Archives For John M. Perkins

John M. Perkins is an American civil rights campaigner. His 2017 book, ‘Dream with Me’, is a brave step forward in seeking to create better dialogue between both black and white communities. Overall, ‘Dream With Me’ is a call for both black and white Americans to unite, in their diversity, under God. This review will focus on two primary strengths of Perkins’ work.

The first strength is the presence of a Theology of Christian Liberation. Perkins refuses to take the easy path of perpetual anger, condescension and resentment – both traits found in Black liberation theology (which is largely tainted by Marxism). Instead, Perkins leans towards the rules of solidarity[i] and subsidiarity[ii]. In doing so, he proclaims a social doctrine, not the social gospel[iii].

The significance of this distinction is, in the former, Jesus Christ remains at the core of the gospel and isn’t replaced by attempts (found in the latter) to synchronise Karl Marx with Jesus Christ[iv]. In addition, a social doctrine allows the freedom to affirm and critique the issues impartially. The social doctrine, in this context, is greater than the social gospel, because the Gospel remains free of any ideological lens (particularly atheist and theistic Marxism).  The Gospel (read Jesus Christ) is allowed to speak for Himself without being muffled by Marx.

Unlike the social gospel, which tends to ‘stray from Scripture’ (D. Bonhoeffer[v]), Perkins’ social doctrine doesn’t respond to injustice through a lens of victimisation, double-standards, excessive-unbridled egalitarianism (dismissive tolerance and irrational equality), dependency on the state, or entitlement. He, instead, advocates for a ‘new alternative’[vi], building on what he calls the ‘three R’s’: ‘relocation, reconciliation and redistribution.’(p.88)  Here, Perkins upholds the uniqueness of Christian liberation, which holds to God’s liberation of humanity from slavery to sin[vii].

‘White people need to take responsibility for centuries of imperialism and failing to repent, but black people  also need to take some responsibility for the breakdown of our families (p.70) […] Things only get fixed – truly fixed – when they are mended by God through faith. Often we have it backwards trying to fix things for God rather than letting God fix things through us (p.81).

The secondary strength of ‘Dream With Me’ is that Perkins doesn’t sugar coat reality. He’s up front about racism, the impoverishment of some Americans (in general[viii]), and is outspoken in his call for the renewal of efforts that move America towards justice[ix]; towards lived reconciliation. Such a lived reconciliation will require jettisoning the shackles of identity politics.

For Perkins, progress towards this goal involves reclaiming the word reconciliation. Perkins believes that

‘‘Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we are one race – the human race (p.54) […] we have taken God’s definition of reconciliation and made room for bigotry by inserting race into the concept. Racial reconciliation is not a biblical term. People use race as a slave master.’ (p.84)

What he calls for instead is a reconciliation firmly grounded in God’s reconciliation of the sinner to Himself.

‘I will call for – what I believe the gospel calls for – unity across ethnic and cultural barriers’ (ibid)

Perkins’ quest is to attain genuine equality (as opposed to any false utopian idea of supremacy[x] or the fool’s quest of seeking perpetual payback, in order to make things equal). He is adamant that Americans should build on the faith, approach and doctrine of the early civil rights campaigners. This road is difficult, but it should, and must be travelled.

Perkins offers no instant-fix formulas. What he does offer is a roadmap for how this can be achieved.  At the heart of ‘Dream With Me’ are ‘the three R’s: these are relocation where the old informs the new; reconciliation, free of victimization and identity politics; redistribution, not of wealth, but of opportunity’ (pp.74-89). What Perkins means by relocation is a readiness to be available; a readiness to be where, and to do, what God has called the individual to. Redistribution is about ‘stewardship[xi]’ (p.85) and reconciliation ‘is a way of life that displays God’s redemptive power’ (p.84).

Dream With Me’ is a careful discussion about the issues that face African-Americans. Perkins acknowledges (with great care) the historical wrongs suffered by African-Americans at hands of racial hatred. He acknowledges historical abuses by returning to his own experiences. Referring to his own suffering, Perkins sets the example:

‘On February 7, 1970, while I lay on the floor of the Simpson County Jail in Brandon, I made the decision to preach a gospel stronger than my racial identity and bigger than the segregation around me.’ (p.56)

Dream With Me’ brings the civil rights movement out of the museum, and it takes reconciliation out of the hands of race baiters, who seek to keep African-Americans down purely for political advantage.  ‘Dream With Me’ challenges the status quo of racial divisions by inviting change through humility and understanding.

Perkins doesn’t play the blame game. He seeks to end the cycle of abuse by encouraging others to not engage in reciprocating stale responses veiled by resentment and forced tolerance, all of which are underpinned by unrepentant hearts, pride and a fraudulent reconciliation, grounded in toxic identity politics.

In sum, ‘Dream With Me’ brings the practice of reconciliation to life. Perkins provides a viable way forward. This is a brave book written by an elder in the Civil Rights movement. Whether Americans can move beyond stale cultural slogans and tribal segregation; beyond blame and shame[xii], is an open question. It’s one that can only be answered when and where people are freed from the prison of ‘isms’ – racism, sexism, ageism, classism, and so many other divisive systems’ (p.50)

This book is for anyone who has been dealt blows by the hands of injustice, ostracism, abuse and uncalled for hostility. It’s for those who want to move beyond the logical fallacies which manipulatively assume that because someone has a certain type of skin colour, their melanin predetermines their heart, character and how they view the world around them; for those who want to keep Jesus Christ at the centre of justice, reconciliation and stewardship toward our neighbour.

Dream With Me’ is a call to prayer-filled action, which falls in line with Paul the apostle’s command and prayer for the Church in Corinth: ‘aim for restoration.’ (2 Cor. 13:9 & 11, ESV)


References:

[i] Defined as proactive empathy, as opposed to the spectator-sympathy.

[ii] Community and government groups play an auxiliary role in supporting initiatives; helping, not controlling or taking away individual responsibility; ergo offering a hand-up, not a hand out.

[iii] Teachers about Jesus’ teaching, not about Jesus Christ; turning Christianity into a list of ethical principles. In effect, Christless Christianity e.g.: “Who needs Christ? If I follow his example by being a good person, then I’ll be able to save myself, make God happy and get into heaven.”

[iv] See Jacques Ellul’s brilliant criticism in Jesus & Marx, 1988.

[v] ‘The contempt for theology is outrageous. Rauschenbusch’s own “theology for the social gospel” clearly shows, like its successors, that a lack of obedience to Scripture is characteristic for the teaching of the social gospel.’
(Bonhoeffer, DBW 12, Memorandum: The Social Gospel, p.242)

[vi] Perkins, J.M 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group, (p.85)

[vii] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 1984, Instruction  on Certain aspects of the Theology of Liberation, (Source)

[viii] ‘To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively – as redneck, trailer park white trash. The wealthy white people could help me, but what good were the poor whites to me? But then this poor white couple showed up at my doorstep. My automatic response was to treat them the way whites had treated poor blacks – to patronize them. But these people were teaching me, John Perkins, the guy who was supposed to be leading the church in reconciliation; a lesson in what it really means to be reconciled to one another.’ (pp.56-57)

[ix] ‘Justice is an act of reconciliation that restores any part of God’s creation its original intent, purpose, or image’ (p.207)

[x] ‘Wealthy whites also used the poor whites as tools of oppression — having blacks beneath [poor white folks] made those [folks] feel superior.’ (p.60)

[xi] ‘We’ve gotten away from the understanding that all of resources belong to God, and that we are stewards of whatever portion of those resources He has entrusted us with.’ (p.85)

[xii] ‘…we need to start getting beyond this stuff. Issues related to ethnicity and tribalism may divide us, but we have to start recognizing that we are one race – the human race’ (p.54)

Disclaimer: I did not receive any remuneration for this review, in any form.

Here is a ‘note to self’ recently rediscovered. I wrote this back in 2011. Long before I’d even considered blogging as a means to connect, share, process, and improve on conclusions and thoughts I’d come to through my undergraduate days.

I’ll never know the privilege of having pride in my father; having a father’s loving advice, or an extended family, on my side, that through mutual reciprocity, enriches my own.

What was broken, is broken and the residue of the struggle to move beyond that remains. This has hindered me having confidence in myself, others, even in having hope for a future.

But through it, I have come to know and acknowledge that God, who in Jesus Christ, redeems even the chiefest of sinners, is greater than all this. Greater than words spoken in order to shame and therefore control.

Evident through Word & impossible changes becoming possible, I’ve seen God choose to step in and move me beyond it; to not let my past define my future.

Don’t let the world, friends, enemies or the past define you. God lives & speaks the same different word every time.

As the Apostle to the Gentile;the foreigner; the alien says, God in His freedom sets us up for freedom and empowers us to cry out ‘Abba Father’ (Romans 8 & 12); recognizing that God delivers on His promise to be the Father of the fatherless.

As the infamous African-American theologian, James Cone once said, ‘we are more than what has been defined for us by broken homes, sin and fatherlessness’ (Cone, p.11) [i]

Posting items and words like this on the internet can be treacherous. I recall Jesus’ wisdom when he talks about “giving to the dogs what is sacred and casting pearls before swine” (Mathew 7:6). Even with the context explained, it’s possible to misuse my words here. As I’ve mentioned plenty of times in the past, social media, when it comes to community, isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. It’s an ongoing conversation, that can bolster community, but it can never truly replace community; and in it’s current form, will only ever remain so.

[For more of my thoughts on this check out: Fake News Sells: Unfriending Ersatz Community ]

I say these things with confidence because community is best displayed by Christianity, or at least it should be. This is because Christianity is incarnational – where Word meets flesh; where Word meets both deed and attitude. It’s something, or rather, someone, who comes to us; not just pointing to the way, but making a way. God sets this standard and empowers it in Jesus Christ.

I was reminded of this the other day when I read these words from African-American, civil rights campaigner, John M. Perkins’ in his new book, ‘Dream With Me‘:

“I believe the human dimension of God;s work is very important. It’s not that He couldn’t accomplish anything He wanted to do without us, He chooses to [work] with human vessels.We are not the main force at work, yet we are involved. We are present. God uses us in one another’s lives.’ (Perkins, p.96)[ii]

Perkins follows this up with,

‘At a recent conference some of the young people I had met tried to convince me that they didn’t really need a preacher. They’re frustrated with traditional church leadership, [then they appealed to] the priesthood of all believers, which is all well and good. That they prefer a virtual church over a traditional one. I told them, “That’s going to be weak, because it’s going to miss the incarnation [the embodiment of Christ; Word made flesh]. It will not have a human touch (Hebrews 10:24-25).The active presence of other believers contributes to God’s work within us. Again, it’s not that God needs us to complete what He is doing – but He allows that human dimension to be a part of His redemptive work.’ (Perkins, p.97)[iii]

Perkins is right. If we don’t speak for fear of the swine or throwing what is sacred to the dogs, then our silence may be motivated by fear, not wisdom.

I’m all for responsible vulnerability; the need to refine what we’re going to say, and then saying that with precision, so as to both guard our hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). However, we also put on the ‘Armor of Light (Jesus Christ), casting off the works of darkness’ (Romans 13:12); ‘building up and encouraging one another, through endurance and the scriptures, so that we might have hope’ (Romans 15:2).

Posts like these display vulnerability, which is why some, such as Brene Brown, might consider it also an act of extraordinary courage.

Whether or not these are unwise or an act of extraordinary courage, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the raw truth contained it, and the Good News I wish to proclaim through it.

 


Sources:

[i] Cone, J. 1975 God Of the Oppressed, Orbis Books (1997 ed.) p.11

[ii] Perkins, J.M. 2017 Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, Baker Publishing Group

[iii] Ibid, 2017