Beyoncé Mass replaces hymns with ‘Survivor’ and ‘Flaws and All’

Beyoncé Mass replaces hymns with ‘Survivor’ and ‘Flaws and All’

Attendees stand in preparation for the Beyoncé Mass in the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center, as the clock on the screen winds down and Beyoncé’s rendition of “Lift Every Voice” plays, in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

Attendees stand in preparation for the Beyoncé Mass in the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center, as the clock on the screen winds down and Beyoncé’s rendition of “Lift Every Voice” plays, in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

The worship service began with the sound of Beyoncé singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song also known as the “black national anthem.”

Over the next hour, a choir-backed quintet of black women singers belted out other songs in the pop star’s repertoire. Beyoncé’s music filled the air between prayers, a sermon and a Communion-like time when congregants dropped rocks labeled “homophobia,” “body shaming” and “racism” into white plastic buckets that were placed before an onstage altar.

On Sunday (March 8), International Women’s Day, a theater in the Kennedy Center was turned into the latest sacred space for Beyoncé Mass.

After the singers in the Black Girl Magic Ensemble sang “Survivor” — a song from Beyoncé’s days as a member of Destiny’s Child — the Rev. Yolanda Norton greeted the crowd of more than 500 people.

“We don’t do frozen chosen here; this is not your grandma’s church,” she said, wearing a purple “Won’t SHE do it?!” T-shirt on the Eisenhower Theater stage. “Sing as loud as you can, dance, clap, love, live, understand this worship: You are welcome here.”

The Rev. Yolanda Norton, creator and curator of the Beyoncé Mass, addresses attendees at the event in the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

Norton, 37, created the womanist worship service after she gave her Hebrew Bible students at San Francisco Theological Seminary an assignment to tell black women’s stories using Beyoncé’s music in a worship setting. She then developed a full liturgy that was presented at her seminary’s chapel, and later at an event that drew about 1,000 people to San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral in 2018.

“We are not worshipping Beyoncé,” Norton said, twice repeating her answer to an oft-asked question. “It is a Christian worship service and we are focused on the mission movement of Christ in the world and we are trying to promote a gospel message of love, inclusion and justice.”

Norton discovered that people beyond her seminary were interested in the service that combines worship and women’s rights.

“Because of the response that we got in San Francisco, we have accepted invitations to go various places across the world to do the mass,” she said in an interview.

Buckets hold rocks that symbolized the weight of “isms” and “phobias” that were given to attendees, to later unburden themselves from them by giving them back at the Beyoncé Mass in the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

Buckets hold rocks that symbolized the weight of “isms” and “phobias” that were given to attendees, to later unburden themselves from them by giving them back at the Beyoncé Mass in the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

Beyoncé Mass has been presented, in partnership with churches and religious educational institutions, 10 times, including in New York, in Portugal and in early March as the kickoff to “Women’s Herstory Month” at the chapel of Spelman College, a historically black women’s school in Atlanta. In Washington, as elsewhere, it attracted a predominantly black female crowd but included people of a variety of ages, races and gender identities.

Norton said Beyoncé’s music is fitting for a service that focuses on womanist theology, the intersection of gender, class and race and the empowerment of the marginalized across the African diaspora.

“It represents something about the kind of stories that black women encounter in the world all the time,” said Norton. “In her music we see her as mother, we see her as mourner, we see her as wife, we see her as activist, a person struggling with their own body image and identity.”

After the ensemble sang a portion of Beyoncé’s “Heaven,” male and female worship leaders took turns reading names of black women, including Sandra Bland and Atatiana Jefferson, who had died as a result of police actions. Later, after the singing of “I Was Here,” a video played featuring women telling their stories of being among the first in their career fields and desiring to improve society for others.

Through a song like “Flaws and All,” a staple of Beyoncé Mass wherever it has been held, Norton said, the singer’s music can be sung as a prayer by women facing a range of emotions as they encounter God.

“The chorus of the song is, ‘I don’t know why you love me and that’s why I love you,’” said the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister. “I don’t know about anybody else but that tends to be my refrain with God: I’m not quite sure why God loves me, but I really do love God.”

Dean Emilie Townes of Vanderbilt University Divinity School said Norton has used Beyoncé’s music to create a service that empowers the spiritual journeys of black women but also “is stirring, it is thoughtful, it is liberating, it is a holy mass that can free us all.”

People head in to the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center for the Beyoncé Mass in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

People head in to the Eisenhower Theater of the Kennedy Center for the Beyoncé Mass in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 2020. (Photo by Cheriss May, Ndemay Media Group)

Others have been less affirming of the liturgical use of Beyoncé’s music in a service that includes a “Womanist Lord’s Prayer” that begins with the words “Our Mother, who is in heaven and within us, We call upon your names.” After the event at the Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco, author David Fiorazo wrote that “doing this at a church was both confusing and controversial.” Juicy Ecumenism blogger Jeffrey Walton called that same service “predictably over-the-top.”

The Rev. Wil Gafney of Brite Divinity School, who noted that the secular and the sacred have always coexisted in church settings, said Beyoncé Mass seems to have raised more eyebrows than did the U2charist services that were popular among young Episcopalians in the early 2000s.

“I didn’t see or hear the accusation that people were worshipping U2 or quite the volume of ‘is this appropriate’ questions,” said Gafney, a professor of Hebrew Bible. “Black women are subject to a compounding of sexism and racism; that is why the Beyoncé Mass is received so differently than was the U2charist.”

Beyoncé, who has described St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston as her “home,” has been known to represent a wide array of religious experiences. She sang “Ave Maria” on her 2008 “I Am … Sasha Fierce” album. She evoked Divine Mother imagery from various religious traditions during her 2017 Grammys performance. And, in February, she was backed by a choir dressed in white as she sang “XO” and “Halo” at the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.

Just as there is an eclectic range in how Beyoncé has expressed religious themes in her music and performances, an array of people stood in line — some for two hours — to get the free tickets to the Millennium Stage performance that was part of the Kennedy Center’s two-week Direct Current programming focused on contemporary culture.

Marjorie Sims. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Marjorie Sims, a black woman from Washington who is a Zen Buddhist and a Beyoncé fan, was among those in line curious about how a theologian would view Beyoncé’s music from a religious perspective.

“I thought that it was a nice blend of the right combination of Beyoncé songs and the message, and I just appreciated the message around the Scripture focused on Esther,” said Sims, 60, a managing director at a Washington think tank. “Because Beyoncé has such a diverse kind of range of songs, I think they all really worked. They were all the right kind of spiritual ones.”

Johanna Lemieux, a white woman from Springfield, Virginia, who was raised Catholic but is no longer a churchgoer, was so excited about the event that she bought two T-shirts and a bag emblazoned with the same “Won’t SHE do it?!”phrase that was worn by the leaders onstage.

“I’m not a churchgoing person and that was a message for everybody,” said Lemieux, 37, an information technology staffer at a small financial firm. “It was very welcoming. It was very inclusive. It speaks to everybody and I feel like that’s a really important message.”

Johanna Lemieux. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Every Beyoncé Mass is a little different. This one, due to coronavirus concerns, did not have its usual Communion service. It instead featured the rocks, which Norton told participants to use to “lay down the weight of our human failure and walk away with the grace of God.”

Just as she encouraged people to pass the peace in whatever way they felt comfortable — from elbow bumps to bows — Norton concluded by asking the Kennedy Center congregation, rich or poor, churchgoer or not, to keep lifting themselves up along with others.

“We have broken enough in this world. We have done enough harm and damage but I believe, through Christ Jesus, that we can start over,” she said. “Go into the world and do the good thing that God is calling us to. Go in peace and go with God.”

Kirk Franklin: ‘Kumbaya moments’ are not enough for better race relations

Kirk Franklin: ‘Kumbaya moments’ are not enough for better race relations

Laurie Crouch, from left, Kirk Franklin, Pastor Robert Morris, Pastor Tony Evans, and Trinity Broadcasting Network President Matt Crouch meet in early March 2020. Photo courtesy of Trinity Broadcasting Network

Gospel singer Kirk Franklin, in a discussion to be broadcast this week on Trinity Broadcasting Network, called on white Christian leaders to move beyond “kumbaya moments” and to speak from the pulpit when black people are the subjects of “social injustice happening in the streets.”

Franklin made his remarks on TBN’s “Praise” show in a conversation with the network’s president, Matt Crouch, and Dallas pastors Tony Evans and Robert Morris. Their talk is scheduled to air at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central on Thursday (March 12) on the Christian network.

The conversation stemmed from Franklin’s announcement in the fall that he would boycott the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards after comments he made about race and police shootings during the GMA’s Oct. 15 awards show were edited from the show’s broadcast on TBN. Franklin, who also said that he would boycott TBN and the GMA, said that similar editing occurred when the 2016 show aired.

“This is not a conversation of me attempting to make white people feel bad for being white,” Franklin said at the start of the “Praise” show. “It is to give a bigger perspective on the heartbreaks and the hurts, that black and brown people in America are looking for the church to be a safe haven but at times it isn’t always answering to that call.”

Franklin recounted how earlier in his career a verse he wrote for a song he co-wrote with TobyMac, a white member of the Christian rap trio dcTalk, and Mandisa, a black Christian singer, was left out of the recording that played on Christian radio.

“I believe that black and brown people in this country continuously feel like they’re edited out,” Franklin said.

Minutes later, Crouch beckoned Franklin into a hug.

“Whatever happened, I want to personally apologize so that we get past this, and this program, and others like it in the future, make progress,” Crouch said. “I want to profoundly thank you for helping us understand an issue that maybe some people don’t, including us, including Robert and I.”

Crouch, who is white, also thanked Franklin for “putting this together.”

But Franklin chose not to let the moment where the two men hugged and expressed love for one another pass without clarification. He noted that “this embrace as brothers” came after off-camera discussion.

“I do know that for a lot of black and brown people, just even the optics of what just happened can be very problematic, because throughout history a lot of times white people have sometimes come across that the issues are fixed with the kumbaya moment,” Franklin said. “The kumbaya moment is really, for this generation, is antiquated.”

Evans, whom Franklin has said he consulted before making his boycott decision, described “decade after decade” of personal experiences with racism, including applying to a seminary at a time when some theological schools would only admit blacks on a “probation” status. Evans said he later was excluded from a Christian radio network because, he was told, “it would offend too many of my white listeners.”

He cited an “absence of equity,” in which the emphasis in some churches is that the “life of the unborn matters.

“But when they hear about other groups calling for other lives mattering there is a negative response,” Evans continued. “And while it is maybe legitimate to have a negative response about methodology, there should not be a negative response about mattering.”

Morris, founding lead senior pastor of Gateway Church, said he’d known Franklin for years but had not heard the story of his verse being omitted.

“When you hear this as a white Christian, your heart should break; it absolutely should break,” said Morris of Franklin’s story and other instances of racial injustice. “And then you should say to your brothers, ‘How can I be a part of the solution?’”

Morris, who, like Evans, has his own program on TBN, later said that if white clergy aren’t already discussing race in their pulpit, they should begin, as he has in recent years.

“I started teaching our people about a lack of understanding, and you don’t know that you’re prejudiced but you probably are,” he said.

Franklin noted that evangelist Billy Graham at one time criticized the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. but later worked to integrate his crusades.

“We need to be able to see where the mistakes are, and to be willing to acknowledge them and to be agents of change,’’ Franklin said, “because if you’re not willing to get your feet and hands dirty on this issue, especially this issue, it won’t be anything but kumbaya.”

Activist William Barber II urges blacks in Congress to mobilize poor voters

Activist William Barber II urges blacks in Congress to mobilize poor voters

Attendees at the Congressional Black Caucus’ 2020 National Black Leadership Summit stand and applaud keynote speaker the Rev. William Barber II on Feb. 4, 2020, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

The Rev. William Barber II brought his message about supporting the needy to the Capitol, urging an “emergency convening” hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus to mobilize poor voters in the upcoming election.

“There’s no way we can inspire people to move with the normal politics that doesn’t fully address poverty,” said Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and the keynoter on Feb. 4 at the caucus’s National Black Leadership Summit.

“When you can work a full-time job at minimum wage and still not be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in this country, that’s poor. And if we can’t see that and if we don’t acknowledge that poverty then we are refusing to call upon these witnesses among us.”

Hundreds of politicians, faith leaders, union representatives and others gathered in the Congressional Auditorium of the Capitol Visitor Center to discuss ways of ensuring more people of color are included in the upcoming once-a-decade census and the national elections this year.

“This is the state of our union: Every state that is a racist voter suppression state is a red state, and it’s also a high poverty state,” Barber said, speaking as the results of the Iowa caucuses remained unknown and giving his own analysis of the country hours before President Donald Trump was set to give his State of the Union address.

“If you organize 2 to 10 percent of the poor around an agenda, you can fundamentally shift every election,” Barber predicted, citing statistics from a forthcoming study done by his organization.

Barber said more attention needs to be paid to voters in the South and voters who are black and poor, asserting they can help change policies and the political direction of a state.

“If the black caucus and black preachers don’t demand that candidates focus on what is impacting 61 percent of black people then we are abdicating our power and our reason for existence,” he said.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who sat in the front of the auditorium and was called up later in the summit, also addressed voter mobilization, encouraging the summit attendees to consider college students and high school students. “We have the power,” the longtime civil right activist predicted, “to register 2 million new voters.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, speaks as Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, right, holds the microphone during the Congressional Black Caucus’ 2020 National Black Leadership Summit on Feb. 4, 2020, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

In his speech, Barber also urged moving “from convenience to conscience” and relying less on political consultants.

“They say somebody will accuse you of socialism,” he said. “Well, according to some folks’ definition of socialism, Jesus was a socialist.”

Barber brought some of the standing-room-only audience to its feet when he cited “interlocking injustices” such as racism, militarism and ecological devastation and called out “a distorted religious narrative in white evangelicalism that says the only thing God is concerned about is prayer in school, being against gay people, being against a woman’s right to choose.”

In 2018, Barber helped relaunch the Poor People’s Campaign, the last campaign of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who likewise decried the “triple evils” of poverty, racism and militarism. The North Carolina pastor and former state NAACP chair helped lead a gathering of the newer campaign, dubbed “A National Call for Moral Revival,” to the National Mall last June and plans another on June 20.

“What America needs right now is an endorsement of ideas, not personality,” he added. “The question is not who can beat Trump but who can enliven, expand and inspire the country and the electorate.”

Often-reticent Justice Clarence Thomas speaks about his faith in new documentary

Often-reticent Justice Clarence Thomas speaks about his faith in new documentary

Justice Clarence Thomas, the member of the Supreme Court known for his reticence, speaks for much of a new two-hour documentary about his life.

Part of the story he tells in “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” centers on his longtime Catholic faith — nurtured by his grandfather who raised him in his Georgia home, nuns who taught him in school and people who prayed with him during his confirmation process to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Producer/director Michael Pack interviewed Thomas and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, for 30 hours for the film that is currently in 20 cities, including Washington, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. Pack recently served as president of Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, but has produced documentaries for PBS about George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and “God and the Inner City.”

He talked to Religion News Service about what he learned about Thomas’ religious life as he filmed his latest documentary. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What struck you most about Clarence Thomas’ faith?

I’m struck by the depth of Clarence Thomas’ faith. It was strong when he first had it, but when you have a faith, lose your faith and come back to your faith, in some ways it’s stronger then. I’m also impressed at how Justice Thomas relies on his faith to get him through the difficult and dark moments of his life, especially his contentious confirmation hearing.

Could you talk about the role of his grandfather and how the Bible shaped his philosophy and the lessons he passed on to Thomas?

Thomas’ grandfather was functionally illiterate. So what he would do with the Bible is he would try to get a few words by heart and rely on those. The values he gave to Clarence Thomas, he felt were rooted in the Bible: working from sun to sun, never quitting, being true to yourself.

In addition to his grandfather, Thomas cites the influence of nuns at a segregated Catholic school he attended.

As he says in the documentary, he felt that they loved him and he worked hard to live up to that. And even though it was segregated Savannah, he felt they were on his side. They believed in these young boys and girls. And he adopted the faith they instilled in him. He continued to visit those nuns until several of them passed away.

He has spoken in the past about wanting to be a priest at a young age, and he attended seminary before he went to college. What drew him to seminary life?

That’s right. He went first to a minor seminary for his last year of high school and then he went to a seminary for his first year of college so he went to two different seminaries. He loved the ritual. He loved the prayers. He loved the Gregorian chant. I think he loved the entire religious environment that he lived in. He found it appealing. It spoke to something deep in his soul.

He ended up leaving that second seminary. Why?

It was racist incidents. We tell a story in which he was in one class where some kid passed him a folded note and on the front of the folded note it said “I like Martin Luther King Jr.” You open it up and it said “dead.”

This sort of mockery of somebody he thought was important and of the civil rights movement was upsetting to Justice Thomas. But it confirmed his feeling that the Catholic Church wasn’t doing enough for civil rights. And don’t forget this is the late ’60s and he’s swept up in the mood of the times as well. It’s the time of black power, of rebellion, of urban riot and, I’d say, that as a young man, Justice Thomas got caught up in those ideas too.

Clarence Thomas’s yearbook picture from Holy Cross College, 1969-1970. Photo courtesy of Leola Williams

How does that fit with his attendance at College of the Holy Cross?

I think that he felt he had no alternative but to go to Holy Cross. His grandfather had kicked him out of his home. He had no job. He happened to have applied to Holy Cross and had a full scholarship. So he went. But he, as soon as he got there, he hung around with Marxist students, black radicals that didn’t take religion all that seriously — even if they were at Holy Cross — so he went through a period of time where he wasn’t going to church and he wasn’t thinking about religion.

After the King assassination, Thomas said that race was his religion. But he had a turnabout in his faith again.

That’s right. He participated in an anti-war demonstration that got violent in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he got swept up in the mob violence of the moment and he watched himself being swept up and did not like what he saw. By the time that was over and he returned to Holy Cross, it was well past midnight and everything was closed, but he went to the chapel where he had not prayed in a long time. He knelt in front of the chapel and prayed for God to take anger out of his heart. And that was the beginning of his return to his faith.

While working for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Thomas delved into the history of law and particularly noted a reference to equality in the Declaration of Independence. How did those words shape his thinking about law and life?

Justice Thomas felt that the words of the declaration, “all men are created equal” and that they’re “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” that these truths pointed to a deep basis of American life and of the Constitution. And I think that underpins his jurisprudence today.

Justice Clarence Thomas sits at his desk. Photo courtesy of Justice Thomas

How has he applied that to court decisions?

His sense of what equality means underlies his jurisprudence in the Grutter decision on affirmative action. Justice Thomas was saying, I believe, that every man has that right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to succeed or fail on their own. And he felt that the affirmative action that was under discussion in the Grutter opinion was not doing that, that there were two sets of criteria for different kinds of people and he felt that was unjust in the sense that the declaration points to justice.

What role did faith play in his life as he was being considered for the Supreme Court amid allegations that he sexually harassed onetime colleague Anita Hill?

His confirmation battle had two parts and the first part was closer to a traditional confirmation battle. After that the Anita Hill allegations of sexual harassment were leaked and that leak caused the Senate Judiciary Committee to reconvene and hold several more days of hearings. And that second time, he and Ginni felt it was a spiritual battle and they felt, rather than relying on their political skills or intellectual skills, they were relying a lot on their faith to get them through.

There is a brief mention of the “prayer partners” that were important to them at that time. Did he say more about that?

They needed to pray with other people to sort of be in touch with their faith during that second part of the hearing. He needed to be sustained by prayer and by prayer with other people as well. And because the media camped out in front of his house, it was easier for people to come to his house than for him to go out to a church.

Is there anything else about his faith that ended up on the cutting room floor?

He’s always coming back to the nuns. We portray his going to parochial school at the time that it happens in his biography. But in my talking to him, he’s always talking about what his grandfather and the nuns taught him at many points in his life. It’s a touchstone that he goes back to.

John Perkins: On race and the church, authentic friendship, considering heaven

John Perkins: On race and the church, authentic friendship, considering heaven

John Perkins, left, speaks at the Mosaix conference on Nov. 7, 2019, in Keller, Texas. Mark DeMyaz, president of Mosaix Global Network, stands behind Perkins on stage. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Editor’s Note: The speaker uses a racial epithet in his first answer.

KELLER, Texas (RNS) — When longtime reconciliation advocate John Perkins took the stage at a conference of multiethnic church leaders, they gave him a standing ovation and kept standing as he counseled them.

“You will find me in the so-called white church; you will find me in the so-called black church. But I’m there to be redemptive,” he told them. “It’s intentional, being a reconciler.”

At almost 90, Perkins, a civil rights activist, advocate for the poor, and worker for inclusivity in evangelical churches, told hundreds of people attending the Mosaix conference in early November that he’s “almost finished” with his work but there is more ahead for them.

“I want to be encouraging to this generation: This generation, don’t give up, don’t give up,” he urged. “Let’s love one another.”

In an interview the day before his brief address to the conference, Perkins said he’s planning the final book in a trilogy that will be the “centerpieces of my theology.” The first, “One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race and Love,” has been followed by the second, “He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World.”

He talked to Religion News Service about the importance of friendship, overcoming hate with love and his hopes about heaven.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You are a veteran in the realm of race relations in church and society. What concerns you most about the current state of those relations?

Integration and racial reconciliation is that space between when the first black moves in and the last white moves out. Now the whites are moving back and the blacks say, “We don’t want you in here with us and we want to stay like we were. Y’all taking our land.” We haven’t decided about getting together and loving each other. The church hasn’t made that decision.I don’t think we’re developing authentic friendship. Our discipleship is not going there. I think our racial reconciliation continues to antagonize each other. I don’t meet many white folk who want to be a racist and we’re calling them a racist. I don’t think that’s affirming their dignity. I don’t think that’s receiving ’em. I don’t meet many black folk who want to be called a n—– again. That’s not affirming our dignity. So we haven’t found a language of accepting each other. We don’t have the language for the conversation. Even if we have the conversation, our language itself is already bad.

In speaking to people attending Mosaix, a multiethnic church conference filled with people who are from the generations that follow yours, what advice do you have for clergy seeking to create or maintain churches that are inclusive of a variety of ethnic and racial groups?

We’re trying to be a prototype. We’re trying to find the model that can reflect that dignity within humanity. We don’t quite have it, and if we have it, we haven’t found the peace that surpasses all understanding. We haven’t found that peace. We’ve still got too much hate in there. Hate is still winning and hate is of the devil and love is of God. So we got to find that language of love. We’re trying to be intentional. We want that to happen. We ain’t there.

Your mother died in poverty when you were still an infant —

When I was 7 months old —

— your brother was killed by a police officer, and you were jailed and beaten as you fought for civil rights. How did you move from what could have been a life of anger and hate to one that has focused so much on faith and love?

I didn’t find that liberation until I came to know Jesus Christ, until I realized that Christ had died for me and that God loved the little children, all the children of the world — red, brown and yellow, black and white — they’re all precious in his sight. I knew that before I was beaten in a jail but when I was beaten in the jail, I think something happened out of that beating that gave me determination to do this. I think after coming out of that jail, I found authentic love from blacks. I found authentic love from whites. I think blacks thought I wasn’t just a do-gooder, a token black, that I wanted to live for them. I think white folk came and washed my wounds. I think real reconciliation is washing each other’s wounds.

In your new book, “He Calls Me friend,” you say that friendship can help people overcome what you call “the sin sickness of ethnic hatred and prejudice.” Can you briefly explain what you mean by that?

I mean that friendship is the outliving of the good Samaritan story that said, you can get into the kingdom if you can be like that good Samaritan. That’s an oxymoron. That’s a complete change of behavior. Those Jews — and they were the religious Jews — they left that Jew there. This mixed-bred guy, this guy who saw beyond racism and color, he saw there was a human being and he affirmed, he invested in him and he invested in his future and he said, I’ll invest some more if I come back. He became a friend, and Jesus said, go and do likewise.

He called us to be friends. I’m changing my name. I’m telling you all to call me friend. My name is friend.

You and your wife of almost 70 years founded what is now called the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1983. What was the goal?

The goal was to create (Christian Community Development Association) and to plant within it the biblical mandate. I would come every time we would meet in the morning and anchor people in the Word of God. This is our guidebook. This is our blueprint. And where I would take them would be into the incarnation, looking at the first purpose for which God came: They shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sin. They got a housing problem but they need to be saved too. Do you wait ’til they get saved to do that? No. If they’re poor, if they’re hungry, feed ’em. If they’re naked, clothe them. If they don’t have shelter, bring them to your house. You don’t wait until they’re saved to do that. Doing that might show somebody else our good work and (they may) say I want to be a part of that group.

You are turning 90 next year. It doesn’t appear, though, that you’ve really retired. What are your goals at this stage?

To finish my manifesto and I want to write one more book. I want to put these three together: “One Blood,” “He Called Me Friend” and the thought is why did James say count it all joy when you fall into suffering? I want to learn a little bit more about the vicariousness of suffering and the value of suffering, so I can get ready and get the people ready to die, to welcome his return, but also welcome death if it’s for a noble cause.

You mentioned in your new book that you yearn for heaven. How does that desire relate to your concept of friendship?

I think if we’re going to join our friends forever, we will never be separated again. I had a little theological trouble with it because (Jesus) said somebody in heaven, he won’t be married or given in marriage because I wanted to be in heaven, around the throne, I want to have Vera Mae’s hand.

So how do you deal with that?

Heaven will be so much greater.