SUNDERLAND, JABEZ THOMAS (11 February 1842, Yorkshire, England- 13 August 1936, Ann Arbor, MI). Education: B.A., University of Chicago, 1867; M.A., University of Chicago, 1869; B.D., Baptist Union Theological Seminary, 1870. Career: Baptist minister, Milwaukee, 1871-72; converted to Unitarianism, 1872; minister, Northfield, MA, 1872-75; Chicago, IL, 1876-78; Ann Arbor, MI, 1878-98; editor, Unitarian Monthly, 1886-95; travel in India, 1895-96; minister, Oakland, CA, 1898-99; London, England, 1900-1901; Toronto, Canada, 1901-5; Hartford, CT, 1906-11; Ottawa, Canada, 1912-13; American Unitarian Association Billings Lecturer in the Orient, 1913-14; minister, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1914-28; active retirement, 1928-36.
Jabez T. Sunderland had a long and distinguished career in the Unitarian ministry. His presence made an impact on Unitarian history in two ways. First, he was a leading participant in the theological controversy in the Western Unitarian Conference (WUC) in the 1880s known as the "Western Issue." Second, he worked hard to educate Unitarians and others about the injustice of the colonization of India. Sunderland came into the Unitarian denomination from the Baptist ministry in 1872. Although he considered himself a disciple of Theodore Parker, he found himself playing a conservative role in the Western Unitarian Conference after taking the church in Ann Arbor in 1878. He opposed Jenkin Lloyd Jones and the "Unity men" in their insistence that no theistic affirmation be required of member churches in the conference and forced controversy over that issue with his 1886 pamphlet The Issue in the West. Sunderland thought that some affirmation of a belief in God was necessary to ground the identity of the denomination, but was generally unable to wrest control of the WUC from Jones.
A decade after the western issue had boiled up, Sunderland traveled to India, where he became deeply concerned about colonial conditions. He returned to America and wrote much on the issue, becoming as Spencer Lavan noted, "the earliest public American supporter of the Indian nationalist movement" (La-van, 'Unitarianism and Acculturation," p.74). Much of the rest of his career was devoted to strengthening the ties between American Unitarianism and India, in furthering the internationalization of liberal religion, and in promoting the cause of Indian self-rule. His writing on India culminated in his
India in Bondage, a controversial work that was suppressed in India, bringing Sunder-land much attention in the American press. Sunderland's sense of the importance of the Indian nationalist movement, advanced for its time, is especially significant to religious liberalism given the large impact that the teachings of Gandhi would have on that tradition in the twentieth century.
A. The issue in the West (n.p., 1886); The Bible: Its Origin, Growth, and Character (New York and London, 1893); The Spark in the Clod: A Study in Evolution (Boston, 1902); Because Men Are Not Stones (Boston, 1923); India in Bondage (Calcutta, 1928).
B. Heralds 4.219-20; Who Was Who in America 1.1206; John Haynes Holmes, "Jahez T. Sunderland, 1892-1936," Christian Register, September 3.1936, pp.516-17; Charles H. Lyttle, Freedom Moves West (Boston, 1952); Spencer Lavan, "Unitarianism and Acculturation: Jabez T. Sunderland in India (1895-96)," PUHS, 17, Pt. 2 (1973-75); Spencer Lavan. Unitarians and India: A Study, of Encounter and Response (Boston, 1977).