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A Call for “Transformation” – Dr. James Forbes

| Watch Dr. James Forbes preach at the annual UTI Worship Celebration |

The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., deeply inspired a lecture audience September 22, 2015, on the occasion of the 35th Anniversary of the Urban Theological Institute’s (UTI) Annual Lecture and Worship Celebration, at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). His topic, based on a reading of I Kings19: 11-16 was “A Fresh Anointment for a New Appointment.”

Forbes brought remarkable energy to his delivery, moving among the audience, alternating his evocative delivery style from loud to soft phrases, his large Brossman audience hanging on his every word.

This article lists lecture highlights from a presentation best experienced by watching the lecture video:

Forbes is the Senior Minister Emeritus of Riverside Church in New York City and is the founder and president of the Healing of Nations Foundation. He is an American Baptist Churches USA pastor.


  • Forbes began by noting he “does not come as a stranger but is continuing a friendship and association” carried on when he has been a keynoter for other UTI celebrations. He noted that when visiting Africa and Southern Africa he had become aware of Lutheran organizational initiatives that had “contributed to aspirations for freedom there,” noting that Lutherans “have consistently served the cause of justice in difficult places.”
  • He acknowledged the (then) approaching visit of Pope Francis, citing the Pope as an example of how the Lord “can use a person without respect to background to capture the imagination of people across traditions. He is a breath of fresh air.” He acknowledged that the visit comes at a time of “heightened concern for our life together during a crisis in community and police relations.” Noting the scriptural text, he said at one point, “We are beginning the conversation. It is the right time to advance and go forward.” He addressed the “Spirit of Empowerment necessary to embrace an assignment leading to the “transformation of our nation.”
  • He described the work of the Healing of Nations Foundation, which is carrying on the “unfinished aspects” of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s, national ministry. Forbes works in the foundation with Martin Luther King III.
  • Forbes said the Lord “led me to read ‘A Time to Break Silence,’” a speech delivered by King April 4, 1967, a year before the civil rights leader’s death. “I made a major discovery,” Forbes said. He noted the speech made numerous references to the need for a worldwide “revolution of values” leading to basic fairness and equality. King was challenging America to lead the way in this kind of revolution, seeing such a movement as “the best defense against communism and terrorism.” Forbes speculated on why such a speech is so often overlooked, wondering aloud if it is because of the controversial use of language “radical revolution” versus the more comfortable phraseology of “I have a dream.” He noted that as he has reached his 80th birthday, Forbes decided to use his next years “to bring about the radical revolution” Dr. King envisioned in the form of society’s transformation.
  • With scriptural references best viewed on line from I Kings, Forbes said we are being “invited to another purpose” he equated to what happens when “a factory is retooled, a rewiring of the factory” to produce “a product we need now. We are in a new marketplace now. God has been working on us in the down time” that is bringing about the “divine presentation of God’s own self” within believers to bring about the needed transformation as they become equipped to “critique and confront the forces of oppression.”
  • Speaking to his seminary audience he challenged the school to take on a “fresh anointment to a new appointment” in accepting the call to be “queen and king makers” who become the kind of expert leaders to take on a prophetic challenge before the “powers that be” in the culture. “The charge now is to (train) angels of transformation to serve as leaders in the transforming of society.”
  • Racism, materialism, and militarism comprise three forms of contemporary idolatry, Forbes noted, “and they always hang together.” Forbes also referenced the idols of “bigotry, greed, and violence.”

In his concluding remarks, Forbes spelled out behaviors to take on in the culture to aid in its transformation:

“All of us in our pond need to be able to speak to each other,” he said, “and know it is safe to say, ‘Good morning.’ We need a hello day in America. We need to have conversations — conversations across the divide.

“We need to see the pearl that is at the heart of diversity.”

“We need to practice random acts of kindness. We need to move from anger management” to the practice of “mood refreshment.” He challenged his audience to do what they could to encourage themselves and others to “educate our aesthetic sensibilities

“When we open our mouths we need to be careful and selective in what we say” and avoid “yelling when it will do no good. Learn the art of first rebuking under your breath” and be willing to frame rebukes appropriately, especially “when you see something in you.”

The Rev. Dr. Quintin L. Robertson, UTI Director and 35th Anniversary Gala co-chair, brought greetings and introduced Forbes. The Rev. Dr. Alyn E. Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, was also co-chair.

LTSP President Dr. David Lose also brought greetings. “Thirty-five years ago Dr. Willis and Dr. Jones had a dream for the UTI,” he said. “UTI has become a mainstay in the life of this school and a force in the community. We give thanks for the years that are to come. UTI has blessed us beyond measure. We are grateful to all of you for your gift in blessing us as the seminary is a gift to the church and the world that God loves so much.”

Here’s a slide show from the UTI Annual Lecture:

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