Jesus and the Disinherited
by Howard Thurman
Jesus and the Disinherited is the centerpiece of the Black prophet-mystic’s lifelong attempt to bring the harrowing beauty of the African-American experience into deep engagement with what he called ‘the religion of Jesus.’ Ultimately his goal was to offer this humanizing combination as the basis for an emancipatory way of being, moving toward a fundamentally unchained life that is available to all the women and men everywhere who hunger and thirst for righteousness, especially those ‘who stand with their backs against the wall.’
—Vincent Harding, from the Foreword
Editorial review from Sacred Fire:
Published in 1949, Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited delivers a masterful interpretation of how God works in our lives. Thurman was one of the foremost preachers and theologians of the twentieth century, and much of his work centered on the relevance of the Christian message to the contemporary struggles of black people. In this, Thurman’s masterwork, he argues that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a map for getting to the next world, but a guidebook for the empowerment of the poor and disenfranchised in this world. Thurman was one of the leading preachers of this new Social Gospel that eventually flowered in the form of the church-centered civil rights movement.
Thurman identified the central spiritual problems faced by black folks as the overwhelming stresses of poverty, racism, and a sense of spiritual disconnectedness. He then turned to the life of Jesus as a primary example of the power of love to drive the spiritual regeneration required to sustain a vision of God and self in modern society. The life of Jesus serves as a guidepost to the kind of love that is a hallmark of human spirit, success, and personal salvation. But Thurman doesn’t believe that the Gospel only applies to the individual search for salvation: He also challenges our unconscious submission to the philosophies of individualism and insists that the Gospel is a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.
He interprets the life of Jesus within a context of the oppressed and offers incisive and liberating thoughts on man’s most egregious of sins: fear, deception, and hate. Of fear, he says: “He who fears is literally delivered to destruction…. There are some things that are worse than death. To deny one’s own integrity of personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of those things.”
While Jesus and the Disinherited was influential in shaping the philosophies of the early civil rights movement, it remains topical and deeply relevant even today.