Howard Thurman: Slow Church and Social Liberation

Howard Thurman: Slow Church and Social Liberation August 23, 2013


This comes from an interview with Dr. Walter Fluker, director and editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project at Morehouse College, that ran on the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly website.
[ Read the full interview… ]

This passage also echoes a point that Andy Crouch made about the Civil Rights movement in my interview with him about his forthcoming book: PLAYING GOD: Redeeming the Gift of Power.

(HT: Ric Hudgens for pointing me to this… )

Q: Why do you think [Howard Thurman] has been so overlooked or bypassed by many in our society?

WF: Our society is fast-paced. Thurman is very slow. And he thinks life is slow. In fact, he thinks change is slow. This is an incredibly hard lesson to learn, especially for people who have been historically oppressed. Thurman’s solution is not a solution that says we can change things overnight. In fact, he says that social liberation also has to consider social patience. Some stains, he believes, don’t come out without first soaking them. Therefore, he placed most of his emphasis on the individual and what the individual could do to make his or her life a kind of living sacrament of the presence of God in the world. That’s not the same as saying let’s go and change social and political structures; let’s have a violent revolution and change the world. Much of the rhetoric of the late ’60s and early ’70s was about cultural revolution. Violence had been adopted as at least a reasonable strategy, and I’m not suggesting that it was not a reasonable strategy. But Thurman really felt that this may not be the best way to begin to approach social problems and certainly the question of liberation, which he believed began with the individual. Thurman’s real concern was how might we move into society as transformers of culture without “getting any on us.” It’s one thing to go into the dragon’s cave and slay the dragon; it’s quite another to wake up the next morning and you’ve become the dragon. Thurman wanted to make sure that somehow we maintained purity of heart, will and conscience while we struggled to change a very, very dangerous and violent world. Often the meditations and the mystical dimension of Thurman are read at the expense of what I think are the critical statements that he’s making, not only as an intellectual, about ways in which the culture has really militated against the life chances of people. That’s a very important dimension of Thurman that’s often lost.

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