American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr Who Wrote 'Serenity Prayer' Featured in PBS Documentary

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(Photo: Philippe Halsman/Magnum)American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1982-1971).

A documentary film about the influential American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who is credited with coining the "Serenity Prayer," will be nationally broadcast on PBS.

Titled "An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story," the film has been airing on various PBS stations, with a national broadcast on PBS's World Channel scheduled for Easter.

The film was directed and produced by Martin Doblmeier, the filmmaker behind other faith-centered documentaries like "Bonhoeffer" (2003) and "The Adventists" (2010).

In an interview with The Christian Post, Doblmeier explained that his interest in Niebuhr went back to his days in college and has only increased with time.

"Over the 30-plus films I have made on religion, faith and spirituality, I always look for stories that bring together a perspective and understanding of how to live in the real world guided by one's faith beliefs," said Doblmeier.

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(Photo: Journey Films)Director Martin Doblmeier (Left) interviewing former President Jimmy Carter (Right) for the documentary "An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story."

"Niebuhr did exactly that over decades and did it with such clarity and integrity that his writings have sustained now across several generations."

Doblmeier described Niebuhr as "a brilliant theologian" who during the mid-20th century "emerged as a moral conscience — an American conscience — because people understood and appreciated his perspectives."

"I hope the audience will see in Niebuhr a model of how a person of faith can be actively engaged in the social and political world around them," continued Doblmeier.

"What we can take from Niebuhr is a better understanding of our own failings — how we are all the product of 'original sin,' how true humility in our personal interactions and even national policies are lost, and finally how we need to be realistic about the structures of government we create."

Born in 1892, Niebuhr was a noted theologian and writer who while often leaning progressive in his politics, nevertheless was known to be a critic of liberal theology.

His influence on American culture led him to grace the front cover of Time magazine's 25th anniversary edition in 1948. He died in 1971. 

Niebuhr is generally credited with creating the famous "Serenity Prayer," which is typically rendered "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

For "An American Conscience," Doblmeier interviewed theologians, historians, and also notable figures like former President Jimmy Carter and socialist academic Cornel West.

The film has already been screened in 25 cities across the United States, including last week at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Doblmeier told CP that the "response has been terrific and most often the venues are filled," which he attributed to the modern relevance of Niebuhr's work.

"The questions Niebuhr raised in his time — how our human nature reveals both possibilities and limitations, how we use and abuse power, the role and potentials for democracy — are all themes that seem in the forefront for many Americans today and Niebuhr is an insightful companion for those kinds of reflections," noted Doblmeier.

"Often those voices are skilled enough to weave together not just theology but history, human understandings and a perspective we often lack in our popular discourse on the critical issues facing our nation. There are Niebuhrs out there today who can do that and we should not ignore their voices."

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