tv [untitled] February 12, 2012 4:30pm-5:00pm EST
around that was marvelous. howard thurman served as dean of theology as an undergraduate he was a classmate of martin luther king, jr.'s father. howard thurman was a mentor, spiritual advisor and friend to martin luther king, jr. benjamin mays was the president of morehouse college and during that time martin will you ter king, jr. was one of mr. may's students. they formed a close life-long relationship. up next, a discussion on the relationship between thurman, mays and king. morehouse college hosted this hour-and-a-half long discussion.
i'm willis sheftal, pro vost at morehouse college. it's migrate pleasure to be greetings on behalf of our president, robert michael franklin. his schedule has him traveling to day, but if you know robert, you know that the public intellectual that he is would prefer to be here for this discussion. i want to thank our distingui distinguished panelists for their participation in what promises to be a spirited discussion of interfaith pioneers pioneers martin luther king, jr., been gentleman main mays icons and giants. also want to thank you, the members of the audience, for
braving the threatening weather to hear and interact with the panelists. finally, let me extend a special thanks to deen 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, doctor, let me add my words of welcome to you. it's such a privilege to see you all here and we're looking forward to not only a robust but enlightening and inspiring conversation that should inform all of us in ways here todsforeunimagined. as a part of the rich religious tradition at morehouse college
that actually grew out of the baptist church, we're featuring the work of three exemplars who really transcended that parochial nature of their own faith-boundaries and they set the stage for how morehouse college and people who have come through morehouse college could then have an effect and influential role in the broader society. particularly as has been celebrated and as being vel brated 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 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 in 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 core, called better together campaign, where that is being headed by our own associate campus minister ernest brooks working with the chapel assistants at the martin luther king chapel and 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 presidents interfaith campus and community service challenge. we are here at morehouse working diligently to try to expand the manner in which interfaith connections are made. higher education as has been the case with multi culturalism, matters of gender and other areas has played a pivotal role and provided leadership as that 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. the imam emeritus, we go back a few years, but he has been on the interfaith battlefield for some 37 years. his role not only as a scholar, as a leader, as an activist, leading people on world pilgr pilgrimables that are part of the world pilgrims organization, standing as a activist on his own right, advocate for the matters of dialogue between and among faiths, we invited cleman here because he's also, i remember a story he told me, he said that the only way that he could get out of coming to morehouse was that he went to
harvard. we'll forgive him for that today, but it's clear his connection and commitment to the life and legacy of morehouse college runs wide and deep. so cleman will come and share as the moderator of the panel. he will then introduce our panelists to you as well. let me say one other thing about cleman, he has been a part of a number of pilgrimages, ten along with muslims, christians and jews through the world pilgrim organization and now been succeeded by another imam at the atlanta mosque, but also served as the keynote speaker for an event worship event we had a few nights ago, right here in the martin luther king, jr., international chapel, people who were btogether to worship. he helped to frame that from the standpoint from what it means to
be a servant not only of the divine but humanity. i present to you now, our moderator [ applause ] >> thank you very much. we have wonderful panelists here today. i am have to clean up a little something. my father went to morehouse, his two brothers went to morehouse, my mother went to spellman, my father's mother went to spellman, my mother's two brothers went to morehouse, i went to spellman nursery school, i did summer camp at morehouse and pre college program at morehouse so that is why i was trying to escape. and i live -- i grew up two blocks off the campus. we have three wonderful guests dr. randall, dr. smith, dr. preston king. i will introduce each one of
them before they give their brief introductory remarks, so i want to introduce dr. randall first, and then we will hear from him and at the end of his introductory remarks, we'll go on to dr. luther smith and preston king. randall is an associate pre foes sore of american studies with a joint appointment in african and african american studies at university of kansas. professor holds courtesy appointments in history, religious studies and the co-editor of the journal of american studies. he is a graduate of the university of michigan, with undergraduate degree in history. mccormick theological seminary masters divine tee and ph d in history. ordained clergy in the presbyterian church of the usa.
he has published scholarly and journalistic articles in the areas of african american religious history, civil rights history, and urban and african as far as the history as well there. he is also published an award-winning book entitled "african americans in the furniture city, the civil rights struggle in the grand rapids, michigan." he has a fourth coming book due out in just a few months, entitled "benjamin elijah mays, school master of the movement" we look forward to having that. we'll start with professor jelts as he speaks about benjamin e. mays and his role as an interfaith pioneer. >> thank you, all the students for coming out.
thanks for allowing me to be on this distinguished panel. i want to beginning my comments with saying that mays was a baptist. one of his articles was i have been a baptist all my life. and for mays what that meant was one of the key elements of being a baptist was freedom of conscience, that one could make up one's own mind and only had to look to god for any final judgment. so beginning with mays, heavily 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. one of the ways that mays became an interfaith pioneer was interestingly enough through the
ymca movement. the ymca movement, we think of that ♪ ymca but that was a global movement among men and it was evangelical movement that went around the world. and people as diverse as dr. mays, and many other people who are in the annals of history, a whole host of people used the ymca movement to go around the world and to interact. the ways that dr. mays met ghandi, he was going to india on the international ymca movement. this allowed the freedom to go and travel. now, i want to put this a little bit quick context, india, south africa was still under british
imperialism and one of the ways you could go was to say you had religious duties to do, or to carry out and mays travelled under that us auspices so he could meet leaders. in 1937, mays went to india but travelled through what we now call the middle east or the near-east, however one wants to geographically put this. this opened up a huge world to him. one, he interviewed gandhi for 90 minutes, he wrote about extensively in newspapers, and secondly, he also was traveling because he understood that christianity was a global religion itself. christianity in and of itself had internal divisions. baptists believe they were landmarkian, they had their believes, mays was traveling in
the context of trying to look at christianity itself as a global religion and also to begin -- his first forays in 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, especially aftermath of the holocaust, that mays thought it was very crucially important that particularly black christians not be anti-semitic in their thinking about the ways they thought about their own expressions of various expresses of christianity. the final ways mays began to think about this greater interfaith dialogue is his important role in being an advocate for south africa.
one of his most distinguished moments came in 1954, in evans ton, illinois, north of chicago, where northwestern university is, where he makes a wholesaleo. he is interacting and come back to morehouse, before then he was dean of howard school of religion as it was called, n howard university divine tee school. attack the structures telling students to dialogue, to learn more, open up themselves to dialoguing about the larger world which they in habited. this is fairly remarkable thing for a man who grew up in a little hamlet in south carolina. i'll let my colleagues,
continue, but thank you. >> thank you, dr. jelks. secondly, we have dr. luther smith, professor of church and community at emery university where he served on the faculty since 1979. dr. smith has served as president of the university senate, president of the university's faculty council and associate dean for faculty development. born in st. louis, missouri, attended college at washington university, in st. louis. where he majored in sociology, received masters of divinity degree from eden theological seminary. he completed his ph.d in american studies st. louis university dissertation was the basis of his first book, howard thur man, the mystic as profit. the editor of howard thurman essential writings and the living wisdom of 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 symbolically in terms of the figures who have come through here as well as the time that 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, 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 "according to an an shouldn't legend, there are in the world in any given 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 thurman impressed persons not only intellectually but transforming their lives. you have statements like this not only from rabbi fine, but rabbi glazer, a leader among the rabbis, and persons across faith traditions, indicating the way in which howard thurman's
witness was transformative for them especially the way howard thurman often led them to their own roots. the way in which howard thurman was transformative was not in terms of converting people to christian perspective, but thurman, as a christian, was interested in taking people to their own roots. so much so that rabbi glazer said thurman 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 integrity to lead them in pursuit of god. if they can find that, 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 and interfaith relationship with one another. not in any kind of either arrogant or hieracal way, and with humility, and respect, in interacting with various faith traditions, hopefully we grow in our own particular way of pursuing god. this understanding of particulararity is crucial, was part of his early teaching. that is if you are able to understand a particular faith tradition and deepen yourself in it hopefully what you discover is the universal interfaith tradition that is also the universal in other faith traditions. or 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 thurmon 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 thurmon, 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 thurmon'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 thurmon's approach. thurmon 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 transforming in your life and world.
in closing, thurmon'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. 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 a 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 aplay 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.