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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Howard Thurman: MLK's inspiration

(Howard Thurman)
With Christmas just ending in many parts of the world, it’s time to focus again upon this famous poem by Howard Thurman:  When the song of the angels 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…

According to Thurman, this sacred work entails the following:  To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among people, To make music in the heart.  It’s no wonder that Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) considered Howard Thurman to be one of his foremost mentors.  (Wikipedia reports that Thurman was originally a friend of King’s father while the two were attending Morehouse College, then later served as a “spiritual advisor” to King’s son, MLK.)  

Thurman not only mentored Martin Luther King, Jr., but was also key in bringing Mahatma Gandhi’s message of civil disobedience to the West.  During his “Negro Delegation of Friendship” India visit with Gandhi in 1936, Thurman asked what message he should take back to America.  The Teach Peace Foundation reports that “Gandhi said he regretted not having made nonviolence more visible worldwide and suggested some American black man would succeed where he had failed.”

One of Gandhi’s core beliefs was that “God-given faith could be used to fight the oppression of white American segregation.”  This greatly impressed Thurman, who – although already a Baptist minister – had previously thought that Christianity was somewhat of “a religion used by whites to keep blacks ‘in their place’ with images of a white Christ and images of a land of milk and honey in the great beyond.”  Just as Gandhi used Hindu principles in India’s civil disobedience, Thurman began to use Christianity’s in America’s.

In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited, Thurman portrayed Jesus as “a liberating figure, bringing new
testament gospel together with non-violent resistance.”  King, who had previously viewed the “love ethic” of
Jesus as applicable to individual relationships only, was deeply influenced by this book’s societal implications.


Copyright January 15, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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