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Today in Church History

January 5

Henry Sloane Coffin

On January 5, 1877, Henry Sloane Coffin was born in Manhattan.

Educated at Yale and at Union Seminary in New York, Coffin pastored Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1905 to 1926, when he became president of Union Seminary, where he served until 1946.

Coffin "loved New York and accepted the patrician responsibility of advancing its welfare," according to historian Bradley Longfield. A self-proclaimed "liberal evangelical," Coffin was a prominent voice in the liberal New York Presbytery throughout the Presbyterian controversy in the early twentieth-century, and he defended the Presbytery's liberty to ordain men who denied the virgin birth of Christ. His threat to lead a walk-out of liberals from the 1925 General Assembly was narrowly avoided when moderator Charles Erdman convened the Special Commission to examine the unrest in the church. That Commission eventually exonerated the New York Presbytery and the signers of the Auburn Affirmation. According to Time magazine, "Dr. Coffin went to the [1925] General Assembly, as he had gone before, one of the many commissioners from the Presbytery of New York. He returned the acknowledged leader of the liberal elements of his church."

Nearly two decades later, in 1943, the General Assembly elected Coffin as moderator, further symbolizing the triumph of liberalism in the PCUSA. Coffin passed away in 1954.

- John Muether

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