In 1958 Martin Luther King Jr. privately recruited Lawrence Edward Carter as a 10th grader to come to Morehouse College. Twenty-one years later, Lawrence Carter became the first Dean of the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel in 1979. Today he is a tenured Professor of Religion and College Archivist and Curator at Morehouse College. In this episode, Lawrence Edward Carter discusses how we can eliminate commercial religion and become more authentic with our faith. He also discusses ways we can connect through a dialogical relationships and interfaith relations to make our nation stronger than ever before.
Darrell Ezell: Welcome to Navigating a World in Transition, a podcast brought to you by the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University. It focuses on current social issues impacting our global landscape. I’m your host, Darrell Ezell. And today we welcome Dr. Lawrence Carter. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Carter at the Martin Luther King, Jr. International chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia to discuss peace, interfaith and King’s legacy. Dr. Carter became the first dean of the MLK international chapel in 1979. Today he is a tenured professor of religion, and also the college archivist and curator at Morehouse College. Please enjoy.
Are we in a period where we’ve entered commercial religiosity, in a sense where it is a feel good culture on both sides or let’s just lay it on the table. All sides, we’ve moved from the prophetic, the deep seated theological, the true embracing of a midnight and trying to figure out how to get through it. Are we in a place now where it’s inauthentic and if it is inauthentic, how do we move back to the prophetic or reintroduce the prophetic into this space?
Lawrence Carter: In America, and America has great influence upon the rest of the world we seem to be oriented to a kind of capitalistic success, and it appeals to a great need, many Sundays. As I’m dressing, my wife and I watch Joel Osteen. All right, as we’re having breakfast before we go to church, and it is quite something. Joel’s sanctuaries globally are stadiums, and his own sanctuary is a stadium. I think I’m told that he speaks each Sunday to something like 30 to 35,000 in Houston, and it’s preaching as counseling. We love to hear him. For someone who has no formal theological education, he has a wonderful homiletical mind. I don’t always agree with his, all of his interpretations
Darrell Ezell: Right.
Lawrence Carter: I hear some inconsistencies, but he comes up with some wonderful illustrations, but there’s a problem. He never deals with social issues, social sins, institutionalized iniquity, as the Baptists used to say. There’s never a reference or very few to current events. He is probably the modern day successor to Norman Vincent Peele and Robert Schuyler. He clearly meets a need, a need value. People need counseling. They need spiritual counseling. But one of our goals in our spiritual practice, must always be to have a holistic ministry and to not serve up a diet of all starches, or all desserts.
His congregation is integrated. I don’t know much if anything about their mission effort. I think there is a problem, and it is a theological problem. There is too much emphasis coming from the pulpit of people who think that they’re being prophetic. When they make the statement, we must speak truth to power, that sounds good. It sounds like you’re being bold, and that maybe it’s reason grown courageous. But in one sense to me, it’s half stepping. Because I think just the opposite should be the case. I think that we’ve got to stop trying to speak truth to power, which is usually false power, fake power, make believe and pretend power. It’s not oriented toward the people. W
We need to speak from power, the truth. Now let’s just talk about that. When I say to speak from power, I think the problem is that most of our clergy of all denominations of the Christian church and probably other faiths, have very poorly worked out theologies. Example, I’ve been in the church since I was five days old. That’s when they first took me, and my grandmother prayed out loud, holding me before the congregation, “Make this boy a preacher,” and no one ever told me that in my family until after I was out of college, finished seminary, licensed and ordained to preach and married, and we were siting at home, watching Roots.
What I see is plenty of evidence that people actually, do not believe in the omnipresence of God. All you have to do, walk in any church and listen to how the service starts and listen, listen to the, what they call the invocation. You’ll hear people trying to invite God to a place that God never left. Okay? Because people believe they are separate from the infinite, from ultimatasy, you have the basis of them believing that they’re separate from each other and from everybody else around the planet.
This whole idea of separation means that though all Christians have heard the clergy say, in God we live, move and have our being, they don’t believe that, because if they did, they would automatically know that nothing can be outside of God. And if we are inside of God, as Jesus seemed to suggest, when he said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father, for the Father and I are one. There is no separation.” If they believed they were in God, then they would automatically know that there’s no place where God is not, and that all that God is, all the wholeness, all the righteousness, all the health, all the strength, all the sustenance, all the nourishment, everything that God is, all the virtue, is right where you are, closer than your heartbeat, closer than your breathing, closer than your neck vein.
If that consciousness was the case, let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, if that were the case, they had a Christ consciousness. Then they would know that it doesn’t take much for each one of us to tap into that eternal, ultimate, infinite, divine source, not resource. Source, because that’s what religion is. It binds us. Religion bands as to the source, when it is real religion.
Darrell Ezell: When it’s real, when it’s authentic.
Lawrence Carter: Yes. And so if you don’t have a well worked out theology, then you think death is real and you don’t understand Resurrection Sunday. When someone says to you that death is an invention, you’re startled because you don’t understand the whole idea that you are not born, and you do not die. You appear and you disappear. It’s simple stuff. You know, your life’s a dash between two dates, but life can’t come from death. Life has to come from life and it returns to the life that gave it. That’s, you know, life is alive. That’s why we call it life.
Darrell Ezell: Right. You’re making a transition, in a sense.
Lawrence Carter: So the problem starts with theology, that most clergy don’t leave seminary with the right concepts of, and so they minister to people unwittingly, suggesting that you are parallel to God. That’s heresy. So they don’t understand that we are spiritual beings living in a spiritual universe. How is that so? Well, the person who helps me to understand this is the man that Martin King went to Boston University to study with, Edgar Sheffield Brightman. He said, “The highest level of spirituality is affirmative cooperation.” How so? When everything is cooperating in your body, in my body, in everybody’s body, we call that health. When everything is cooperating in society, between institutions, companies and corporations, we call that civilization. And when everything is cooperating in an affirmative way, not just cooperating but affirmatively cooperating, because you see, thieves cooperate.
Darrell Ezell: Oh, absolutely. They work together.
Lawrence Carter: Yes. But when everything is cooperating in an affirmative way in the cosmos, we can experience the four seasons, night and day, and we can name the constellations. That is absolutely necessary. The same thing goes on in our bodies must go on between nation states, government, civil society, across all boundaries. The blueprint is in our bodies.
Darrell Ezell: I want to pick up with that, and move into the space where we’re thinking about social cooperation between spiritual groups and organizations as relates to interfaith. How important is interfaith cooperation in our world today? That’s a major question. It’s very large in scope, but bringing it down to size. How important is it?
Lawrence Carter: It is very important and before it can really be successful, we have a lot of Christian homework to do.
Darrell Ezell: I would agree.
Lawrence Carter: Because we suffer as you well know, in the Christian community, from Jesus only theology. There’s only one way and you must come in at the door and we do not understand some of the hard sayings of Jesus, like other sheep I have that you know not of. Okay? In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.
One of the best things that has happened in my lifetime was the result of a major tragedy. The tragedy wasn’t the best thing but something that would not have happened without the tragedy that occurred nationwide and maybe worldwide. That is when the World Trade Towers were brought down by those two jet planes. It was a powerful wake up call for many Americans, who all of a sudden said Muslims, imams, mosque? Even terrorism because blacks didn’t. We were already intimately acquainted with state sponsored terrorism. But it got our attention and for short window of time, no more than two months, it seemed Christian clergy and Muslim Imams and Jewish rabbis were having congregational exchanges. There was a lot of conversation and dialogue, discourse and you see here’s another goal.
We have got to work toward dialogical friendships and becoming dialogical citizens across all boundaries. More discourse and as these different spiritual faith communities started interfacing, well they discovered that we were all human beings across all these boundaries with the same needs and the same values and appreciations and aspirations. The stereotypes got shattered a little, but of course you know, we eventually went back to our old way.
Darrell Ezell: Old ways of doing business.
Lawrence Carter: Because far too often, their religious institutions are mom and pop operations that depend on the offerings to support families of the pastors. I’m using pastors across all lands there. We have got to figure out a way to be more humble and respectful of difference, diversity and pluralism. This means, on an ethical level, coming to realize that morality is a social convention.
Darrell Ezell: Could you expound on that a little bit?
Lawrence Carter: Majorities determine what’s moral, which isn’t always correct.
Darrell Ezell: This is true.
Lawrence Carter: Because it’s not always affirming of individual differences. You see, you know we see this being played out with the whole Supreme Court decision supporting gay rights, and gay rights are human rights. But it was fascinating to watch how Martin King’s words were true. This is an area that the church has been a taillight and not a headlight. You had clergy who even were so bold as to say to Mr. Obama, “You need to come and explain yourself to the clergy, because we think that you have just become an example of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
But you see, there has been, there has been brought into the religious community a standard and a criteria that one of the definitions of being a legitimate religious practitioner, spiritually aware, is that you have to accept the idea that hetero-normativity is the appropriate requirement for being an authentic worshiper of Christ. Hetero-normativity. In other words, authentic membership in a church involves biological reductionism. You are reduced to your genitalia. So you see, somehow we don’t understand how our, our faith helps us to transcend boundaries and differences, so that we relate to each other according to the sacredness and the divinity and the divine in each other.
That your style of dress your style of grooming, your diet, where you live, your address, whether you are single or married, those are morally neutral. It has nothing to do with determining your worth or your value. But you see, we are so accustomed to getting our yardstick and our standards from Wall Street. How many do you have? I have a blue one. I, you know, gauge this so many times a day.
Darrell Ezell: Sure.
Lawrence Carter: You can just talk by how we, how we meet each other. You meet somebody you’ve never met before, and it’s fascinating to listen to people. Oh, where do you go to school? And who are your parents?
Darrell Ezell: Social status and measuring the social …
Lawrence Carter: When you’ve got all those questions answered, you think you’ve got that person categorized.
Darrell Ezell: Right.
Lawrence Carter: You know who to project onto something that is true more about you than them. Deny that it’s true about you, and after you project it on them, avoid them as if somehow you’re dealing with whatever the issue is. I mean, it’s all, you know, just a cute definition of paranoia, according to Freud.
Darrell Ezell: Right.
Lawrence Carter: So, psycho-ethics, pastoral care, Cosmopolitan theology, comes closer to honoring belief in ultimacy, the transcendent. When it comes to how you show up in the world, how you practice. cosmopolitan theology, to me, is the future, and I know there are other people who say it should be progressive and it should be liberal and it should be philosophical. But you know what/ In my opinion, the affirmative, best qualities in all those that I named, is captured in cosmopolitan theology. Because the philosophical, the liberal, the progressive, you’re going there.
Darrell Ezell: Right. So in our final thoughts, in your final thoughts, when we think about the work of Gandhi, King and Ikeda, within that space, what parting words and recommendations might you offer to future practitioners? The young, who are studying to become peacemakers and track two mediators? What recommendations would you offer?
Lawrence Carter: Well, in keeping with my statements about Cosmopolitan theology, the men and personalities that you mentioned, and it’s not just men. They have all been oriented to finding the pattern that unites people across all boundaries. Well, you might say, well, that’s not new. The Christians thought that was Christ. Well, when it comes to interfaith, some think that Christ, our faith statement about Jesus, is only for the Christians, and then there are those who will say, remember Jesus said, ‘I came for the last of the household of Israel.”
But there are other scriptures also. I mentioned one other sheep I have, and I must need go by Samaria, getting out of the box. Jesus didn’t travel far from Palestine, but he was aware that there were other communities. In terms of the interfaith, it’s fascinating to me, and this is why I chose here at Morehouse, to begin paralleling Gandhi, King, Daisaku Ikeda, and I’ve added, but those three man. Remember now, you have an Indian Hindu and American Christian and a Japanese Buddhist. All three of them told the world how tutored and mentored they were by a white American, an 1837 graduate of Harvard, Henry David Thoreau. That he tutored them on civil disobedience and how to deal with unjust governments.
Thoreau was a transcendentalists, and he said that he was taught, or introduced to Transcendentalism by a French woman, Madame Germain Destyle. She said she was introduced to Transcendentalism by German philosophers. Probably a lot of old white men. Well, it doesn’t take long for you to realize looking at that picture of these people, these personalities, different nations, different continents, different races, different faiths, that they had to get out of all those boxes. The race box, the religion box, the nationality box, in order to find a pattern that could unite people across all boundaries.
So Ikeda, in my opinion, his work is the long shadow playing out right now because he’s still alive. It’s the long shadow playing out of Gandhi and King and now Mandela, and what really got my attention was when I discovered that every year for over 30 years, he has sent a significant proposal, well written and well outlined to the United Nations, on how they should reform themselves to become the Parliament of the people, moving us from international law to cosmopolitan law.
Moving us toward this global commonwealth of citizens that he emphasizes, which to me is the same as Gandhi’s global village and King’s world house and Mandela’s international solidarity of peace loving nations. He continues. He’s caught the torch, and yet though he grew his spiritual community from one nation in Japan to 192 countries where over 25 languages are spoken, to 12 million members and has built two of the major universities of this country, one only 16 years old, with over a billion dollar endowment in Orange County, California, that made the front page in color, when it was founded.
This man is modeling what interfaith engagement is. He has 50 plus published book dialogues with authorities, on a host of disciplines and fields, globally addressing almost every subject you can imagine affecting our common humanity. He has modeled how we are to engage the world from his Nichiren Buddhism. Being true to it, but not a slave with all the windows of his house closed.
Like Gandhi, he’s opened all the windows of his house, so that the winds and cultures of the world can flow through, but he hasn’t let any of those winds blow him off his feet. Just as Gandhi said the same thing, tremendous respect, and so I have partnered with him, as I have spoken all over the world about peace, nonviolence, justice, agape love. And this is the difference with King. The love he’s talking about is not a soft, sticky sentimentality poured across the human race promiscuously. It is agape love with justice.
Darrell Ezell: The love of God working in the human hearts.
Lawrence Carter: Yes, it is love equally distributed. I’ve often wondered how he would respond, Martin King to Mr. Trump. But one thing I’m confident of, he would not demonize him.
Darrell Ezell: Dr. Carter, thank you so much for joining me today for this conversation
Lawrence Carter: Sorry. [inaudible 00:27:28].
Darrell Ezell: No, not at all. Not at all. This is good meat.
Thank you for joining us today on Navigating a World in Transition, a podcast brought to you by the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs at Claremont Lincoln University. This podcast focuses on current social issues impacting our global landscape. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast and to learn more about the center, please visit www.claremontlincolnuniversity.edu.
Ways to listen to this episode:
In this episode, we discuss:
- Are we in a commercial or unauthentic time of religion?
- Do people still believe in the Omni-presence of God?
- We have to stop speaking truth to power, but speak from power to truth.
- How we can better connect with God and connect with people.
- Why is it important to connect with other faiths during trying times.
- How does interfaith communities come together after tragedies.
- The power of dialogical friendships to promote a stronger nation.
Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:
1. “Whole Gospel for the Whole Person”
Dr. Carter discusses taking a holistic approach. Through holistic ministry, Christ’s redeemed community responds to the world’s brokenness by proclaiming and modeling the joy of a right relationship with God in Christ. Dr. Carter says that we have to restore this frame of thinking. We have to create life from life, not life from death.Whole Gospel for the Whole Person. Click To Tweet
2. “Affirmative Cooperation. “
Dr. Martin Luther King studied at Boston University with Edgar S. Brightman. They discussed the highest level of spirituality is affirmative cooperation. When everything in our body is cooperating, we call it health. When everything in our community is cooperating, we call it civilization. When everything is cooperating in an affirmative way in cosmos, we experience the four major seasons. We have to cooperate in our spiritual lives to develop a healthy relationship with God and with others.Affirmative Cooperation. Click To Tweet
3. “Beauty from Ashes”
Dr. Carter discusses how we can have dialogical friendships with other religions. By doing this we will strive as a nation and come together to combat the evil in the world. The 911 tragedy brought different faiths together, we need to stay consistent with our dialogical connection with others to become a greater nation.Beauty from Ashes. Click To Tweet
Mentioned in the episode:
Links to any articles, sites, tools, books that were mentioned in the episode
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About the Navigating a World in Transition Podcast
Many of our long-held worldviews and maps of how to see and make sense of the world no longer work with the increasing rate of cultural, political and social change in the past several decades. This podcast series explores how culture and religion can be a major step in creating new maps of how the world really is and how to navigate its complexity and interconnectedness and for the important field of foreign affairs.