Book Review: One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race

We have much to celebrate in the faith and work movement as individuals and organizations are drawn into and contribute to this conversation. Hearts and minds are being shaped by the truth that all of our work matters. God desires to use each of us to advance His Kingdom in this world.

At the same time, an attitude of continuous improvement is necessary  to ensure long-term sustainability and impact. One aspect of this involves evaluating gaps in the literature. Sabbath is one I’m pleased to see authors like John Mark Comer and Tish Harrison Warren address through their writings. Much more should be done here. There are also gaps in considering faith and work for youth, women, blue collar workers, and minorities, among others.

This fall marks the 30th anniversary of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). CCDA was founded with the vision of wholistically restored communities with Christians fully engaged in the process of transformation. On foundations of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution, co-founders Dr. John Perkins and Wayne Gordon sought the restoration of underserved communities along with reconciliation for injustice and inequity:

The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s son, redeems us through His death and resurrection and empowers us by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is God’s Word and through it we are called to live out justice, reconciliation, and redemption. The church nurtures God’s people gathered in a community to carry out God’s Word. -CCDA statement of faith

Dr. Perkins, Noel Castellanos, and the rest of the team at CCDA have proclaimed the foundational principles of Christian Community Development through national conferences, workshops, events, and books. Dr. Perkins’ most recent book is One Blood: Parting Words to the Church On Race.

Dr. John M. Perkins is the founder and president emeritus of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation and co-founder of Christian Community Development Association. He has served in advisory roles under five U.S. presidents, is one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American civil rights movement, and is an author and international speaker on issues of reconciliation, leadership, and community development. For his tireless work, he has received 14 honorary doctorates. One Blood, along with Dr. Perkins other books, provides an enduring legacy for a man who continues to leave his mark on American culture.

Here’s how the publisher describes the book:

We are living in historic times. Not since the civil rights movement of the 60s has our country been this vigorously engaged in the reconciliation conversation. There is a great opportunity right now for culture to change, to be a more perfect union. However, it cannot be done without the church, because the faith of the people is more powerful than any law government can enact.

The church is the heart and moral compass of a nation. To turn a country away from God, you must sideline the church. To turn a nation to God, the church must turn first. Racism won’t end in America until the church is reconciled first. Then—and only then—can it spiritually and morally lead the way.

Dr. John M. Perkins is a leading civil rights activist today. He grew up in a Mississippi sharecropping family, was an early pioneer of the civil rights movement, and has dedicated his life to the cause of racial equality. In this, his crowning work, Dr. Perkins speaks honestly to the church about reconciliation, discipleship, and justice… and what it really takes to live out biblical reconciliation.

He offers a call to repentance to both the white church and the black church. He explains how band-aid approaches of the past won’t do. And while applauding these starter efforts, he holds that true reconciliation won’t happen until we get more intentional and relational. True friendships must happen and on every level. This will take the whole church, not just the pastors and staff.

The racial reconciliation of our churches and nation won’t be done with big campaigns or through mass media. It will come one loving, sacrificial relationship at a time. The gospel and all that it encompasses has always traveled best relationally. We have much to learn from each other and each has unique poverties that can only be filled by one another. The way forward is to become “wounded healers” who bandage each other up as we discover what the family of God really looks like. Real relationships, sacrificial love between actual people, is the way forward. Nothing less will do. –book description from Moody Publishers’ website

Another subject gap in the faith and work movement is lament. Lament is not a popular topic, and often it is difficult for some to understand its importance. One gift from Dr. Perkins in One Blood is his intentionality on the subject of lament. He provides opportunities for the reader to pray and lament at the conclusion of each chapter. Here are two samples:

Father God, we praise You for the vision of the church – overflowing with Your character, Your purpose, Your love. Please remove the scales from our eyes and help us to see it, to know it, to embrace it, to love it. Then Lord, overshadow the doubts and fears that so easily war against the vision and help us to be Your church, overflowing with Your glorious character in this world. By Your awesome power, oh God, make us one that Your Name may be glorified and praised in all the Earth!

Lord God, open our eyes to see Your truth and to believe Your Word. From one man You created all mankind. You made us from one blood. And then You saved us by one blood. The precious blood of Your Son Jesus. Your Word is truth. Help it to penetrate our hearts and our minds. Help it to break through our walls of resistance and those places we’ve chosen to believe the Enemy’s lies. Break us, Lord. Awaken us, Lord. Make us one.

The faith and work movement can learn about lament from Dr. Perkins. He cites a pattern of lament in Scripture that includes a desperate cry, a petition or request for help, and a concluding praise. What would our individual and corporate discipleship, our probing of the meaning of our faith for our work, look like if it regularly included lament?

Lament comes from deep down in the soul. We need to give voice to our souls. The god of this world has blinded the eyes of Christians and the eyes of the Church, so we can’t see the condition of our souls.

The soul is the ultimate truth teller. It knows truth. And from the very soul of the Church – we need to grieve our refusal to obey His command to love one another. Each person, each individual offers a unique representation of God’s image. We need to know each other, love each other, and worship with each other to truly know the fullness of who God is. When I remember the vision of Revelation and remember the experience of Pentecost, there’s an ache in my soul. We are so far, far away.

But the laments of Scripture do more than just voice painful emotions and serve as an outlet that gives vent to our pain. These psalms of lament stand alone as theology. They teach us about our God and how to worship Him. They transform us.

Oh God! What do we do when the foundations are shaken!
There’s hate, distrust, and selfish greed in Your church
We’re doing the wrong things with wrong motives…
We’re not one and we are satisfied.

Lord, open our eyes to see Your Truth
Awaken in us a zeal for Your power and Your presence among us
Break down the walls that have separated us
Help us to love with Your love

From the earliest of our existence You, O Lord, have kept us
Your Word has been a lamp and a light for our path
For all of our appointed days, we will serve You
From everlasting to everlasting – You are our God.

–Dr. Perkins’ lament

Another gift in One Blood is the ‘Living It Out’ section at the end of each unit. The purpose of these is to “call attention to many examples of multiethnic congregations and ministries around our nation that are going against the grain to bring diverse people together.” In each feature, a church pastor shares the process by which their church became multicultural. It is one thing to read theory and philosophy. There is a place for this. But it is another thing altogether to read the story of someone on the front lines describe how they have brought the principles of Christian Community Development alive in their context including all the struggles and false starts.

One Blood has received many endorsements.

This is a powerful, prophetic appeal to people of faith to address our nation’s tragic history of racial injustice. Like Daniel, Amos, and Micah, John Perkins has profound insight on the health of our nation and the sin of racial bigotry that has burdened us for too long. One Blood is an altar call for justice to which we should all respond.
Bryan Stevenson
Founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, clinical professor at New York University School of Law, and author of Just Mercy

John Perkins has been giving me a transfusion of reconciling love for forty years. We may be one, but John has always had the better blood, more of Christ’s healing and renewing love. So over and over, both for me and for so many, John has infused us with fresh vision and bold passion for God’s reconciling love and justice. This wise book testifies that that same blood is still vital and pumping hard!
Mark Labberton
President, Fuller Theological Seminary

Thank you, Dr. Perkins, for a rich legacy of a life well lived. You have been and remain a trailblazer in the area of community development, justice, and reconciliation. God has placed passions in your heart and provided countless opportunities to see those desires come to fruition through your efforts and those of the army of CCD laborers. I look forward to the National Conference this November, to interact with brothers and sisters the Lord is using every day to usher in foretastes of justice and reconciliation as they integrate their faith with the work they do. Praise the Lord for the good work He has done!

I urge you to read this book; it will provide you an opportunity to hear the heart of a man whom God has used since 1960 to challenge the body of Christ toward its role in ministering reconciliation. Please pray the prayers at the end of each chapter to help you integrate the practice of lament and think about the questions in the study guide. Allow the Spirit to shape your heart and mind as you contemplate what Dr. Perkins says through the pages of this book.

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