NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, February 2nd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: our Classic Book of the Month.
Emily Whitten’s selection for the month of February is John Perkins’s Let Justice Roll Down.
EMILY WHITTEN, REPORTER: John M. Perkins first published his autobiography, Let Justice Roll Down, nearly half a century ago. In it, Perkins writes in a simple and straightforward way. No hyperbole, no flowery metaphors. While the book hasn’t won many awards, the life described in its pages certainly has. WORLD Magazine chose him as last year’s Daniel of the Year, and that’s on top of 16 honorary doctorates.
Perkins’s life inspires many in the church to keep working for racial unity. Last September, one reader named Glenda Green described her reaction to Perkins’ writing. This is from an online Bible study by the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation:
GLENDA GREEN: This year has just really done me in. I didn’t want to engage anymore. I know I’m called to do this work, but I was ready and willing to turn away from the plow. And I believe God has directed me to Dr. Perkins and his work, I feel encouraged. I feel I can run on.
Christian singer-songwriter Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot says Let Justice Roll Down inspired his song, “The Sound,” released in 2009. Here’s Foreman in a Youtube interview from last July.
FOREMAN: There’s this moment he is tempted to hate them. He chooses love instead of hatred and violence. I felt like we gotta write a song about this and tell his story.
So what is Perkins’ story? His book begins midstream, with the 1955 murder of his brother by a police officer. Clyde had recently come back from serving in World War II, and he was waiting in line outside a local theater. Here’s John Perkins from a 2005 University of California television interview.
PERKINS: And he was in line talking to his girlfriend there, and they must have been talking loud, and the policeman came up behind him and hit him. And he just sort of turn around and grabbed the club from the policeman, and he shot him.
No one investigated the policeman’s use of force, and Perkins knew he might be next. So, after he turned 17, he headed to California for a new start.
The next chapter details Perkins’ early life as a son of sharecroppers in Mississippi. Early on, his mother died of malnutrition, and his father left him and his brother with their grandmother. Perkins says longing for father love haunted him throughout his early years. But in California, Perkins found a good job. He married his high school sweetheart, and they had their first son. Later, when that son attended a Bible study, Perkins heard Galatians 2:20 for the first time.
Here’s a clip from an interview at St. Norbert College.
PERKINS: I think it’s the greatest statement of the gospel. I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, he says, but it’s Christ who lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.
Perkins explains what the words meant to him.
PERKINS: See, growing up without a mother, growing up without a father, my drive in life was to be loved. I had not had love. Then I heard that this God loved me enough to give his son. That’s some love. And that was my beginning…
Soon, Perkins went back to Mississippi to tell others about God’s love in Christ.
PERKINS: See, the Civil Rights Movement heated up, it was going with murders going to Ole Miss early. Then Medgar Evers getting killed early, 62. And then 63, the Civil Rights workers getting killed.
In the early 1960s, legal segregation and racial violence crippled his community. Black citizens couldn’t vote. They couldn’t hold certain jobs or even shop or eat in certain stores. So, he and others organized a boycott in their town.
When 19 young people got arrested, Perkins and other black leaders went to the jail to get them released. Racist police officers, including the sheriff, ambushed them in the parking lot. Perkins speaks here in the short film Redemption, available on YouTube.
PERKINS: The sheriff said, ‘This is another ball game. You’re not in Mendenhall.’ And boy he clubbed me, and then they started. It was savage. I thought they was gonna kill me.
The police arrested Perkins and those with him and tortured them through the night. The next day, they let him go, but Perkins spent many weeks in the hospital before he recovered.
In his Preface to Let Justice Roll Down, Perkins writes about his struggle to forgive during that time. Here’s the Oasis Audio version:
PERKINS: The Lord had to lead me through a great time of soul searching. And it wasn’t until I could look at a Mississippi Highway Patrolman, fully uniformed and ready for service, and look at him without feeling a sense of bitterness, that I could really begin to relate my faith in a creative way to the task of reconciliation and evangelism. I have overcome that sense of bitterness in my own heart…
When he left the hospital, Perkins worked toward racial reconciliation with new determination. Several chapters cover the beginning of his work to start Bible study centers, churches, schools, and community co-ops. When Philip Ryken introduced Perkins in a 2016 interview at Wheaton College, Ryken gave this summary of Perkins’ life.
PERKINS: I can hardly think of anyone who has done more to promote racial understanding in community development work, particularly in urban communities over the last generation, than John Perkins.
In our February Classic Book of the Month, Let Justice Roll Down, Perkins shows how God’s Word can move Christians toward one another, despite real differences and a toxic political culture.
In the documentary Redemption, Perkins sums up his hope for the church this way.
PERKINS: That we can forgive each other. That we could make a better world for our children. We washing the wounds we have inflicted on our brothers and sisters. We are washing each other’s wounds.
I’m Emily Whitten.