When I decided to complete my last independent study on the topic of biblical justice, I had Dr. John Perkins book, Let Justice Roll Down, at the top of my reading list. Prior to beginning this study, I had heard Dr. Perkins speak on couple occasions. Having been in his presence, I observed firsthand the amount of respect people have towards him, not because they worship him but rather because of his integrity; his bold passion for God, God’s Word, reconciliation and justice; and because of his story. I wanted to know more about his story.
What is this book about?
Let Justice Roll Down shares glimpses from Dr. Perkins life, beginning in the summer of 1946 with the racially charged murder of his brother, the abandonment of his father, and narratives of his family of farmers and bootleggers. Young John was a heathen and he knew it. On the other hand, he learned early on that working hard could raise his economic status in life. He worked hard, married a woman he adored, and started a family. Somewhere along the line, he heard the message of Jesus, really opened his ears and heart to listen this time and his life was forever changed. Much like the Apostle Paul, Dr. Perkins started preaching right away and it brought him great joy to do so.
Then God called him out of his prosperous life in California and back to his hometown in Mississippi. Upon his return, John Perkins immediately started teaching the youth Bible study, registering black voters, establishing economic cooperatives (i.e. providing self-development activity and training to get people out of their cycles of dependence) and all of these efforts led to community development.
Needless to say, there were many who were not happy about the empowering work Dr. Perkins was doing. He was jailed and beaten almost to the point of death. He decided that he would not live his life in fear. He legally fought against the police force in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court and “the local court lost the power to intimidate blacks. And local blacks won a great moral victory (177).” In all of this suffer, Dr. Perkins learned to forgive his enemy, for this reflects the love of Christ in the heart of an individual.
Why is this book important?
People sometimes wonder and ask, “Why are we still talking about race?” I believe this book answers that question through the power of storytelling. Dr. Perkins’ personal journey helps the reader understand that slavery, the “Jim Crow Laws” and systemic injustices that followed were nothing short of acts of terrorism. Those actions were not only fear inducing, but also caused a history of psychological warfare and economic distress that negatively impacts many black people even today.
This is why I believe that it is not only dangerous, but also irresponsible to ignore racism or pretend that it doesn’t exist in our society. This is why I also believe that is it irresponsible to teach tolerance that is absent of the understanding of American history—including the oppression, struggles, and contributions of African Americans. I just read an informative article titled, “Teaching Race to ‘Post-Racial’ Kids” which gives perspective on the challenge of raising brown children and the distortions of white children in our current cultural climate.
Let Justice Roll Down gives names and stories which makes the history of the Civil Rights Movement more real, and it also clearly reflects the gospel message by featuring a God who is just, and in His justice, He reclaims sinners, captivates their hearts, and uses them for His glory to transform communities and bring righteousness to broken systems. This is not a book about theology—what we can know about God. It is a book about biblical ethnics or orthopraxy, systematically correcting and bringing God’s just order into the lives of real people and broken systems. “Whether or not we admit it, our reading of biblical ethics is colored by our perception of the world around us…If sin 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 (185).”
My personal takeaways:
This book has encouraged me to continue to seek and write about racial reconciliation, and to be intentional about that in my personal life and discerning how to share this message with my daughter.
Quotes to Ponder & Discuss in Your Community:
“I think many of us want forgiveness without repentance (11).
“I did not see white Christianity as meaningful either. To me it was part of that whole system that helped dehumanize and destroy black people—that system that identified me as a nigger (56).”
“The problems we faced in the black community were primarily problems of values as well as structures. Two-hundred years of slavery, followed by two or three generations of economic exploitation, political oppressions, racial discrimination and education 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…the problem I saw was not entirely a ‘black problem.’ White people, too, have failed to allow the gospel to speak fully to them, to lifestyles and behavior patterns that are often exploitive and unjust. If Christ is Savior, He must also be Lord—Lord over such areas as spending, racial attitudes and business dealings. The gospel must be allowed to penetrate the white consciousness as well as the black consciousness (101).”
“It was a strain to live in a world where you were ‘free.’ but still didn’t have any real control over important parts of your life, over matters that affected you and your community (119).”
“Anyone can hate. This whole business of hating and hating back. It’s what keeps the vicious circle of racism going (194).”
Other Books I would Recommend Along These Lines:
“The Next Evangelicalism” by Soong Chan-Rah
“Reconciliation Blues” by Edward Gilbreath
“Social Justice Handbook” by Mae Elise Cannon
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2014