The Paula Gordon Show
Leading From Faith

America's faith traditions can play a major role in solving America's social crises. Draw on the very traditions which helped shape the nation, urges Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. We have 340,000 houses of worship in America, 70,000 of which house African American congregations. Those congregations, of all persuasions, are often right where they're needed most, throughout America. Dr. Franklin calls America's faith traditions to action.

We can't give up hope, Dr. Franklin asserts, clear that the Judeo-Christian story is about the God who privileges the least advantaged members of society. He sees the source of America's salvation as the very people who have been rejected and despised, people at the bottom of the ladder, people who live with stigma, whose lives are marked by contradiction and pain. Dr. Franklin makes a convincing case that today's wasted treasures -- millions of people we currently discard -- are the very people who can help us solve America's social crisis.

Dr. Franklin compares the power of the early Jesus movement to today's challenges, reminding us that Jesus made ethical demands on the lives of his listeners. You make leaders, Dr. Franklin believes, by placing demands of people, expecting them to measure up. People respond. He believes if we mobilize our political will and have the moral courage to reach out we can do great things. He calls on people in the faith community to join hands with private philanthropy and public institutions to reach the unreached.

Dr. Franklin's flair for a good story has made him one of America's most sought-after preachers and lecturers, stories ranging from the Biblical Prodigal Son to Dr. Frankenstein's monster. Look at people who have been rejected and give them respect, something important to do, Dr. Franklin urges. Compromise a bit of individual autonomy, transcend individual comfort for a greater good. Even Adam Smith, the ultimate promoter of the Wealth of Nations, is called into service. In a sober moment, Smith could see the potentially corrosive effects of capitalist material acquisition, warning us that if it runs its course and we care nothing of the civil society we leave behind, we ultimately undermine the good that wealth was intended to achieve.

Optimism, realism and concrete political activism converge in Dr. Franklin's urgent call to use the moral courage and the wisdom of the faith community to counter the despair and destructiveness at the heart of today's social crises. The faith community, according to Dr. Franklin, has a unique opportunity. In combining individual responsibility with the faith traditions which have sustained America, Dr. Franklin is confident we can meet our challenges in a redemptive way. He offers stories to tell and a song to sing as we make the journey together.

Robert M. Franklin

. . . is President of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, the nation's foremost center of historically African American religious training and graduate education. His master's is from Harvard Divinity School, his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Dr. Franklin is an ordained clergy person known for his preaching, lectures, work at the Ford Foundation, service on national boards and his devotion to his physician-wife and their three children

Excerpts

Conversation 1

Dr. Franklin describes to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the vital work being carried out today in the nation's 340,000 houses of worship, 70,000 of which have African-American congregations. He also sets forth the despair and destructiveness which accompany what he calls the American social crisis, explaining why he is confident our common culture and faith traditions can help us respond to the crisis in a redemptive way.


Conversation 2

Dr. Franklin recalls the important example set by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who transcended ecumenical and inter-faith to include all religious tradition as well as more secular philosophical streams of thought. The synthetic quality of Dr. King's ideas are what Dr. Franklin believes we will need as we move into a new century with the theological and philosophical grounding for concrete political activism. Dr. Franklin tells why he thinks open-mindedness is a kind of virtue our children need. He explains how Liberation Theology can help address current social problems, using suffering to approach concerns about the Ultimate, generating solutions from people others see as problems. He offers ways for us to mobilize our resources, political will, and moral courage to find ways to reach the unreached.


Conversation 3

Subvert the attractiveness of destructive subcultures like street gangs, urges Dr. Franklin. He turns to a variety of sources for answers -- the early Jesus Movement, the creature created by Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, the streets of Chicago. He reminds us that the boys and girls of the ‘hood are everyone's children, their wellbeing our wellbeing. Dr. Franklin outlines what his Interdenominational Theological Center is doing to be a resource for community transformation, training leaders to go into communities where churches may be the only indigenous asset-rich institutions. He speaks to the challenges today's traditional churches face in responding to what he sees as a tremendous hunger for spirituality in America.


Conversation 4

The experience of an interdenominational theological center, with all the differences among its members, offers a good example of how people can learn cooperation, coalition building and collaboration. Dr. Franklin tells how they work at ITC to advance the common good rather than serving individual self-interest, sketching a vision capable of inviting self-transcendence. He calls for stories of American possibility, using examples from the Buddhist, Ghanaian and Gandhian traditions to make his point. He offers a prescription for how to address individual problems faced by all of our communities.


Conversation 5

Even Adam Smith could see corrosive effects of hyper-individualism and capitalist material acquisition, Dr. Franklin tells us, and suggests it is women world wide who are helping us begin to right the balance away from an excessive commitment to wealth and power. He gives examples from Bangladesh to his faculty at ITC, calling us to pay attention to the muffled voices in our communities. He tells why he is excited about where corporate America is preparing to move as it awakens to the important message that our strength is in our diversity. Then he gives a brief synopsis of the concepts articulated in Process Theology. He invites people to come take courses at ITC to help them diversify. He gives examples of ordinary people who were and are change agents.


Conversation 6

Dr. Franklin urges us to recover and embrace our stories rather than succumb to cynicism, to put our vision, concerns, values and commitments on the line. Concurrently, he believes people must accept responsibility -- that which distinguishes us from the rest of the food chain, he believes. He urges us to commit our lives to something that's bigger than ourselves. Few are guilty of the problems that beset us as a nation, says Dr. Franklin, but all of us are now responsible. He offers us spiritual resources with which to be sustained, including songs of hope, poems, stories and sacred memories, treasures that bind our characters and enable us to negotiate life's tragedies.


Acknowledgements

Dr. Franklin is a "Trouper." Bearing up to a severe case of laryngitis rather than disappoint those who had gathered for this conversation. We appreciate his willingness to go forward. We also thank The Commerce Club. Those who joined us there, and Dr. Franklin's support staff at ITC, including communications manager Bev Jones.

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Another Day's Journey is published by Fortress Press


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