John Haynes Holmes
John Haynes Holmes was a prominent Unitarian
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 minister and pacifist
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...

, noted for his anti-war
An anti-war movement is a social movement, usually in opposition to a particular nation's decision to start or carry on an armed conflict, unconditional of a maybe-existing just cause. The term can also refer to pacifism, which is the opposition to all use of military force during conflicts. Many...

Activism consists of intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change. Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing...


Early years

John Haynes Holmes was born in Philadelphia on November 29, 1879. He studied at Harvard, graduating in 1902, and Harvard Divinity School, which he graduated in 1904. He was then called to his first church in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He married Madeleine Baker in 1904; they had two children, Roger and Frances. In 1907 he was called to the Church of the Messiah (Unitarian
Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalism is a religion characterized by support for a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning". Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth and by the understanding that an individual's theology is a...

) in New York City. He served as its Senior Minister until 1918.

He wrote many books, many hymns, and a play, If This Be Treason, that had a brief run on Broadway. He was a popular lecturer and debater, including a debate over Prohibition with Clarence Darrow
Clarence Darrow
Clarence Seward Darrow was an American lawyer and leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, best known for defending teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb in their trial for murdering 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks and defending John T...

 (Darrow was against it).

He helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909, and also the American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union
The American Civil Liberties Union is a U.S. non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States." It works through litigation, legislation, and...

 (ACLU) in 1920, which he later chaired.

He worked closely with Rabbi Stephen Wise of New York; the book Rabbi and Minister details this friendship and their working relationship on social and religious and political causes.

He was one of the people who publicized the work of Gandhi from his pulpit in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

; Holmes describes his meetings and interactions with Gandhi in his book My Gandhi.

He left the American Unitarian Association
American Unitarian Association
The American Unitarian Association was a religious denomination in the United States and Canada, formed by associated Unitarian congregations in 1825. In 1961, it merged with the Universalist Church of America to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.According to Mortimer Rowe, the Secretary...

 (AUA) in 1918 due to differences over its policy towards World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, but continued to preach at his church. His church became non-denominational; it renamed itself The Community Church of New York. Members of the church, however, insisted that the church retain its AUA membership. He rejoined the AUA in 1960, just before the Unitarian
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 and Universalist
Christian Universalism
Christian Universalism is a school of Christian theology which includes the belief in the doctrine of universal reconciliation, the view that all human beings or all fallen creatures will ultimately be restored to right relationship with God....

 churches merged; he was featured in the last AUA yearbook published before the merger.

He served as the Senior Minister of The Community Church of New York from 1918-1949. He was Minister Emeritus at the Community Church after his retirement.

He was a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award
Gandhi Peace Award
The Gandhi Peace Award is an annual award bestowed by the peace education organization Promoting Enduring Peace for "contributions made in the promotion of international peace and good will." It is named in honour of Mahatma Gandhi.- History :...


John Haynes Holmes and Dr. Seuss

Following the publication of a cartoon by Theodor Geisel
Dr. Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer, poet, and cartoonist most widely known for his children's books written under the pen names Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg and, in one case, Rosetta Stone....

 (better known as Dr. Seuss) mocking Holmes in the New York newspaper PM
PM (newspaper)
PM was a leftist New York City daily newspaper published by Ralph Ingersoll from June 1940 to June 1948 and bankrolled by the eccentric Chicago millionaire Marshall Field III....

on January 13, 1942, there was an outcry from supporters of the minister. Geisel responded January 21, 1942 (ellipses in original):

"In response to the letters defending John Haynes Holmes... sure, I believe in love, brotherhood and a cooing white pigeon on every man's roof. I even think it's nice to have pacifists and strawberry between wars.

"But right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seem like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: 'Brothers!' It is a rather flabby battlecry.

"If we want to win, we've got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not. We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left."

Holmes' stand as a pacifist through two world wars was not popular nor easy. He faced expulsion from his denomination during World War I if he did not disavow his pacifist views; he resigned his membership in the American Unitarian Association as a result, a split which was not healed for decades. Geisel's criticism is an example of the scorn and ridicule Holmes faced as a result of his strongly held (and vigorously expressed) views.


  • Is Death the End? (1915)
  • Palestine To-Day and To-Morrow: A Gentile's Survey of Zionism. New York, 1929.
  • A Sensible Man's View of Religion. (1932)
  • The Affirmation of Immortality. (1947)
  • My Gandhi. (1953)
  • I Speak for Myself. (1959)

External links

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