Articles

The Battling Baptist

For 40 years from his Jarvis pulpit Dr. T. T. Shields has tilted a mighty lance at Romanism, modernism — and Baptists who won’t agree

GERALD ANGLIN June 15 1949
Articles

The Battling Baptist

For 40 years from his Jarvis pulpit Dr. T. T. Shields has tilted a mighty lance at Romanism, modernism — and Baptists who won’t agree

GERALD ANGLIN June 15 1949

The Battling Baptist

GERALD ANGLIN

For 40 years from his Jarvis pulpit Dr. T. T. Shields has tilted a mighty lance at Romanism, modernism — and Baptists who won’t agree

IN 1922 an unknown Toronto newspaperman beat out a punch lead for a story about Canada’s most controversial clergyman: “Rev. T. T.

Shields is again on the warpath . . .”

It is a tribute to the inventiveness of his hometown Press that so apt an introduction has never been repeated during the nearly 40 battle-scarred years of Dr. Shields’ ministry at Jarvis Street Baptist Church. For in that time he has gone on the warpath so often that in one newspaper morgue his press clippings now fill three bulging scrapbooks and spill over into a fourth.

T. T. has gone scalping after gamblers, card players, burlesque comedians, the United States of America and women. He has attacked beverage rooms (“trapdoors to hell”), bobbed hair (“The Lord never intended women to go to the barber”) and athletics (“The Lord hath no pleasure in the legs of a man”).

Laying about at his fellow believers (Dr. Shields might put the word in quotation marks) he has denounced Methodists, Anglicans, the United Church and the Oxford Group. More than any of these he has attacked the Roman Catholic Church —but he has lashed out at brother Baptists more relentlessly and more vehemently than at all other objects of his wrath combined.

The battling Baptist has by no means gone unscathed himself. While he has called the Pope “the anti-Christ” he has in turn been damned by equally angry Protestants as a “self-appointed bishop” and “the Pope of Jarvis Street.” When he fought Mackenzie King on the conscription issue the then Prime Minister declared that he had “nothing but contempt” for Dr. Shields.

This was the campaign which set reporters pounding out copy slugged “Shields” in newspapers from coast to coast. The Toronto clergyman has never been purely a local figure -he has filled great churches from London, England, to New York and California with the spell of his thunderous voice—but his lusty blasts against the Roman Catholic Church over the conscription question brought him nation-wide fame and notoriety in his own land.

A Fiery Cross Was Burned

HOTELS and cities closed their doors to him. A stink bomb was hurled into one audience. He launched his own political party. Demands flooded to the Minister of Justice that his talks be banned and he himself interned. And thousands crowded to hear him wherever he spoke from Montreal to Victoria.

To English-speaking Canadians he was just one of many ardent warriors giving pro for con on the most heated political issue of the day. But in French Canada strident nationalists seized on T. T. Shields as a flaming symbol of the militant forces of destruction les Anglais were about to unleash upon Quebec at any fearful moment.

Over the years Dr. Shields has become accustomed to such epithets as “dictator,” “hypocrite,” “vain,” “egotistical,” “destructive” and, once, “a man without a Christian heart.”

He was president of the Baptist Bible Union of North America in 1927 when it took over the Des Moines University in Iowa. After two years he touched off a bonfire when he accused seven faculty members (including the university president) of theologically “indiscreet utterances,” suspended the whole staff, ordered the university closed temporarily. He was pursued by a mob of American students who pelted the building he was in with rotten eggs, then chased him up and down the corridors and into a closet where he hid for an hour.

After a fiery cross was burned as a suggestion he head home for Canada reporters found Dr. Shields hiding out in a hotel room some miles distant. He

was registered under an assumed name and had the transom draped with newspapers.

The centre of all these spirited disturbances, 75-year-old Dr. Thomas Todhunter Shields has a huge head, powerful shoulders and prominent paunch mounted on a set of pillarlike legs. Standing feet apart, shoulders back, his slitted eyes staring haughtily and querulously down his arching nose, he is capable of defying a general uprising of the masses led by the Devil himself.

He can be genuinely charming and his commanding personality has won him hundreds of ardent supporters; but (say those who have differed with him) he cannot abide associates who disagree with him and won’t give way. Typical of the mixed reaction he inspires in many people was that of a woman long in Baptist church work who once said, “He is a great man in many respects, but I

couldn’t say what I really think of him. Christians shouldn’t use that kind of language.”

Dr. Shields has always thought of himself primarily as a preacher. He speaks fondly of his church as “the Jarvis Street pulpit” and is famed for the tremendous power of his voice. He has never been too keen on pastoral visiting or other semisocial duties; he does the major part of his job in the pulpit itself, in his study preparing for his next sermon, or working in the ample church offices on the affairs of the Union of Regular Bapt ist Churches of Ontario and Quebec (of which he is president) and editing his Gospel Witness. This is his own church paper which for 27 years has carried reports of his sermons and other articles to as many as 30,000 readers in 60 countries.

“Each week I preach, through the Witness, to an audience of missionaries Continued on page 50

Continued on page 50

The Battling Baptist

Continued from page 15

and ministers of all denominations that would fill Massey Hall,” Dr. Shields has often said.

Massey Hall will accommodate 2,700 people, but from the Jarvis Street pulpit itself the pastor can look into the faces of 1,500 people on a good Sunday, and most of them are pretty good. Thanks to a public-address system the total listening audience within adjoining church halls and corridors has upon occasion run close to 3,000.

The church stands foursquare upon the northeast corner of Jarvis and Gerrard Streets in downtown Toronto, its soot-stained stone walls overshadowing the beer parlors which flank it on two other corners of the intersection. Its lofty spire originally towered above one of the finest residential streets in the city, but over the years the residences have been turned into rooming houses and cheap hotels; and i the ladies of fashion who once drove ! up the broad avenue in coach and j carriage have been supplanted by less fortunate ladies who sometimes climax Saturday night by a ride in a patrol wagon.

Concerned more with evangelism than social service, Jarvis Street Baptist today draws its congregation from all over the city and lives largely aloof from its surroundings. The same can be said for its pastor, although he has sounded off many times against the steadily increasing number of liquor i outlets in the neighborhood. One such session was disrupted by a bartender i from a nearby hotel and his mother ! who turned up in a front seat drunk, j disorderly and apparently indignant at the implied threat to the bartender’s ! livelihood.

When the church was being rebuilt I after a spectacular fire in 1938 the I pastor announced that it would have a new spire because “in the midst of all the beer parlors there should be something pointing upward.”

But for the most part Dr. Shields is seen on Jarvis Street only when he strides from the church which pays him $8,000 a year (out of an annual revenue its pastor says runs about $135,000 a year) to his car to drive himself the few blocks to his Walmer j Road home where he has lived most j of his years in Toronto.

; Twice married, but without children, the Baptist clergyman has in gardening ! a waning hobby, in reading one that he \ still pursues avidly—often until 4 o’clock in the morning.

A Cowboy on the Pulpit

Despite the headlines that have echoed his name for 40 years, Dr. Shields has been known to protest mildly that he has never courted publicity. But once he declared precisely the opposite: “I court the fullest publicity. I wish to speak into the ear of the world.” This was on a desperate occasion when his choir leader usurped so much time for music there was only 20 minutes left for the sermon, instead of the hour or more which Dr. Shields feels he needs. Confronted with this and other similar circumstances T.T. has never hesitated to speak up strongly. Yet it is probably necessary to agree with him that “If I had preached 50 years ago exactly as I do today nobody would pay any attenI tion.”

Fifty years ago T. T. Shields was : preaching the same gospel in smaller i charges in western Ontario; he was j beginning his ministry in the fine 1 unrelenting Baptist tradition of the

day, but that day was at eventide. It was after he was called to the big city church in 1910 that he first began to encounter such characters as choir leaders who put music before preaching, and vaunted divines who spoke of the need for a “practical religion”— men who didn’t even blink if some heretic suggested that perhaps the whale hadn’t, in point of fact, swallowed Jonah.

“I stand where I have always stood,” said Dr. Shields, his tiny hooded eyes challenging anyone to contradict him. That stand is squarely upon the Holy Bible and its complete and unquestioned acceptance—from Genesis to Revelations, from the story of the creation to virgin birth, baptism by total immersion, the resurrection and the supernatural ascension of the Son of God to Heaven. In Dr. Shields’ sincere conviction all his troubles have stemmed directly from his insistence upon these things in a day when it seems to some people the world is spinning heedlessly toward Hell at the speed of light.

Although Dr. Shields has said that there is no virtue in conflict, he has also added: “If loyalty to Jesus Christ and belief in the word of God is going to divide the church, then I am ready to split every church in the convention clean in two.”

It’s been a man-sized task, but Dr. Shields has just about pulled it off— witness the record:

1921: Jarvis Street congregation splits; dissenters start new church.

1927: Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec splits; Union of Regular Baptists organized by Shields rebels.

1929: Des Moines University students run Board President Shields off the campus; university forced to close.

1930: Jarvis congregation splits

again; another new church starts.

1931: Union group splits; rebels expelled by Shields start Fellowship of Independent Baptists.

1948: Shields’ Toronto Seminary splits when dean he fired launches rival school, making off with most of the students and staff, including the chef.

The seminary affair which last December again filled the newspapers with the name and face of Shields (winning one photographer a news picture prize) was still simmering beneath the surface three months later. T.T.’s answers to rumors that his congregation was about to split for a third time and that he would at last be driven from the Jarvis Street pulpit was to share his rostrum with a cowboy evangelist, complete with tengallon hat, hand-tooled leather boots, spurs and an electrifying dramatization of Jonah being swallowed by the whale.

After a three-week roundup which had the old Jarvis Street corral packed to the limit the cowboy returned to his American range, leaving Dr. Shields to baptize 37 new converts at a single, Sunday evening service. Pending the hoped-for return of the evangelist in, chaps, the ageing preacher was himself carrying on the revival services, preaching every week night and twice on Sundays.

Years ago a reporter was sent to show Dr. Shields a letter the newspaper had received from an enemy of the Baptist pastor’s, castigating him so venomously that the paper was afraid to run it without the victim’s permission.

“Do you know the Royal York Hotel?” T.T. thundered at the startled reporter. “Well, do you think that if a; sand fly flew full tilt into the Royal; York the hotel would tremble notice-: ably? Publish all the letters you like!”

His opponents have always given T.T. full marks for imperviousness,

determination and—most of them— sincerity. But many of them are inclined to attribute the storminess of his career not so much to his religious convictions as to an inherent inability to co-operate and an intense dislike of playing anything but first violin.

Recently two Baptist pastoris from opposite extremes of the liberal and fundamentalist camps came forward with almost identical explanations of the Shields character: If T.T. had gone to college, played some football and rubbed shoulders with enough other young sprouts he might have had some of the rough edges knocked oft' and learned how to get along with other people—then he would have become the truly great man and preacher he just barely misses being.

Shields, who was born in Bristol in 1873, took what formal schooling he received in a small English private school where the emphasis was on individual tutoring by Oxford scholars rather than football. He learned much also from his father, an Anglican clergyman who turned Baptist, and “from earliest infancy” he had no other goal than becoming a preacher for there had been preachers in the family for 200 years. He began to write sermons in his teens, even before the family came to Canada, where his father’s first charge was at Learnington, Ont.

Young T.T. preached in Dutton (where he was ordained), Delhi, Hamilton and London before receiving the call to Toronto in 1910. Although he is famed for his exhaustive knowledge of the Bible he never attended a theological or other college. His only degrees are two honorary divinity doctorates.

lie Revels in a Fight

Memory of the occasion upon which T.T. received the first award (from the Baptist Convention’s McMaster University) is still cherished by many who were present, although it happened early in his days at Jarvis Street when he had already begun to snipe at McMaster for being too liberal in its teaching. This was the campaign that was to end in Shields being barred from the convention.

“Some of the senior men in the convention thought a degree would be a fine way to butter him up—but they didn’t know Shields!” one man who was there recalls. “In his speech of acceptance he did everything but throw his hood in the faces of the Senate. He told them he was under no illusions as to why they were giving him the degree, and finished by saying if it weren’t for fear of insulting them he wouldn’t take it—after he’d been standing there insulting them for 10 minutes !

“But he did accept the honor—and that was just like Shields, too!”

Whether the controversies which punctuate Dr. Shields’ career have been courted or forced upon him, there can be little doubt he revels in a good fight once the sides are drawn. A recent and unheadlined row within the board of the Baptist Union saw him oppose and defeat a project almost singlehandedly, after threatening to withdraw as president of the union if his opponents wouldn’t give in. It was an exhausting session, the type calculated to induce a heart attack, ulcers or both. Yet a visitor to his home that evening found the union’s president obviously elated, “walking on air.”

Dr. Shields did have what was diagnosed as a heart attack 12 years ago, had another severe bout of illness two years ago, but made an enthusiastic recovery on both occasions.

A dispute involving T. T. Shields is

bound to have certain ritualistic touches long familiar to Toronto newspaper readers. There is the opening gambit of the resignation-on-the-table. (That finished the early fight with the choir leader and organist before the poor man could pull out half his stops.) There is the lifelong member of the church who bitterly denounces his leader’s enemies (“What you do to Dr. Shields you do to the Lord Jesus Christ”)—and the other member in long standing who joins his leader’s bitterest assailants (“When I speak about Dr. Shields I speak about the man who led me to Christ and I believe he’s the greatest preacher in Canada, but he’s also a liar”).

Then there is the three-hour address, complete with hecklers and demands for police assistance to restore order. Then there are the reporters who when barred from secret sessions queue up at the keyholes to overhear loud cries of “Shame, shame!” “dirty sneak” and what one scribe recorded as “ironical laughter.”

Apart from the protest meetings called by T.T. himself such engagements are usually accompanied by a host of incidental phenomena. There is the opposition meeting in another church, from which are driven out Dr. Shields’ “spies”—court reporters he has hired to eavesdrop verbatim. There are the letters to the editors from the sand flies (“Is there a Nero his equal?”) and from his loyal supporters. There is the printed report of the proceedings in which Dr. Shields will “lift the veil” and “throw down the gauntlet.” The most ambitious such was a black-bound volume the size of a novel, entitled “The Plot That Failed,” giving his side of the 1921 Jarvis Street split.

There is almost always the pastor’s own protest of innocence in creating the trouble: “People may say that 1 am a fighter and a troublemaker, but it is God who has done this thing through prayer.” There is, just as inevitably, the pleading protest from his opponents: “We have no quarrel with his

doctrine; it is the man in whom the fault lies.” And like as not when the veil has been rent and the whole congregation or interchurch group lies asunder, the Shields forces are to be found rallying round their hero to chorus “Blest be the tie that binds.”

Hits Hepburn and Catholicism

Undoubtedly the most deeply resented of all T. T. Shields’ crusades has been his long-standing campaign against the Roman Catholic Church. In principle the Shields position is simply that church and state should be kept separate. When he believes he has caught the Roman Catholic church trying to expand its separate-school system in Ontario, or high-pressuring the Federal Government to avoid conscription during wartime, Shields just automatically springs to the attack.

Ever since 1936 when then Ontario Premier Mitchell F. Hepburn amended the Assessment Act to give separate schools a larger share of corporation taxes, Dr. Shields has never hesitated to lash out viciously at this rival faith. In his view Hepburn was diverting public money to “propagate Romanism,” since the separate school curriculum includes religious subjects. But any fine distinction between political and religious attacks soon became lost.

He called Roman Catholicism “the biggest racket in the world, selling salvation at a price . . .” His windmill battering of the Ontario premier (“vulgarian demagogue,” “cheap buffoon,” “imbecile wisecracker”) apparently so stunned that master of near-

slanderous repartee that in reply he merely suggested Shields was intolerant and “trying to Billy Sunday the people of Ontario.”

He mounted the hustings to help defeat Hepburn’s man in the East Hastings by-election of December, 1926, but when the Premier thankfully accepted an opposition motion to repeal the Assessment Act three months later Shields was merely suspicious instead of triumphant.

When the war brought the conscription issue forward Dr. Shields expanded his activities. He formed a Protestant League to help him denounce the Roman Catholic influence he claimed he saw at work in national policy, and personally covered almost the whole country lecturing. In Montreal the Windsor Hotel thought better of letting him speak when telephone protests

poured in. Winnipeg city fathers finally let him have the civic auditorium after much debate. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Victoria protested to the Minister of Justice against Shields being permitted to speak on the West Coast.

Meanwhile Quebec’s St. Jean Baptiste Society asked the authorities to “analyze” all Shields’ speeches; Liguori Lacombe, M.P., demanded Shields be “probed”; and the Quebec Municipal Executive Committee insisted he be interned. Two Ontario towns, Oshawa and Guelph, refused to hear him, but even a stink bomb tossed into his own church hall couldn’t shut up the battling Baptist.

Shields isn’t the only Protestant who opposes the expansion of separate schools and he certainly wasn’t the only ardent conscriptionist during the war.

Yet undoubtedly many such have deplored the Shields thunder-andbrimstone tactics as likely to accomplish far more harm than good.

Dr. Shields has seldom stopped shooting and he has plenty of ammunition left. Ask him today about the currently threatened uprising among the Baptist Union churches, sparked by the seminary walkout, and his shoulders roll back, his big hands move toward his belt and unconsciously he assumes a fighting stance as his eyes take on that haughty, scrappy look. He obviously wouldn’t deign to comment on any suggestion that he and his long spotlighted pulpit might soon be parted by earthly events.

Half a dozen years ago he showed clearly his grip on his future when he declared firmly, “I expect to go to Heaven from Jarvis Street.” ★