Jesus and the Disinherited

At the brink of the Civil Rights Movement, pastor and writer Howard Thurman released the book Jesus and the Disinherited. Prevalent then and now, the book provides a foundation of reasoning for the need for non-violent movements to fight the oppressive systems that exist. Thurman’s book focuses primarily on the disinherited state of African-Americans at that time in the United States, where segregation was the norm, Jim Crow laws existed, and people’s rights were being disregarded.

Using Jesus as the ultimate example, Thurman discusses how to overcome, in a peaceful manner, the frustration and pain that can develop from being oppressed. Jesus life provides endless examples of how to react to oppressive and controlling systems. He himself was part of a minority group within the Roman Empire, a large dominant and controlling group, and not only was he part of the Jewish minority, he also came from a poor upbringing.  However through his disinherited state, Jesus found ways to peacefully battle the systems that were in place, emphasizing highly on the peace that can come from within.

Through Jesus, Thurman shows how people can move beyond the common feelings of fear, deception, and hate that can develop when oppressed, and most importantly, he focuses on how people can do it peacefully and within non-violent means. Upon overcoming fear through the development of self-worth and dignity, a person can push forward through the oppressive systems and pursue their dreams because they know they are a child of God. This same person can remove the layers of deception that can develop to fit within the “norm” of society, and they can follow after Christ, pursuing a sincere and honest life where they peacefully speak out against injustice. And through all of this they can move past the feelings of hatred and frustration that have grown deep within from being constantly kicked down and told they aren’t good enough.

Upon removing these feelings, a person can then move unto a state of love and forgiveness, where reconciliation is the goal. They can recognize that all people are their neighbor, meaning they are called to love all people. But Thurman challenges that this is not an easy path to take. By recognizing who has become the oppressors, people must work to remove the label of “enemy” and break down the wall that prevents true and authentic relationships from developing. Both sides must be freed and provided with mutual worth and value. Only then can actual reconciliation occur.





  1. #1 by J. Barrett Lee on March 6, 2012 - 7:35 AM

    Reblogged this on The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor and commented:
    I’ve literally been looking for a copy of this book for years. Then, last Sunday, one of the elders in my congregation handed me one.
    I’m looking forward to reading this for several reasons. First, it’s a classic of the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King read it and drew all kinds of inspiration from it. In fact, I can’t help but tell the story of Thurman’s visit to India, where he was granted an audience with Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi lamented that he didn’t have more opportunity to share his message of nonviolence with America, but he also prophesied that a member of the African American community would one day arise and do so. Shall we say that Gandhi foretold to Howard Thurman the ministry of Martin Luther King?
    The second reason why I am excited about this book is because of Thurman’s focus on the person of Jesus. This year, as I have been struggling to work out for myself what a post-evangelical and liberal faith looks like, the Christological question looms large. I don’t want to be an unfaithful friend to Jesus, but any relationship we have must be our own, not dictated or categorized by strict adherence to literal interpretations of creeds and formulae. I find myself drawn to the motto of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship: “Freely Following Jesus.” Something about that rings true to what I’m trying to do.
    The final reason why I am excited to finally get my hands on a copy of this book is closely related to the previous reason. I wonder if God might be currently working in my life to redeem my experience of Protestantism (particularly in its Baptist expressions). Through individual voices like Thurman, King, and Harry Emerson Fosdick and through churches like Wedgewood and Binkley Baptist, I am coming to see a different side of the Baptist tradition than the legalistic fundamentalism I experienced at Cresset Christian Academy. I’m hearing, perhaps for the first time, the voice of freedom in their politics and theology. It’s an inspiring vision. I had a shocking thought the other day: I might even one day consider taking a call from a Baptist congregation (provided that it was more like “Howard Thurman” Baptist than “Jerry Falwell” Baptist).
    So, that’s what I’ve got for now…

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