Dr. Robert McClure was the first layman to serve as Moderator of the United Church of Canada (1968-1971).  He died at the age of 91 on November 10, 1991.  There were many tributes to a life of astonishing variety and achievement.  During his life he had received many honours.

McClure had served as a medical missionary for 25 years in China.  He had worked with lepers in India, former headhunters in Malaysia and Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip.  He had parachuted onto the Burma Road with the Friends Ambulance Unit during the Second World War.  At the age of 77, he had replaced a surgeon in Zaire and performed over three hundred operations in four months.

McClure was described in obituary tributes as “a man with a mission,” “a citizen of the world,” “a ‘saint’ and godly,” as one of this century’s greatest humanitarians.  The Toronto Star and Globe and Mail devoted long articles to him with glowing tributes.

In his regular Toronto Star column, Rev. Bruce McLeod, himself a former United Church moderator and today Chairman of the Canadian Council of Churches, praised Dr. McClure to the hilt.  He compared him to Cardinal Leger and Mother Teresa.  McLeod was led to meditate, not on the problem of evil, but on the problem of good; how could one account for a life as praiseworthy as McClure’s?  “What moved his life,” he answered, “was the rhythm of God’s purpose which, he was convinced, has never been erased from the Earth and won’t finally be denied.”

McClure’s biographer, Munroe Scott, called him the “quintessential doer.”  To emphasize what he meant, he described him as a man who never got worked up over theological questions such as the existence of heaven and hell.  He considered it more effective to practice than to preach Christianity.

In an age of secularism “never to get worked up over theological questions” is a feather in one’s cap.  But even secularists will admit that this is odd for someone who heads a Christian denomination, even if it was only for two years.

It does not come as a surprise then, to learn that Dr. Robert McClure – as one writer puts it – set the United Church on its ear during the years he led it.  “Within a few months he had challenged the Pope on birth control, recommended Canadian recognition of Red China, defended U.S. draft dodgers, supported compulsory sterilization, and advocated legalized abortion.”

Today the priority of politics over religion and the abandonment of Christian standards of marital morality are foremost characteristics of the United Church.

When the issue of ordaining homosexuals came to the fore in his church in 1988, McClure – as expected – came out in favour of it, reiterated the false claim that being homosexual is about the same as being born left-handed, and “I don’t hold that against them at all.”

Long before that McClure, the medical doctor, had become an abortionist, as he himself explained.  It started in India and when he was in Malaysia he committed hundreds of them.  Thus, the humanitarian who had embarked upon a career of protecting life wound up destroying it, something which would have been unthinkable to a Cardinal Léger or a Mother Teresa.

Contrary to the observations of Dr. McLeod, sometime during his life McClure lost sight of God’s purpose and just did his own thing: a “humanitarian” only by secular standards, not Christian.

We do well to remember how radically opposed these concepts are.