Welcoming Justice, 2nd ed. | Book Review


On December 3, 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. opened the first annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in Montgomery, Alabama, with a message titled, “Facing the New Age.” The institute was sponsored by the Montgomery Improvement Association, which King led. Almost a year to the day earlier, Montgomery police had arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a crowded bus to a white man. Her arrest began a yearlong bus boycott that ended with a Supreme Court decision ordering the desegregation of public transportation throughout Alabama.

King began his address by noting that both around the world and in the United States, people of color were throwing off the chains of imperialism and slavery. In place of that oppression, King proclaimed, “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.” He defined that love in a mashup of Matthew 5:44–45 and Luke 6:27–28: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven.” Love—not violence nor hate nor boycotts—was both the means and end of the movement King sought to lead.

It is true that as we struggle for freedom in America we will have to boycott at times. But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform oppressors into friends…. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

King’s speech plays an important role in Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins’ Welcoming Justice. On the one hand, it helps explain the fragmentation of the Civil Rights movement that began in late 1964 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee “moved away from Christian formulations of nonviolence and beloved community,” as Marsh puts it. He continues, “Removed from its home in the church, the work of building beloved community withered and died.”

On the other hand, King’s words provide the setting for Perkins’ life work in completing “the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement.” In 1960, Perkins and his wife Vera Mae had returned to their home town of Mendenhall, Mississippi, to teach Bible stories to kids in public school. But the entrenched poverty and racial antagonism he experienced there led him to expand the vision of his ministry and to articulate the “three Rs” of community development, which Marsh defines this way:

  • Relocation: “incarnational evangelism, the lived expression of the great Christological theme that Jesus Christ ‘did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’ but took on ‘the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2).”
  • Redistribution: “sharing talents and resources with the poor,” as well as “observable changes in public policy and voting habits.” More than politics, Marsh explains, Perkins understood the Christian community itself as a “distinctive social order.”
  • Reconciliation: “embodying the message that ‘ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ and that Christ has ‘destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ in lived social experience.”

Perkins has spent the last six decades of his life in pursuit of this vision of the beloved community.

Welcoming Justice alternates chapters between Marsh and Perkins, who have been friends for nearly forty years. In his chapters, Marsh, who is director of the Project on Lived Theology and professor of religious and theological studies at the University of Virginia, provides historical background to the Civil Rights movement and Perkins’ life and ministry, as well as introducing other contemporary expressions of community development, such as the “new monastic” movement. Perkins, in his chapters, shares his thoughts about the cultural captivity of the church, what the next Great Awakening will look like, and what it will take to build the “beloved community” in America today.

I don’t agree with everything Marsh and Perkins write in Welcoming Justice. I’m awed by Perkins’ life story, cognizant of the deep strain of racism that runs through our nation’s history—including its churches, and committed to racial reconciliation. I agree that churches must do more than they do now, both to heal our racial wounds and to lift up the poorest in our community. I’m just not sure that Perkins’ brand of community development is the way to go economically. That said, Marsh and Perkins—especially Perkins—inspire and challenge me to do more than I have been doing. My guess is that the book will have the same effect on you.

Welcoming Justice was first published in 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The second edition, just published, comes out a year after white supremacists organized a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. On the day of the rally, a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring many and killing Heather Heyer.

The prefaces to the first and second editions of the book, by Philip Yancey and Marsh, respectively, capture the “two steps forward, one step back” character of American discussions about race. Our country has come a long way in the half-century since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, but we still have a way to go before we realize the “beloved community” he dreamed of. Toward that end, to quote the sentence Perkins ends the book with: “Love is the final fight.”

Book Reviewed
Charles Marsh and John M. Perkins, Welcoiming Justice: God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, 2nded. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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Leadership in Turbulent Times | Book Review


The best way to study leadership is to study leaders. How they exercised influence in their contexts provides examples of how we can do so in ours. For this reason, it is paramount for leaders to be well-versed in biography and history, the knowledge of people and their times.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times provides case studies of the leadership of four U.S. presidents at critical junctures in their administrations:

  • Abraham Lincoln exemplifies transformational leadership as he expanded the North’s war aims from union to emancipation through the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • Theodore Roosevelt provides a model of crisis management by how he brought labor and management to the table during the Great Coal Strike of 1902.
  • Exuding optimism and executing a plan to respond to the Great Depression in his first 100 days, Franklin Delano Roosevelt offers a master class in turnaround leadership.
  • And Lyndon Johnson demonstrates visionary leadership by using all the forces at his disposal — including persuasion and hardball politics — to pass the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965), fundamentally altering the legal terms under which whites and blacks related to one another.

Goodwin presents these case studies in Part III of her book, “The Leader and the Times: How They Led.” Of each president’s White House years, she writes: “There, at their formidable best, when guided by a sense of moral purpose, they were able to channel their ambitions and summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.”

But those ambitions and talents didn’t emerge de novo or ex nihilo. The four presidents were influenced by circumstances just as much as they in turn influenced them. Part I, “Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership,” narrates the burgeoning sense of possibility each president experienced in his 20s especially, along with the recognition by their peers that they were destined for greater things. Part II, “Adversity and Growth,” shows how each one faced a test or series of tests that forced them to ask deeper questions of their life’s meaning — questions that, once answered, steeled their commitment to lead. Finally, an Epilogue examines how each man reflected on his enduring reputation, a fame that would last beyond both his administration and his death. How would they be remembered by posterity?

As with Goodwin’s previous works on these four presidents, Leadership in Turbulent Times is a gripping read, combining biographical detail and historical context. It is the addition of shrewd insights about leadership throughout the book that marks a departure from her earlier biographies. Those insights are well-grounded and explicit.

One of the great dangers of drawing lessons from biography or history is that such lessons smooth over differences, whether among the subjects of  biographical inquiry, or between their times and our own. Doris Kearns Goodwin is well aware of this danger and largely avoids it. The leadership principles she draws organically arise from the events she narrates. Here’s how she explains the matter in the book’s Foreword:

“These four extended examples show how their leadership fit the historical moment as a key fits a lock. No key is exactly the same; each has a different line of ridges and notches along its blade. While there is neither a master key to leadership nor a common lock of historical circumstance, we can detect a certain family resemblance of leadership traits as we trace the alignment of leadership capacity within its historical context.”

That “family resemblance of leadership traits,” the book’s explicit lesson, is what leaders will most appreciate about Leadership in Turbulent Times. Its implicit lesson is that leaders must know themselves and their own times if they want to change them. Leadership never occurs in a vacuum where principles can be applied automatically. Rather, it requires wisdom. Like the biblical men of Issachar, leaders understand the times and know just what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Book Reviewed
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership in Turbulent Times (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018).

P.S. If this review helped you form an opinion of the book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Arc of the Universe (Ecclesiastes 8:10–13)


“The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered those words in the midst of his struggle to lead our nation to acknowledge the full civil rights of black Americans. His words also accurately summarize the message of Ecclesiastes 8:10–13, which serves as an encouragement to righteousness and a warning against wickedness.

The Preacher begins by making two observations:

First, he writes, “I saw the wicked buried.” Like all things that exist under the sun, human beings are mortal. Their lives are hebel, “vanity”—things that go “Poof!” The fate of death befalls all people, regardless of the morality or immorality of the pattern of their lives. In and of themselves, the deaths of the wicked do not trouble anyone’s conscience, for death is a human constant, a universal expectation.

What troubles the sensitive conscience is not the deaths of the wicked, but their lives. This is the Preacher’s second observation: “They [the wicked] used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things.” The spirituality and morality of the wicked relate to one another in inverse proportions: The greater their religiosity, the less their integrity, character, and good deeds. Such hypocrisy is troubling.

It is pointless too, or as the Preacher writes: “This also is vanity.” Why? Because God is just, and if he does not execute justice at the present moment, he will execute it sometime in the future.

Consequently, the Preacher’s words warn the wicked to cease and desist their law-breaking, God-mocking behavior. Unfortunately, because bad people so often get away with their misdeeds, others think that they can live without rules too. “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” But all of us—whether we are struggling to be good or striving to be bad—should approach life with one eye firmly on the future. If God is just, he will establish justice in the world, whether right now or eventually.

In the meantime, God offers us a chance to repent and do good deeds (2 Peter 3:9). God’s justice encourages us to do the right thing, even when doing so does not bring immediate benefits, because we know that God desires, honors, and ultimately rewards this kind of behavior. As the Preacher writes, “it will be well with those who fear God,” that is, show him the reverence and awe he deserves n every area of their lives.

At times, I am sure, Dr. King despaired of the progress of the Civil Rights movement. Such incremental steps toward justice, so much persecution, so many setbacks! And yet, because he was a Christian, Dr. King was an optimist. Justice will prevail.

God is just, so his creation is bent toward justice. In the long arc of our lives, we ought to patiently bend with it.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.