God's Politics

A new book just came out that you don’t want to miss. It’s by my good friend, Robert Franklin, who is the Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at Emory University. He is someone I have come to deeply respect as an insightful public intellectual and social commentator as we’ve worked together for many years.

Last week, I was part of a panel discussion to launch Bob’s new book, Crisis in the Village. It’s one of the best contemporary analyses of the state of Black America I’ve seen. He pulls no punches in describing the crisis, identifying three key institutions in the community and what they now face. It’s a “crisis of commitment” for the Black family, a “mission crisis” for the Black church, and a crisis of “moral purpose” for historically black colleges and universities. Bob calls these the three “anchor institutions” that “are the bedrock of civil society.” He cites alarming social indicators which powerfully show how vulnerable the black community still is, especially black children.

But, it is not a book of despair, it’s a strategy for resolving the crisis. The subtitle is “Restoring Hope in African American Communities,” and that hope is where he focuses. Bob wrote the book, he said “…because I have seen an abundance of books out there that describe the problems of the African American community … but, there are fewer than you might think that offer practical visions and strategic thinking about how to move forward.” And, he added, the reversal of the crisis “begins with personal renewal and commitment to community uplift.”

Also on the National Press Club panel were journalist E.J. Dionne, Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, former National Urban League President Hugh Price, and Professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University Cheryl Sanders. Cheryl talked about how much sense this book made from the perspective of the street where she lives as pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C. Marian spoke passionately to how the future of black children is literally at stake in the issues raised in Crisis. Hugh Price said how the book cuts through so much of the confusion about these issues in the black community, and E.J. Dionne showed how Bob’s ethic of combining personal and social responsibility also cuts through our polarized political debate. I recalled a book by Abbie Hoffman called, Steal This Book!, which was memorable only for the title, and suggested this one should be re-titled Read This Book! Bob Franklin always cuts through the morass of blame and despair to offer us a politics of solutions and hope. This book is Bob at his best. He transcends left and right, and helps us understand what it right and wrong. Then he points the way forward. We had a lively discussion about the book, and the importance of realizing that the crisis and its solution must involve all of us.

Read this book! Crisis in the Village is one book I really do urge you to read. Bob’s challenge calls us all to deeper reflection and more serious action. His passionate vision for change and prophetic call for commitment are for everyone who cares about the black community and about America. At the Press Club, Bob left us with one of his favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which I have often heard him use. It has now become a favorite of mine. “This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. The saving of our world from pending doom will come not from the actions of a conforming majority but from the creative maladjustment of a transformed minority.”

To read more from Crisis in the Village, see an adapted excerpt in “The Gospel of Bling,” by Robert M. Franklin, in the January 2007 issue of Sojourners magazine.

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