Thurman’s Normal

In his 1949 book, Jesus and the Disinherited,  Pastor Howard Thurman writes “Most of the accepted social behavior-patterns assume segregation to be normal–normal, then correct; if correct then moral; if moral, then religious. Religion is thus made a defender and guarantor of the presumptions.”

In order to fully appreciate Pastor Thurman’s observation, we need to understand that Pastor Thurman is writing during segregation, when Jim Crow ruled where he lived, when whites could go to  a black church, but no black could go to a white church. Whites could sit in any train car, but blacks had to sit in a designated car, even the porters when they were not working. The normal ways of Jim Crow decreed that a black person had to step aside for a white person to pass. All of this and more was normal in Pastor Thurman’s world in the United States in 1949.

In 2019 America likes to think that it is way past such days. We brag how we have elected a black man president—twice. We bask in our good economy. Our normal is viewed as good, even righteous. However, we may be living just as King David lived after his sins against Bathsheba and Joab, then the murder of Uriah. For King David, he was now living a normal life because he had “hidden” his sin against Bathsheba by using Joab to murder Uriah. All was well.

Then came the prophet Nathan who used a simple story to show King David his normal was, in fact, quite sinful. Nathan’s story of a poor family who owed one lamb which had become a pet revealed David’s sinful ways and demonstrated that, while his ways may be normal to him, they were not correct or moral or religious. Nathan’s metaphorical story helped David see his sin before Nathan and God. He acknowledged the wrong of  his normal.

Nathan was a brave adviser to King David because he spoke truth. He was the type of friend and adviser we all need. Not a toady, he cared not to please, but to speak honestly regardless of consequences. His name means “God has given”, and he was given to King  David to help him see that his normal was the committing of multiple sins.

The normal of today’s America needs, I think, a Nathan who will speak truth to us causing  a close examination of our normal to see if it is correct, moral, and religious. If we find that it is, then religion will be our defender and guarantor of all that is just and good. But if not, our self-proclaimed religion is a pit trapping us.




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