MACON – Dr. Charles Marsh, Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies and director of the Project in Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, will deliver Mercer University's 25th annual Harry Vaughan Smith Distinguished Visiting Professor of Christianity Lectures.
The lecture series, titled “Dietrich Bonhoeffer: New Perspectives of His Life, Thought and Promise,” will be presented by the Roberts Department of Christianity in Mercer's College of Liberal Arts Feb. 16-17 in Newton Chapel.
Dr. Marsh will deliver his first lecture, “'I heard the Gospel preached in the Negro churches of America': Bonhoeffer's Spiritual Awakening,” Tuesday at 10:50 a.m. He will follow with “Theological Storm Troopers on the March: Bonhoeffer's Protest against the Nazi's Twisted Cross,” Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and “'Are we still of any use?': Bonhoeffer's Final Questions and Christian Witness in the 21st Century,” Wednesday at 10 a.m. All three lectures are free and open to the public.
“We are fortunate to have Charles Marsh with us this year,” said Dr. Richard F. Wilson, Columbus Roberts Professor of Theology and chair of the Roberts Department of Christianity. “As a respected scholar, he has provided insights and analyses of a wide array of cultural and political upheavals that share distinctly religious centers. The lectures this year will span more than 70 years of prophetic efforts to address cultural and political injustice.”
Dr. Marsh is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the University of Virginia, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1989.
Shortly after publishing his first book, Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology (Oxford, 1994), he began considering the religious and moral paradoxes of his Southern Protestant upbringing. He was struck by the complex ways theological commitments and convictions came into dramatic conflict in the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. The religious beliefs and social practices of ordinary people of faith illuminated a new way of writing theology for him, leading to publication of God's Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (Princeton, 1997), which won the 1998 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.
Dr. Marsh's memoir, The Last Days: A Son's Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of a New South (Basic Books, 2001), is a coming-of-age account of a minister's son in a small Mississippi town that was home to the Christian terrorist organization called the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
His 2005 book, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (Basic Books), developed a new interpretation of the Civil Rights Movement based on Martin Luther King Jr.'s remark that “the end (of the movement) is not the protest, the end is not the boycott; the end is redemption, reconciliation and the creation of beloved community.”
In 2007, Marsh wrote a theological analysis of the Christian Right's support of the presidency of George W. Bush, titled Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity (Oxford), which was excerpted in the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and the Boston Globe.
In 2009, Dr. Marsh co-authored a book with lifelong friend and civil rights activist John M. Perkins. Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community (InterVarsity Press) was based on lectures in the Teaching Communities Conference at the Duke Divinity School Center for Reconciliation.
Dr. Marsh is the recipient of a 2009 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in the Creative Arts and served in the spring of 2010 as the Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin.
His most recent book is Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Knopf), published in April 2014.
The Harry Vaughan Smith Distinguished Visiting Professorship was established in 1990 after Dr. and Mrs. Harry Vaughan Smith made a major gift to Mercer to underwrite a visiting professorship and lecture series in the Department of Christianity.
The gift bears witness to the lifelong commitment of the late Dr. Smith to the University, which began when he enrolled as a freshman in 1920. A 1924 graduate, Dr. Smith served as pastor of several prominent churches in Georgia before becoming alumni secretary and assistant to the president at Mercer in 1946, a post he held until 1955. From 1955 until 1970, he distinguished himself as executive director of the Georgia Baptist Foundation. In all of his years of service, Dr. Smith was a faithful worker on behalf of all Georgia Baptist causes, but he always maintained a special interest in the University and the cause of Christian higher education.