Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar to Receive 2015 Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award

Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar

Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar

The Board of Directors of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance is pleased to announce that the Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, Sr Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church, has been selected as the recipient of the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award for 2015. Rev Lavanhar will be presented with the award at the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance’s Annual Russell Bennett Award Dinner on Thursday, April 30, 2015. The Award Dinner will occur at the Raindrop House Turkish Cultural Center, 4444 W Houston St in Broken Arrow. A reception and silent auction will start at 6pm, followed by dinner and program at 6:30pm. Tickets for the evening are $30/person and can be reserved by clicking here.

“By selecting Marlin as this year’s recipient of the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award we honor his years of service, working to build bridges between communities and ideologies,” said Caroline Abbott, co-Chair of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance Board of Directors. Some of the bridges Marlin has attempted to build while working with others include reparations for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, attempting to end the use of Native American mascots in Oklahoma, traveling to Uganda to protest anti-LGBT legislation there, advocating for marriage equality, and, recently, addressing “New Jim Crow” actions and mass incarcerations.

Rev. Lavanhar has been a steadfast supporter of the work of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance since its inception, having worked alongside Rev. Bennett on the issue that led to the creation of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance: keeping a Creationism exhibit out of the Tulsa Zoo. In addition to providing space for many of our meetings and community forums, Rev Lavanhar has also frequently helped his congregants (and, through web streaming of his sermons, those beyond his congregation) understand the broader cultural, theological and sociological implications of the issues that divide us.

“From sermons addressing racism, marriage equality, and the Christianization of our military, to literally walking side-by-side with those on the margins of Tulsa society, Rev. Lavanhar has consistently worked to build bridges and reach out to diverse communities. He continues to do so even when the issues are unpopular which, as our award states, requires faith and courage. I congratulate Rev. Lavanhar, and commend our Board of Directors for their selection,” said Rev Bob Lawrence, Executive Director of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance.

About Rev. Marlin Lavanhar

Marlin grew up in suburban Chicago. He received a BA in Sociology from Tulane University in 1990. Upon graduation he relocated to Kyoto, Japan where he worked and studied for two years. Leaving Japan, he and a friend took a three year, 20,000 mile, around the world tour on mountain bikes. The trip took him through some of the world’s highest mountain ranges and through much of Asia, Eastern Europe, the middle-east and North America. He studied religion and the religious practices of many traditions and cultures around the world.

After returning to the United States, he entered the Divinity School at Harvard University where he received his Masters in Divinity. He was ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Association in 1999. In 2000, at the age of 31, Marlin was called to All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa as their Senior Minister. During his tenure the church has grown from 1000 to over 1800 adult members and serves 800 children and youth. Today, All Souls is the largest Unitarian Universalist congregation in the United States. Over the past decade All Souls has become an official Welcoming Congregation for LGBT people and has since hired its first openly gay and lesbian ministers. Since 2008, the church has also grown from being a historically all white church to becoming an intentionally multiracial and multicultural congregation.

Marlin has served on a number of boards and commissions in Tulsa including Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries, the Knippa Interfaith Lecture Board, the Mayors Faith-based Advisory Board, The Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools Faith-Leader Advisory Board, The Mayor and Police Community Coalition,and the John Hope Franklin Center Board.

He has received numerous awards for his work for equality and justice locally, nationally and internationally, including:

  • The Don Newby/Ben Hill Recognition Award from Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries
  • Grand Marshall for Tulsa’s LGBTQ Pride Parade
  • Russell Bennett Spiritual Inclusion Award from Oklahomans for Equality
  • Award for broad and visionary leadership in our city from the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice
  • Humanitarian of the Year (2010) by the Unitarian-Universalist United Nations Office

In 2014, Marlin was awarded an honorary doctorate by Phillips Theological Seminary and, was the keynote speaker at this year’s Interfaith Commemoration Service in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

About the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award

Every year, we honor the legacy of the late Rev Dr Russell Bennett, one of the founding members of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, by awarding a member of our community with the Russell Bennett Faith and Courage Award. The Award recognizes those who have, like Rev Bennett, stood in the gap and built bridges between different communities of faith, worked to maintain the separation of church and state, and otherwise contributed to the objectives of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance.

Here’s a list of our recipients:

2007 – Sheryl Siddiqui, Islamic Society of Tulsa
2008 – Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President, Interfaith Alliance
2009 – Bill Sherman, Religion Editor for the Tulsa World
2010 – Barbara Santee, PhD, TIA Board member and advocate for women’s reproductive choice
2011 – Mana Tahaie, Director of Racial Justice for the YWCA of Tulsa
2012 – Rabbi Charles Sherman, Temple Israel
2013 – Rev Dr Don Pittman, Director, Interreligious Understanding Program at Phillips Theological Seminary
2014 – Toby Jenkins, Executive Director, Oklahomans for Equality

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