Three quotes from his book stand out to me:
"The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall. They are the poor, the disinherited, the disposed. What does our religion say to them? The issue is not what it counsels them to do for others whose need may be greater, but what religion offers to meet their own needs. The search for an answer to this question is perhaps the most important religious quest of modern life."
"For years it has been a part of my own quest so to understand the religion of Jesus that interest in his way of life could be developed and sustained by intelligent men and women who were at the same time deeply victimized by the Christian Church's betrayal of his faith."
Then, this quote, which though addressed specifically to the situation of Black Americans can be appropriately and correctly applied to not only Blacks in America, but POC and other marginalized people in this country:
"The striking similarity between the social position of Jesus in Palestine and that of the vast majority of American Negroes is obvious to anyone who tarries long over the facts."
Thurman makes clear that most people live with their backs against the wall. Poor, marginalized, victimized by even the Church that bears Jesus' name. But the truth is that Jesus, as a Palestinian Jew, had more in common with these disinherited ones that with those who are "doing just fine, thank you." What does the Christian faith have to say to them? How do we express and live out a faith that is faithFUL to the calling this marginalized Jew who was also the Christ?
Thurman tells two stories of his grandmother. One in his book and one in an interview with Landrum Bolling before his death (you can find the interview here
The first occurs when Thurman asks his grandmother why she never wanted him to read to her from the writings of Paul. She replied
"Old man McGhee was so mean that he would not let a Negro minister preach to his slaves. Always the white minister used as his text something from Paul. At least three or four times a year he used a text: 'Slaves, be obedient to them that are your masters...as unto Christ.' Then he would go on to show how it was God's will that we were slaves and how, if we were good and happy slaves, God would bless us. I promised my Maker that if I ever learned to read and if freedom ever came, I would not read that part of the Bible."
The second is a story that Thurman remembers her telling over and over again, especially when times were tough. It was of her encounter, at some point during her slavery, with a Black preacher who said to those listening to him, "You're not slaves, you're not n*****s, you're a child of God."
It has always been so that there are those who wish to hijack the Gospel to support their positions of power. And there have always been those preachers who grow rich and powerful by helping them do that in one form or another. But this is not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus often leads, as it did for the disciples in this week's scripture passage in Acts 5:27-42, to arrest, incarceration, and public shaming. It does so because faithful witness remembers that Jesus stood, and the Risen Christ stands, not with providing proof texts for those in power, but a way of liberation for those who are oppressed. And it does so because it continues to echo Jesus, the Black preacher who moved Thurman's grandmother, and every faithful follower of Jesus before and since who look at struggling humankind and said, You're not your social condition, you're not the insults they call you, YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD."
It is a choice every individual, every generation, every congregation must make. And the world watches to see where we will come down.