John M. Perkins, an 84-year-old evangelical pioneer in race relations, sees “a pivot place in history” among churches in racial reconciliation and economic justice.
“This is the first generation of people who are beginning to understand that.” It’s a generation that “values diversity,” Perkins said at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in this year’s Julius Brown Gay Lecture on Christian Ethics.
“There’s an underlying movement today that now people are wanting to do mission with people, and they want to learn from people,” Perkins said, and they see the diversity of human beings as “a value in life.”
Perkins, a Mississippi native, fled to California as a teenager when his brother was murdered by a town marshal. After he professed faith in Christ in 1957, Perkins returned with his wife and children to Mendenhall, Miss., where he established a ministry to provide both Bible training and community development programs such as health clinics, thrift stores and housing cooperatives. He is the founder and president of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation.
In 1989, Perkins was among the founders of the Christian Community Development Association to spread this philosophy of rebuilding poor neighborhoods with biblical principles. He also is the author of several books, including “Let Justice Roll Down” and “A Quiet Revolution.”
Southern Seminary’s Julius Brown Gay Lectures are among its most prestigious lectureships, dating back to 1895. The lectures have brought some of Christianity’s most significant figures to the seminary campus, most notably Martin Luther King Jr. in 1961. The opportunity to deliver the lecture at Southern Seminary, Perkins said, was “one of the honors of my life” in his longstanding work in biblical reconciliation.
Perkins lectured on “Theology and Race in American Christianity” to a standing room-only crowd of Southern Seminary students and African American pastors with the Kentucky Baptist Convention who attended an afternoon pastors’ conference. (See story below.)
Racial reconciliation and justice are fundamental aspects of Christ’s redemptive work, Perkins said in his Oct. 27 lecture.
Anything outside of developing a church that is intentionally multicultural is “a disgrace to the Gospel,” Perkins said. “It belittles the Gospel to have a church based on race. It’s a slap in the face of a God who created from one human being all the nations that reside upon this earth and a Gospel that its intention was to reconcile people to God and to each other.”
The solution to racial divisions, Perkins suggested, is to “come back to the Bible and totally believe it.” He emphasized the need to understand the reconciling work of Christ in the incarnation with a sense of economic justice rooted in the creation account.
“The big issue is an economic issue. Justice is how we manage the earth’s resources,” Perkins said. “There is no biblical trace that God gives us ownership. The earth is the Lord’s, and He gives it to us as a stewardship.”
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SOURCE: Baptist Press
S. Craig Sanders