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Douglas’s Development as a Writer from 1915 to 1921

by Ronald R Johnson (

As busy as Douglas was during his years in Ann Arbor, both as a pastor and as a public speaker, he also spent a lot of time developing his craft as a writer. I’ve already mentioned his weekly column in the Ann Arbor Times-News and his occasional articles in The Congregationalist magazine. But he also had other avenues for his writing.

Just as he had done in his other pastorates, he continued to supply the local newspapers with printable summaries of his sermons. There’s an art to this. You don’t just hand them your sermon and expect them to print it verbatim. Douglas was a master at summarizing and pulling out the best parts of his sermons, so that the local editors didn’t have to trim them down. As a result, he was able to place before the public, week-after-week, the things he was telling his congregation.

He also continued to draw on his connections with the YMCA by being a frequent contributor to their monthly magazine, The Intercollegian (which briefly joined with similar organizations under the title, The North American Student). The earliest submission that I can find was in 1915, then there were a few in 1917 and 1918, but during the 1919-1920 school year, he was in every issue, and his articles were featured prominently on the last page – except for February 1920, in which it appeared on page one.

Also in 1919, the YMCA’s publishing house, Association Press, printed a booklet of his called The Fate of the Limited. “The Limited” was the name of a train, and the booklet was a parable about where society was headed, just after the war ended. The train had passengers from a variety of social groups, and the story was all about their different reactions when the train became stalled.

Douglas was still quite upset about the war, and still dead-serious about getting young people to do something important with their lives. The first page of The Fate of the Limited gives you the idea:

And here’s the last page:

But Douglas also had his more humorous side.

In the fall of 1919, he wrote a series of anonymous limericks in the University of Michigan’s campus newspaper, the Michigan Daily. These humorous poems gave advice to freshmen. In one, “Concerning Discipline,” a “newcomer” gushes about the guys from across the hall stopping by for a visit and how he chattered about his accomplishments in high school. “The Old-Timer replies”:

My friend, this means you’ve spilled the beans;

I shudder at your story.

No doubt these men will come again,

But when they do, be sorry.

[Why should he be sorry? Because of a little thing called “hazing”:]

Last year a lad – he was not bad,

Just talkative and flighty –

Addressed a loud and merry crowd

On State Street in his nighty.

But Douglas wasn’t aiming exclusively at students. During his years as pastor in Ann Arbor, he also began a new tradition. For three years in a row (1916-1918), and then again a few years later, he published small Christmas-themed gift books that approached the season in a way he couldn’t do from the pulpit. Here are summaries of each:

The Inn Keeper (1916): about an inn that’s always full on December 24th and even gives Santa one of the best rooms, but a mysterious visitor always has to be put up in the stable because there’s “no room in the inn.” To be honest, this booklet seems like a rough draft. I’m not sure what Douglas was trying to do, but (for me, at least) it doesn’t work. I think he was trying to say that we still shuffle Jesus off to the periphery because we’re too busy focusing on Santa Claus, but he tries to do it all through innuendo. The most interesting part of the booklet is the guest list for the 24th and 25th. See how many of them you can decipher. (I’ll give you the first one: Miss L. Toebough = mistletoe bough.)

After this whimsical treatment of the season, his booklet the next year was much more sober. For in December of 1917, the world was at war…

Christmas – One Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventeen Years After (1917): The following two-page spread establishes the mood. He’s speaking with a young woman at the card shop:

“Merely because I don’t happen to have a starred service-flag in my window doesn’t mean that I can face Christmas with a merry heart,” he wrote. “For, as long as my neighbor displays one in his window, it is almost equivalent to having one in mine – in its effect upon my holiday mood…. Maybe we had better not try to go to Bethlehem at all this Christmas. Perhaps a journey to Calvary would be more appropriate.”

The Dilemma of Santa Claus (1918): This booklet begins as a humorous and insightful description of the negotiation process children go through with Santa between Thanksgiving and Christmas; it transitions into a poignant and thought-provoking consideration of what happens in children’s minds when they learn the truth about Santa; there’s a short section about how, as parents, we appreciate him even more when we see the light of Christmas in our children’s eyes; and it concludes with the “dilemma” – the fact that Santa Claus is German, and everything German is hateful right now. (The war ended in November.) He admits that he and his readers will need to forgive the Germans someday. But he reminds us that children neither know nor care what nationality Santa is.

As far as I can tell, he didn’t publish another Christmas booklet until An Affair of the Heart (1922), which was during his years in Akron, Ohio. That one focused on the miraculous details of the Christmas story (the choir of angels, the wisemen following the star) and drew his readers’ attention to the most significant miracle of all: the fact that, two thousand years later, we were still talking about the child born in that manger.

Whether in the local paper, in magazines, or in holiday booklets, during the years 1915-1921, Douglas was doing the most important thing that anyone can do if they’re serious about being a writer: he was writing. Most importantly, he was writing for audiences. He didn’t just write things and hide them in his desk drawer; he wrote things for publication. Not that he earned much money from these pieces; he didn’t. But he developed the writing habit and began to build an audience that looked forward to his next article or booklet.

But there were two other publications that he wrote for during these years, and each one played a particularly important role in his development: The Atlantic Monthly and The Christian Century. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll tell you about each of those periodicals and the specific ways in which they helped his career as a writer.

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

Lloyd C. Douglas and “The Great War”

by Ronald R Johnson (

Prior to 1917, Lloyd Douglas was against war. Especially as the Europeans geared up for the Great War (what we now call World War I), Douglas made it clear that war in itself was immoral and that the United States should stay out of it.

In a booklet entitled, The Reappraisement of Heroism, he said it was unfortunate that our heroes tended to be military leaders. He felt it was time to find new kinds of heroes. He described war as “the passion that bids a man stuff his pockets with cartridges at the bidding of his ruler and start out to orphan the children of some man with whom he has no quarrel, when both he and his pretended foe would greatly prefer to be at home digging potatoes and raking hay.”

But his attitude changed in April 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany.

On April 4, the day the Senate voted in support of joining the war, Douglas was the featured speaker at the annual banquet of the Ann Arbor YMCA. “I wanted to be a pacifist,” he told his listeners. “I am bewildered by the trend of events. I am shocked. I have not recovered.” But his recovery was actually very quick.

Douglas was well-aware of his gifts as an orator. He worried that the nation was unprepared, both materially and spiritually, for what was ahead. He believed that it was now his responsibility to rally public opinion around the war effort.
And that’s what he did. He told his congregation that some members of the faculty at the university needed “patriotic encouragement.” He criticized students who would neither enlist nor help raise funds for the troops. He asked sophomores at the university to stop bullying freshmen and turn their attention to “some of our Ann Arbor philistines,” who refused to contribute to the Red Cross. “If you want to take these gentlemen out and pour catsup in their hair, and encourage them to make patriotic speeches, I should be the last in town to offer a word of protest.” I’ve already told you about his weekly column in the Ann Arbor Times-News. He changed its title to “Home Patriotism,” saying things like this: “give until it hurts, and then keep giving until it doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Nor did he confine his energies to Ann Arbor. He told the graduating class of Morenci High School that prostitutes were a kind of “Female Fritz” – aiding and abetting the enemy by spreading disease and immorality, and (worse yet) not helping out with the war effort. He kept a watchful eye on the German-Americans in eastern Michigan, warning them not to keep anybody guessing about their true loyalties. He toured the state speaking on the subject, “Buy Bonds or Wear Them,” and he was on a committee of men who visited German farmers, insisting that they buy war bonds.

To his congregation, he said, “Queer doctrines for the church, I admit. I wish it were not so. I wish we were still free to live our lives in love and tenderness and peace. But our day of ease and happiness has passed and the best we can now do is to attempt to recover our lost happiness for our children. Let us not delay.”

As the war continued, he stepped up his efforts. In the local papers he published poetry condemning “Kaiser Bill.” A humorous article ostensibly written by a child (“Kids Ready to Peddle Stamps for Uncle Sam”) bore his unmistakable style. He spoke to bankers, women’s groups, anyone who would listen.
The headlines became more and more shrill. “GERMANS NOT CHRISTIANS DECLARES LLOYD C. DOUGLAS.” “PUBLIC SCHOOL PLACE TO TEACH NATION’S YOUTH; Rev. Lloyd C. Douglas Expects Lutheran Parochial Schools to Be Abolished by Law.” This last pronouncement was especially noteworthy, since Douglas himself had once been a Lutheran minister. But the Lutheran Church had strong German roots, and he was no longer tolerant of anything German.

His efforts did not go unnoticed by his old employer, the YMCA. During the last six months of the war, he spent most of his time in New York City chairing publicity for the Y’s 35-million-dollar War Fund campaign.

It was an unexpected transformation. In fairness to Douglas, he wasn’t the only minister who changed his attitudes so drastically during WWI. Years later, Douglas was ashamed of how he had behaved. He felt that he had been hoodwinked by the Wilson Administration’s propaganda machine. He vowed that he would never fall for it again.

But it took him years to get to that point. For the immediate future (1917-1918), he had a lot of work to do to find his way back to a gospel of peace and love. As I’ve said before, Douglas did most of his thinking at the typewriter. To a large extent, his thought process is documented. Next time I’ll tell you more about how he moved past his hatred of the German race.

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

Brave New World

by Ronald R Johnson (

The University of Illinois

When Shailer Mathews traveled the United States to tell the general public about the new biblical scholarship being done at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, his message included a description of the new state-college system that was transforming the social landscape in America.

It had been happening all around us, he argued, and yet we were strangely unaware of it. During the Civil War, Congress had passed legislation mandating that each state set aside lands and funds for colleges, and the state-sponsored schools that resulted were quite different from the colleges and universities that had been in existence prior to that. The old colleges and universities were sponsored by religious organizations and taught a fixed body of knowledge that was assumed to be true for all time. These new schools were research institutions. The professors were engaged in state-of-the-art research, and teaching was secondary. This had a number of ramifications, but perhaps the most important, according to Mathews, was the fact that the teachers and the students in these schools looked at the world through new eyes. Part of the new worldview was a belief in the tentative nature of knowledge: since the members of the faculty were constantly making new discoveries, they taught their students to expect updates, at least once in a while if not constantly. Graduates of these institutions went out into the world with the tools to keep learning throughout their lives. And as they did so, and they participated in the workplace, especially in management and professional positions, they were transforming their society.

This brave new world they were creating was one in which facts were of supreme importance – not opinion, not feelings, not beliefs, but facts. Those facts were gathered systematically, according to procedures that, as much as possible, were developed to mimic scientific investigations. The old institutions of learning had stressed literature, history, and philosophy; the new institutions were – or at least strived to be – scientific. And the young people who graduated from these new schools were quietly changing the world.

Of all the things Mathews said, this touched Douglas most deeply. Douglas had been home-schooled. His mother and father were both educators, and they gave him a rigorous classical education: in other words, an education that emphasized literature, history, and philosophy (or in his case, theology). On more than one occasion, he hinted that he was not very happy with the education he received at Wittenberg College (a Lutheran institution), and he was especially critical of the seminary, saying it did not give him any of the hands-on training that was necessary for being a pastor. When Mathews talked about the new state universities and the influence they were having on American society, Douglas’s imagination soared. He not only wanted to understand what was happening in the state colleges; he wanted the kind of education they offered. Although he was in his late thirties, he wanted to go back to school.

When the YMCA told him they had created a position for him at the University of Illinois, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Sometime later, when he was a pastor in Akron, he looked back on the years 1911 to 1921 and said, “I came to you from an experience of about ten years spent upon the campuses of two great universities [Illinois and Michigan], where I daily faced the new problem of a readjustment in religious thought, to make it consonant with the more recent disclosures of the philosophical and scientific world” (Lloyd C Douglas, The Living Faith (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1955), p. 80).

Although Douglas was going to Illinois to evangelize students, his personal desire was to go back to school. It was a win-win situation for him.

But I still haven’t given you the whole picture on why Douglas left Luther Place Church to work for the YMCA. There was another factor involved, and it was more important than any of the others I’ve told you about so far. I’ll explain in my next blog post.

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

Talkin’ ’bout the Y….MCA

by Ronald R Johnson (

In July 1911, Lloyd Douglas surprised his congregation by resigning his post at the Luther Place Memorial Church, just blocks from the White House, to work for the YMCA at the University of Illinois. As I told you last time, he did his best to convince both his congregation and the press corps that it was a natural career step for him to take, but of course it was not.

To understand why people were willing to accept his story, however, you need to know a little bit more about the Y.

The Young Men’s Christian Association began in London, England, in 1844. As one history states, “The original idea behind the YMCA was to create an association of men that could counter the perceived threats of the emerging industrial, urban order to individual Christian faith and character. Through prayer meetings, Bible study, missions work, the keeping of a reading room with a library of ‘wholesome’ materials, and a variety of classes and lectures, the London Association sought to strengthen the faith of young men, to rescue them from the city’s innumerable temptations and vices” (The Promise of Association: A History of the Mission and Work of the YMCA at the University of Illinois, 1873-1997 (Champaign, IL: University YMCA, 1997), p. 18).

The idea caught on, and the organization spread to a number of other countries, including the United States. The first YMCA “associations,” as they were called, had nothing to do with athletics. They were part of a movement to help young men sustain their Christian faith in an urban, industrialized environment. Early on, a female branch was established called the YWCA.

One wing of the Y movement, in the United States at least, focused on colleges and universities. In fact, the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions (SVM) grew out of the Y in 1888. The young man who was put in charge of SVM, John R Mott, had just graduated from college two years earlier, and after another two years (1890), he was made Senior Student Director of the YMCA, at the age of 25. (Information about Mott comes from C. Howard Hopkins, John R Mott, 1865-1955: A Biography (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979).)

This tells us a few important things: (1) that the YMCA was heavily involved in Christian evangelism; (2) that, as the name suggests, it was a youthful organization, run by young people; (3) that it considered America’s college students an important part of its mission field; and (4) that it wanted to enlist college students in global missions, as well.

John R Mott

You probably have never heard the name “John R Mott” before, but it’s much more probable that you’ve heard the slogan he created, because it worked its way effectively from SVM to the Y, and then on to churches and denominations all over the English-speaking world. His slogan was: “The Evangelization of the World In This Generation.”

It was a heady ambition: to bring the message of Christ to everyone, all over the globe, for the first time in history. And behind this goal was the hope that, in doing so, they would be preparing the world for Christ’s return.

To accomplish this daring goal, Mott built the student wing of the YMCA into an organization run by dynamic young preachers, and he sent them around to the nation’s colleges and universities to hold rallies and crusades. Lloyd Douglas was one of the men he chose.

Just after Douglas accepted the call to join the YMCA, Mott wrote to him and said, “I can appreciate what a sacrifice it will be for your church to release you at this time. I cannot, however, regard it as other than a clearly Providential leading which has influenced you to decide to go to this strategic field. From the point of view of the church, your action is most timely. Those State universities of the West are fast becoming the largest universities in the country. They wield an enormous influence. They have been seriously neglected on the moral and religious side. Nothing could be more important for the Christian Church in America during the next half generation than to make them strongholds and propagating centers for a pure and aggressive Christianity.”

Douglas made sure that his congregation read that letter. He also gave it to the press corps, and almost all of them published it. The evangelization of students all along the Mississippi Region of the YMCA was indeed important work, especially when it was viewed as a “strategic” part of Mott’s plans for winning the whole world to Christ.

But Douglas was no evangelist. He was a preacher, yes, and he aimed his preaching especially at young people. But he never tried to convert anyone, nor did he lead even one of his own parishioners through the Sinner’s Prayer, as far as we know. That wasn’t his style, nor was it consistent with his theology.

As at least one of the DC papers noted, the Y had been trying to get him on board for some time, and he had consistently turned them down. I suspect that they became especially interested in him after he and Dr. Clarence Barbour, who was on the Y’s international committee, shared the podium at a DC event on May 8, 1911. But something happened in June that changed Douglas’s mind, and suddenly he saw the job at the YMCA as a life saver.

For by the end of June, Douglas wanted out of the Lutheran Church – immediately.

I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

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