James Henry Rushbrooke: Baptist Champion of Peace

James Henry Rushbrooke: Baptist Champion of Peace

[Originally published March 2022]

“Peace” seemed to be the middle name of the babe born that sunny day in Bethnal Green, east London, on 29 July 1870. Son of devout Anglican parents, James Henry Rushbrooke was brilliant, thoughtful, and became known as a careful reconciler of differences, even as a child. When James was fifteen years old, he began attending Westbourne Park Chapel with his aunt each Sunday and soon made a profession of faith and was baptized by her famous pastor, Dr. John Clifford.

James Henry lost his young wife and baby to death in 1894 and, even while suffering deep grief, enrolled for ministerial training at Midland Baptist College in Nottingham, winning scholarships to study in Halle and Berlin (1899-1901) before taking pastorates at St. Mary’s Gate in Derby, London’s Archway Road, and Hampstead Garden Suburb Free Church, all in England. His wise leadership soon earned him a role in the British Baptist Union.

Rushbrooke attended the first Congress of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in 1905 with its co-founder, John Clifford, and spoke at each of its subsequent gatherings for almost half a century. In 1919, he led a nine-week fact-finding tour across war-ravaged Europe for the BWA, a role that catapulted him into the ranks of the world’s peacemakers.

He resigned his church, became the BWA’s European Secretary in 1925, and three years later shouldered the job of the first General Secretary. This role he faithfully served until 1939, when he took up the mantle of President until his death in 1947.

During this tenure, the global Baptist community felt his stamp of reconciliation and international peace-weaving most profoundly. Almost single-handedly, Rushbrooke led heroic, courageous, and costly Baptist efforts to work for peace following World War I and during and after World War II. Rushbrooke established the BWA’s World Emergency Relief Committee in 1943 to coordinate Baptist relief efforts in devastated countries. He personally contacted Baptist leaders in every European nation, surveyed their situations, and addressed their most pressing needs. BWA offered support and friendship, relocated thousands of refugees, and encouraged practical efforts to help to restore or establish peaceful relationships. Rushbrooke’s published work on Religious Freedom and International Peace also contributed to a Baptist global identity.

As the victors, the liberated, and the vanquished found ways of creating a new Europe in which they could live together in peace, Baptists who had been on opposing sides faced excruciating challenges in confessing to and forgiving one another in order to become reconciled in the one body of Christ. For Baptists, James Henry Rushbrooke was the face of this reconciliation and their Champion of Peace.

We give thanks for his valuable life, and pray for God to raise up men and women of peace in our day, negotiators of reconciliation, and those who will embody Christ’s love across our troubled world.
-Karen O’Dell Bullock
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