tv [untitled] February 21, 2012 8:30pm-9:00pm EST
if the same question were posed in 1862, who would time select as the person of the year? it will be live this weekend. they ponder that question and present their candidates for person of the year 1862. the museum of the confederacy and line brair of virginia host the all-day forum and during the day we'll open our phone line and take your tweets so you can pose your questions and nominate your own candidates. live coverage is from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on tv. now, a discussion on two men who influenced civil rights leader martin luther king jr. howard thurman served as dean of theology and benjamin mace was
president of morehouse college. this is 90 minutes. >> good afternoon. >> i'm willis sheftall, professor and provost at morehouse college. it's my great pleasure to bring meetings on behalf of our president, robert michael franklin. his schedule has him traveling today, but if you know robert, intellectual that he is would prefer to be here for this discussion. i want to thank our distinguished panelists for their participation in what propgss to be a spirited discussion of interfaith pioneers martin luther king jr., benjamin mace and howard thurman, all icons as well as giants in thehous i also want to thank you, members of the audience, for
braving the threatening weather to hear and interact with our panelists. and finally let me extend a special thanks to dean larry carter, roy craft, terry walker and their support staffs for putting together another outstanding testament to the college's commitment to advancing interfaith dialogues. once again, welcome all and enjoy your afternoon. thank you, dr. sheftall," and let me add my words to you. we're looking forward to a robust and enlightening conversation that should inform all of us here to for in ways unimagined. as a part of our rich tradition
here at morehouse college that actually grew out of the baptist church, we're featuring the works of three exem particulars that really transcended the parochial nature of their own faith boundaries and they really set the stage for how morehouse college and people who have come through morehouse college could then have an effect, an influential role in the broader society, particularly as has been celebrated and is being celebrated over these few days in the life and legacy of dr. martin luther king jr. now, i would like to call your attention for those of you who have not seen just to make sure you're aware of the additional events that we have planned during the course of this month of king that are not only sponsored by the chapel but also by the king collection and other institutions right here at morehouse college. we want to thank the faith alliance of metropolitan atlanta for their participation with us and several of these events along the way. i want to say just a brief word
about two initiatives that morehouse college is engaged in. one of those is a partnership with the interfaith youth corpse called the better together campaign that's being headed by our own associate campus minister reverend earnest brooks working with the chapel assistance here at the martin luther king jr. international chapel as well as students from some of the other colleges and universities not only within the atlanta university center but beyond. the second engagement that we have is with the president's interfaith and campus community service challenge. we're here working diligently to try to expand the manner in which internation connections are made. higher education as has been the case with multiculturalism, matters of gender and other areas has played a pivotal role and provided leadership as there has been an attempt made to be sure that our society embraces the conversations that must be a
part of who we are and who we are seeking to become. let me now take a moment to introduce our moderator. playman el a mean is the imam emeritus. we go back just a few years, but he has been on the interfaith battle fields for some 37 years. his role not only as a scholar, leader, activist, standing as an activist on his own right and advocate for the matters of dialogue between and among faiths. we invited him here because he's also -- i remember a story he told me. the only way he could get out of coming to morehouse is that he went to harvard.
we'll forgive him for that today, but it's clear that his connection and commitment to the life and legacy of morehouse college runs wide and deep. so he's going to come and share as moderator of this panel. let me say one more thing about him. he's been part of a number of pilgrimages, ten, along with muslims, christians and jews through the world pilgrimage organization and he's now been succeeded by another imam but he also served as the keynote speaker for an event -- worship convenient we had just a few nights ago right here in the martin luther king jr. international chapel where we had people who were buddhist and christian, hindu, jewish and muslim. he helped to frame that from the standpoint of what it means to be a servant, not only of the
divine but a servant of humanity. so i present to you now our moderator, clayman t. el a mean. >> thank you. >> thank you very much. we have a wonderful panel here today. aisle clean up something so we put it in perspective. my father went to morehouse, his two brothers went to morehouse. my mother went to spelman. my father's mother went to spelman. my mother's two brothers went to morehouse. i went to spelman nursery school and i did precollege there and that's what i was trying to escape and i lived -- i grew up two blocks off the campus. we have three wonderful guests.
i will introduce each one of them before they give their brief introductory remarks, so i want to introduce dr. randall jelks first and then we'll hear from him and at the end of his introductory remarks we geel on to dr. lewer this smith and then on to randall maurice jelks is an associate proffers of american studies with a joint appointment in african and studies at the university of kansas. professor jelts holds courtesy is the ents in history, graduate of the rnal of university of michigan with an undergraduate yaud degree in michigan, mccormick theological seminary with masters of divinity, and michigan state university with a ph.d. in history. he's also an ordained clergy person in the presbyterian church of the usa. professor jelts has published
scholarly and journal is tick articles in the areas of african-american history, civil rights history, and urban and african dispore ya of the history as well there. he's also publishnd an award-winning book entitled african-americans in the up for turn city, the civil rights struggle in grand rapids, michigan. he has a forthcoming book that will be due out in just a few months, and it's entitled benjamin elijah meis, school master of the movement biography and we look forward to having that. so we'll start with professor jelts as he speaks about benjamin e. meis and his role as an interfaith pioneer.
thank you all the students or allowing me to be on this distinguished panel. i want to begin my comments with saying meis was a baptist. one of his articles is i've about been a baptist all my life. and for meis what that meant was one of the key elements of being a baptist was freedom of conscience, that one could make up one's open minded on only had to look god for any final judgment. so beginning with meis, his heavy emphasis on freedom of conscience and intellectual honesty, one of the things that repeatedly from student to student that he preached intellectual integrity. if you believe something, then you had to act on that belief. and one of the ways that meis bake an interfaith pioneer was interestingly enough through the ymca movement.
the ymca movement, you know, we think of that, you know, ymca, that song, but ymca really was a global movement among men, and it was an evangelical movement that went around the world, and people as diverse as dr. meis and many other people who are in the an anuls of history used th ymca movement to go around the world and interact in ways that dr. meis met gandhi was, in fact, he was going to me intera movement. and this allowed the freedom to go and to travel. now, i want to put this a little bit -- a quick context. in india, in south africa, we're still under british imperialism,
and one of the ways you could go is to say you had religious duties to do or carry out and maibs travelled under that awe spiss so he could meet leaders. and in 1937 meis went not only to india, but he traveled through what we now call the middle east or the near east, however one wants to geographically put this. and this opened up a huge world to him. one, he interviewed gandhi for 90 minutes, which he wrote about extensively in newspapers, and secondly, he also was traveled because he understood that christianity was a global religion itself, that christianity in and of itself had internal divisions. bap tiflts believed they were landmarkian and they had their beliefs and other peopled that their sets of beliefs, so mays
was traveling in the context of number one, trying to look at christianity itself as a global religion and also to begin -- he was his first forays into hinduism and islam. the other thing i want to add about this is that mays was deeply interested in the relationships between christians and jews, and especially after the aftermath of the european holocaust that mays thought that it was very crucially important that particularly black christians not be anti-semitic in their thinkings about the ways they thought about their own expressions of -- various expressions of christianity. and the finally ways that mays begins to think about this greater interfaith dialogue is his important role in being an advocate for south africa.
one of his most discontintingui moments came in 1954 in evanston, illinois, just north of chicago where northwestern university is where he makes a wholesale theological attack on a par tied, and so in all of these was ways, mays was interacting and before that he was a dean as it was called now howard university divinity school, but he was attacking these structures, telling students to dialogue, to learn more, to open up themselves up to dialoguing about the larger world, which they inhabited. this is a fairly remarkable thing for a man who grew up in a little hamlet caulked ek worth, south carolina. so i'll let my colleagues
continue. thank you. >> thank you very much. secondly we have dr. lewer this smith. he's a professor of church and community at the campus theology here at the university where he's served on the faculty since 1979. dr. smith has served as president of the university senate, president of the university's theological council and as associate dean he was born in st. louis, missouri. he attended college at boston university in st. louis where he majored in sociology, he received his masters of divinity degree from eden university. he complete his college and his dissertation was a book entitled howard thurman, the mystic as prophet. he's the editor of essential writings and is the co-writer of
the recently released howard thurman, a visionary of our time. dr. luther smith. >> thank you. it's a joy to be back in this community. morehouse has had an important place in my life both symbol symbolically in terms of the figures who have come through here as well as the time i've had for sabbatical, just being on campus, interacting with students, and appreciating the way in which there is this living tradition of morehouse through all of you and in many of my students at cad ler. so thank you for your hospitality, inviting us here, and for your interest in this theme of interfaith perspectives. i want to begin with a statement from rabbi alvin fine. he said there are in a world at any givl time 36 wise and
righteous persons gifted with special spiritual powers that enable them to perceive the divine presence with clear insight and understanding. because of their merit, the hope for humanity is forever renewed and forever sustained. surely howard thurman was one of god's chosen, one of those 36 spiritual prodigies who keep human faith alive at all times. it's this kind of statement about thurman that i think reflects how deeply thurmanprse intellectually but in transforming their lives. you have statements like this not only from rabbi fine but reh rabbi glazier andacross faith traditions indicating the way in which howard thurman's
witness was transformative for them, especially the way in which howard thurman often led them to their own roots. the way in whichow was transformative was not in terms of converting people to a christian perspective, but thurman as a christian was interested in taking people to their own roots, so much so that rabbi glazier said it's thurman that helped me to truly understand the covenant more and what it means to be a jew. in a personal conversation with thurman, he was saying i really have no interest in converting people from one faith tradition to christianity, but to help them to understand what in their own roots has the authenticity and tin tell grity to lead them in their pursuit of god. if they can find that, if they can get back to that, then they are being faithful to god's call upon their lives. here you get thurman's
understanding, i believe, of the way in which we are to be an interfaith relationship with one another. not in any kind of either arrogant or hierarchical way but in the sense that each fakts tradition has an authenticity and integrity unto itself and with humility and with interacting with them, hopefully we grow in our own particular way of pursuing god. this understanding of particularity is really crucial to thurman. it's really part of his early teaching. that is, if you're able to understand a particular faith tradition and deepen yourself in it, hopefully what you discover is the universal in your faith tradition that is also the universal in other faith traditions. another way in which thurman said it is whatever is true in a religion is not true because it's part of that religion, but it's part of that religion
because it is true. so thurman would often encourage us to so thurman would often encourage us to look for truth, certainly within the christian tradition, but also within other traditions. and if we are able to do that, we'll find a common ground upon which we will all stand. for thurman, it related to religion, but also to matters of racial reconciliation. that you can both affirm racial identity and affirm being part of a universal humanity. we get into trouble when we try to ignore particularity, when we claim to not see race or religion. as well as we get into trouble when we fail to recognize that the universal cannot be contained in any one particular.
this is howard thurman's gift to us, i believe, to us, especially in the 21st century when we are living in communities with increased pluralism and how am i to relate to other religious traditions which often seem strange and alienating and different from my own. there is a great tendency of people to try to ignore the differences among the religions and affirm we are all one. this was not thurman's approach. thurman was very much one who said to us, when you affirm your particularity and you are looking for the universal, it doesn't have to be contradictory to declare who you are as you are also embracing others. and appreciating and respecting their gift and the way they can be transforming in your life and world.
in closing, thurman's understanding of this transformative dimension comes to him from his own religious experiences. as a mystic, it's thurman's experience that as he encounters god with a sense of oneness, what he also comes to experience is an affirmation of who he is in a particular way and also an affirmation of all there is. all there is. and it's this oneness, this lessening of the boundaries we have often established in order to relate with one another that thurman comes to see as god's dream for us. this is reality.
we can live our lives denying it. we can live our lives seeking to work toward isolation, but anything given to separation and isolation fails god's dream for community. we see it in his own biography. how his own life has been transformed by religious experience itself. he traveled to india. he was the first african-american that had this extensive conversation with gandhi and was an inspiration to mays and johnson in their trips to india. in the conversation with gandhi you have a sense of thurman respecting ghandi is as a hindu. not making excuses that gandhi is somehow an honorary christian and doesn't know it as many christians do in trying to reconcile gandhi's ethics with the fact that they had such a deep appreciation of him.
thurman saw in ghandi that which was transformative because gandhi was a disciple of truth. i truly believe if we are serious in studying thurman, one of the insights for us in this 21st century will be ways in which we can engage pluralism with celebration rather than trepidation. he said perhaps the only hope for the world, for community, is religion. which seems odd in light of the fact we know how religious people can go at one another, but i think what he was leading us to is the oneness that can be found in religion, that transcends the political and the social and the personal rhetoric that divides. i think there is a key for us and it's worth the interfaith journey. >> third and definitely not last is dr. preston king.
dr. king was born in albany georgia and earned his bachelor of arts from fisk university, his master of science and a doctorate of philosophy from the london school of economics. he lived abroad for nearly 40 years and was also educated at the university of vienna straussburg and paris. i want to mention he was in exile for 40 years. he's one of the heroes. his family was very much involved in the civil rights movement in albany. he went to the draft board, and they disrespected him.
refused to call him by his last name, refused to call him mister and led to other things, rather than accept that abuse he left the country. he was exiled and then pardoned by president bill clinton. he's a distinguished professor of political science and philosophy. dr. king concurrently holds visiting appointments at morehouse and the university of east anglia. he's a professor emeritus at lancaster university, he is a distinguished scholar and a prolific writer. he's authored many books including fear of power, the ideology of order and african winner, toleration, federalism and federation and thinking past a problem. we are so glad to have you here with us, dr. king. >> thank you very much. thank you very much. i must say of all the speakers, my task has to be the easiest because my subject is better known than any of the others.
that's not a question of fairness or unfairness but a question of fact. at that time risk of being accused of positivism. i have always had great sympathy for martin. largely because and probably mistakenly because i have always seen a great affinity between his life and mine. when i was 18 i was around the atlanta university center lot. i took a lead role in a play called "the man who came to
dinner." i have seen martin in things like that. he was par excellence and a person who was concerned to mold his university through language. i have never seen him as a mystic. a religious figure, yes. very much in the way socrates was a religious figure. of course in the way socrates took the hemlock, martin took the bullet. but in both cases it's a question of wiping out a man who spoke truth to power and who was not much liked for it. he is a deeply interesting figure because he covered so much ground. there is the intellectual martin who wasn't simply engaged in a study of theology.
as someone who took pleasure in ideas and i don't speak as someone who knew him intimately. i have met and spoken to him once and that was at fisk. in the middle of the montgomery business he came up and stayed with us for a few days. hanging loose a bit. we had quite a few discussions and the impression he made on me has stayed with me. you must understand so many of us in the south have tended to be suspicious of preachers. there was nothing in his personality that suggested the tartuphian figure. on the contrary.