Saturday, July 7, 2007

Is there a movement more radical in US history than the Civil Rights movement?

There are many things in Charles Marsh book "The Beloved Community" that were new and challenging to me. Perhaps the thing that most jumped off the page at me was the way in which he described the work of Dr. John Perkins as substantively more radical than the civil rights movement.

This was not an off the cuff statement. The entire book traces what the subtitle suggests: "How faith shapes social justice from the civil rights movement to today". Marsh looks closely at the work of Dr. King, Clarence Jordan (Koinonia Farm) and SNCC. He looks at the way in which the ideas and dreams of beloved community that each of these held dear essentially died in the years following Dr. King's assassination.

He also traces Dr. Perkins work in a way that highlights his long standing work within the civil rights movement. Perkins brother was shot unnecessarily by a local law enforcement officer in the south and died in his arms because local medical rules and authorities perferred Jim Crow to mercy. They delayed treatment until it was too late. Perkins was jailed, beaten and persecuted as were other civil rights workers.

But Perkins work for equal rights was energized by his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through years of toil and a longstanding committment to the poor, Perkins developed 3 guiding principles: Reconciliation. Relocation. Redistribution.

When I read about the civil rights movement and African American history I have often felt a sense that I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have been a part of it, part of doing what was right that most of the US white church evaded, ignored and castigated. Marsh communicates similar sentiments when he says in the acknowledgements: "This book emerges as an expression of gratitude for the courage and conviction of black church people in the South. . . " In other words for Marsh the writing of the book is I think in part an act of repentance and association.

With Dr. Perkins I feel called to work toward the 3 R's. What Marsh has helped me realize is that this 3R vision is a movement whose legacy is squarely rooted in the civil rights but under Perkins thought process is far more radical. Even Dr. King didn't call for middle class people to be reconciled in love with the poor. There was no call for middle class Americans to move back into neighborhoods among the poor. And while the civil rights movement clearly provided a fore-runner to the call for reparations, the person to person movement of those with personal networks, financial and educational resources to open themselves and thier homes to those with less is something that goes beyond even the height and beauty of the civil rights movement.

Dr. Perkins has been a personal hero of mine for many years. I am a member of the Christian Community Development Association ( which Dr. Perkins and Coach/Pastor Wayne Gordon started many years ago. This international organization's annual conference is among the most exciting events I have ever attended (and remains so year after year). But for all of my study of civil rights and for all of my love for Dr. Perkins, I have never really realized that the joy here is a very real connection to that repentance needed for white evangelicals who missed (rejected) the civil rights era.

(All of the above is in no way meant to be a discredit to the wonder of the civil rights movement or the stature of Dr. King. Marsh speaks with great admiration of civil rights leaders including SNCC and clearly articulates the way in which the entire movements, in all of its parts, were rooted in the black church and in a desire to work for "the beloved community")

No comments: