We are living in a period of our history when it is all the more vital for those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ to live out the truth that all human beings are created by God in his image, and therefore entitled to dignity and respect. We do not have to “like” everyone we meet, but we who follow Christ must acknowledge that we are but one member of one family, one race. God makes only one distinction between humans and that is between those who have accepted his offer of free grace through faith in Jesus Christ and those who are yet in bondage to Satan.
When it comes to the work of racial reconciliation, meaning the struggle for civil rights for all, especially between African Americans and Americans of European descent, the name of John M. Perkins comes immediately to mind. No one individual has done more than Perkins to minister the healing balm of the Christian gospel to the centuries-old racial strife in our country, particularly in the state of Mississippi.
I first met John Perkins in the mid-1980’s, when my wife and I went with a group of college students from the Chicago area on a short-term home mission trip to Jackson, Mississippi. The goal was to spend a couple weeks working with Voice of Calvary Ministry, founded by John Perkins. Some worked in a secondhand store. Others painted and worked on repairing homes in Jackson. Like Habitat for Humanity, helping with Voice of Calvary was a way of actually getting involved in the lives of the people who needed a human touch as well as a helping hand.
In 1993, I took a teaching position at Belhaven College in Jackson. The life of the college and John Perkins’s ministry crossed paths in many ways over the 23 years I spent in Jackson. The college has as a vital part of its mission to be a place of racial reconciliation. Over my 23 years in Mississippi, I got to know John Perkins and the many wonderful people who have worked with him, e. g., Dolphus Weary of Mission Mississippi.
PARTING WORDS TO THE CHURCH ON RACE AND LOVE (Chicago: Moody, 2018) is not Perkins’s first, last, or even “best” book. He has written many on how to empower the poor by helping them to provide for their families and thus restore in them a sense of pride in who they are as children of God. His books are a mix of common-sense theology and Bible study, how to minister to the poor, how to build trust and respect between races after centuries of distrust and exploitation, and much more.
Chapter titles reveal the book’s content. “The Church Should Look Like That,” argues that twelve o’clock on Sunday morning should not be the most segregated hour in America. “Tear Down This Wall” uses the example of The Berlin Wall that divided the German people from 1961 to 1989 as a symbol of the need to tear down the manmade walls that divide even believing Christians into racial ghettoes. “Prayer, the Weapon of Our Warfare” reminds us that we must invoke the healing power of God’s grace rather than look to political power to heal our wounds. Laws can help to control behavior, but laws cannot compel us to love one another.
Interspersed through the book are 4 short testimonies to efforts at racial reconciliation from Little Rock, Arkansas, Monrovia and Fontana, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Each chapter is followed by a brief prayer that the reader can participate in as he or she personalizes the book’s message. At the back of the book is a chapter by chapter Study Guide for personal or group study.
Throughout the Bible we are given a vision of the people of God as a mixed bag of a vastly diverse humanity redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Perkins concludes PARTING WORDS with a few lines from a popular hymn:
“When we all get to heaven,
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!”
We need not wait until we get to heaven to experience the fellowship of God’s family. We who have experienced God’s Grace can, through prayer and works, enjoy a taste of it here on our pilgrimage back to Eden.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures and live under the mercy.