This week we are praying through Howard Thurman’s 1976 book Jesus and the Disinherited. From the introduction of the 1996 edition, written by Vincent Harding: “Not too long before [Martin Luther] King’s assassination in 1968 Stokley [Carmichael] asked with mock innocence, ‘Dr. King, why do we have to be more moral than white folks?”(Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, Beacon Press, 1976, p. xii) Vincent will go on to suggest that Howard Thurman’s work answers this question, “the ultimate issue is not being more moral than white folks, but becoming more free than we have ever been, free to engage our fullest powers in the transformative tasks that await us at the wall” (ibid., xvi-xvii).

In his preface, Thurman asks a question many of us have asked, “Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?” (ibid.” xix). He goes on, “I am deeply convinced that in the general area of my inquiry is to be found the answer without which there can be little hope that men [sic] find in Christianity the fulfillment which it claims for its gospel” (ibid., xix)

Today’s Bible Reading

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28-30

More thoughts for meditation

“In the main, there were two alternative faced by the Jewish minority of which Jesus was a part. Simply stated, these were to resist or not to resist. But each of these alternatives has within it secondary alternatives.

Under the general plan of nonresistance one may take the position of imitation. The aim of such an attitude is to assimilate the culture and the social behavior-pattern of the dominant group. it is the profound capitulation to the powerful, because it means the yielding of oneself to that which, deep within, one recognized as being unworthy. It makes for a strategic loss of self-respect. The aim is to reduce all outer or external signs of difference to zero, so that there shall be no ostensible cause for active violence or oppression. Under some circumstances it may involve a repudiation of one’s heritage, one’s customs, one’s faith. Accurate imitation until the facade of complete assimilation is securely placed and the antagonism of difference dissolved—such is the function of this secondary alternative within the broader alternative of nonresistance. Herod was an excellent example of this solution” (ibid., 13)

“The other major alternative is resistance. It may be argued that even nonresistance is a form of resistance, for it may be regarded as an appositive dimension of resistance. Resistance may be overt action, or it may be merely mental and moral attitudes. For the purposes of our discussion resistance is defined as the physical, overt expression of an inner attitude. Resistance in this sense finds its most dramatic manifestation in force of arms” (ibid., 15).

“The longer the mood is contemplated, the more insistent the appeal. It is a form of fanaticism, to be sure, but that may not be a vote against it. In all action there is operative a fringe of irrationality. Once the mood is thoroughly established, any council of caution is interpreted as either compromise or cowardice. The fact that the ruler has available to him the power of the state and complete access to all arms is scarily considered. Out of the deeps of the heart there swells a great and awful assurance that because the cause is just, it cannot fail. Any failure is regarded as temporary and, to the devoted, as a testing of character” (ibid., 16).

Suggestions for action

Thurman describes the Way of Jesus as the verse above does, easy and light, for the weary and the burdened. “[Jesus] recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his destiny” (ibid., 18).

“The basic facts that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men’’(ibid., 18-19).

We don’t need to acquiesce to the powers that be to survive—what Thurman calls nonresistance. Nor do we need to arm ourselves as we allow the powers to harden us and turn us into them. But pray today that you find Jesus, and learn from him. May we take his yoke so that we might face our oppression.