In the name of God, James Mutchmor has flayed most of us from gamblers and drinkers to working mothers. Now he is moderator of the United Church, and even his own clergy and congregation are split on what comes next: will Mutchmor follow his public talent for headline-grabbing, or his private habit of Christian tolerance?

HARRY BRUCE November 17 1962


In the name of God, James Mutchmor has flayed most of us from gamblers and drinkers to working mothers. Now he is moderator of the United Church, and even his own clergy and congregation are split on what comes next: will Mutchmor follow his public talent for headline-grabbing, or his private habit of Christian tolerance?

HARRY BRUCE November 17 1962


In the name of God, James Mutchmor has flayed most of us from gamblers and drinkers to working mothers. Now he is moderator of the United Church, and even his own clergy and congregation are split on what comes next: will Mutchmor follow his public talent for headline-grabbing, or his private habit of Christian tolerance?


To MOST CANADIAN SINNERS, the biggest wind in Christendom is a ruddy United Church patriarch named James Ralph Mutchmor. For twenty-five years “that man Mutchmor” — the foxiest of all church headline-grabbers, as he’s often called — has been telling us we guzzle too much, gamble too much, break the Sabbath too much, lie, steal and grub too much for money and the things it will buy. His language is about as close to cursing as a man of the cloth may come, and he swings it impartially at greedy business, greedy unions, dirty books, women’s fashions, the sinful suburbs and even “the chubby, cheerful, well-fed nonentities” who attend United Churches. The Mutchmor that people read about has only one habit of mind: disapproval.

Mutchmor has had to take almost as much denunciation as he’s handed out. He’s been called the only ranting Methodist still in eruption (though, in fact, his background is Manitoulin Island Presbyterian), an overweight Savonarola, a spoilsport, loudmouth, bigot and publicity-drunk, a national joke on Toronto and, by former Ontario premier George Drew, a liar. In Mutchmor’s own church, blushing (or maybe that color is rage) clergymen declare every year that the opinions of J. R. Mutchmor are the opinions of J. R. Mutchmor, not those of the United Church of Canada. In the nonsmoke-filled committee rooms of United Church House in uptown Toronto, laymen rise up periodically in hopeless attempts to legislate a Mutchmor muzzle. And some theologians will go so far as to hint that the public Mutchmor (though never the private one) is really a kind of heretic, that the negative brand of religion his name has come to symbolize is a denial of the life and teachings of Christ.

Yet, against this background, the 390man ruling body of the United Church voted in September to give Mutchmor the highest honor they could offer: they made him, for the next two years, the official figurehead for almost four million United Church adherents (Mutchmor has long been the biggest living //«official symbol of the U.C.). His new title is Moderator of the General Council of the United Church of Canada.

Many churchmen, particularly in Toronto, are apprehensive about what Mulchmor's election means to the future of the church. They wonder if it will confirm a suspicion that the United Church stands only for a cold and loveless moralism, a suspicion that, according to one minister, makes potential churchgoers say, “If this be religion, I’m the village atheist.”

Despite the misgivings, the election wasn’t even close. Mutchmor beat three other nominees, all ministers, on the first ballot, and first-ballot elections to the moderatorship are fairly rare in the thirty-seven-year history of the United Church. How did it happen? One reason was sentiment. Mutchmor was seventy and facing retirement; this was “old Jim’s" last chance at the job. Another factor was that, although half the delegates were laymen, the businessmen who arc most opposed to Mutchmor’s vocal style were too few to cast a significant bloc vote. But the most important reason was that the church was voting for the other Mutchmor, a Mutchmor who rarely even tries to hit daily-paper deadlines, a Mutchmor who is unrecognizable as the narrowminded, loud-spoken puritan of the popular image. In print. Mutchmor is often described as “the most-quoted clergyman in Canada”; in talk, among those who know him. he’s “the most misunderstood man in Canada." The people who voted for him were the people who knew him.

Mutchmor’s associates, even those who almost never agree CONTINUED ON PAGE 91



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“I want pulpits delivered from cowardice, absolute cowardice”

with him on anything, regard him as a fighter, all right, but not as a bigot or ranter.

They think of him as a tough but scrupulously fair opponent, a good loser, an excellent administrator, a liberal-minded social reformer, a thoughtful, silver-haired old gentleman who has his own reasons for saying aloud what's on his mind. They know he said “the Canadian people arc making damn fools of themselves” over liquor and that Canada is "a nation of guzzlers”; some of them also know he served rum at the front in World War I. that he tucked drunk soldiers into bed, goes to cocktail parties, and could join a party of drinking men on a fishing trip without making anyone uneasy. Some of the laymen on the twelve big boards and commissions of the United Church can remember when Mutchmor said the goddess of luck is threatening God's place in C anada, that gambling feeds on “the twin evils of credulity and cupidity"; a few of the same men have played bridge with him and know' that a few years ago he also said “possibly it helps in a bridge game to have a little money on the side." Jim Mutchmor is a complex man.

The complexity is a result of Mutchmor's idea of one of the duties of clergymen, and of the way he decided to fulfill it. In 1937, soon after he became secretary of the church's Board of Evangelism and Social Service, he described this duty. Asked if preachers shouldn't keep their noses out of public affairs, he replied: ”OI all the odious platitudes from certain sources, that is the most nauseous . . .

I would have the pulpit delivered from cowardice, downright cowardice. Where a man or firm is not paying a living wage, the man or firm should be named, yes, named from the pulpit.” Later, he named men,, firms, and governments.

To influence public life, or fight what Mutchmor likes to call Corporate Sin. the church had to be heard and, to be heard, it had to have the newspapers. Mutchmor must have known, almost from birth, what newspapers like: hard, short, damning

words (Yonge St. is "a veritable rum row”; "Bay St. is much more crooked than Wall St.”; liquor executives are "big booze barons”). His phrasing has been manna for reporters and instant salvation for generations of Toronto city editors. It doesn't bother him that twenty-five years of bright quotes, out of text, have earned him some enemies and made him appear to be a harsher man than he is. He was fighting the good fight and though he seems to have lost his best-known campaigns (liquor, the closed Sunday, perhaps obscene literature), it really has been a good fight.

From the beginning, Mutchmor's campaign headquarters and his soapbox-pulpit have been the secretaryship of the Board of Evangelism and Social Service. And the weapon that has never failed him is the board's yearly

report; as sure as the coming of midwinter, when the board holds its annual meetings, the report makes news. Its official title changes each year but the unofficial one is constant: "Jim's Directory of Sin." This year, it was fatter than ever, 294 pages, and once again it offered what Mutchmor calls Today's Moral Box Score (seven plus signs: nine minuses, including rising alcoholism: more syndicated crime; more dishonest expense accounts and income-tax cheating: more stock-mar-

ket irregularities: more teen-age robbers. murderers and prostitutes; and “protection for religious observances in some large Metro areas like Toronto is little better than in Moscow"). To Mutchmor, if there's anything worse than liquor, it's bootleg liquor and the report includes new' figures, from a recently published book called The Purveyor, to support an old Mutchmor theory that, in North-American bars, after the drinkers go home, barmen fill up labeled

gin bottles w ith nine-cent-a-quart rotgut.

It's somehow typical of Mutchmor's curious and roving mind that in this year's report he spent more space on the bootleg-gin racket than on his entire box-score of national morals. In addition to his own sin index, the report is a grab-bag of about 200 condensed articles, speech excerpts and federal government statistics — almost all handpicked by Mutchmor. Certainly, the book is weighted with

obvious church problems and with horrifying statistics about what liquor can do to you. But it’s also spiced with such apparent incongruities as chunks of speeches by Churchill, Kennedy and Adlai Stevenson: the fact that cockroaches will die to get a sip of beer; that New' Yorkers will pay $800 for gold-plated golf clubs; that Canadians are the most active telephone-talkers in the world; and (perhaps not quite so incongruous) that no Royal Navy ship has ever

been christened HMS Cromwell. The report is a mirror of the things that interest James Mutchmor and the things he thinks will — or should — interest United Church members. It's also, according to some ministers, a damn nuisance.

With more sarcasm than affection, Rev. J. A. Davidson of Kingston described last February’s annual meeting of Mutchmor’s board as “that modest little Canadian festival.’’ Once again, Rev. Davidson said, “a some-

what false image of the United Church of Canada has been given a polishing.” Tike others before him, Rev. Davidson was complaining that Mutchmor and his secretariat had done little to discourage the impression created by publicity that the board was speaking for the whole church. (Strictly speaking, no one person, not even the moderator, can speak for the United Church; the ultimate spokesman and policy-maker is the 390-member General Council.)

If some clergymen resent the publicity that makes them a part of the things Mutchmor says, they still insist on his right to say whatever he pleases: the “freedom to prophesy” has been a basic right of United Church clergymen for twenty-two years. They quickly squash attempts by lay businessmen to have church law's changed so that Mutchmor might be silenced or restrained.

Most of the businessmen who oppose Mutchmor attend the more fashionable uptown United Churches in Toronto. Some think he’s just plain bad for business. Others have more specific interests at heart. Mutchmor has denounced stock-market swindles, “wealthy profiteers,” monopolies and luxury spending; he has advocated a capital gains tax and not only total abstinence for church members but nationalization of the entire liquor industry. There are bondholders, and advertising executives wdth beer and liquor accounts in the United Church. This kind of opposition to Mutchmor is not a highly significant force but it’s significant enough so that, at times, the liveliest and biggest (circ.. 352,000) church magazine in Canada, the United Church Observer, has lost steady advertisers.

The wets rebel

Then, there are the drinkers. In Toronto, there’s little doubt that well over half the adult members of the church take a drink now and then. Some of them would even like to see longer drinking hours in the cocktail lounges of Toronto-the-still-too-good. These people think of themselves as good church members and they don’t like to be sternly reminded that half Canada’s drunks live in Ontario or that Toronto is a "beer-swilling ” town. At a Toronto church where, according to one lay officer, at least eighty percent of the members, including the elders, are social drinkers, some of the congregation w'ere so incensed by Mutchmor’s strictures about liquor a few years ago that they decided to fight publicity with publicity. They drafted a resolution saying that Mutchmor was making the church appear ridiculous and suggesting that they were as good Christians as he was — and perhaps better. They had second thoughts, however, and scrapped the resolution before it reached the press. (In fairness to Mutchmor, he has explained repeatedly that, so far as the United Church is concerned, total abstinence is "a request, not a requirement, an entreaty, not an injunction,” and that drinkers are no less Christian than nondrinkers. And in fact, according to Rev. W. G. Berry, Mutchmor’s associate secretary for sixteen years. Mutchmor has been sniped at more by the prohibitionists in the church than by the drinkers.)

But the most serious critics of Mutchmor. as the public sees him. are among the people, laymen and clergymen. who know' and respect the private Mutchmor. They feel that the new moderator is a symbol of the negative side of religion and that somewhere, with his help, the church has made a near-fatal error: it has started to substitute rules for love. One of the church’s most active laymen put it this way: "The whole purpose of Christianity is that people

should have an abundant life. With all the tensions that torment people, this church offers no release, no loving group. We're drifting into a set of petty regulations as a substitute for a big and very difficult operation. This was exactly the problem Jesus Christ had; the religious authorities had remembered the rules and forgotten mercy. Jesus was a notorious Sabbath-breaker. 1 think a prohibitive form of religion does violence to the very things He taught.”

A few days after Mutchmors election, Rev. Glynn Firth of Toronto, in a published sermon, said he hoped the new moderator would work to correct the public's belief that the United Church is a moralistic, small-minded sect of religious snobs who try to legislate goodness for the whole nation. An advertising man put it in advertising terms: "If you're going to win people you have to capture their interest: then, you have to create sympathy; then, you can sell. Jim has ignored the basic principles of salesmanship. He's been very successful in alienating people." But even the advertising man, like most of the churchmen who know Mutchmor, feels the new moderator has the talent, warmth and courage to become one of the great leaders in the short history of the United Church—if he can curb his tongue.

Mutchmor once told A. C. Forrest, the young editor of the U.C'. Observer. “If you think it, say it. Get it out. Then people can argue about it and if you're wrong, you'll at least know.” His own habit of thinking it and saying it, particularly about big business and labor, has left him on strange ground: labor leaders regard him as a conservative businessman, if not a “tool of those who control the wealth of this country": businessmen are inclined to think of him as a socialist, dangerously infected by the far left. Mutchmor let both sides know what he thought of them back in 1937: “There are bloated post-hole diggers

just as well as bloated bondholders.”

In general, though, the post-hole diggers probably have more to thank Mutchmor for than the bondholders. In the mid-thirties he defended union membership and collective bargaining as indefeasible workers' rights (though twenty years later he raised labor hackles by saying that the unions had abused the right to strike and deserved compulsory arbitration). Again, in the mid-thirties, he called for unemployment insurance (though twenty-five years later he denounced unemployment - insurance chiselers). According to Forrest, Mutchmor led the wartime fight for union certification at the church-owned Ryerson Press and, just this year, when two issues of the Observer had to he printed in a nonunion shop. Mutchmor noticed the omission of the tiny union seal on page five and phoned the editor for an explanation. Mutchmor has said that “labor racketeering has never been as bad as stocketeering and related irregular business practices.”

A prayer for Kennedy

There is another Mutchmor that the public doesn’t know about, and this is Mutchmor the Advanced Political Thinker. Ten years ago he started shouting for a royal commission on organized crime in Ontario: it's under way now. Mutchmor, the so-called “hidebound reactionary,” was insisting, less than two years after World War II, that the allies feed the German people. During the Korean War he helped shape the church’s still-official policy in favor of recognition of Red China. At the same time, he and the church stated they favored a national system of socialized medicine. On a recent television interview, J. R. Mutchmor said that every night he thanks God for J. F. Kennedy.

But no sooner does a Mutchmor political attitude seem to be emerging than it collapses. Mutchmor, the liberal thinker, believes in retaining capital punishment, though his church doesn’t. Mutchmor, the liberal thinker, believes in nuclear arms on Canadian soil and, what’s more, he thinks we should drive a hard-headed bargain, in trade concessions and contracts, before we let Washington install its nuclear weapons here. (A “shockingly immoral argument,” said the Toronto Star.) Despite evidence that children of working women are as happy as the children of women who stay home, Mutchmor holds the fairly reactionary view that no young mother should go to work unless her family is a few bites from starvation. The new moderator is neither Liberal nor Conservative: he has voted both ways. He has also voted CCF and communist (in a Toronto civic election). He believes in a Welfare Society but he will not. as he said three times in one interview. accept a political label. It’s just as well. He'd be a maverick in any party.

For all his competing and sometimes violent convictions. Mutchmor, in person, is a quiet man. Before meeting him. free-lance writer James Banncrman thought of Mutchmor as “somebody who would love to burn people at the stake. Instead, 1 met a large, seemingly placid man. the kind of man a lost child in a supermarket would turn to automatically.’’ (Mutch-

mor, according to those who've worked with him, is an exceptionally doting father to his four married children and their children.) He looks vaguely like a more famous father-image, exPresident Eisenhower. Even when he’s wearing a gray business suit, blue tie, gold tie-pin and cuff-links, nine strangers in ten would look at Mutchmor and think, “Clergyman.” He is six feet tall but looks taller; he has weighed 180 pounds for twenty-five years but looks heavier.

In a television interview, Mutchmor is positive when he's talking about the achievements of his board, goodhumored when reminded of his fiercest denunciations ("Oh, that was just a kick in the shins") and almost shy when the questions get around to his personal habits ("No, I’ve never smoked and never had a drink—not that it's specially to my credit”). He insists that a compulsive gambler is more pathetic than a compulsive drinker but amiably confesses to his own sneaking, if untried, instinct for gambling. In a television interview recently Mutchmor was so calm and his arguments so much more subtle than they often appear in print that interviewer Jack Webster finally blurted: “You're disappointing me, doctor. You’re sitting there sounding like a very tolerant man.”

When he wasn’t sounding like an /«tolerant man to most people, Mutchmor was doing almost anonymous work for the Board of Evangelism and Social Service. He is the chief administrator of the church's empire of thirty homes and institutions, mostly for old people, alcoholics and unwed mothers. Frank Chamberlain, his former press officer, says Mutchmor is the best administrator in the church. “His desk is pure machinery,” Chamberlain says. "He'd have made the best managing editor in the country.” Mutchmor. himself, says he spends three quarters of his time on evangelism and he still thinks, as moderator, that the main challenge facing him and the church is an evangelical one.

There are a million backsliders who claimed to be United Church adherents when the last census was taken but aren't on the church rolls. These arc the "four-wheelers” who come to church in a pram to be baptized, a taxi to be married and a hearse to be buried. Mutchmor wants them back in church every Sunday. (He once told, his board that “snow-covered walks with no outgoing footprints should be noted by noon every Lord’s Day’’ in order to identify four-wheelers and less serious forms of backsliders.)

With every fourth Canadian family moving each year, people living in apartments “like marbles in a box” and what he suspects is the general breakdown of community life, Mutchmor is convinced the church must use aggressive, modern techniques of evangelism. “We're in danger of becoming too institutionalized, too cold,” he says. “We need warm-hearted preachers. We must use ads, television. radio, home churches. We've got to get outside our own structure. We’ve got to get into the prisons, hospitals, industry. Take the CBC. Those people down there, with the long hair and the beards—they're helping establish our culture. Where do we fit in

there?” Mutchmor wants "the forgotten people.” and he feels the church must go after them in the city with the vigor that once drove Methodist Bible-pounders out of the city to the forgotten people of the backwoods.

As moderator, Mutchmor may be mellower than he ever was as board secretary. Since his election he has refused to appear on one hour-long television interview show' and. at this writing, he has said nothing anywhere near as inflammatory as the old-style

Mutchmorisms. He didn't bother replying to Rev. Glynn Firth's highly publicized statement that the public regards Mutchmor as a “narrow-minded bigot, constantly up in arms over foam-flecked beer glasses and torn parimutuel tickets.” But then Mutchmor has never answered his critics in kind.

If. in the next two years, the most famous Protestant in Canada does restrict his statements to recitations of the church's party line, many church-

men will be grateful—and the country will be a little duller, a little more quiet. Mutchmor made most of his noise by offending almost every organized force in society. Part of his trouble (or rectitude) has been that he decided a long time ago that he would be a fighting man of God and fighting men of God speak out. They call them as they sec them. They don't believe God holds a union card, a party membership or a seat on the stock exchange. ★