Roots was born in Illinois, graduated from Harvard in 1891 and Episcopal Theological School in 1896, served several years as traveling secretary for the International Committee of the YMCA, and went to China in 1896. He spent his entire career (1896-1938) in the cities of Hankow and Wuchang on the Yangtze River in central China. In the 1910s and 1920s he was a leader in the ecumenical movement in China and held leading posts in several interdenominational bodies, including the National Christian Council.
In the 1930s, Roots maintained personal contact with several foreign and Chinese leftist journalists and political leaders, such as Edgar Snow, Agnes Smedley, and Chou En-lai (Zhou Enlai). Some called him the Red Bishop, but he was not himself a political activist; he was also on very good terms with Chiang Kai-Shek and his government. His home was a forum for gatherings of officials and journalists of several nationalities, especially while Hankow was the temporary capital of China (late 1937 to late 1938). After 1938, Roots lived in New York City, where he was a leader of the Moral Rearmament movement.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- New York Times, September 25, 1945 (obit.) ; John McCook Roots, Warrior’s Testament (n.d., c. 1945). Roots’s voluminous official papers are in the Protestant Episcopal Church historical archives at the Episcopal Seminary, Austin, Texas.