Arthur Cushman McGiffert, Jr.

A teacher, preacher, and well published church leader of the 20th century, Arthur Cushman McGiffert, Jr. is remembered here in this obituary (with slight adaptations) as it was published in the New York Times, 1993. It was composed by his son, Michael McGiffert, editor of the William & Mary Quarterly.


Arthur Cushman McGiffert, Jr., 1892 - 1993

Arthur Cushman McGiffert, Jr., 100, a minister of the United Church of Christ (Congregational) and former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary and the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA, died on April 9,1993, in Claremont, CA.

McGiffert, born in Cincinnati, OH, on November 27, 1892, was the son of Arthur Cushman McGiffert, a distinguished historian of Christian thought, and Gertrude Huntington (Boyce) McGiffert, a poet. He grew up in Pelham Manor, NY, and attended school in New York City. He graduated in 1913 from Harvard College, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

In 1913 - 1914 he held a postgraduate fellowship at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece. In 1917 he received the Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York and an M.A. from Columbia University. He was ordained the same year into the Congregational ministry.

On May 29, 1917, he was married to Elisabeth Eliot, of Cambridge, MA, daughter of Samuel Atkins Eliot and Frances Hopkinson Eliot, and granddaughter of Charles William Eliot, former president of Harvard. After a marriage of 74 years, she predeceased him in 1991.

Mr. McGiffert taught briefly at Union Theological Seminary and was in quick succession a YMCA Secretary at the Pensacola, FL Naval Air Station, a US Army chaplain, a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, and a Traveling Fellow of Union Seminary at the University of Zurich.

After short stints of pastoral service in Rensselaerville, NY, Roxbury, VT, and New York City, Mr. McGiffert became pastor of All Souls Church in Lowell, MA, where he served from 1920-26.

From 1926 - 39 he taught American religious thought at the Chicago Theological Seminary while also serving as director of studies, with a special interest in pastoral psychology. During those years he published a biography of the theologian Jonathan Edwards as well as editions of his father's writings, Christianity as History and Faith, and the sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Young Emerson Speaks. His numerous writings on religious and civic affairs exemplified and applied the values of religious liberalism. The seminary awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1939.

As president of the Pacific School of Religion from 1939 to 1945, McGiffert launched ecumenical programs with neighboring religious institutions for training pastors and lay leaders and for postwar rehabilitation in central Europe and China. He was active in the American Association of Theological Seminaries. He helped form and direct a Committee on American Principles and Fair Play to defend and assist interned Japanese Americans. As a member of the Berkeley draft board, he had a special concern for the rights of conscientious objectors. In 1945 he received an honorary Litt. D. from the Pacific School of Religion and an LL.D. from the College (now University) of the Pacific.

In 1946, McGiffert returned to the Chicago Theological Seminary as president. There he promoted curricular experimentation through the recently formed Federated Theological Faculty, a consortium of four neighboring seminaries. He successfully maintained his institution's autonomy when efforts were made to incorporate it into the University of Chicago Divinity School. He was highly regarded as an administrator, counselor, and preacher. He served as chairman of the Chicago branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and as trustee of Dillard University in New Orleans.

After retiring in 1959, McGiffert continued to act in academic, church, and community affairs. In 1960 he held a Fulbright lectureship at Cambridge University. A long-time summer resident on Mount Desert Island, Maine, he was a founding trustee of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, taught at Bangor Theological Seminary, and served on the boards of the Maine Seacoast Mission, the Mount Desert Larger Parish, and the Mount Desert hospital. He took a strong interest in safety on the island's roads and in issues concerning Acadia National Park.

In retirement he published a history of the Chicago Theological Seminary, No Ivory Tower, and a biography of his father-in-law, Pilot of a Liberal Faith. His last work, a personal memoir titled Anecdotage, was completed and printed in the year of his death.

After 1971, McGiffert lived at Pilgrim Place, a church-related retirement community in Claremont. Survivors include two sons, David Eliot McGiffert, of Washington, D.C., and Michael McGiffert, of Williamsburg, VA, a daughter, Ellen McGiffert Brokaw, of Santa Paula, CA, 7 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.