A Twentieth-Century Gospel for “a Hick Town”

by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)

This is the publicity photo that Douglas used during his years in Akron. See Burton Funeral Scrapbook, Box 5, Lloyd C Douglas Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

I mentioned last time that Lloyd Douglas made headlines frequently while he was pastor of the First Congregational Church of Akron, mostly for controversial statements he made during his Sunday evening Q-and-A sessions at the church. Some of those remarks (such as his lack of support for the Soldier’s Bonus or his disgust with the KKK) prompted long and angry discussions in the Letters to the Editors (besides earning Douglas a lot of angry mail himself).

Here’s another one: speaking at a luncheon club, he told the astonished listeners that Akron was “a hick town.” Culturally and religiously, it was behind the times, he claimed. These words were reported in the papers, and another round of angry letters began.

But it was just this kind of thing that the journalists respected about Douglas: he spoke his mind fearlessly, especially on religious matters. Here’s a sample of the kinds of things he said on Sunday morning from the pulpit:

I have not encouraged you to worry over all the implications involved in the ancient doctrine of the atonement. I couldn’t see how as great a God as God would inevitably have to be, to create and operate the universe, would get himself entangled in a situation demanding that His son be killed in order that His own integrity might be conserved. I felt that a God so short-sighted as to get Himself into a fix like that would be hardly stable enough to see us through to the end of the trip.

I have told you that this conventional view of the atonement – in which the death of Christ became necessary to justify the parole of Adam – was unwarranted because there was no adequate basis for the Adam story. My grandfather believed in that Adam story. He also believed that the horse-chestnut which he carried in his pocket would keep off rheumatism. He was a good man, too. But he included in his creed a lot of things I cannot possibly believe…

Lloyd C Douglas, “Five Years of Akron,” p. 90. In The Living Faith (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin/Riverside Press, 1955).

Even now, 100 years later, a pastor must be careful about saying such things out loud, even if he believes them privately. But Douglas didn’t come to Akron to play it safe; he came to bring them a gospel fit for the twentieth century. Over the next several posts, I’ll tell you what his message consisted of. For it was in Akron that Douglas began to articulate the ideas for which he is now remembered.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C. Douglas, fill out the form below:

Author: Ronald R Johnson

I am a Christian author and philosophy professor who speaks and writes about everyday spirituality. I also write funny, suspenseful novels that aren't philosophical or religious... or are they? Learn more at www.ronaldrjohnson.com.

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