Perkins, Spencer

Hymn to an Insane-Loving God

For him it was always hard, accepting who he was,
Even in your eyes.
So I do that today,
For he was much greater than he knew.

For his undeserved embrace of Prodigals,
Despite persecution across-the-tracks,
Ugly hate, flight, abandonment,
Indifference, neutrality, silence,
And countless white eager-beavers busy disappearing.
For soothing souls with the balm of forgiveness felt,
While propelling them forward to make a new history.
We thank you, insane-loving God.

For keeping his vows to his little postage stamp on earth,
West Jackson, in sickness and health,
Christmas robberies and Bulls-eye barbecue throw-downs,
Over decades long enough to uncover all our masks,
and his:
A fellowship of recovering sinners
Freeing from addictions seen and unseen:
Cocaine and pride, winos and egotists,
We thank you, insane-loving God.

For his Labrador-like patience, stability, devotion,
Sticking with impossible people
And an abused druggie-looking
momma mutt stray we called Bebe—
Car-hit, we wanted her put to a restful end;
He couldn’t bear it, and without permission,
beyond reason,
Spent $300, enduring our wrath,
And Bebe wiggled her way into our extended family.
Even for that, we thank you, insane-loving God.

For his restless Truth-seeking,
Enlarging us with gift of language and story:
Scottie, who would not come through that open gate,
God’s "prime directive,"
"Reconcilers don’t die, we multiply,"
For playing the grace card, not the race card,
We thank you, insane-loving God.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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Gospel Proof

Hindus can produce as many miracles as any Christian miracle worker. Islamic saints in India can produce and duplicate every miracle that has been produced by Christians. But they cannot duplicate the miracle of black and white together, of racial injustice being swept away by the power of the gospel. Our credibility is at stake. If we are not able to establish our credibility in this area, we have not got the whole gospel. In fact we have not got a proper gospel at all. -Vinay Samuel, at the Lausanne II Conference on World Evangelism, 1989

Over the years of our public ministry together, Spencer Perkins repeated this quote dozens and dozens of times all over the nation. His legacy is that the miracle of "black and white together" with "racial injustice swept away" took on flesh and blood in his own life.

"Black and white together," "racial injustice swept away" wasn't about some kind of harmonious, integrated American society. Spencer's expectations for America were low; the national creed didn't ask that much of its citizens. But the standards for kingdom citizens were different—their Master required everything.

Igniting Spencer's vision was a great evangelistic sermo—one that was not preached, but demonstrated. In the daily life of several thousand believers in first-century Jerusalem, a miracle of togetherness and justice swept away social barriers. "All the believers were together and had all things in common" (Acts 2:44). "There were no needy persons among them." (Acts 4:34). The witness was simple, but the result was extraordinary: "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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Following the Path of Grace

On January 27, 1998, Sojourners editorial staff was meeting when we got an emergency call from a friend, Rudy Carrasco. Racial reconciliation activist Spencer Perkins had collapsed and been rushed without a heartbeat to the hospital. Rudy asked us to pray for Spencer and his family, and we did, right there in the middle of our meeting. We asked God to be with Spencer and to heal him. There was still too much reconciliation work to be done, we prayed. We couldn’t lose Spencer now. Minutes after our meeting ended, we received an e-mail from Rudy telling us Spencer had died.

In many ways, Spencer Perkins’ shocking and sudden death couldn’t have come at a worse time. Of course, there can never be a good time for a vibrant, committed 44-year-old-a loving husband and father, brother and son-to depart for his heavenly home. But for those of us outside of his family, church, and loved ones, the loss of Spencer Perkins was perhaps most acutely felt because of the work of racial reconciliation that he and ministry partner Chris Rice were raising to a new level in America.

The psalmist says that God ordains all our days before we even come to be, and one could certainly see this at work in the life of Spencer Perkins. Born in 1954 in the heart of the South, Spencer confronted the injustices of racial inequality every day of his life. Of course in America most, if not all, people of color experience the bite of racism. For Spencer and the Perkins family, these issues bit hard enough to draw blood. As the oldest child of John and Vera Mae Perkins, civil rights activists and the founders of the Christian Community Development Association, Spencer experienced at an early age the discrimination, hatred, and violence his family faced because of the color of their skin-and their courage to speak out against such treatment.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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The Moral Issue

In the first stage of the White House sex scandal, the media was obsessed with how allegations of sexual misconduct and possible cover-up against Bill Clinton might bring down his presidency. "Can Clinton survive?" was the question reporters barraged us with that week. The best answer was, "We'll have to wait until we really know what happened." Of course, the high velocity and fiercely competitive media couldn't do that as they rushed to judgment, turning even mere rumors into instant news stories in a bigger press frenzy than even the death of Princess Diana had created. During Watergate, it took two reliable sources to confirm a controversial news story, but those standards have long since been abandoned.

The second stage of the scandal began with Bill Clinton's successful State of the Union speech and Hillary Clinton's vigorous attack on her husband's critics. When the media saw public opinion polls much more favorable to Clinton than to them, they changed their message dramatically. The press then began saying that the public cares more about the president's policies than they do about his sex life, and started asking religious and moral leaders whether they were appalled by this attitude. Instead of asking, "What's more important, the president's morality or his political agenda?" we should have been asking about the connections between the two.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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