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
Above: The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Image Source = Library of Congress
JANUARY 31, 2016
Jeremiah 1:1-10 (TANAKH: The Holy Scriptures):
The words of Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to him in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign, and throughout the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah son of Judah, when Jerusalem went into exile in the fifth month.
The word of the LORD came to me:
Before I created you in the womb, I selected you;
Before you were born, I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations.
Ah, Lord GOD!
I don’t know how to speak,
For I am still a boy.
And the LORD said to me:
Do not say, “I am still a boy,”
But go wherever I send you
And speak whatever I command you.
Have no fear of them,
For I am with you to deliver them
–declares the LORD.
The LORD put out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me:
Herewith I put My words into your mouth.
See, I appoint you this day
Over nations and kingdoms:
To uproot and to pull down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.
Psalm 71:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe;
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O Lord GOD,
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (New American Bible):
If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully as I am known. So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Luke 4:21-30 (The Jerusalem Bible):
And he [Jesus] won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.
This is Joseph’s son, surely?
But he replied,
No doubt you will quote the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”
And he went on,
I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.
There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of those; he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.
When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Some Related Posts:
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B:
1 Corinthians 13:
Prayer of Praise and Adoration:
Prayer of Confession:
Prayer of Dedication:
Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quickeyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here.”
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marred them. Let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, ”who bore the blame?
My dear, then, I will serve.
You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.
–George Herbert (1633)
The love in 1 Corinthians 13 is agape. There are four types of love in the New Testament, with agape being the highest form. For a description of agape I turn to Volume X (1953), page 167 of The Interpreter’s Bible:
Agape is another kind of love which roots in the undeserved goodness men have received in Christ.
Agape is a type of love which extends to one’s enemies, looks past mutual interests, and is not merely sentimental. It is the love which God has for us. Thusagape is crucial, greater even than faith and hope, which are also commendable and of God.
This was the love which qualified Jeremiah and kept him company on his difficult vocation, one fraught with rejection. And this was the love which Jesus, also rejected, embodied in a unique way. This was the love those who tried to kill him at Nazareth lacked.
Agape is hard for many people to practice, for we are flawed. This statement applies to me. But I like agape; I seek to come nearer to living it. One poetic expression of the essence of agape is the George Herbert poem I have quoted in this post. My choir at St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, has sung the Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of it. The text speaks to me of what I have received and continue to receive from God. I can do better, by grace, and I am. And I have much room for improvement.
Agape is also intolerable for many people. They seek to destroy it. The reason for this, I suppose, is that it reminds them of their shortcomings. And, instead of admitting those failings, some people react defensively and fearfully. Thus violent people have, throughout history and into the present day, persecuted pacifists, from Quakers to Anabaptists to Mohandas Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. New England Puritans hanged Quakers in colonial times. Anabaptists in Europe and elsewhere have attracted a host of foes. There was, for example, state-sanctioned persecution of Amish and Mennonite conscientious objectors in the United States during World War I. And Gandhi and King became victims of assassins. Before King’s death many of his self-identified conservative coreligionists condemned his stances on civil rights and the Vietnam War. (I have notecards full of citations, quotes, and summaries from back issues of The Presbyterian Journal, which midwifed the Presbyterian Church in America in the early 1970s. The Journal, publishing immediately after King’s death, continued to condemn him.)
Our human intolerance for agape has caused quite a body count to accumulate. May God forgive us.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 11, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINT DIONYSIUS OF CORINTH, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY NEYROT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR
THE FEAST OF GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN, ANGLICAN PRIMATE OF NEW ZEALAND
THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF KRAKOW