True Christian change works more like an old oak tree in the spring, when the new life inside pushes off the old dead leaves that still hang on.
John M. Perkins is not necessarily a household name, but he probably should be. Perkins was born into a sharecropping family in rural Mississippi in 1930. He grew up poor in one of the most racially oppressive areas in the country. His mother died giving birth to him, and his father showed no interest in raising him. His older brother was gunned down unjustly by a police officer when John was 16. In his late 20’s, Perkins came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ and had a vision to begin trying to help the oppressed blacks in his hometown ofMendenhall,MS.
The road was never easy. Perkins focused on education, voting rights, and spiritual renewal. He faced opposition from nearly all of the white men and women of the town. Those whites that supported his cause were persecuted and threatened, often to the point of breaking. Perkins was jailed on more than one occasion, and he received a severe beating by Mississippi Highway Patrolmen because of a peaceful protest march that he was leading.
Throughout his entire story, Perkins continually goes back to one thing – we are called to love one another. The only thing that can defeat hatred over time is love. He worked to form a community of love and support among the other blacks in his area. He reached out in love to the whites in his town, despite the hatred and opposition continually being thrown at him.
One of the most eye-catching aspects to the story is the reaction of the church to the cause of justice. While there were several churches and church members that sought to support Perkins ministry, there seemed to always be limits in order to protect the church’s reputation or comfort, and individual church members were almost never willing to inconvenience themselves in order to pursue the cause of justice for the oppressed. One pastor who was willing to try to push his white congregation to the cause was driven to suicide by the struggle. Perkins writes about a conversation with one of this pastor’s parishioners following the pastor’s funeral:
‘The last few Sundays,’ she said, ‘he’d been active strange. He was talking about love and concern, but in a sad way.’
So it was strange to hear all that talk about love and concern. So sad, I thought.
Are love and concern really as rare as all that?
The church was not interested in helping to bring about justice. They were not willing to work, to show love, and to sacrifice for the sake of those who were being treated in an unjust and inhuman fashion. They did not preach the whole gospel, only what was convenient and comfortable.
What is it that we are taking for granted? Where is our gospel incomplete? What are we leaving undone where we should be acting to bring justice to others, to love others and Christ has loved us? Sin isn’t always something we actively do; sometimes our sin lies in our unwillingness to act when God has called us to act.
John M. Perkins, now over 80 years old, continues to fight for the cause of social justice. His story is one of astounding perseverance and supernatural love. His heart is inspiring, and his story is challenging. His insights are convicting and thought-provoking.
At the end of the book, John M. Perkins’ daughter Elizabeth writes;
As members of the next generation of emerging leaders, we must exercise a great amount of patience and love and recognize we are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. From this vantage point, we can look ahead to see the mountains and the valleys. Whiles still standing on their shoulders, we can look behind and see the valleys they had to go through.
Read John M. Perkins story, and learn from the past. Be challenged by the weakness and lack of action of the church, and let us ensure that the church will not be as slow to act in the future. Perkins has fought and bled, and he has seen friends and family die for the cause of justice. The book ends with a fitting quote from Abraham Lincoln:
We the people of this generation highly resolve that those who sacrificed before us shall not have sacrificed in vain. Let justice roll on.
The story and teaching of John M. Perkins inspired one of my favorite songs, “The Sound” by Switchfoot. Take a listen and go read the book.