Dr. Perkins' final manifesto on race, faith, and reconciliation
We are living in historic times. Not since the civil rights movement of the 60s has our country been this vigorously engaged in the reconciliation conversation. There is a great opportunity right now for culture to change, to be a more perfect union. However, it cannot be done without the church, because the faith of the people is more powerful than any law government can enact.
The church is the heart and moral compass of a nation. To turn a country away from God, you must sideline the church. To turn a nation to God, the church must turn first. Racism won't end in America until the church is reconciled first. Then—and only then—can it spiritually and morally lead the way.
Dr. John M. Perkins is a leading civil rights activist today. He grew up in a Mississippi sharecropping family, was an early pioneer of the civil rights movement, and has dedicated his life to the cause of racial equality. In this, his crowning work, Dr. Perkins speaks honestly to the church about reconciliation, discipleship, and justice... and what it really takes to live out biblical reconciliation.
He offers a call to repentance to both the white church and the black church. He explains how band-aid approaches of the past won't do. And while applauding these starter efforts, he holds that true reconciliation won't happen until we get more intentional and relational. True friendships must happen, and on every level. This will take the whole church, not just the pastors and staff.
The racial reconciliation of our churches and nation won't be done with big campaigns or through mass media. It will come one loving, sacrificial relationship at a time. The gospel and all that it encompasses has always traveled best relationally. We have much to learn from each other and each have unique poverties that can only be filled by one another. The way forward is to become "wounded healers" who bandage each other up as we discover what the family of God really looks like. Real relationships, sacrificial love between actual people, is the way forward. Nothing less will do.
When older people are nearing the latter years of their life, it is important for us to listen to their years of wisdom being shared as they leave their legacy for us to learn from and build upon. This is the case for John Perkins, an elder statesman of the Christian faith and of civil rights (among other things) who has written another masterpiece that is full of needed insight and prophetic words for our time – One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race (Moody Publishers, 2018). For Perkins, this is his bottom line urgent message that he wishes to directly inject into our way of thinking and our way of living in these days of confusion, hatred, and violent behavior. It is a message of recognizing that we who are humans are one race who together must set aside our differences and move toward biblical reconciliation that Perkins would say removes our tensions while restoring our relationships as we love one another in practical ways.
The book itself is a life-time of lessons shared as a blueprint for needed change. The key to this change, which is consistently reinforced throughout the book, is found in the Church. As noted in the introduction, “[C]ommunity development can only take us so far – because this is a gospel issue. The problem of reconciliation in our country and in our churches is much too big to be wrestled to the ground by plans that begin in the minds of men. This is a God-sized problem. It is one that only the Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal. It requires the quality of love that only our Savior can provide. And it requires that we make some uncomfortable confessions.” The recipe for this pursuit of justice is what Perkins lays out simply, boldly, and clearly: know who we are as human beings and as the Church of Jesus Christ, practice lament, confession, forgiveness, and repentance, persevere, pray, and pursue love. To help show us that these things are realistic and possible, there are even four stories of local churches who are putting these things into practice highlighted for us to glean from.
As a Christ-follower, I have always committed to trying to live in the way that Perkins describes here (and in his other writings) – so I find this as another fresh reminder of things that I need to be doing myself, even as I find myself gaining some new insights along the way. As a pastor, I have consistently tried to model this and teach the same ideas to the people in my spiritual care (as a college professor, the same is true in the classroom and with my students) – so I find myself vigorously nodding in agreement when, in chapter one, he writes that “the black church can’t fix this. And the white church can’t fix this. It must be the reconciled Church, black and white Christians together imaging Christ to the world.” He adds later, at the chapter’s end, that it’s “going to take intentionally multiethnic and multicultural churches to bust through the chaos and confusion of the present moment and redirect our gaze to the revolutionary gospel of reconciliation.”
Most of the time, I find at least some degree of disagreement with an author or a book. But honestly, in this case, I am finding it difficult to find anything significant – or anything at all – with which to disagree. I’m not saying that this is the perfect book or that John Perkins is a perfect man who never has anything wrong to say. I’m just saying that this book, One Blood, is one of the most important books to read at this time in our nation’s history. It is a gold mine of wise instruction that will serve well as a very practical tool for use in ministry, teaching, and discussions with various people. I believe this book to be an invaluable resource for the Church, with implications reaching far beyond the black-white struggle that is most prominent in our culture and throughout our communities. I highly recommend this book to all who follow Jesus, and even to those who don’t. I especially commend it to pastors, church leaders, denominational executives, college and seminary professors, and anyone interested in pursuing true reconciliation within a context of broken relationships, especially those broken along ethnic lines.
Well done, Dr. Perkins, well done. Thank you for your faithfulness to Christ and to the cause, and for the influence you continue to have in our lives!