Box 03-146a LETTER TO EDITOR, HAMILTON HERALD, from Rev. Calvin McQuesten
Apr 26 1923 Thursday
To: Editor, Hamilton Herald Editor, Hamilton Herald, Hamilton, Ontario
From: Whitehern, Hamilton, Ontario
LETTER TO EDITOR
The Anti-Union Attitude Considered
Editor Herald,--In view of the feverish activity of the opponents of church union in this city at the present time, would you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper to draw attention to a significant feature of the convocation of the "Wee Prees" held in St. Paul's Church on Monday of this week.1 This feature was that, at the evening meeting, which lasted almost three hours, only about ten minutes was devoted to the discussion of that phase of the religious situation in Canada which gave rise to the whole movement for union, namely, the perpetuation of a system by which three or four poor little churches are crowded into a village or rural community that would be much better served by all these being united in one congregation. The fact that in hundreds of places in Canada there exist almost side by side two or more little churches with underpaid ministers, preaching the same Gospel to struggling congregations of from twenty-five to a hundred people, singing the same hymns and using a practically identical form of service, is so well known that it would be superfluous to mention it, if it were not that this fact, familiar to all of us, constitutes the real need for church union in Canada, and demands even from the opponents of union at least some attempt at the solution of the problem which it presents. Yet it was this crucial problem which, at Monday evening's meeting, three speakers out of four did not attempt to discuss, and the fourth accorded only the most summary treatment near the close of an hour-long address.
Dr. Eakin related at great length the proceedings of the General Assembly in dealing with Union, displaying his skill in the misuse of words by referring several times to the uniting of the three churches as the "disbanding" of the Presbyterian Church, and interpreting the decision of the assembly to proceed to union "as expeditiously as possible" to mean "as slowly as possible." Ignoring the democratic character of the Presbyterian Church, he branded the action of the
General Assembly, backed by a majority vote of the people, as "unjust and coercive," but failed to show why it was "unjust and coercive" for the majority of the people who voted in favor of Church Union to expect the minority opposed to concur in that decision, but quite right and proper for a dictatorial minority to "coerce" the majority into sticking in the rut of a senseless sectarianism.
Mr. Justice Craig in a brief speech took the curious view that the Presbyterian Church in asking the legislature to sanction its own proceedings was getting the politicians to frame its religion for it, and the learned judge used the weight of his judicial authority to declare that in view of the endowments involved any kind of church union was contrary to the principles of law and equity, even though unanimously supported by the negotiating churches.
Dr. Brown in the flood of oratorical eloquence with which he reminded his hearers that the principle of religious liberty was at stake, recounted the great battles of the world in which liberty was pitted against tyranny and declared that church union would be a denial of the principles of the British Constitution and Magna Carta, spoke with all the fervor of a Fourth-Of-July spellbinder covering the weakness of his party's cause by waving the grand old flag. His concluding peroration in which he invoked Rob Roy and quoted "The MacGregors' Gathering," was a frank appeal to the clannishness of the Scotch, as against the spirit of world-wide brotherhood, which is the Unionists' interpretation of Christianity.
Before this final pyrotechnic outburst, however, the speaker did pause long enough to take a glance at the problem of multiplication of small churches as a result of denominational rivalry and complacently assured his hearers that overlapping was completely eliminated by "co-operation."
Now what is this proposed system of co-operation which is to eliminate overlapping? It is an arrangement by the leaders of the co-operating denominations to divide up sparsely settled communities betwen them. Certain districts are allotted to the Presbyterian Church, for instance; and the Methodists in those districts are expected to connect themselves with the Presbyterian congregations in it. Other districts are allotted to the Methodists; and the Presbyterians in those districts are left with no Presbyterian congregation with which they can worship.
What does this mean? It means that the anti-Unionists of the cities and towns settle themselves comfortably into their padded pews, and complacently and coolly say to the Presbyterian men and women on the lonely frontier and in the sparsely settled communities: "The principles of Presbyterianism are so sacred to us, and the traditions of our forefathers are so precious, that we cannot risk their contamination by association with Methodists and Congregationalists. But you, of course will be quite willing to become Methodists and have your children brought up in Sunday schools where they will never learn the Shorter Catechism or hear anything of Presbyterian traditions. The Methodists are so different from us that we could not think of even sharing a common name with them; but that is no reason why we should not throw you over to them body and soul, and cut you off from all connection with the church of your fathers."
The Unionists, on the contrary [say] to the Presbyterians on the frontier and in the rural districts: "No, we will not desert you and allow you to be cut off from the church and traditions of your fathers. We will all go into the United Church together, carrying the principles and traditions of Presbyterianism with us, Shorter Catechism and all, without the sacrifice of one essential."
I leave it to the unprejudiced reader to decide which is the fairest and more Christian attitude.
CALVIN MCQUESTEN [Rev] Hamilton, April 25, 1923.
1 The Herald of Tuesday, April 24, 1923 carried an account of the meeting at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, to which Calvin is responding. The headlines read: "No Union by Parliament. Leading Presbyterian Anti-Unionists Decided in Their Stand. A BREACH OF TRUST. This is View on Proposed Use of Funds--Call it Ministers' Union." [The full article has not been transcribed here].