Popes, Politicians & John Perkins

Popes, Politicians & John Perkins


Popes, Politicians & John Perkins

By Courtney Lott

In 1972, Time magazine implemented what is now known as “Person of the Year.” Far from an automatic honor, this distinction merely designates someone as a representation of the year that has just passed. From popes to politicians, the list of those who have graced the cover includes powerful, and often power-hungry, men and women. 

In response to this often-notorious award, World magazine established the “Daniel of the Year.” Over the last 23 years, honorees from the Christian news publication have included individuals such as missionary Andrew Brunson, humanitarian Baroness Caroline Cox, and persecuted Christians in China and Syria.

This year’s Daniel Award went to Dr. John Perkins, a longtime inspiration to many of the staff of Good News. Born in 1930, in Mississippi, Perkins saw and experienced some of the worst of racial tensions in the South. At sixteen, his twenty-five-year-old brother was shot by police, and by the time he left for California in 1947, he had “learned to hate all the white people in Mississippi.”

This, however, was not to last. God came calling when Perkins’ son Spencer came home from Bible classes singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” – “red and yellow, black and white.” Curiosity-driven, Perkins dove into his own studies of the scriptures, and soon, professed faith in Christ. 

“If I had not met Jesus I would have died carrying that heavy burden of hate to my grave,” Perkins says. “But he began to strip it away, layer by layer.”

Three years later, when the Perkins family returned to Mississippi, they set out to change things through nonviolent protest. Over the next decade, Perkins would become a prolific civil rights leader. He worked to support voter registration efforts in 1965, school desegregation in 1967, and in 1969 led a boycott of white-owned stores that welcomed black customers but refused to hire them.

Sticking to the path of nonviolence did not come easy. The temptation to fall back into his former hatred returned in 1970 when a group of officers nearly beat him to death in response to his civil rights efforts. 

“They stuck a fork up his nose and down his throat,” writes Marvin Olasky of World. “They beat him to the floor, then kept on kicking him in the head, ribs, stomach, and groin.”

God used the hospital staff who treated his injuries to keep him from sliding. Nurses and doctors – both black and white – washed his wounds, helped him heal. They were symbolic of the people who had beaten him, Perkins writes in his book One Blood. What they did healed more than his body, it healed his heart.

“Nonviolence takes more strength than violence,” said Perkins, “and it takes more than just human strength. It takes God’s strength working in human beings to produce self-control, gentleness, and other fruit of the Holy Spirit.”

God also worked to produce a heart of compassion in him. The pain of parental abandonment created a particular soft spot for the outcast, the outsider, those left behind. Perkins describes rejection as a sort of internal death that occurs again and again but rejoices that it is for this kind of person that Jesus comes.

“I know what it feels like to be at the low end of the totem pole. I know what it feels like when ‘good’ people look down their noses at you. Something on the inside dies over and over again. I love it that Jesus comes after those kinds of folks. … If God Himself loves and wants the outcasts, why don’t we?” 

In an effort to respond to this convicting question, Perkins founded Voice of Calvary and Mendenhall Ministries. These two organizations have developed clinics and theology classes, created a housing cooperative, and opened thrift stores. In order to expand their reach, and to become more effective, Perkins also created the Harambee Christian Family Center, the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation, and the Christian Community Development Association. 

God-given gentleness and compassion are at the heart of Perkins’ answer to racial reconciliation in our country. It is Christ who heals all wounds, who changes hearts, who makes us whole. However, we are also called to look inward, take stock, and then to act. 

“The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness,” Perkins said. “It’s pretty hard to find this quality on display today. Our culture applauds people who are brash and arrogant. The self-promoter gets the most attention and the most encouragement. But God intends for His friends to be marked by gentleness.”

According to Perkins, biblical reconciliation affirms that “every human being is 99.9 percent identical in genetic make up. … All people, all kindred, all nations, all tongues. One blood.”

Repentance is also necessary for biblical reconciliation, according to Perkins, and he lets no one off the proverbial hook. From the damaging long-term effects of segregation to redlining in housing development, the white community needs to take responsibility for abusing its power. But, Perkins believes, the black community must also pause for personal assessment as well. He laments the “epidemic of violence within our own African American community [and] the breakdown of our families … We the Church are called to be the light that shines in these dark places.” 

With such a life of forgiveness and passion for justice, it is no wonder he was designated as 2020’s Daniel of the Year. His patience and persistence is a model for our time.

“If we are going to help others understand who Jesus is, our own lives must reflect his character and love,” Perkins observes about our polarized culture. “It is at this precise moment that the watching world gets a glimpse of him.”

Courtney Lott is the editorial assistant at Good News. Photo: John Perkins preaching — courtesy of the John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation.

Reflecting God’s colorful image

Reflecting God’s colorful image

Reflecting God’s colorful image

Courtney Lott reviews John Perkins’ One Blood


Our God is a very big God. So big and so creative that a single human never could bare his image perfectly. In his vastness, he uses male and female, black and white, smart and simple, single and married to paint as full a picture as possible of his broad and unsearchable character. In One Blood, Dr. John M. Perkins weaves this truth together with grace and humility, wisdom, and love. He celebrates our ethnic diversity and confronts the sin of racism with both seriousness and gentleness, all the while keeping the gospel of Jesus front and center.

Perkins is a legendary civil rights activist, author, and an evangelical statesman. He is the founder of the famed Voice of Calvary Bible Institute, the Christian Community Development Association, and Harambee Ministries.

Perkins deftly frames his appeal by drawing from scripture. We are ultimately one race, one bright and shining reflection of the godhead. However, in order to justify slavery and subsequent racial structures, we did some illogical leapfrogging. Though steeped in the idea that all individuals are created equal, the slave’s dignity was downplayed in the worst possible sense. This is where the social construction of race came into play.

“[T]here had to be distinctions made between normal folks and this new breed of people that would be treated like animals,” Perkins writes. “The truth is that there is no black race – and there is no white race. So the idea of ‘racial reconciliation’ is a false idea. It’s a lie. It implies that there is more than one race. This is absolutely false. God created only one race – the human race.”

One blood, one race of people who, in all their diversity, produce a more complete picture of the godhead. When I first began to learn about ethnic reconciliation (a phrase Perkins considers more accurate than racial reconciliation), the sheer idea overwhelmed me. But in One Blood Perkins lays out practical steps and devotes an entire chapter to each.

The Measuring Line. Perkins begins with a measuring line, a standard for what the church ought to look like. Citing the great congregation from every tribe, tongue, and nation as seen by John in Revelation 7, he describes experiencing a “prelude to heaven” while visiting Bridgeway Community Church, a multiethnic congregation in Columbia, Maryland.

For Perkins, Bridgeway was a “picture of the oneness and the diversity of the body of Christ … a physical representation of it,” he writes. “And it was glorious! The melting of the cultures was beautiful; the blend of ethnicities was evident across the ranks of the leadership and the membership. And the music carried me away. I saw echoes of the great congregation that will stand around the throne shouting ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! Worthy is the lamb!’”

This particular church modeled biblical, ethnic reconciliation, a vital part of the gospel, according to Perkins. Though Christ came primarily to restore our relationship with God the Father, he also came to restore our relationships with each other. Neglecting this aspect of the kingdom is a grave mistake and does a disservice to Christ’s work.

“This vision for unity is borne on the wings of the good news of the gospel. It’s good news and it’s for all the people,” writes Perkins. “It’s the good news that Luke proclaimed, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the 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). This supernatural announcement is one of the most compelling signs that God intends for His gospel to reach all nations and cultures.”

Angels announced this good news to shepherds first. As social outcasts and caretakers of sheep, they understood their need for a sacrificial lamb, understood what it felt like to be on the margins. Never meant to be an exclusive club, Perkins reminds us that the kingdom of heaven is for all peoples, including those we might be biased against. This message the angels brought was one of hope and reconciliation, both with God and our fellow man.

Looking Back on History. Though the United States started with the idea of equality for all, we quickly got off track, Perkins says. In order to justify slavery, many used the social construction of race, focusing on the ways in which we are different. However, a close look at what scripture has to say about humanity reveals we are far more alike than our physical attributes might indicate. Perkins sites the creation of Adam in his argument that we are, in fact, one race.

“I understood from the Genesis account God’s intimate interaction with Adam when he created him, breathing into him the very breath of life,” writes Perkins. “I understood that God was literally breathing dignity and character into this man Adam … From this one man, Adam, who was created in the very image of God, the entire human race sprang.”

Both scripture and science have been abused in order to perpetuate race theory, a concept that is foundational to racism and countless other ills. These wrongs run deep and at times appear insurmountable. There is, however, hope and Perkins has experienced it personally. After experiencing severe abuse – civil rights arrest and brutality – in his native Mississippi, he never thought he would be able to return to his hometown and the people who wronged him.

Then he met Jesus. “I left Mississippi with hate in my heart,” Perkins writes. “God brought me back with a heart that was overflowing with his love. I had been reconciled to Christ, and he prepared me to return to Mississippi to be reconciled to my white brothers and sisters.”

The love of Christ, the “ultimate reconciler,” is our only hope when it comes to achieving the unity we are called to. This is the foundation upon which Perkins builds the rest of the book. Reconciliation that works is based on the gospel.

One aspect of the gospel we often overlook is the call to corporate lament. As those brought up on the idea of individualism and the American dream, this heavy concept of corporately mourning can be uncomfortable, if not painful. However, if we are to be true to the scriptures we know and love, we must face the reality that Christ calls us to lament. Though looking back on past shame is difficult, confronting our history is often the only way to move forward.

“Scripture was never intended to be used solely for individual application,” Perkins writes. “It was meant for the community of believers. The psalms of lament were meant to be tools in the community worship experience to bring the worshipers into the presence of our God. The lament is his gift to us, his church.”

Confession goes hand in hand with lament. It is in this section that Perkins explains the term “white privilege”— a highly divisive and potentially polarizing term — in a helpful way. Many white Christians might need to confess denying that racism exists and that we benefit from our skin color, he writes. As this is difficult to address without offending, Perkins draws a parallel to the privilege of being a citizen of the United States.

“Through no fault or responsibility of our own, most of us were born in the United States of America,” he writes. “Though poverty does exist in America it exists at a level far above the level of poverty in a Third World country. This could be termed ‘American privilege.’ We are afforded certain advantages just because we live in America. It’s not something that we should feel guilty about, but it is important for us to be aware of these realities … In a similar way being white in this country affords certain advantages that can be easily overlooked.”

We have tried to create God in our own image, says Perkins. Whatever makes us the most comfortable — liberal, conservative, Western, white — we remake Jesus into something that he is not: safe and sanitary. Fear drives us to this mistake and, according to Perkins, this is something else we must confess as sin. White individuals fear losing their power and status, black individuals fear the endless hard work that often doesn’t seem to bear fruit.

But God. Perkins’ refrain is always “but God.” But God’s word speaks into our fears and calls us to the perfect love that casts out all fear. God’s love can empower us to be uncomfortable and reach across the aisle, extending our hearts to one another. It also grants us the power to forgive in a way the world will sit up and notice.

As a profound example of this, Perkins sites the way the congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, reacted to Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who opened fire on a Bible study there.

“At Dylann Roof’s bond hearing, the relatives of the victims stood to address him,” Perkins writes. “‘I forgive you.’ ‘I forgive you.’ ‘I forgive you.’ These three words were spoken again and again as the family members of the Charleston church victims spoke to the accused. It was clear that they were struggling with deep emotion and grief. Yet they chose to forgive rather than to hate … many of them saying that they were praying for his soul. The nation watched, spellbound.”

This church’s example was an incredible witness to the world of just how powerful God’s love is. Forgiveness is a painfully difficult thing. It means letting go of resentment for a deep wrong they have committed against you or your loved ones. This is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit who inhabits the hearts of every believer, Perkins writes, and even with this power, it is still no easy path.

The Weapon of Our Warfare. Throughout One Blood, Perkins constantly models prayer, a practice he calls the weapon of our warfare. He ends each chapter with a cry to the Lord based on the subject he has written on, guiding the reader on a profound and grace-filled journey through a difficult topic. Pastoral in his counsel, he offers practical topics to help guide us in our appeals to the Holy Spirit for reconciliation.

Moreover, Perkins points to numerous examples of pastors and churches that have sought this kind of reconciliation. Motivated by the love of Christ, these men and women have developed more diverse congregations in their communities and strived to better image the great multitude from Revelation.

“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,” Perkins writes. “I really believe that each of our souls years for this vision. We want it. We know in our heart of hearts that it is right.”

Courtney Lott was the editorial assistant at Good News when this article was published in 2018.

Popes, Politicians & John Perkins

A Peek Behind the Curtain

A Peek Behind the Curtain

A survey of recent books from F. Willis Johnson, Lecrae, William H. Willimon, and John Perkins

By Courtney Lott


“I looked, and behold, great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9)

In John’s vision of the kingdom of God we are presented with a very diverse picture of its citizens. The worshippers come from every race, every language, every nation. Far from monochromatic, the kingdom of Heaven is an undoing of Babel, a breaking of barriers, the unification of Christ’s body. But when we look at our churches today, at our congregations, what do we see? Though in many ways the church has taken great strides against racism, the after effects of old structures and mindsets remain like fingerprints on a mirror. As Christians, we are called to take a sober look at these things.

Racial reconciliation is hard, but thankfully, many have undertaken to aid the church in this difficult journey. The following books are helpful perspectives for this conversation. Each voice is different and offers its own unique angle.

Holding Up Your Corner by F. Willis Johnson

For situations fraught with sensitivity, practical guidance is essential. In Holding up Your Corner, the Rev. F. Willis Johnson, a United Methodist pastor, provides wisdom and insight. Offering helpful definitions and sober advice that is practical rather than preachy, this book equips leaders and readers to approach racial reconciliation with grace. Through his accounts of the racial strife in Ferguson, Missouri, and similar events, Johnson gives his audience the unique experience of seeing the world through his eyes.

“Once we have acknowledged someone’s humanity, we can move on to affirmation – respecting their humanity,” Johnson writes. “Hear this: affirmation is neither an act of complicity nor condemnation. Affirming someone’s experience – their humanity in their own experience – does not mean you approve their ideology or behavior. We can love people without agreeing with them. That bears repeating: we can love people without agreeing with them. In the words of Howard Thurman, ‘Hatred does not empower, it decays. Only through self-love and love for one another can God’s justice prevail.’ In short, affirmation is a willingness to emphasize our interdependence and commonality over our difference.”

Holding up Your Corner is carefully rooted in the scriptural idea of balancing both justice and mercy, truth and grace, the practical and prophetic. It reaches out with gentleness and humility that challenge the reader in such a way as to promote conversation rather than dampen it. Johnson’s humble way of engaging his audience invites engagement rather than shutting it down. This book is a desperately needed guide through the difficult terrain that the church now faces in regard to loving the “other.”

Unashamed by Lecrae

Unashamed, the autobiography of mega-star Christian rapper, Lecrae, holds as its central concept the need for acceptance. From the first page, the writing conveys the painful sting of rejection. The reader can’t help but wince through the author’s childhood abandonment issues and heartache, then rejoice at the acceptance found in Christ. Yet Lecrae offers a starkly honest picture of his conversion and doesn’t shy from sharing his struggles with sanctification.

This particular path, the suffering of his youth and the abandonment he felt, prepared him for the role of a “lamenter” rapper. It was only when he allowed himself to be vulnerable and honest about his own battles, and stopped trying to preach like a “Pastor Rapper” that the “magic” came. Lecrae describes his unique position within the industry and how it provides him with the opportunity to reach people others might not be able to. He writes:

“Operating as a ‘Pastor Rapper’ was hard work for me because it wasn’t playing to my strengths. Rather than letting the music pour out of me when the inspiration came, I would spend hours studying beforehand … Being theologically educated is a great thing. And using music to explicitly express theology is needed. But I mistakenly believed it was the only way to make music. On the rare occasion, however, I would let go and let the ‘lamenter’ in me come out. When I did – when I let Lecrae just be Lecrae – it would spark magic… Rather than make myself the winner, I allowed myself to be the loser… People wrote to say how much that song impacted them because it was real and vulnerable. And this was one of the first moments I began to wonder if maybe God was calling me to make a shift in my music and begin producing new songs that were truer to how I was naturally made.”

Who Lynched Willie Earle? by Willam H. Willimon

Centered around a specific event, Who Lynched Willie Earle approaches the issue of race from a historical standpoint. Bishop Will Willimon creatively reimagines Pastor Hawley Lynn’s thought process leading up to his sermon condemning the lynching of a black man accused, but not convicted, of murder. Pastor Lynn confronted his own congregation with the mindset he believed led to the lynching, the deeply ingrained attitudes that allowed the mob to pervert “democratic justice” and execute Willie Earle.

Willimon, prolific author and retired United Methodist bishop, proceeds to analyze the sermon. Not only does he take into consideration the history of America, but also connects this with Israel, the Gentiles, and the kingdom of God. Willimon also points out Pastor Hawley’s own blind spots, in which he failed to address systemic, institutional racism. In this, Willimon says, the church was able to “disassociate themselves from the sin and to bolster their confidence in Jim Crow.” In spite of his failings, Willimon calls Pastor Hawley’s sermon “heroic homiletics”.

“Though these sociological and historical facts about racism are significant, race is a specifically Christian problem because of the God we are attempting to worship and to obey,” Willimon writes. “In the gospel, we are given the means to be color-courageous, to talk about matters our culture would rather keep silent. That you have persevered this far in this book suggests you are exercising a bravery that is not self-derived. Paul says that, in God’s realm, Jews and Greeks, slave and free, ‘You all are one in Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 3:28). It is a baptismal call, not for color-blindness or arguing that gender or race are inconsequential, but rather a theological affirmation that Jesus Christ enables a new eschatological community where conventional, worldly signifiers don’t mean what they meant in the kingdoms of this world.”

Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win by John Perkins

Like Unashamed, Dr. John Perkins’ approach is extremely personal and humble. In spite of this, he does not shy away from calling out injustice and racism. Quoting Frederick Douglas and sighting the stark reality of his own experience with segregation, Perkins focuses on the “walls that have kept black people and white people apart, even in places where we had so much in common.”

“Anyone who knows my story would expect this book to ooze with justice issues. After all, the pain caused by injustice has motivated me to spend a lifetime working for social change on behalf of widows, prisoners, the poor, and anyone who struggles,” writes Perkins, a prolific civil rights veteran. So how did someone who has experienced the anguish of poverty, racism, and oppression end up wanting to write a book about love as his climactic message? Good question… I’ve come to understand that true justice is wrapped up in love. God loves justice and wants His people to seek justice (Psalms 11 and Micah 6:8) But I’ve come to understand that true justice is wrapped up in love. The old-time preacher and prophet A.W. Tozer had a way of making the most profound truths simple and palatable. He once said, ‘God is love, and just as God is love, God is justice.’ That’s it! God’s love and justice come together in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, and we can’t be about one and not the other. They’re inextricably connected.”

Perkins takes a strong look at motivation. By keeping in mind questions about his own choices, he tempers his assessment with a great deal of grace and mercy. On the one hand, he condemns the undermining of integration when white parents send their children to private schools. On the other, he empathizes with parents wanting a good education for their kids. Perkins asks people to be aware of the effect our choices have on black children in public schools. Moreover, he asserts that integrating our churches is at the very heart of the gospel, the very heart of 2 Corinthians 5:19.

If we want to work toward racial reconciliation in a country that desperately needs it, if we desire to share the love of Christ with all nations, we must take steps to build empathy for our brothers and sisters. The books on this list are testimonies, a mere peak behind the curtain, but they may also serve as first steps. We encourage you to take some time to check these out and prayerfully consider how we might work together to build better unity within the church.

Ultimately, God alone through Jesus Christ can accomplish this. Racism, comparison, pride, arrogance, greed all root deep down in the hearts of man. But thanks be to God that he does not leave us in this sad state!

Courtney Lott was the editorial assistant at Good News when this was published. Photo of John Perkins courtesy of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation https://jvmpf.org/.