John Perkins and the Lives that Really Matter

All LivesDo all lives matter? The answer seems easy. All of us would say that all lives matter. And the fact is, you would be right. But the reality that we live in today does impose a hierarchy signifying that certain lives matter more than others.  Throughout American history we have seen many times in which certain people’s lives were seen as less significant than others. This is the heart of what John Perkins is getting at in his book “Do All Lives Matter?” John states early in the book that “if we are going to make progress with regard to behaving as if all lives matter, we need to make a genuine effort to understand others and the realities and struggles they face.” (p. 25).

This is not a book advocating for violence to advance it’s cause although we need to be sympathetic to why someone might act out from a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Although John has faced a lot of discrimination in his life he reasons that the solution is not to fight violence with violence but to fight it with love. He says that “We need to work together to create a climate that clearly acknowledges that all lives matter. All people have inherent dignity but many don’t know it, feel it, or believe it.” (p. 32)

John goes on to illustrate within our history when indigenous lives, women’s lives and black lives have been and still are being treated as lesser than others. It is important that we understand our history and the ripple effects that are still being felt by our treatment of the marginalized. In making the case for the continued marginalization of black people, John states that “Yes, African American people – as all people – ought to take personal responsibility for making the right choices, even in the midst of an uphill battle. But this is easier said than done. To relegate the slavery era and subsequent generations of racist legal and social policies to the past is not just logically absurd but is at the least insensitive if not immoral. Centuries of discrimination continue to shape the lives and limit the choices of African American people in our country today.” (p. 43)

The goal that all of us essentially wants is to live a life of peace and love knowing that justice is fair and balanced for all people. Instead of causing more reasons to fracture and splinter us as a society, we need to strive for wholeness, equality and reconciliation for all. And the majority should not sit back and ignore the problems of the minorities and marginalized but instead, work together so that everyone has hope and equality. Do all lives matter? Absolutely! Is it a reality in our country though? No. So we have work to do to build bridges and unity between groups so that we can eventually say that all lives really do matter. And might I add that the church should be the leader in modeling what this looks like to the society and helping to implement change in the larger culture.  Perkins reminds us that “Laws might change behavior but they cannot change hearts. A true revolution in our country – one that claims victory over violence and eliminates all exclusions to the proclamation that all lives matter – will come only as hearts are changed and as we recognize who our neighbors are and learn to truly love them as ourselves.” (p. 71) It is the church’s responsibility to live this out as kingdom believers recognizing and living out our unity in Christ. Jesus made a regular habit of identifying with the marginalized by bringing hope, healing and restoration into their lives. It is up to us to do the same.

So I Heard This Switchfoot Song

PerkinsI am a big Switchfoot fan. I have loved their musical throughout the time I have been in ministry. It has been fun to see them evolve as artists. But there was one song that stuck in my head called “The Sound”. The reason was because of this lyric:

The static comes alive
Beneath the broken skies
John Perkins said it right
Love is the final fight.

I remember at concerts wondering who this John Perkins guy was that they were referencing. Well the time has finally come where I did my research and got some of his books and I am now diving into his story. The first book I started with was his biography. It is titled “Let Justice Roll Down”. And wow was this an incredible read. I finished it in two days. I could stop reading it!

The story began with John’s childhood and teen years in rural Mississippi back in the 1940’s and ’50’s. He was a witness to his brother being wrongfully shot by a cop. As his story unfolds it is clear how racism has affected his family. He states that “prejudice in the South is both paternalistic and antagonistic. What most Southern whites what is for blacks to be part of the Southern system, to have a ‘proper’ relationship to the white Establishment. That’s why independence for a black in the South is a worse crime than merely being illegal.” (p. 34)

At one point in his story, he ended up moving out to California where things were much different. He became a Christ follower and fully gave himself to practicing the faith. He eventually believed that God was calling him back to Mississippi to help the people he knew who were still living under a system of oppression and racism. John helped to build up the community by investing his time in starting faith groups, better quality education and local businesses that would help to employ African Americans. John says that the problems rest in the fact that “Two-hundred years of slavery, followed by two or three generations of economic exploitation, political oppression, racial discrimination and educational deprivation, had created in black people feelings of inferiority, instability and total dependency. The implanting of such negative values in a people deprives them of any true sense of self-worth, or any real sense of self-identity. And the end result of negative values is negative behavior that is self-destructive in its effect. Dehumanizing values only and always produce destructive behaviors.” (p. 101)

John goes on to explain how he took a stand to get many of his black community to get involved in being registered voters. The local law enforcement did not take to kindly to what they were seeing so they set up John and his friends to be arrested and brutalized by the cops. At this point in the story I could see how easily it would be to want to become violent back at the aggressors. It would be so easy to succumb to hate and want to fight back. Instead John reflects that “I couldn’t hate back. When I saw what hate had done to them, I couldn’t hate back. I could only pity them. I didn’t ever want hate to do to me what it had already done to those men.” (p. 158). Not surprisingly John and his friends who were brutalized by the police did not receive the justice they deserved.  But as a result of his faith, John learned to forgive those men and give it over to God, not giving into hate and violence. Through it all he came out stronger than ever as a force for good, continuing his efforts in evangelism, Christian education, justice reform, social action, and economic reform.

John concludes by claiming that “if sin can exist at every level of government, and in every human institution, then also the call to biblical justice in every corner of society must be sounded by those who claim a God of Justice as their Lord” (p. 185). We must not turn a blind eye to what minorities are struggling with but instead, we must engage within the system to fight for justice, equality, and fairness for all.

This book was excellent in helping me to better understand racism, social injustice, and how the system is stacked especially against minorities within our country. But it also showed a compelling view that, as a result of having faith in Christ, we need to take a stand against corruption and injustice and create a better world for ALL, where everyone can have dignity, respect and worth simply for being a human being created in the image of God.