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Lloyd Douglas’s Views on The Long Parade

by Ronald R Johnson (

During his pastorate at the First Congregational Church of Akron, Lloyd Douglas first began describing his view of history and of our place within it. Later, in his novel Green Light, he would call it “The Long Parade,” but in 1926 he described it this way:

I have taught that humanity is on the way up, by the grace of God, toward some exalted destiny.

You have been encouraged by me to believe in evolution—not the kind of evolutionary theory which the untutored think resolves itself into a mere question of whether or not our ancestors were simians; but a theory of evolution which describes a vast physical, mental, moral, and spiritual pilgrimage through the ages—increasingly marking man’s rise, on the stepping-stones of his dead self, to higher things; a hope and quest he still pursues without much more certainty of his ultimate goal than John conceived when, out of the mystical faith that distinguished his radiant soul, he wrote: ‘Beloved, we are the children of God. It doth not yet appear what we shall become, but we know that when we shall see Him, and know Him as he is, we shall be found to be like Him’ [I John 3:2].

Lloyd C Douglas, “Five Years of Akron.” In The Living Faith (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin/Riverside Press, 1955), p. 91.

It may seem strange to us now, to hear a minister saying that the process of evolution is part of God’s plan and that the end goal is for us all to become Christlike, but this was not such an odd thought in the 1920’s. In fact, John M Coulter, who was Chair of the Department of Botany at the University of Chicago, was saying similar things in The Christian Century during those years. He said them in books, too. For example, John M Coulter and Merle C Coulter, Where Evolution and Religion Meet (New York: Macmillan, 1925), is mostly about evolution, but in the final chapter, the authors say, “Religion is now known to be a universal impulse…. Any universal impulse must have some function…. It seems obvious that the function of the religious impulse is… to bring man to the highest expression of his being…. We realize that everything that is finest in human character and conduct is in response to the stimulus of love. Our conclusion is that the most effective ideal for the religious impulse is love stimulating service. This is the ideal of the Christian religion, and it makes scientific men choose it as the only religion with a scientific approach…” (pp. 103-104).

A lot of things have changed in the past hundred years!

At any rate, Douglas was hearing this kind of thing from professors in the state universities who still called themselves Christians and still believed in going to church even though the churches, by and large, were turning against “Darwinism.” Like them, Douglas was inspired by the fact of evolution and saw it as part of an upward-driving “impulse.” He himself was an optimist by nature, and as he scanned the history of the earth and its various forms of life, he believed the trend was destined to keep heading upwards.

He thought the world was getting better, but he didn’t think it was inevitable. He believed that it was individuals working together (rather than political or social systems) that improved society in each successive generation. Therefore, much of his preaching focused on this very thing: finding the way or ways in which you yourself can make the world a better place.

And that leads directly to his unorthodox views about immortality, which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

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

Lloyd Douglas’s Views on Science and the Modern World

by Ronald R Johnson (

Lloyd Douglas was an unusual minister. He told his congregation in Akron:

I have never asked your faith to attend to any business that your intellect could handle more easily.

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

This was an extremely important point for him. He believed that his progenitors had fought very hard to liberate the human mind from the powers that would shackle it: from political constraints, certainly, but especially from ignorance. And because of this belief, he preached that people should develop their intelligence. “You can bear it in mind,” he said,

…that I have never asked you to think exactly as I think about these matters of religious belief, but only to think. WHAT you thought was not of so great importance, in my opinion, as that you should have access to all the facts that I had access to; and after that, I was entirely willing that you should come to your own conclusions without too much gratuitous assistance from my quarter.

He did, however, urge his congregation to give serious consideration to the things being taught in the (fairly new) state universities, and especially in the natural sciences:

I have taught you that religion and science must be at one—if God is God.

Although many ministers were distrustful of modern science, Douglas was a huge fan of both its history and its latest findings. And although there was much confusion in religious circles about “Darwinism,” Douglas understood that evolution was a fact and that biologists were engaged in research to help explain the known facts. The fossil record showed vast differences in the types of flora and fauna in previous epochs, as well as changes in the structures of animals that still exist, such as horses. Darwin had proposed a theory to explain these facts (natural selection through scarcity of resources), but so had Lamarck (structural changes through use and disuse), and more recently so had Hugo De Vries (change by mutation). By the 1920s, biologists weren’t fighting over whether living things evolved; they were busy trying to explain how and why it happened.

Douglas warned his congregation…

…that the elemental principles of the new biology either must fit in with the elemental principles of Christian faith—or we lose the coming generation from the ranks of the church.

At first that may sound like he was over-accommodating to secular culture, but he believed what I quoted earlier: that “religion and science must be at one – if God is God.” He trusted scientists. He viewed them as honest seekers of the truth. And therefore he believed that any facts they uncovered, as well as any theories that could account for those facts, must be in harmony with what God was doing – and had done – in this world. Any religion that posed as either a judge or an adversary of the scientific enterprise was doomed to obsolescence, because it would fail to attract anyone interested in the truth. It wasn’t that Douglas was worried about the church going out of business; he was concerned that the church would fail to perform its mission: to provide support to truth-seekers in all walks of life.

Douglas not only accepted the “new biology” but actually found it inspiring. I’ll talk more about that in the next post.

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