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
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”—Matthew 25:40
More thoughts for meditation
“Deception is perhaps the oldest of all the techniques by which the weak have protected themselves against the strong. Through the ages, at all stages of sentient activity, the weak have survived by fooling the strong” (ibid., 48)
“The underprivileged may decide to jungle the various areas of compromise, on the assumption that the moral quality of compromise operates in an ascending-descending scale” (ibid., 56).
“Sincerity in human relations is equal to, and the same as, sincerity to God. If we accept this explanation as a clue to Jesus’ meaning, we come upon the stark fact that the insistence of Jesus upon genuineness is absolute; man’s relation to man and man’s relation to God are one relation.
“A death blow is struck to hypocrisy. One of the major defense mechanisms of the disinherited is take away from them. What does Jesus give them in its place? What does he substitute for hypocrisy? Sincerity. But is sincerity a mechanism of defense against the strong? The answer is No. Something more significant takes place. In the presence of an overwhelming sincerity on the part of the disinherited, the dominant themselves are caught with no defense, with the edge taken away from the sense of prerogative and from the status upon which the impregnability of their position rests. They are thrown back upon themselves for their rating. The experience of power has no meaning aside from the other-than-self reference which sustains it. If the position of ascendancy is not acknowledged tacitly and actively by those over whom the ascendancy is exercised, then it falls flat. Hypocrisy on the part of the disinherited in dealing with the dominant group is a tribute yielded by those who are weak. But if this attitude is lacking, or is supplanted by a simple sincerity and genuineness, then it follows that advantage due to the accident of both or position is reduced to zero. Instead of relation between the weak and the strong there is merely a relationship between human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity” (ibid., 62-63)
Suggestions for action
In this chapter, Thurman discusses techniques that the disenfranchised use to survive. He begins with deception, or fooling the strong. Then compromise, which he names as even less authentic as deception (but it is one that is more commonly used in this day-and-age). But finally, he offers sincerity as the ultimate weapon against oppression. But it doesn’t defeat the oppressor, it transforms them. Sincerity allows us to be seen as our full selves; Thurman argues that allowing God to assign us our humanity allows us to fully human in other relationships. Today pray to see yourself fully, knowing that the sharing of your full self is in fact transformative.