Thursday, July 19, 2012

Howard Thurman On the Concept of Denominationalism


Howard Thurman asks: "Is the witness of the church in our society the unfolding of such an idea as we see manifested in the religious experience and life of Jesus?" (Howard Thurman, Howard Thurman: Essential Writings, 77) Thurman's answer was: No. Our denominationalism, e.g., is a "violation of what I am delineating as the Jesus idea." (Ib.)

Thurman saw many as identifying themselves by their religious denominations rather than simply and in the first place as "follower of Jesus." "In our moment of profoundest sobriety, there is clear recognition of the contradiction that is inherent in the concept of denominationalism as it is examined in the light of what for Christianity is the Jesus idea." (Ib., 77-78)

Yes, Jesus-followers will view their religious experience through the framework of their denominational or theological/doctrinal identity. But this identity is only a frame of reference, and is not to be mistaken for "the ultimate meaning of the experience itself." (Ib., 78) To make the doctrinal/denominational frame of reference primary "is to blaspheme against the experience itself." (Ib.)

Denominationalism and doctrinalism is delimiting "in terms of class and race, [and] tends to become an instrument of violence to the religious experience. Here we come upon the shame of what is meant by the phrase of a certain minister in referring to the eleven o'clock jour on Sunday morning as "the great and sacred hour of segregation."" (Ib.)

Jesus is the Great Unifier, transcending all human denominational and post-denominational identities.

I am a follower of Jesus first. After that...