My rating: 4 of 5 stars
They always say chili tastes better the second time around, after it has sat in the refrigerator marinating in it's sauces and aged for a short spell. Maybe that's the case with the brand new, expanded edition of "Welcoming Justice: God's Movement Toward Beloved Community". This easy-to-read 144 page softback has soaked in it's juices for almost 10 years (first published in 2009). The authors, Charles Marsh, director of the Project on Lived Theology and professor of religious and theological studies at the University of Virginia, and John M. Perkins, a leader in the Civil Rights movement, and founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mendenhall, Mississippi, Harambee Ministries in Pasadena, California, and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), have freshened up the manuscript, and added a few seasoned insights. Also, it is quite fitting that the expanded edition surfaces in 2018, the twentieth anniversary of the death of John's son, Spencer Perkins. I would imagine that the numerous reviews on the first edition still hold true, so I will leave the more detailed analysis to those appraisals. But I will address three items that stood out to me.
To begin with, I found the authors' recounting of the Civil Rights movement and where it went astray, very helpful. Marsh observes, "my research has shown me that only as long as the Civil Rights movement remained anchored in the church - in the energies, convictions and images of the biblical narrative and the worshiping community - did the movement have a vision...To the extent that the Civil Rights movement lost this vision, it lost its way" (30-1). Perkins agrees, and takes things a step further: "But the Civil Rights movement died on the brink of some real human development. We glimpsed the beloved community, but we also watched it slip away because the movement lost its foundation in God's greater movement" (94). There is a gentle, but serious warning in those words for any "movement" that seeks to redress wrongs, and push for equality.
Another plus came up as Marsh was unpacking Perkins' three "Rs" of community building: relocation, redistribution and reconciliation. Relocation is the thought that activists need to move into the neighborhood they're attempting to serve and speak for. Reconciliation is working toward pulling down the walls that divide. Redistribution is the "R" that may well receive the most guffaws and jeers. Nevertheless, even if a reader doesn't agree with every aspect, there are some simple, tangible thoughts. Redistribution, according to Marsh and Perkins, "means sharing talents and resources with the poor, but it also means observable changes in public policy and voting habits. Public policy would need to be accompanied by a Christ-shaped willingness to offer one's skills and knowledge as gifts to others" (37). I'm not sure I could go as far as the authors and embrace their notion that equality is expressed in terms of economics that breaks the cycle of wealth and poverty (Ibid.), but the idea that I can share talents, skills and knowledge as a way of "redistribution" sounds doable, sensible and hopeful.
One of the themes that returns at places in "Welcoming Justice" is that God is bringing about new movements and "a new Christianity" (58). I think I understand what the authors mean, but it deeply concerns me. For example, Perkins observes that revival movements "are always about connecting the gospel to a cause" (80). That seems to be the thrust of various portions of the book. The gospel needs help, and so it needs to be attached to some cause to give it a hand up? There are all kinds of insidious critters lurking in the dank shadows ready to jump on that thought to derail God's world rescue operation by co-opting Jesus for "our" party, that nouveau code civil, this immigration policy, those newly-found "wrongs" and "rights", and so forth.
The book has all sorts of perceptions that are useful: the recognition of how the homogeneous principle in church planting and church growth is harmful for racial reconciliation, the importance of place, the background for the baggy-pants in African-American culture, to name a few. In the end, I honestly and seriously think it is a book worth obtaining, reading and reasoning through.
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