Football players are protesting national anthems. Pop stars are critiquing misogynoir and denouncing police violence. Cultural critics writing on race are no longer communicating to a committed few—they are heralded as social prophets.
Faith leaders would do well to consider these signs of the times and to read them closely. Every argument and salvo for racial justice—however justice is imagined—is worth pondering for what it reveals about what kinds of justice are getting traction and public buy-in. Alongside this work of popular engagement, it’s also valuable to convey the riches of religious reflection on racial justice to broad audiences. Here, I have in mind the Southern-born, black bard of Christian mysticism,Howard Thurman.
In our Instagram age, Thurman’s legacy of letters and contemplative black mysticism is often reduced to decontextualized quotes on self-realization, shareable wisdom about finding a sense of inner stillness in a busy, often violent world. Certainly, the sage of Daytona Beach conveys volumes on these topics. But his body of work—especially in texts like Jesus and the Disinherited andLuminous Darkness—juxtaposed the inwardness of faith with a slow-burning scrutiny of social relationships.
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