Called to Racial Reconciliation
Dr. John Perkins saw and endured horrific racism. On one occasion, he was beaten and tortured in jail. But God convicted him of his own hateful reaction and inclined his heart toward racial reconciliation through the gospel. God used his 2-year-old son singing a song to bring Dr. Perkins to faith.
About the Guest
- Hear the entire episode of Unfavorable Odds™ with Kim Anthony's guest Dr. John M. Perkins. https://www.familylife.com/podcast/unfavorable-odds/25-a-big-life-dr-john-m-perkins/
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Dr. John Perkins saw and endured horrific racism. But God convicted him of his own hateful reaction and inclined his heart toward racial reconciliation through the gospel. Listen to his conversation with Kim Anthony.
Called to Racial Reconciliation
Bob: In the 1970’s, as a relatively young Christian, John Perkins had gone to a Mississippi jail to bail out friends, who had been arrested during a civil rights protest. Instead of bailing them out, John Perkins found himself in jail. He found himself meditating on the words of Scripture that said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
John: That’s what started happening to me when I was in the jail and was tortured. I saw evil in those white folks, and then I thought about God; I said, “Lord, if You let me out of this jail tonight, I’d like to preach a gospel that could save us together.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 16th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. John Perkins has something to teach all of us about how we can pursue racial reconciliation, tear down dividing walls, and become one in Christ. We’ll hear from him today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to get a chance to hear from a hero today. Those folks who aren’t familiar with the name, John Perkins, are going to get introduced to someone who has demonstrated for us/modeled for us what it looks like to pursue racial harmony and racial reconciliation within the body of Christ.
Dave: Could there be a more appropriate topic at this time?
Ann: I think we need a hero in these days.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Bob: Kim Anthony, who hosts FamilyLife’s Unfavorable Odds podcast, which is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network, had a chance to visit with Dr. Perkins recently. He lives in Mississippi, where he has lived most of his life. She, in her conversation with him, just spent time reviewing God’s work in his life and helping all of us, I think, understand the realities of racial prejudice—in the deep South, certainly, but throughout America—and what it’s been like for Dr. Perkins to live through this. He was born in 1930.
We’re going to dive in; we’ll hear a couple of segments. This first segment we’re going to hear from Kim and Dr. Perkins just takes us through the early years of his life, growing up in rural Mississippi.
[Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: Dr. Perkins, as of this interview, you have just celebrated your 90th birthday and your 70th wedding anniversary; congratulations.
John: Thank you; thank you. I’m so grateful for spending this 70 years with Vera Mae; and every day, I weep in gratitude. How could I have been so lucky? God has been good. [Emotion in voice]
Kim: You’ve seen a lot, and you’ve been through a lot.
John: Yes, yes.
Kim: If you will, will you take me back in time to what your world looked like when you were born in rural Mississippi?
John: My mother died when I was seven months old. She died, and I lived. I was probably taking the milk that she needed for herself; I was probably draining that out. It’s sort of like she sort of gave her life—she died, and I lived. I think that’s the greatest motivation; I’m looking forward to that day when I see her face to face.
Hopefully, we could have a conversation, and I’m excited about it. I want her to say, “Well done”; and I’d probably take that for my 17 or so honorary doctorate’s degrees. Got the—sort of like the Academy Award of preaching—Chuck Colson Award of all of that; Wilberforce Award for my lifetime work. She don’t care nothing like about that. She going to ask me, “What did I do for people like her?”
After she died, an old lady, lived down the street, saw me as a little skin and bones. She brought a quart of milk every day to my house. That milk saved my life; my mind was saved too. [Emotion in voice] That’s another thing, because that milk saved my mind. I dropped out of school when I was somewhere about the third and fifth grade, but that was my early life.
The first thing I can remember in a house of—we was bootleggers and gamblers—that would be like a dope house today: a lot of children, lot of cousins born out of wedlock, and all of that in the community. My aunts didn’t get married; but they had these babies, my cousins; and I love them dearly. The first thing I can remember—we was probably playing in the house, all of us—and I probably said, because they was calling their momma, “Momma”—and I remember one of my aunts said, “Your mother’s dead.” I felt totally alone.
Kim: Dr. Perkins came from a family of sharecroppers, which was far from lucrative to say the least.
John: The sharecropper’s system was like just a step up from the slave system.
Kim: At a young age, Dr. Perkins would learn a hard reality about the economy and how it worked for black people in the South.
John: I became sort of an economist when I was a boy of about 11 years old. It was during World War II. I worked a day/almost a full day for a white man, who asked me and the other guy to work. We thought we were going to get a dollar/dollar-and-a-half for that day’s work.
But at the back—he had us to come through the kitchen; you couldn’t come through the living room—black folks had to go into the back kitchen door; go back out through the kitchen door. We came in the back kitchen and he paid us. He gave me a dime and a buffalo nickel. I was expecting to get about a dollar/dollar-and-a-half for that day’s work—that’s what it was going back there.
I really wanted to throw that 15 cents on the ground. I hadn’t accepted, “You were nothing, and they were something. They were the master, and you was their...” I didn’t fall for that; because I remember, when we were about two or three years old, the sheriff came to look for whiskey in our house. My grandmother said he must have brought it in there—so he found a half a pint—then he said he’s going to take Grandma to jail. She said to the sheriff/a white sheriff: “Are you a fool?” She said, “You think I’m going to go to jail with you and leave these children here?” My dignity was affirmed there, and I haven’t lost it; thank God.
Now, it’s not many people grow up in that kind of environment—because most people grow up in the back, trying to please the white man, because that was what they were supposed to be—inferior. I grew up thinking that I was created in the image of God, and I didn’t even know God.
Kim: His confidence in who he was did not match what was expected from a black person in the South during those times. Dr. Perkins’ family would soon feel the need to send him out of state for his own safety. It all started after his brother, Clyde, came back from fighting in World War II. Clyde was talking with his girlfriend, waiting to see a movie.
John: In his own town, in the alley way of a little theater—the blacks had to go up in the side so they could go upstairs, and the white folk went in the front door down there—and the boys were just coming home from the service. That’s a jubilant time!—they’d been gone about three or four years, fighting for the country.
Then the police came up behind him, and hit him on the head, telling them black folks to be quiet. He turned around as a soldier: “I was a soldier.” When you become a soldier, you believe that you can whoop anybody with your hand; you don’t need a gun. They hit him, and he turned around and grabbed a club. The policeman took the other hand and shot him in the stomach two times.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a portion of an interview that Kim Anthony did with Dr. John Perkins recently—a part of her podcast called Unfavorable Odds, which is part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. Listening to Dr. Perkins share his story/his brother’s death at the hand of the police, you can understand where—
Dave: Oh, I mean, the heartbreak is real; but the anger and the bitterness that you would have to feel—
Ann: —even the rage.
Dave: —it’s real.
Ann: And how unjust it must have felt.
Bob: Yes; and to not know Christ—at that point, Dr. Perkins has not been converted—when you experience that, all you know to do is fight back/to want to harm the people who brought harm to you.
Dave: I mean, in some ways, that’s the DNA of the human soul—
Bob: Right; right.
Dave: —revenge; you pay back. Anything less than that is not acceptable.
Bob: We’re going to jump ahead. Dr. Perkins, in the ‘70s, was living again in Mississippi. There had been a group of students, who had been arrested for participation in a civil rights march. Dr. Perkins, who at this point, had come to faith in Christ, went to the jail in Brandon, Mississippi, to bail these protestors out of jail. He found the police were waiting for him.
[Unfavorable Odds Podcast]
Kim: Dr. Perkins, I’d like to take you back to the ambush in Brandon; because as I read that part of your story, it was so powerful for me. I have experienced racism, yes; but I did not have to go through what you and your team went through during that time. Would you take me back to that jailhouse and describe what it was like for you?
John: It looked like they might have tricked us into coming to the jail; because I would come up to make bond for them, and that’s when they met us at the car and got us out of the car. They started beating us on the way to the jail; they started torturing me in that jailhouse. You know, I thought they were going to kill us.
I remember when they stopped torturing us; because the FBI was supposed to be on their way and all of that. They stopped; then they made me wash up my blood from the floor; it was just blood everywhere. Then, when I got in that hall to go upstairs, there was two guys who hadn’t beat us. Boy, they tried to beat us all the way up the steps. It was like I was going in and out of life; that was torture. It was then I said, “Oh, Lord, these are animals.”
If I had a hand grenade, I would have pulled the plug. I would have been Samson—all the students would have been killed; I’d have been killed—but all those white folks would have been killed too. It was then I saw that I was broken too. I saw myself as them—my reaction in my heart—I had the capability of killing them. Then that’s when I said, “God, if You let me out of this jail tonight, I want to preach a gospel that could save us together. ‘All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned…’”—and He going to say to Nicodemus—“How can these things be?”—He said, “You’ve got to be born again.” You are born the first time with the Adam’s spirit; you’re born this time with God’s Spirit.
Nicodemus was saying, “How can this be?” He said, “Because God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believe on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. He sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; he that believeth not is condemned already.”
I don’t think we read those ideas that we’ve got to be born again; we’ve got to know God in a deeper way. You confess your sin, and you’re just as like you’ve never sinned. So now He’ll invite you to this; but if you sin, and when you sin, you still have a Advocate with the Father. Oh, that’s love! “What kind of love is this?—what kind of love is this that God would make us to be His children?” John said that’s who we are.
It hasn’t been me hating white folks and getting them over their hate. It’s the fact that they have been washing my wounds too. When I went in the hospital after that, there was white doctors and white nurses and black doctors and black nurses. They took care of me. I didn’t want no white ones around me; they washed my wounds too. They out-loved me.
Kim: Do you think love is the key to reconciliation?
John: Love is the absolute; justice is number two. Justice comes out of God’s love for us; He so loved us. Don’t kill them; Black Lives Matter is: “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe. You’re killing me, getting life out of me.” We need to get together—white folk/black folk—Lord, have mercy!
We’re at a crossroad. We’ve got the greatest constitution on paper that ever been thought out. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all humankind was created equal to reflect God in that image; and now, what are we doing? We keep backing away from dignity/an affirmation of that. This is a pivot time right now.
I could ask Martin a question; he would always answer. When he came out of jail, beat up on the Pettus Bridge—he would always answer the question: “Where do we go from here?”—“It ain’t going to be the same. When dignity is affirmed, blacks got to love whites; whites got to love blacks. We’ve got to love one another.”
Kim: In your latest book, called Dream with Me, it seems like it’s more of a call to action, which is what you’re about; right?
John: It’s a call to discipleship.
Kim: —a call to discipleship. What do you see out there, as you tour the country—before the COVID-19 crisis—what did you see out there that gives you hope?
John: I think the multi-cultural churches was giving me the greatest hope. There’s a group that’s called the Mosaic/there’s a group that’s called the Christian Community Development Association.
Now, like #MeToo movement. I’m so glad women are getting a chance; women have suffered a lot. Black women had to take the burden of us to save us. If I didn’t have Vera Mae, who would I be with a third-grade education? But since I married a PhD English-type person—without her what would I’d have been?—I’m grateful.
I’m grateful for you; I’m grateful for people who are thinking about these issues. We can make a better future, I think. Just like when trials come, that becomes an opportunity. The problem I can’t solve, then I have to call on God; James says, “Count it all joy…”
Kim: Not only have you impacted this nation and this world with your work, but you’ve impacted me and my family personally. I thank you that I had the honor of living a life that has been far different from yours, but having opportunities that I may not have had, had it not been for people like you.
John: I want to thank you, girl. I want to thank you. You are my reward! You are my joy. That’s what Paul says in Philippians—He says, “The struggle we went through forming this church”—we’re getting beat up in jail and all of that—“but you’re the first one who helped me. You have been with me.” And he said, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.”
Joy and rejoice is the highest of praise. That’s what motivates me—gratitude/gratitude for having a big life—oh, it’s been tough. What can I render to the Lord for all of His benefits toward me?
Bob: Well, a remarkable man/a remarkable life: Dr. John Perkins. We’ve been listening to excerpts from a conversation that Kim Anthony, the host of the Unfavorable Odds podcast, part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network—an interview she had with Dr. Perkins. You can hear the entire interview when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and hear about the song Dr. Perkins heard his son singing that God used to melt his heart and bring him to faith in Christ.
Kim has other episodes that are part of the current season of Unfavorable Odds, all stories of people who found strength and hope in Christ in the midst of dramatic adversity. Again, you’ll find all of that on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ann: What an inspiring story and an inspiring life! Even the emotion that he felt and conveyed at the end of his story just brought me to tears too.
Dave: I mean, what a perspective! He says, “Thanks for a big life.”
Dave: And you’re thinking, “I complain about the littlest things in my life.” He went through such adversity; and yet, has a perspective of Psalm116: “What can I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” What a beautiful, inspiring way to live your day today!
Bob: And a lot for all of us to learn about how we love one another, and care for one another, and fight for one another, and pursue justice in our world today.
Ann: —in a godly and loving way.
Bob: There is a sin of partiality; the Bible talks about that. It is a sin to show partiality to one person over another person. We all need to be aware of and conscious of how we stumble in that sin, and repent, and believe the gospel, and walk differently.
Again, I would encourage listeners to download the entire episode of Kim Anthony’s conversation with Dr. John Perkins, and other episodes from Unfavorable Odds or other podcasts that are part of the FamilyLife Podcast Network. Information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And let me just mention—Dr. Perkins has written a number of books on this subject that we’d like to recommend to you. His book, Let Justice Roll Down, is a powerful book, where his personal story becomes a backdrop for how we can pursue harmony with one another—and then his book, Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Live—both of these books are available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order them from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Get copies of either of these two books by Dr. John Perkins.
And a quick reminder—if you’ve not yet downloaded the brand-new FamilyLife app that makes it easier for you to listen to FamilyLife Today whenever it’s convenient for you, go to the App Store on your device. Type in “FamilyLife” as one word. It’s easy to access; it’s free; and that way, you can listen to FamilyLife Today anytime you want. Check out the app store, and look for the FamilyLife app.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for joining us. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we’re going to talk about how we should be thinking more biblically about government, about politics, about the gospel—how all of that works together. Yes; we’re going there, Monday, so I hope you can tune in to listen!
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We’ll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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