A Forgotten Voice
May 11, 2015
The Christian Leader made its appearance on October 7, 1886 with John F. Rowe as editor-owner. It was a large 16 page weekly until 1932 when the hard times of the Depression reduced it to being published every other week. Rowe had been an associate editor with the American Christian Review, under the editorship of Ben Franklin. But following the death of Franklin, Rowe mismanaged his relationship with the new owner and ended up having to start his own paper. Though the Christian Leader was born in controversy, it became an important journal for churches of Christ north of the Ohio River.
John F. Rowe passed away on December 27, 1987. The Leader passed into the hands of Rowe’s youngest son, Fred. James S. Bell of New York became the editor. In 1904 James A. Harding merged his paper The Way with the Leader. Harding became co-editor and the paper was renamed Christian Leader and The Way. Harding immediately gave the paper an increased circulation south of the Ohio River. In addition to a more national appeal, Harding gave the paper a strong, unequivocal conservative stance. This was important in the era in which the Restoration Movement was dividing. Another merger occurred in 1904 as Joe Warlick of Texas joined forces with the Leader-Way. Though Warlick’s association with the paper was short lived, this merger added readers from the West to the paper’s circulation. For the next 10 years, the Leader and the Way exerted its greatest influence.
Starting in 1910, changes took place in the editorship of the Leader. James S. Bell died in 1910. Harding resigned from editorial duties in 1913. With the departure of Harding, the paper reverted to its original name. The new editors listed in the 1914 masthead were Joseph Cain of Kansas and Ira C. Moore of West Virginia. Jesse P. Sewell, T. Q. Martin, and George Klingman were listed as associate editors. In August that year, J. W. Shepherd, former office manager of the Gospel Advocate, joined the Leader staff as an editor.
The Christian Leader featured open discussion of the lively issues of the period: doctrinal questions concerning salvation, the nature of the Kingdom, eschatology, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, attitudes and positions toward denominations and “digressives,” and social issues such as relations toward government, pacifism, and racial relations. It also contained news and reports of what was happening among the congregations around the country.
Fred Rowe sold the Leader to Clinton Davidson in 1938. The new Leader was edited out of Nashville by E. W. McMillan. Controversy and financial loss plagued the Leader and after two years the paper was sold to G.H. P. Showalter, owner-editor of the Firm Foundation, of Texas. Showalter demonstrated little interest in the Leader and after a year, sold the paper back to Rowe at the end of 1941. But advancing age and declining health would not permit Rowe to continue as owner. In 1946 Rowe sold the paper to Doward Anguish of Dresden, Ohio. But the fortunes of the Leader were on the wane. Despite talented writers like Burton Coffman, Dan Harless, and A. H. Maner in the 1950’s, the Leader never regained its previous stature. The Christian Leader was last published in 1960 and its legacy is still waiting to be utilized by those who are willing to learn from the past.