on justice, part 5: I need grace

63/366 - tangled

"Folks in my church had their own name for him:  Martin Lucifer Coon.  King's appropriation of the gospel galled us most...We said that...King was a card-carrying Communist,  a Marxist agent who merely posed as a minister. [...] We said that Daddy King had raised Martin right, but that the liberal Crozier Seminary up north had polluted his mind.  He followed the social gospel, if any gospel at all.  And when the rumors about King's sexual dalliances surfaced, the case against him was closed.  Martin Luther King Jr., was a fraud, a poseur, not a true Christian."  ~ Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church

Those words came back to me last weekend, sitting in the audience, listening to Dr. John Perkins talking about reconciliation.  I read Philip Yancey's book over ten years ago and I can still feel the force of that passage, that internal shock, knowing that I,  1980's Northern white girl attending a church-school that considered racism a sin, had been told the exact. same. thing.  Oh, not in the same words.  We frowned on crude racist names, but I knew the message.  I knew what I was supposed to think of Dr. King and his ilk, and it added up to the same conclusion that Yancey's deep-south congregation had given to him: those civil rights workers did fine work, good work; but not gospel work, and they weren't really christians.  Thank God Philip Yancey blew that lie apart for me a decade ago.

So when I saw Dr. Perkins' name on the list all this time later, I felt excitement.   What could this venerable old social warrior tell us about working for justice?  And then when I saw him on the stage, frail with age, gentle in his bearing, and I listened to what he had to say, a strum of grief began to grow in my heart.  All week long I've carried it, wondering what is at the core of those easy tears and that shamed feeling underneath. 

Sitting down to write out these notes, I think I finally see it.  Dr. Perkins didn't talk to us about civil rights much.  I've noticed that the elderly often unconsciously bare their soul's deepest essentials.  Dr. Perkins, polished steadily by the years, spoke scripture;  to every question, scripture.  Pinned down about how to truly help the poor, he said over and again, "Plant churches in the areas of need." 

At this last season of his life all any of us could see on that stage was what God Himself could always see: a beautiful, faithful, commited brother in Christ. 

My grief?  Maybe it's because I used to listen to christian snobbery and judgement and let it shape my opinions.  Maybe because I've wasted so much energy trying to be approved by those same christian snobs and judges.  Maybe it's because I know today I could click to a "christian" article on the internet that would tell me all about how people like Dr. Perkins aren't real christians and how the work for the poor in the social realm isn't the real gospel.  Maybe I'm sad for the church as a whole that we divide and blame.  Maybe I've just had enough of that crap.

I went to the Justice Conference expecting to be inspired and invigorated;   and I am.  But most of all is this sense that I still need to repent, that acres of sin lie between me and justice.  As Ken Wytsma said on day one:  Justice both surfaces the need for, and is made complete by, GRACE.

My God, I need grace.