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.

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.

AIDS Awareness Month: The Black Church & HIV

AIDS Awareness Month: The Black Church & HIV


HIV primarily affects white gay men. You can contract HIV by getting tested for the virus that causes AIDS. Active church members aren’t at risk for HIV.

When NAACP researchers spent a year talking with black faith leaders in 11 cities, they found myths like these continue to circulate among their pews and pulpits. Those findings led the nation’s oldest civil rights organization to mount a campaign calling on black churches to speak out about the disease that disproportionately affects African-Americans.

In “The Black Church & HIV: The Social Justice Imperative,” the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People acknowledges that pastors may have reservations about addressing AIDS from the pulpit.

“However, this issue is too great to ignore,” reads a warning in a 24-page “pastoral brief” that accompanies the manual.

“The only way for us to help our congregations is to understand all aspects of HIV, so that we can help our community rebound from the impact of this epidemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that one in 16 black men and one in 32 black women will be infected by HIV.

The pastoral brief, sprinkled with Bible verses, includes a “modern-day parable’’ of a minister who tried to “pray the gay” out of a heterosexual man after he received his HIV diagnosis. It later quotes a Houston minister who feared being in the same room with relatives with HIV/AIDS.

The NAACP recommends partnering with health organizations on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The group compares the church’s need to address HIV to Jesus’ ministry healing the sick and advocating for the oppressed.

“As we make efforts to address the HIV crisis, the Black Church should not be a place where people experience HIV stigma and discrimination, but rather a place of healing, support, and acceptance,” the brief says.

The 66-page manual asks churches to dispel HIV myths and spread the truth. For instance, most black women get HIV through heterosexual sex, and there is no risk for transmission of HIV through testing.

“Regardless of our church activity or engagement, as long as we are having unprotected sex or sharing needles in our communities, we are at risk for contracting HIV,” the manual notes.

The NAACP urges churches to be a “safe space” for HIV prevention and treatment, even if they have to start small: “We understand that incorporating HIV activism into a spiritual setting may be perceived as a difficult process, but it is possible to begin with small steps even in the most conservative environments.”


Webinar: Taking Action This National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Southern Baptist church: Racial prejudice a factor in rejection of black pastor

Southern Baptist church: Racial prejudice a factor in rejection of black pastor

The campus of First Baptist Church Naples in 2014. Video screebgrab via Southwest Florida Television

A prominent Southern Baptist church in southwest Florida has acknowledged that “racial prejudice” was a factor in its congregation’s decision not to appoint a black senior pastor candidate.

Pastor Marcus Hayes, a leader of Biltmore Church in Asheville, North Carolina, received 81% of the vote by “a record 3,818” in attendance Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 26-27) where the “energy and excitement was like nothing we have ever seen before,” according to an email from the pastoral staff of First Baptist Church Naples.

But an 85% vote was needed for approval, based on the church’s constitution, the staff said.

“Last week, through social media, texting, phone calls and emails, racial prejudice was introduced into our voting process,” the staff wrote in the email that was posted on The Baptist Blogger Twitter account.

“Please know that specifically your Pastoral Staff is deeply, deeply grieved,” the staff wrote. “We are grieved for Marcus and Mandy that they had to endure such vileness. We are deeply grieved that the wonderful name of our Lord and the reputation of First Baptist Church Naples was affected by this campaign against Marcus Hayes.”

Hayes, who is married to Mandy Hayes, was being considered to succeed Hayes Wicker, who announced earlier this year his plans to leave his position after 27 years.

The staffers went on to call “anyone who took part in such divisive and sinful actions to immediately confess and repent.”

Hayes, through his assistant, declined an interview. First Baptist Church Naples did not immediately comment further on the situation.

The southwest Florida congregation once included Chuck Colson, the onetime “hatchet man” for Richard Nixon who founded Prison Fellowship after serving seven months in prison as a felon who had pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.

Pastor Marcus Hayes preaches at First Baptist Church Naples on Aug. 4, 2019. Video screengrab via FBCN

Hayes is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and previously worked at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, where former SBC President Jack Graham is senior pastor.

Graham told Religion News Service he has seen the email from the pastoral staff and is “very angry” about the outcome of the vote for Hayes, whom he has mentored.

Divisions in the church prior to Hayes’ consideration could have made it difficult to choose any new pastor — Graham said he has joked that even “Billy Graham in his prime” would have had trouble getting an 85% vote.

“However, it appears that there was racism that raised its very ungodly head in the midst of this and some false reports and just slander and flat-out lies regarding Marcus,” said Graham. “You can only conclude that sin, in effect, disrupted this whole process and the call of a good and godly man to be the pastor.”

The Southern Baptist Convention has grappled with race relations for decades before and since it passed a 1995 “racial reconciliation” resolution. That statement, adopted on the 150th anniversary of its founding in defense of slave-holding missionaries, said members of the denomination “lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest.”

The Rev. Dwight McKissic, a Texas pastor who has worked to get Southern Baptists to adopt resolutions condemning white supremacy and repudiating the Confederate flag, called the outcome of the Hayes vote “Shameful!” and tweeted a suggestion that the Naples church should be disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Graham said he considered the issue a matter for the local church — including possibly removing some of its members — but he doubts the SBC would disfellowship the Florida church under the current circumstances.

“They could do that but I’m sure the Southern Baptist Convention would think twice about that,” he said. “You do have … 3,000-plus members that sit on the right side of this issue.”

Almost 60, Donnie McClurkin says ‘I’m at a time now I sing when I want to’

Almost 60, Donnie McClurkin says ‘I’m at a time now I sing when I want to’

Gospel artist Donnie McClurkin. Photo by Christian Lantry

Two decades ago, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin stepped on a London stage to record his second album.

Now, he’s returning to the United Kingdom for 20th-anniversary concerts on Oct. 18 and 19 to reprise the music of his “Live in London and More” CD that featured songs like “That’s What I Believe” and “We Fall Down.”

The Grammy-winning pastor of Perfecting Faith Church, a Pentecostal congregation in Freeport, N.Y., says he latched onto the popularity of black gospel music that existed overseas long before his 1999 concert.

“People like Andrae Crouch and Edwin Hawkins and the like, they made the music global so it was all a byproduct of the global impact that American gospel had,” he said.

McClurkin, who will turn 60 on Nov. 9 and celebrate with a gospel-star-studded celebration a week later in Jamaica, N.Y., also hosts “The Donnie McClurkin Show.” He features a mixture of new and classic gospel music, interviews and inspirational messages that airs online and in some 60 markets from the U.S. to the United Kingdom to Africa.

He talked to Religion News Service about how Oprah Winfrey boosted his career, the status of his relationship with gospel artist Nicole C. Mullen and how retirement is a ways off.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Donnie McClurkin presents an in memoriam tribute to Andrae Crouch at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Why did you decide to record an album in London 20 years ago, which some people might’ve considered an unusual move?

I decided to go to London, which was considered unusual by the record company itself, because of my mentor, the late great Andrae Crouch. He did a musical concert in 1978 in London. That became a landmark. And I always wanted to go to London from the time I knew where England was. And that was my prime opportunity because they gave me a blank check and said you just do an album however you want to do it.

There are certain celebrities who have helped you early in your career. Who are a couple of people that immediately come to mind and what difference did they make?

I was nominal, I was at B-level at best — and Oprah Winfrey got wind of the (1996) CD. She put me on her television show and held up the CD and said, “This is my favorite singer. This is my favorite project.” And we went from 30,000 to 300,000 in a month and then finally went platinum. Then there’s President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton and those kinds of things happened and made it something larger than life.

What were the presidents’ roles? What did they do?

They brought me to their convention, to sing at the (Democratic National Convention), to sing at the (Republican National Convention), opened it up to thousands of people in a room, millions of people around the world and that’s where a lot of attention started coming in.

Is this London concert an unusual singing venture for you now, given you’re pastoring a church and you’re hosting a radio show, or do you continue to perform in concert on other occasions?

I’m over in London just about once a year in concert. Since “Live in London” 20 years ago, I’ve got a very strong base over there, very strong community in England and in Europe period, from Italy to Germany to Holland to the U.K.

And do you sing much in the U.S. as well?

I sing less in the U.S. than I do in Africa and Europe.

You won a Dove Award in 2017 for “The Journey (Live)” and you were recognized in 2001 with a Dove for “We Fall Down” from your “Live in London” album. As the Gospel Music Association’s Dove Awards celebrates its 50th award show next week, what are a couple of main changes you’ve seen in gospel music over that time?

In the GMA, I see a lot of inclusion. For a long time, it was very, very segregated. GMA was for the CCM (contemporary Christian music) and the white gospel singers. And in the last three or four years I’ve seen such an inclusion, integration of black gospel artists along with the contemporary white gospel artists.

Gospel artist and pastor Donnie McClurkin. Photo by Christian Lantry

Do you mean that if you look at the show, if you look at the Dove Awards itself, that there is more integration?

The GMA as a whole, as an organization, not just the awards show but the organization itself. It’s grown and it’s matured and it’s let go of a lot of the institutionalized bias and has become inclusive of our music form, which is — and I probably will get in trouble — but our black music form is the strongest music form in gospel music. It’s what people gravitate to around the world, so “Oh Happy Day,” the whole of our repertoire. It’s been the most marketable. It’s been the most commercial. It’s been the most prominent. It’s apropos that at this point in time we are now sitting with equality at that table as well.

You have described yourself as a victim of childhood sex abuse and when you claimed you had overcome homosexuality, that prompted opposition from gay rights groups. How do you describe yourself now and are you involved in either so-called ex-gay ministries or initiatives that affirm LGBTQ people?

First of all, I’ve never been a part of any ex-gay anything. My past is just that: past. P-a-s-t. It’s gone. Who do I consider myself to be now? I consider myself to be Donnie. A wonderful, old man now — I never thought I’d be calling myself that — who is peaking 60 years old come next month and who has overcome a lot more than sexuality. But that’s been a great part of my life. It is something that I celebrate. I am a part of a church that embraces everybody. I am a pastor of a church that has hetero and homo in it as well. I believe in the love of God that reaches out to everybody, the love of God that is unconditional, the love of God that is not based on ethnicity, it’s not based on denomination, it’s not based on classification.

I believe in the transformative love that only comes through God and that’s what I preach. That’s what I live. That’s what I teach. I have a lot of LGBTQ friends in and out of the church. I’ve got a lot of people that appreciate what I’ve been through and they don’t judge me and I don’t judge them and that’s the way that this is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be a love that is real and genuine, that can accept people for who they are, even if you don’t agree with them.

Gospel artist and pastor Donnie McClurkin. Photo by Christian Lantry

There were reports in recent years of you dating another gospel artist, Nicole C. Mullen. So where does that relationship stand now?

We are great friends. We are very, very great friends.

Is there any thought of retiring from singing or from preaching anytime soon?

In another 10 years (laughs) or maybe 20 years. Singing is something that’s marginal for me now. I do it when I want to do it. I do it when it’s convenient to do it, and I do it when it has a purpose, if it’s going to bring somebody to a greater understanding of who Christ is. I don’t do it just for the entertainment aspect of it any longer. I am selective in what I do. Aretha Franklin told me years ago, “There’s a time when you got to sing and there’s a time when you sing when you want to.” And that makes sense to me now. I’m at a time now I sing when I want to.