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DÉGRÈS, IRÈNE-MATHILDE, named Saint-Paul – Volume XV (1921-1930)

d. 27 Sept. 1921 in Limoilou ward, Quebec City


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McKAY, WILLIAM JAMES, Baptist pastor and editor; b. 27 Oct. 1858 in Beamsville, Upper Canada, son of Alexander John McKay and Susan McCordick; brother of Alexander Charles*; m. 9 Nov. 1888 Mary Emily Evans in Toronto, and they had two daughters and one son who survived their father; d. there 12 April 1922.

W. J. McKay was first educated in Grimsby’s public and high schools and at the Canadian Literary Institute in Woodstock. After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1884 with a ba and the prize in oriental (biblical) languages, he enrolled in the Toronto Baptist College. In 1887 he completed its course in theology, winning a church history scholarship in competition with students of all North American Baptist colleges; five years later he would earn the first bd degree granted by McMaster University. Ordained in 1888, McKay served pastorates in London, Toronto, and Stratford. His preaching abilities and brilliant scholastic record earned him the presidency of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec for 1903–4. Immediately after leaving this office McKay was appointed editor of the denominational newspaper, the Canadian Baptist (Toronto).

From 1882 to 1888 Ebenezer William Dadson* had used this journal to promote the reformist principles of the Social Gospel that progressives drew from the Sermon on the Mount. Dadson’s successor as editor, James Edward Wells*, had continued this advocacy. He supported the cause of trade unionism against industrial capitalism so openly that after his death in 1898 recourse was had to editorial committees, which operated the newspaper until 1904 with George R. Roberts as business and later also editorial manager. This corporate endeavour proving unsatisfactory, McKay was given full editorial control of the Baptist in May 1904; he would become business manager as well in 1916.

In McKay’s first months as editor he called for purity in politics, deplored poverty in the midst of plenty, and asked Baptists to be “not too discriminating” in their charity. Soon, however, his editorials differed little from Roberts’s, which had defended industrial capitalism by charging that wage contracts protected incompetence. By 1905 editorial references to social issues had disappeared from the newspaper. From the closing weeks of 1909, however, the editorial column repeatedly advocated “practical Christianity,” calling for home missions and the evangelization of recent immigrants into urban areas such as Toronto where 45 languages were now spoken. McKay even advocated interdenominational cooperation to cope with this perceived “new Canadian” threat to the Canadian way of life.

McKay’s years as editor coincided with intensifying theological conflict among provincial Baptists, between the orthodox evangelical fundamentalism represented by such men as Elmore Harris and the liberal theology supposedly taught at McMaster. A theological conservative himself, though less rigid than Harris, McKay believed that Baptists were unresponsive to the “new theology.” Early in 1910 he published an editorial entitled “Another gospel?” in which he insisted that the gospel of personal salvation was all that the world needed. Immediately thereafter, however, he admitted that the Baptist had its critics, naming Harris as prominent among them. Soon afterwards the increased influence of the fundamentalists was revealed by the arrival in Toronto of a new pastor, Thomas Todhunter Shields*, who like Harris lacked formal training in theology. The Baptist did not identify the sources of these tensions, but McKay’s minor crisis coincided with the appearance in the United States of the first volumes of The fundamentals: a testimony to the truth, a series of 12 tracts written by evangelical leaders, and with the height of Harris’s attack on McMaster for modernist teachings by Professor Isaac George Matthews.

During the remainder of 1910, while the Matthews case raged, and in 1911 and 1912 the Baptist avoided any comment that might be interpreted as theological liberalism. Early in 1913, however, a little more than a year after Harris’s death, it showed renewed interest in the Social Gospel, “a gospel of a saved society as well as a gospel of saved individuals.” To judge by the various projects it supported, such as the establishment of social service committees in every congregation, practical Christianity was now popular. The following year, on 30 July, McKay reprinted an article from the British Weekly (London) asserting the Christian duty to preach the gospel of love and mercy, and to add simultaneously the gospel of a better day. Such a full gospel, the Weekly argued, must “satisfy the famine for righteousness and the hunger for the long-deferred justice of God.” McKay noted that the editorial “expresses in general our own thought of the Social Service problem.”

Two days before this Social Gospel credo appeared the first shot in World War I had been fired in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). McKay promptly announced that the war was Canada’s as well as Britain’s, in defence of civilization. He would later suggest that there should be a fighting battalion of Canadian preachers. Talk about social justice and the here-and-now Kingdom of God was soon drowned in global conflict, but the theological differences of conservative fundamentalists and modernist higher critics reappeared with the peace. In 1919, when an anonymous editorial in the Baptist attacked the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, Shields presented a strong condemnatory resolution to the annual convention. Although McKay was not the author of this editorial, he accepted responsibility for it. Shields’s strong motion passed, but the convention also expressed complete confidence in McKay’s editorship. Because of his reputation for piety and sound judgement, McKay had surmounted controversies about higher criticism and modernism; he insisted that the real issue was not individual versus social salvation, but individual and social salvation as epitomized in the phrase “full Gospel.” After his death the Christian Guardian (Toronto) commented on his skill “in adjusting rival elements in his constituency so as to prevent a clash.”

Under McKay’s management between 1916 and 1921 circulation of the Baptist increased by more than a third, advertising grew by a larger amount, total income doubled, and profits from job printing more than doubled. In addition to fulfilling his editorial duties McKay was a member of a number of the convention’s committees, including that on church union, which he and the convention opposed. He served as well as a senator of McMaster; he had supported the university in its early years in both teaching and administration and it had awarded him an honorary lld in 1907. He was also a director of the Moral and Social Reform Council of Canada and of the Ontario branch of the Dominion Alliance for the Total Suppression of the Liquor Traffic. While still editor of the Baptist, McKay died of uraemia in Toronto on 12 April 1922.

John S. Moir

No private papers of W. J. McKay appear to have survived, and the only primary source of information is the files of the Canadian Baptist (Toronto), 1882–1922.

AO, RG 80-5-0-165, no.14539. UTA, A1973-0026/277(11). Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). G. G. Harrop, “The era of the ‘great preacher’ among Canadian Baptists: a comparative study of W. A. Cameron, John J. MacNeill and T. T. Shields as preachers,” Foundations: a Baptist Journal of History, Theology, and Ministry ([Rochester, N.Y.]), 23 (1980): 57–70. C. M. Johnston, McMaster University (2v., Toronto, 1976–81), 1. J. S. Moir, “The Canadian Baptist and the Social Gospel movement, 1879–1914,” in Baptists in Canada: search for identity amidst diversity, ed. J. K. Zeman (Burlington, Ont., 1980), 147–59. L. K. Tarr, Shields of Canada: T. T. Shields (1873–1955) (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1967). H. U. Trinier, A century of service: story of “The Canadian Baptist,” 1854–1954 ([Toronto, 1958]).

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Cite This Article

John S. Moir, “McKAY, WILLIAM JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckay_william_james_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mckay_william_james_15E.html
Author of Article:   John S. Moir
Title of Article:   McKAY, WILLIAM JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2013
Access Date:   September 27, 2023