Above: Howard Thurman
Image in the Public Domain
HOWARD WASHINGTON THURMAN (NOVEMBER 18, 1899-APRIL 10, 1981)
U.S. Baptist Minister, Mystic, and Theologian
The religion of Jesus makes the love-ethic central.
–Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (1949; 1996 reprint, page 89)
Howard Thurman was an important force for social justice in the United States. Although he was not on the front lines of the civil rights movement, he did produce a theology of reaching beyond fear and hatred that inspired many who were on the front lines.
Thurman, born on November 18, 1899, at Daytona, Florida, was a son of the church. His father was Solomon Thurman (a railroad worker) and his mother was Alice Ambrose Thurman (a domestic worker). Our saint learned much about the Bible from his maternal grandmother, a former slave. Thurman, educated at Florida Baptist Academy, Jacksonville, Florida (1915-1919), then at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia (1919-1923), became a Baptist minister in 1925. His first church as pastor was Zion Baptist Church, Oberlin, Ohio. The following year our saint graduated from Rochester Theological Seminary. Then Thurman continued his education at Oberlin School of Theology and Haverford College. At the latter institution he learned from Rufus Jones (1863-1948), a prominent Quaker philosopher. In 1929 Thurman became both a professor of religion and the director of religious life at both Morehouse and Spelman Colleges, Atlanta. While in Atlanta he married Sue Bailey, in 1932.
From 1932 to 1943 Thurman served on the faculty of Howard University, D.C. He, President Mordecai Johnson, and Dr. Benjamin Mays (the Dean of the School of Religion), provided leadership at that institution and beyond. Thurman’s titles were Chairman of the Committee on Religious Life and Professor of Christian Theology. Our saint worked behind the scenes with many of the early leaders of the civil rights movement. These great men and women included W. E. B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and Mary McLeod Bethune. During a tour of India in 1935 and 1936 Thurman met Mohandas Gandhi and became convinced of the wisdom of applying nonviolence to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Our saint also expanded his understanding of religious freedom with regard to human freedom and the struggle for it.
Thurman left Howard University in 1943 to co-found the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, San Francisco, California, an early example of a multicultural congregation in the United States. His co-pastor was Alfred G. Fisk, who was white. While in San Francisco, Thurman wrote Jesus and the Disinherited (1949), in which he laid the theological foundation for the use of nonviolence in the civil rights movement and portrayed Jesus as one who helped disinherited people as they dealt with oppression. Black Liberation Theology, which James Cone went on to develop, grew out of this volume, a copy of which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., carried with him.
Our saint left San Francisco in 1953, when he accepted the job as Dean of the Marsh Chapel and Professor of Spiritual Disciplines and Resources at Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts. That year Life magazine described Thurman as one of the twelve greatest preachers of the twentieth century. He applied that rhetorical skill at the Marsh Chapel until 1965, when he retired.
For the rest of his life our saint directed the Howard Thurman Educational Trust.
Thurman died at San Francisco on April 10, 1981. He was 81 years old.
His message of nonviolent resistance to oppression is timeless, however.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 8, 2017 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF HENRY MELCHIOR MUHLENBERG, PATRIARCH OF AMERICAN LUTHERANISM; HIS GREAT-GRANDSON, WILLIAM AUGUSTUS MUHLENBERG, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGICAL PIONEER; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, ANNE AYRES, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERHOOD OF THE HOLY COMMUNION
THE FEAST OF JOHANN CRUGER, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIE BILLIART, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME
THE FEAST OF RANDALL DAVIDSON, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world.
Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.
Through us give hope to the hopeless,
love to the unloved,
peace to the troubled,
and rest to the weary,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60