King, Perkins, and Now Us

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. The federal holiday commemorating King will not be until next Monday, but today King would have turned 90 years old had he not been assassinated in Memphis over 50 years ago. Like last year, I plan to preach a sermon on the issues of racial reconciliation and the sanctity of life. As part of my preparations for this year’s sermon, I read John Perkins's "manifesto," published last year. It's called One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love. In honor of Martin Luther King's legacy in the peaceful protest of racial inequality, I want to share a few thoughts from Perkins's book since this man has, like King, fought a good fight in helping the church consider her place in this seemingly impossible task of healing the wounds that divide people by something as superficial as the color of their skin.

It is clear that in this book, Perkins is eager for the church to embrace the truth that issues concerning reconciliation between human beings are gospel issues. Because we are all born of "one blood," it is fundamental to human dignity as well as the Christian gospel that we seek peaceful relationships with one another. Not only is "unity in diversity" the expectation that the Scriptures place upon the Christian church, but the church is also the only entity in the world that has been given the power to see this ideal come about. That power is found in the love of God shown to believers in Christ that, once we grasp it, cannot help but replace the hatred toward others that lingers in our heart.

But, far from being content with the idea of racial reconciliation, the heart of Perkins's book takes us on a journey of what must be done for us to experience healing in a culture forever marked by racial strife.

  1. Lament. A church that laments corporately is a church that is acknowledging that something horrific has happened and that our only hope can come through divine aid.
  2. Confession. It takes a lot of humility to confess our anger or fear that prevents us from working for reconciliation, but confession is good for the soul and reconciliation will not come without it.
  3. Forgiveness. Again, this is a two-way street. Blacks and whites need to be ready to both offer and receive forgiveness from one another so that God's awesome power to overcome deep moral sins can be gloriously displayed.
  4. Repentance. Finally, there must be repentance because repentance requires change. This change means getting out of our comfort zone to learn the stories of minority people and to strive to understand what it feels like to be in their shoes.

These four Christian practices give the church an advantage in seeking racial reconciliation. But the end of Perkins's book reminds us of the need for faith, prayer, and love in this endeavor. Those who have faith in God can be used by God to accomplish much good, even though no one will ever be perfect. Perkins urges us to not spend so much time questioning the failures of faithful people (how perfect were the heroes mentioned in Hebrews 11?) but to be inspired by their faith and determined to make a difference in our own communities. Prayer is one way in which we can exercise faith in God, coming to him with our fears about racial reconciliation, but trusting God to do even what we know we cannot do. Here Perkins reminds us that this sense of desperation for God is why oppressed people have historically risked so much simply to gather with one another for prayer meetings. Maybe this same sense of desperation is what will stir up revival in our own day.

Finally, Perkins exhorts the church to a strong display of love, a love that refuses to give up on disagreements. Often, if we will not give up, except for the desire for revenge, we will be able to forge new friendships with others with whom we disagree, and both reap great benefits from one another.

John Perkins's "parting words to the Church on race and love" summarize the way he has lived so much of his own long, difficult life. He led by example, as did Martin Luther King, on the question of racial reconciliation and the church's important role to play in it.

What is left for us is to take up the mantel and carry on.

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