Bringing Faith to Life: Alonzo McDonald 48C seeks more than worldly success

In the last half-century, Alonzo L. McDonald 48C has achieved the top post in three major international corporations, served under President Jimmy Carter as White House Deputy Chief of Staff, held prestigious academic appointments at Harvard and Yale, and also served as an Emory trustee.

But as the years of his remarkably varied and highly successful career passed, he began to search for meaning and purpose deeper than the next professional challenge. When a serious cardiac event led to a quadruple bypass, he had plenty of healing time, surrounded by his wife, Suzie, his four children, family, and friends, to consider his life mission and his relationship with God.

“Although outsiders may consider me a worldly success because of the positions I have held and the titles and responsibilities I have carried, I now more clearly concede that these were truly gifts from above rather than rewards duly earned,” he writes in his brief spiritual autobiography, Confessions of a Wandering Soul.

In the latter years of his career, McDonald began to shift his focus toward religious exploration and philanthropy.

“I had spent much of my time focusing on more material aspects of life and career, rather than having a balance involving the spiritual,” he says. “But at a certain point I began to get more serious about the spiritual dimension.”

McDonald became founder of the McDonald Agape Foundation, created to support activities related to Jesus Christ. The foundation has endowed the McDonald Family Chair on the Life and Teachings of Jesus and Their Impact on Culture. This semester-long visiting chair, located in Candler School of Theology, will bring to Emory a diverse series of scholars, public intellectuals, writers, and artists, who will teach courses in their particular disciplines reflecting on the life and teachings of Jesus in different cultural contexts. The appointment also will encompass a public lecture or event.

The chair, says McDonald, is one way he hopes to bring Jesus to life for others.

“We are trying to cultivate an appreciation of the absolute impact of this individual,” McDonald says. “No one has had the impact on civilization that Jesus had. I really am trying to introduce this person, his life and the impact it had, in order to create an interest in what he actually did.”

In addition to the chair, the McDonald Agape Foundation has funded the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Project on Christian Jurisprudence, a five-year program at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR) directed by John Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and director of the center, and law Professor Frank Alexander. The project brings together a team of leading scholars to develop a dozen new volumes on historic and contemporary Christian understandings of the law. The CSLR also was awarded a $750,000 grant by the foundation for a research project on “The Christian Foundations of Religious Freedom and Rule of Law.” Witte will serve as the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Foundation Distinguished Professor and lead the project, which runs September 2007 through December 2010.

In 1991 McDonald became founding chairman of the Trinity Forum, a leadership academy that works to cultivate networks of leaders in the context of faith and intellectual pursuit. The inter-denominational organization holds seminars and retreats where leaders are acquainted with history’s great thinkers; McDonald has written forewords and commentary to accompany a number of works that make up the readings of the Trinity Foundation.

McDonald says he hopes his work will support the role of religion in American life and culture, for which he has a personal passion.

“We are one of the few cultures in the world that has a very religious inclination,” he says. “We must continue to ask questions like, why are we here? Is there an afterlife? Do I inherit an obligation to society because of my natural gifts or circumstances? I think these issues are still very important.”—P.P.P.



 © 2006 Emory University