Christian Community Development Association

John Perkins, evangelical civil rights leader

The CCDA, an evangelical organization that addresses holistic concerns of poverty, race, and spirituality, has its roots in the evangelical left generally and in John Perkins particularly. Here’s a brief excerpt from Moral Minority on Perkins:

Perkins, one of the earliest contributors to Freedom Now, was born in 1930 on a cotton plantation in rural New Hebron, Mississippi. After witnessing his brother’s shooting death at the hands of a white deputy marshal, Perkins and his wife Vera Mae moved to California, vowing never to return to the South. After a 1957 conversion in a black holiness church and then growing prominence as an evangelist in the mushrooming evangelical subculture of southern California, Perkins felt an irresistible call to evangelize poor blacks in the rural areas surrounding Jackson, Mississippi. His 1960 homecoming came as the civil rights movement was in full swing. Concentrating on building a new congregation, Perkins at first dismissed racial agitation. He had come, after all, to save souls, not stamp out Jim Crow. But as he toured poor black areas like “Baptist Bottom,” “Sullivan’s Holler,” and “Rabbit Road” in a beat-up old Volkswagen wearing ragged blue jeans, faded sports shirt, and dusty black shoes, Perkins noticed the “desperate physical needs of many of our people.” He discovered that “real evangelism brings a person face to face with all the needs of a person. We had to see people not just as souls but as whole people.” Perkins adjusted his approach, and by 1965 he had built a thriving mission called Voice of Calvary that included a day-care center, a gym, a playground, a cooperative farming store, and a church. As Perkins addressed the spiritual and social needs of his parishioners, he could not escape the unmistakable link between economic degradation and the southern caste system. His assessment of the civil rights movement softened, and he began to allow activists to stay at Voice of Calvary during Freedom Summer in 1964. After he himself suffered a brutal beating by a white policeman, Perkins became a more thoroughgoing activist. Faith was politics, he began to argue. “’New birth in Jesus,” he said, “meant waging war against segregation just as much as it meant putting the honky-tonks and juke joints out of business.” Racism, in fact, “is satanic, and I knew it would take a supernatural force to defeat it.”

CCDA’s national conference is meeting this weekend in Minneapolis. Check out the schedule here. And check out the video promo below:

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