Meet Dr. John M. Perkins. Raised in deep poverty by grandparents who worked as sharecroppers, Perkins fled Mississippi for California in 1947 after his brother was fatally shot by a town marshal. After becoming a Christian, he returned to his home state, where he led various civil rights efforts. Through it all, he has remained determined to seek justice and reconciliation based in Christ’s redemptive work. Together, he and his wife, Vera Mae, founded the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi. He has authored 14 books, including his autobiography “Let Justice Roll Down.”
In his upcoming book “Dream With Me” (2017), he writes, “Justice is something that every generation has to strive for.” Today, at 86, Perkins finds hope in the young people he has met all across the United States who are hard at work, bringing about reconciliation in God’s name and offering acceptance to all. Through an ongoing commitment to love the oppressed and the oppressor, Perkins continues to declare that “love is the final fight.” Perkins recently participated as a plenary speaker at Compassion Conference, where we had an opportunity to chat more about what compassion and justice can look like in everyday life.
Why do you think it is so important for churches to be engaged in justice?
Because justice was the motivation for God’s work. He created us to bear His face, and human dignity is in the fact that God created us equal. And so justice is that affirmation of that equality, to protect the face of God. So justice is the utterance of the purpose of God, and the second purpose of God is to know Him and even in that to know that He’s a just God.
The loving of humanity is the strongest thing we could do — and loving God. Love God, and you reflect that on humanity. And the extent of that love determines your destiny.
What does the daily action of living compassion look like to you? How might a compassion rookie get started?
This is what it would look like biblically. I think it would take on all kinds of faces as we look at it. But the 23rd Psalm presents the perfect person. And the writer used one of the most imperfect people to write that Psalm. So that’s how you know it’s God. It’s really the reproduction of Christ’s life on earth. Only God could be the leader in the 23rd Psalm.
What are some of the challenges you might anticipate with churches trying to become more justice-minded?
It’s the confessing of your sin. You can’t do it without that. … So walking in that would be walking a devotional life. It’s almost like confessing your sin in the morning and confessing your sin at night, and I think other folk would say do it again at noon, reminding us that we’re sinners.
I don’t attempt to be right; I want to be truthful. It’s a difference, because I determine what’s right, and God determines what’s truthful. And we have to confess to each other, so both God knows and the person knows.
Some people could consider justice something someone else is taking care of. Why are compassion and justice everyone’s issues?
To do justice and love mercy. Well, mercy is compassion in action. Mercy and compassion are the same word. When somebody says in the Bible have mercy on me, have compassion on that person. So mercy and compassion is the same word. You enter into the pain of others and you bear that pain with them, and then you — and God — are working together to become redemptive. And we call it vicarious. Vicariously we’ll suffer for somebody else, and we’re sharing their suffering.
In the current political climate, how can we move forward as people seeking reconciliation through Christ?
I think we got to take grace out of it and put the image of God back in, and the dignity of humanity. You got to affirm the [image of]God in the human, the God in the face of humanity. Image — bearing His face, bearing His likeness. And we really don’t see God when we look at people’s faces. We see the framework of God. So when I look at you, that’s as near as I can see God. There will come a time when I see His face, but in the meantime I got you and you got me.
Let’s continue the conversation. Watch the Compassion Conference plenary sessions and download workshop resources at compassionconference.com