The Student Christian Movement was founded in 1921 and rooted in the social gospel movement.
In 1895, leaders from North American and European countries established and united national SCMs within the first international student organization, the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF).
Twenty-six years later, in 1921, SCM Canada was founded and incorporated into the WSCF.
Like its international counterpart, SCM Canada has had a complex history of membership, influence, and activity since its inception. It has been part of: the ecumenical movement, the turbulence of the 1960s student movements, the mid-twentieth century shift in balance of power from liberal to evangelical Christian conservatism, the pressures of maintaining unity across the spectrum of Christianity and the tension between a theological study focus and a social activism focus.
Since its founding, SCM Canada has taken stands on pressing social issues of its time, including support for the ordination of women, opposing internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II; anti-war activities since the 1960s; and facing controversy for its solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified Christians. Members were involved in the Canadian social gospel movement which mobilized for a more just social order in Canada, including accessible health care, education and social services.
Some projects the movement has undertaken include socialist work camps in the 1940s and 50s, in which students would work in unionizing factories during the summer and pool their resources in communal houses of prayer; summer solidarity projects between 2000-2002 exploring sustainable living in rural community; international solidarity exchanges with more militant SCMs in the Philippines and Nicaragua; and annual student educational trips they call pilgrimages.
The pilgrimage model started with a tour of radical labour and faith organizations in southern Ontario and the north-east USA. For years, SCM Canada traveled every November to the gates of the US army base at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the human rights abuses of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly School of the Americas).
Since the 1990s, SCM Canada has attracted a variety of students, though the network is considerably smaller than in previous decades when mainline Protestant churches were more prominent in Canadian life.
SCM members have had a remarkable impact in Canada and worldwide. Influential SCMers include:
- The Greensboro Four (U.S. Civil Rights movement)
- J.S. Woodsworth (labour leader & social gospel minister)
- Muriel Duckworth (founder, Voice of Women for Peace)
- Lois Wilson (former head, World Council of Churches; 1st woman moderator, United Church of Canada)
- James Endicott (co-founder of SCM Canada and United Church of Canada)
- Kwame Nkruma (pan-African unity leader)
- Desmond Tutu (anti-apartheid archbishop)
- Nancy Ruth (Canadian senator)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (dissident pastor martyred by Nazis)
- Steve Biko (anti-apartheid martyr)
- Brother Roger (Taize founder)
- Jurgen Moltmann (theologian)
- Vince Goring (Canadian Commonwealth Federation/NDP)