Racism and the Gospel, a visit with Dr. John Perkins

Racism: the belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. Racism breeds fear and distrust, robbing everyone involved of their identity in Christ, created in God’s image, to know God, to love and bJohn-Perkinse loved. Racism is hateful and evil, pitting one human against another human, destroying relationships and ultimately bringing death. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you news of great joy which will be for all people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).  All people. Racism steals away the good news of the gospel.

John Perkins began his life in 1930 in Mississippi as the son of a poor sharecropper. When he was seven months old his mother died and his father abandoned the family, leaving the children to be raised in poverty by their grandmother and extended family. John was seventeen when his older brother was murdered by a town marshal, and John’s family became afraid for his life. Vowing never to return to the place of his birth, John fled to California.

Fast forward to 1957 when John, through his son’s encouragement, attended a church service and encountered the Lord, giving his life to Christ. Though he had vowed never to return to his boyhood home, God had a bigger plan for John. In 1960, John moved their family to Mississippi to share the gospel of Christ with those still living in that area. John became a vocal supporter and leader in the civil rights movement, was beaten, arrested and tortured in jail, but never lost sight of the call on his life or the love of God in his heart. He came through this experience with a vision of a holistic ministry designed to remove the bondage of racism from all people, the oppressor and the oppressed.

Through the next four decades John wrote, spoke, taught, earned degrees and became an international leader in the church. He authored nine books, created non-profit ministries, joined boards at World Vision and Prison Fellowship, and became a leader in community development for impoverished people in urban and rural settings.  In 2004, Seattle Pacific joined with now Dr. John Perkins to launch the campus-based John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development.

Dr. Perkins was in town last week. On Monday, I had the privilege of joining a small gathering of urban leaders for lunch and teaching with by Dr. John. We met at Urban Impact and for two hours we sat at the feet of the master of reconciliation. At 85 years of age, he is an energetic man with a gentle demeanor and an incredible heart for God’s people. Moving around the room as he spoke, he made eye contact with each person. Words of scripture flowed effortlessly from him as spoke about the utter devastation racism had on our country, our communities and our churches.

He asked, “What is the time in which each of us is living? It is not the time to profile and hate, it is the time to start reading the word of God and believe what it says!” God has not designed us to be defined by race; we are all members of one race, the human race. We come from different ethnicities, cultures, lands, and we are all one race under God.

Dr. John spoke on God’s call on our lives to love. He said, “Love is the best chance…people get trapped in their own cultures…we have to love their eyes open…to look for ways to serve both sides.” The Gospel is the power to reconcile people together, and as the church we are called to reconcilers, to let the God of Reconciliation live in our hearts and walk out reconciliation in our lives. As Dr. John stated, “Let’s enjoy loving each other across all lines that divide us.” How do we do this? By coming together, working and learning together, and by staying together no matter what.

Have you experienced racism in your own life? If so, how did it impact your faith and your understanding of reconciliation?

Are you interested in further conversations on race and reconciliation? If so, BelPres has a Justice and Reconciliation team that meets twice a month. For more information contact me,  Mary McCracken, Director of Community Outreach at mmccracken@belpres.org.