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Rev. Dr. Walter E. Fluker

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 1980

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership; Editor, the Howard Thurman Papers Project; Director, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Initiative for the Development of Ethical Leadership (MLK-IDEAL), Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts

When asked to describe the essence of his ministry, Rev. Dr. Walter E. Fluker responds, “Ministry is work . . . I must work the work of God who sent me while it is day, for when night comes no man or woman can work . . . Show up and do the work.” But patience is an important dimension of this work. A “revolutionary” patience, Dr. Fluker argues, is required for periods of liminality, ambiguity, and contingency, especially for people of color and people of faith as they negotiate between wish and fulfillment: “I’ve had to learn to negotiate the time intervals— my dreams are only finding fruition now because there have been other things.”

In addition to patience, Dr. Fluker’s ministry requires hope: “Hope is yearning, a yearning in the vein of bell hooks—a yearning between life and death . . . hope is necessary when it feels as if there is no ground underneath us.” In light of the experience and lives of African-American people in this country, he shares, “I must hope or else I go crazy.” Refusing to give in to pessimism or nihilism, Dr. Fluker believes strongly in the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain hope in the face of despair. Further invoking the Spirit of God, Dr. Fluker knows he has no need to feel shame or to save face in light of this hope, because the Spirit continues to wake people and give them breath again.

In describing his understanding of faithfulness in ministry, Dr. Fluker, again turns to labor infused with hope. Invoking Howard Thurman, he speaks of a small fragile thread that connects him to the eternal, a thread that could break at any moment. He also knows his parents are still with him, encouraging him to have hope and perseverance. His concern is that young people arriving on the stage today are two or three generations removed from hope, and we need to find ways to re-appropriate traditions of hope and share them in concrete ways.

Known for his work in ethical leadership, Dr. Fluker has launched a new initiative, “The Ethical Leadership Massive Open Online Course,” at Boston University to offer theoretical and practice approaches for leaders in the fields of education, business, nonprofit, academia, and religion. He describes ethical leadership as the attempt to discern what is good and/or right for leaders. It involves analysis and embodiment of moral traditions, and it refers to the cultural narratives that shape civility. He shares: “I’m interested in helping leaders remember their stories in historical context.” Ethical leadership also includes transformative civility, that is, serious conversation that creates the possibility for subversive action that challenges thought, proposition, and truth. He further explains:

“We have a long tradition of civility in Black church leadership. There’s something at stake. Civility is the etiquette that sustains democratic conversation nonviolently.”

Dr. Fluker has recently written a book about his vision for the church, The Ground Has Shifted: The Future of the Black Church in Post-Racial America. Part of his vision involves community, which he sees as the ideal, as well as the eschatological hope for Christians: “the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, the Beloved Community.”

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