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The World is Our Parish

The World is Our Parish: John King Gordon, 1900-1989: An Intellectual Biography

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    The World is Our Parish
    Book Description:

    "The World Is Our Parish"uses John King Gordon's professional and intellectual journey to reveal the confluence of liberal Christianity, social democracy, and internationalism in Canadian politics and thought.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6903-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: “Universe of the spirit”
    (pp. 3-12)

    John King Gordon was an unlikely radical. Yet on a balmy Saskatchewan evening in July 1933, that bleakest of Great Depression years, the thirty-two-year-old United Church minister and mild-mannered professor of Christian ethics from Montreal delivered to an overflow crowd in Regina’s city hall auditorium an unequivocal attack on the “fallacious philosophy” of capitalism, and demanded root-and-branch reform of Canada’s economic and political status quo.¹ The occasion of the speech was the inaugural national convention of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the country’s newest and, to many observers, its most disquieting political movement. Gordon attended the convention as a representative...

  5. 1 “Breaking out of a comfortable cocoon” (1900–1924)
    (pp. 13-48)

    King Gordon was a vigorous septuagenarian, at an appropriate juncture in life for self-reflection, when he began organizing the reams of personal correspondence and print memorabilia that he had amassed over the preceding half-century. Although he intended to use the documents as the basis of his autobiography, the book was never written. There simply was not enough time to complete it, but that is not unusual, even given that he lived into his eighty-ninth year. Long past the age when most people aspire to a relaxed superannuation, Gordon persisted in championing political and social reforms, both domestic and international, much...

  6. 2 “I play spectator in an Aristotelian sense” (1924–1931)
    (pp. 49-79)

    It was not until the summer of 1924 and his final weeks as an Oxford undergraduate that King resolved his long-standing vocational quandary and elected to become, like his father and grandfathers before him, a Presbyterian minister. In the normal course of events, several more years at university would have followed, to study theology and develop the pastoral skills necessary for parish ministry. No longer able to rely upon the Rhodes scholarship to finance his education, King also hoped to derive a modest income from teaching economics courses at whichever university he attended as a divinity student. But even before...

  7. 3 “A fiery apostle of social justice” (1931–1934)
    (pp. 80-127)

    Shortly before leaving New York and Union Theological Seminary for Montreal to take up his academic post at United Theological College, Gordon vacationed with friends on an island off the Maine coast in June 1931. The ten days of relaxing on the beach were a much needed respite between winding down his academic studies and commencing a demanding new career. It was also a time to bid farewell to close acquaintances made during two intellectually fulfilling and socially satisfying years in New York. “There were about a dozen of us,” King wrote his mother, “practically all my best friends, most...

  8. 4 “Politics is the only road to heaven now” (1935–1938)
    (pp. 128-174)

    At the beginning of 1935, Gordon was marginally better off than the 20 per cent of Canadians still unemployed as the Great Depression entered its sixth wearisome year. No longer in the employ of United Theological College, its Board of Governors having ignored a public outcry to reinstate his chair in Christian ethics, he cobbled together a precarious livelihood from public speaking.¹ Accepting invitations mainly from church congregations, Gordon engaged the curious and the converted alike with his ideas for effecting economic and spiritual renewal in Canada via sweeping political and ethical reforms. Unfortunately, opportunities for this type of peripatetic...

  9. 5 “A bifocal view towards American affairs” (1938–1949)
    (pp. 175-221)

    Looking back on the Great Depression from the vantage point of the 1970s, Gordon could not imagine a “less likely sequel to my six or seven years as a Christian-Socialist activist” than occupying the non-fiction editor’s chair at the New York publishing house Farrar & Rinehart beginning in 1938. Although he had been an ardent writer during his previous incarnations as preacher, professor, travelling proselytizer, and political candidate, Gordon’s only formal editorial experience prior to joining the firm was what he acquired while preparing his father’s autobiography for publication. Yet John Farrar, who regarded books as “the voices and images...

  10. 6 “A ringside view of contemporary history in the making” (1950–1961)
    (pp. 222-267)

    On 8 October 1952, John Humphrey, a Canadian and director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights, described in his diary a convivial luncheon held earlier that day in a New York restaurant. His table companions were King Gordon and Frank Scott, both of whom had been his associates in the League for Social Reconstruction during the early 1930s when all three men were idealistic young academics just beginning their careers in Montreal. “What would we have thought,” Humphrey wondered, had one of them suggested twenty years ago that they were all to become “international officials?” He answered his...

  11. 7 “To get on in the world you accept the beliefs and values of the establishment” (1962–1989)
    (pp. 268-309)

    In 1977, when Gordon was awarded the Order of Canada, his country’s highest civilian honour, he recalled to Grace MacInnis, another progeny of a Winnipeg manse, how he had been taught as a child that the topmost virtue was to serve others. The pursuit of wealth, by contrast, was deemed a weak and unworthy substitute. “With my mother and father,” King explained, serving those less fortunate than oneself “was a kind of imperative that came from one’s nature as a human being in a divine universe.”¹ Obviously the lesson stuck. By the time he retired from the United Nations in...

  12. Conclusion: “An observer, not an actor”
    (pp. 310-318)

    Attempting to settle on just one event above all others as pivotal to a life spanning almost nine decades could well become a mug’s game. Nevertheless, in King Gordon’s case, the likeliest contender for the distinction was his decision in 1937 to edit the memoir of his recently deceased father. Completing this task led to an unforeseen invitation from the publisher Farrar & Rinehart to join its New York office as a non-fiction editor, and Gordon’s quick turning away from an identity as clergyman and Christian socialist that until then had been integral to his sense of vocation and mission....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 319-356)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 357-366)
  15. Index
    (pp. 367-376)