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Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes — Rev. Howard Thurman

By Kyle Desrosiers

Every month, we honor an individual (or group) who inspires the bridge-building efforts of the Miller Center. Each honoree uniquely embodies the values of inclusivity, justice, and compassion. Reverend Howard Thurman, an African American Christian minister, writer, and Civil Rights leader, is our Beacon of Hope for the month of June. Rev. Thurman’s teachings call for individual and societal transformation, encouraging dialogue and sensitivity to the complexities of inter-racial and interreligious coalition-building.

Among Thurman’s most widely read works is Jesus and the Disinherited and Meditations of the Heart, in which he weaves together prophetic and mystical traditions. His legacy inspires contemporary scholars like Dr. Shively T. J. Smith, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Boston University School of Theology, who speaks of Rev. Thurman as a “pastor” and “sage” of the Civil Rights Movement: “He was a mentor and advisor to people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And it is said that Dr. King carried a copy of Jesus and the Disinherited with him as a reminder of the work he was doing with nonviolent protest.”

Rev. Thurman also co-founded The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples with the Reverend Alfred Fisk in San Francisco in 1944. The congregation was one of the earliest inter-racial, ecumenically inclusive congregations in the United States. Rev. Thurman is also known for having served as the first Black Dean of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel from 1953 to 1965, a groundbreaking appointment at the predominately white institution. Throughout his life, Thurman remained dedicated to the work of the head, heart, and hands.

Less well-known but equally inspiring is Thurman’s commitment to interfaith friendship and solidarity. One example dear to our work at the Miller Center is the relationship of Rev. Thurman to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924–2014), the founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement and an influential American spiritual figure in his own right. The two met while Rev. Thurman was Dean of Marsh Chapel and Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi was a graduate student in the MA program in Psychology and Religion. Schacter-Shalomi identified his time with Thurman as a turning point in his life. The two men forged a close relationship based on shared passions for mystical traditions and embodied pedagogies. Schachter-Shalomi went on to implement several of Thurman’s insights and methods as he developed his transformative vision of Judaism in the twentieth century.

Rev. Thurman’s teachings continue to move us to contemplate the spiritual call to honor the divine image within all people and to pursue practices of compassion, justice, and peace. As he wrote in Footprints of a Dream: The Story of the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples: “The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men and women often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.”

With reverence to the Rev. Thurman’s legacy, The Miller Center is also excited to co-host the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ) on June 18-21. The conference will include a visit to the Howard Thurman Center at Boston University and a session entitled “Exploring the Interreligious Legacy of Rev. Howard Thurman” facilitated by Dr. Shively T. J. Smith, the Miller Center’s Rabbi Or Rose; and Mr. Nick Bates of the Howard Thurman Center.

Please join us for this timely program, as we seek to further the legacy of a true interreligious hero.

Kyle is an MTS student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from North Texas, Kyle joins the Miller Center after two years spent in Israel, where he completed a Fulbright grant in Conflict Resolution and Mediation, receiving an M.A. from Tel Aviv University. Since his undergrad years at Baylor University, Kyle has been involved in interreligious community building through Interfaith America. He is also a free-lance religion journalist. Kyle enjoys art, science fiction novels, hiking, and spending time with animals.

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