What Thomas Jefferson Could Never Understand About Jesus

Vinson Cunningham at The New Yorker:

Since 2011, a monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., has sat across the water from the Jefferson Memorial, almost engaging it in a staring contest. The result is a rich spatial symbolism: two ways of seeing Christ duking it out. King saw Jesus in much the way that Douglass did: as a savior, a redeemer, and a liberator sorely degraded by those who claimed his name most loudly. During the Montgomery bus boycott, King reportedly carried a copy of “Jesus and the Disinherited,” a short, beautiful book by the minister and writer Howard Thurman. Thurman had travelled to India, where he made sure to meet Gandhi, whose doctrine of nonviolence he admired; he took what he learned from him back to America, planting an important intellectual seed that would blossom during the civil-rights movement. In his preaching and writings, Thurman reoriented what he called “the religion of Jesus,” pointing out what it might mean for those who had lived for so long under the thumb of the likes of Jefferson. Jefferson’s Jesus is an admirable sage, fit bedtime reading for seekers of wisdom. But those who were weak, or suffering, or in urgent trouble, would have to look elsewhere. “The masses of men live with their backs constantly against the wall,” Thurman wrote. “What does our religion say to them?”

more here.