Calvin Butts on Balancing Spiritual Leadership with Community Development

Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, is Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and President of SUNY College at Old Westbury. Rev. Butts was one of the founders, and is the current Chairman of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a comprehensive, community-based nonprofit responsible for over $500 million in housing and commercial development in Harlem. He was also instrumental in establishing the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, a public, state-of-the-art, intermediate and high school in Harlem. Dr. Butts earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia; a Master of Divinity Degree in Church History from Union Theological Seminary; and a Doctorate of Ministry Degree in Church and Public Policy from Drew University. He has been an Urban Affairs instructor, and served as Adjunct Professor in the African Studies Department at City College, New York. He also taught Black Church History at Fordham University, and continues to give lectures and speeches to colleges, universities and various organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Rev. Butts is the recipient of the Man of the Year Award from Morehouse College Alumni Association; The Morehouse College Candle Award; The William M. Moss Distinguished Brotherhood Award; and The Louise Fisher Morris Humanitarian Award. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, The Prince Hall Masons (having received the 33rd final degree in Masonry), and was recognized as a "Living Treasure" by the New York City Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
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TRANSCRIPT

Rev. Butts:     All of it is part of my vocation.  I feel called to this.  I’ve had a number of opportunities to leave Ministry and to devote myself completely to a kind of secular lifestyle and I’ve rejected it because I really feel that God is, is in me directing me to do these things.  Now, I’m a sinner, say, by the grace of God, by every understanding.  I mean, I’m no better or different than any other person, but my calling compels me and as a Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I feel compelled to speak to the entire person not just their soul, but I can’t say that I love you and want to save your soul while I’m watching you die of hunger or I’m watching you perish because you don’t have a good education or I’m watching you wither away because you cannot get decent healthcare.  All of that seems to me to be a part of my calling and a part of my responsibility.  Let’s go back to the initial question.  As a gadfly, I can’t do it all, but I’ve got to prod and push government to do its role.  I’ve got to push corporate America to do its role.  I’ve got to push foundations to do their role.  And what I’ve discovered is that government, the private sector or the public sector, the private sector and a community-based organization like a church can work together.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the cooperation that I’ve received from banks, businesses, foundations, because they want to do the right thing but they wanted to make sure that they do it in connection with men and women in the community who really understand the community.  So, we’ve had millions of dollars invested in Harlem as a result of our trying to work together with people who care.  So, it’s the balance is just there.  The sacred and the secular are not separated from me and I really find the work challenging and difficult, but it is my calling to do and I’m going to serve in that until the Lord sees otherwise.


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