One of the nation’s foremost public theologians has returned to Candler in a new role. Robert M. Franklin, Jr., former Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at Emory and founding director of Candler’s Black Church Studies program, was installed as the inaugural holder of the James T. and Berta R. Laney Chair in Moral Leadership at Fall Convocation in August. He was welcomed back by a standing ovation.

In this new role, Franklin will shape a program that honors the legacy of Emory President Emeritus Laney and his wife, challenging students to embrace and extend the concept of moral leadership in the 21st century in various contexts and cultures in the United States and around the world. Unlike “celebrity” leadership that stresses individual heroism, achievement, or success, moral leadership provides service to the world on behalf of the community. Such service has been a hallmark of the Laneys’ lives.

Franklin, president emeritus of Morehouse College and an ordained minister in both the American Baptist Churches USA and the Church of God in Christ, says it is a “monumental honor” to occupy the Laney Chair.

“Jim Laney is a moral visionary,” says Franklin. “He’s a pastor, an educator, and a public intellectual who cast a bold and inspiring vision for Emory that extended far into the world, and I am deeply honored to work under his legacy and continue to fulfill his vision.” That vision, Franklin says, is to prepare the next generation of moral leaders, which he defines as “women and men who act with integrity for the common good.”

The respect is mutual. “We are touched and honored that Dr. Franklin has agreed to be the first occupant of the Laney Chair,” says Jim Laney. “He brings broad and rich experience, an impressive stature, and a distinguished national reputation. He embodies the very qualities I associate with moral leadership.”

Franklin’s early plans for the program include coursework from a variety of sources and genres, travel seminars, guest lectures, and visits with agents of change and civic leaders within metro Atlanta.