The Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s left a lasting impact on how our society addresses racial injustices. With noteworthy spiritual leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the helm, the movement has influenced generations of social justice advocates. But what influenced the Civil Rights Movement?
In his Grawemeyer Award winning book, The New Abolition: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel
, renowned social ethicist Gary Dorrien (pictured) describes the early history of the Black Social Gospel from its nineteenth-century founding to its close association in the twentieth century with W. E. B. Du Bois. He offers a new perspective on modern Christianity and the Civil Rights Era by delineating the tradition of social justice theology and activism that led to Martin Luther King, Jr.
On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Dorrien will discuss how the Black Social Gospel became an important tradition of religious thought and resistance, helping to create an alternative public sphere of excluded voices and providing the intellectual underpinnings of the civil rights movement. Dorrien’s lecture, “Breaking White Supremacy: The Black Social Gospel as New Abolitionism,” will take place at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary’s Caldwell Chapel (1044 Alta Vista Road, Louisville, Ky. 40205) from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The event is free, and the public is invited to attend.
Among the Black Social Gospel influencers addressed in Dorrien’s book is William James Simmons, who played a significant role in organizing the American National Baptist Convention. Simmons focused his ministry on preaching, education, political activism and journalism. He served as president of the Normal and Theological Institute of Kentucky, which would later become State University, and then Simmons College of Kentucky. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Simmons College is the nation’s 107th historically black college.
For Dorrien, the opportunity to share his thoughts on the Black Social Gospel in the city where Simmons based his work is a blessing.
“Simmons is a paramount example of someone who would not have been forgotten by historians had they asked what the social gospel espoused and accomplished in the AME Church, the AMEZ Church, the National Baptist Convention, and other black church contexts,” said Dorrien, who is the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and Professor of Religion at Columbia University. “He was a great soul with a huge heart, and phenomenally productive and accomplished, all in the too-few years that were given to him. His feminism was, to me, a major part of his legacy.”
An Episcopal priest and lifelong athlete, Dorrien is the author of 17 books and approximately 275 articles that range across the fields of ethics, social theory, theology, philosophy, politics, and history. Philosopher Cornel West describes him as “the preeminent social ethicist in North America today,” and philosopher Robert Neville describes him as “the most rigorous theological historian of our time.”
“We are eager to welcome Gary Dorrien to our city and seminary campus,” said Tyler Mayfield, Faculty Director of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion and the A.B. Rhodes Associate Professor of Old Testament at Louisville Seminary. “His astute work on the Black Social Gospel and the contributions of the Black Church is relevant to our contemporary discussions of race and religion. We need scholarly voices to lift up these historical and theological traditions from our recent past in order that we might see more clearly the struggles for freedom that occur today.”
Louisville Seminary, jointly with the University of Louisville, awards the $100,000 Grawemeyer Award in Religion to honor and publicize creative and significant insights into the relationship between human beings and the divine. The award also recognizes ways in which this relationship may inspire or empower human beings to attain wholeness, integrity, or meaning, either individually or in community. In addition to the religion award, the University of Louisville presents Grawemeyer Awards for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education.
Dorrien and the other 2017 winners will formally accept their award at a ceremony, which will take place at the Speed Art Museum on Thursday, April 20. Earlier that day, Dorrien will serve as the guest preacher for services held at Louisville Seminary’s Caldwell Chapel. His sermon will be “The Coin of Caesar and the Kin-dom of God.” Chapel services begin at 11:30 a.m., and the public is invited to attend.
More information about Dorrien is available at www.lpts.edu/grawemeyer
. For a complete list of 2017 Grawemeyer Award recipients and a schedule of their public talks, log onto www.grawemeyer.org