While there are innumerable barber shop, bar stool, and couch theologians and critics of the black church - most of the commentary based upon negative media presentations and caricatures - there are few who are familiar with those who have defined and sustained not only the black church in America, but Christianity itself.
Dr. Howard Thurman was an early advocate for multiculturalism in America and justice worldwide, having been inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, whom he met in India in 1935. A graduate of Rochester (New York) Seminary, Oberlin School of Religion, and Haverford College, Dr. Thurman taught at Morehouse College and was dean of the chapel at Howard University. He also founded the interracial Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco, a leader in interfaith affairs and in new forms of worship.
Thurman was the first black man in American history to be appointed to an administrative position in a major research university, teaching in the School of Theology and serving as dean of the chapel at Boston University in 1953. He was also listed in Life magazine as one of the twelve great preachers of the twentieth century in 1953 and by Ebony in 1954 as one of the ten most outstanding black preachers in America. He traveled widely, including Europe, India, and West Africa and was a frequent speaker on college campuses, churches, and synagogues.
Thurman wrote more than twenty books. Jesus and the Disinherited, which Martin Luther King Jr. carried with him at all times, was Thurman's attempt to answer a question from a law professor who challenged Thurman why he as a black man could be a Christian, since white Christians had captured, transported, and enslaved Africans in America. Thurman argued that a poor marginalized Jew living under oppression by the Roman Empire speaks directly to blacks living on the margins of American society.
The following is a poem by Dr. Thurman, a reflection of one who possessed a lifelong commitment to an inward spiritual journey:
When the song of the angel is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost — To heal the broken — To feed the hungry –
To release the prisoner — To rebuild the nations –
To bring peace among brothers and sisters –
To make music in the heart.
Poem discovered at Voice of the Day from Sojourners.