methodist minister in a Chicago stockyard parish to a prominent national religious leader and influential political figure. Ultimately, Ward's lifelong attempt to synthesize the beliefs of Jesus and Marx and his role as an admirer of the Soviet Union put him on a collision course with McCarthyism in Cold War America. Viewed by some as a prophet and by others as a heretic, traitor, and communist, Ward became increasingly marginalized as he stubbornly maintained his radical positions. Even in his own circle, he went from being a figure of unquestioned integrity who eloquently spoke his convictions to a tragically short-sighted idealogue whose unwavering pro-Soviet agenda blinded him to the horrors of Stalinist oppression.

Harry Ward's long, colorful career intersected nearly every intellectual current in American culture for more than a half century. This biography will be important for scholars of American religious history, students of liberalism and politics, social Christians, and general readers who enjoy a compelling tour into the private and public lives of notable figures of history.

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