Mike’s note: This is a Speakeasy-inspired guest-post from The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision provides a tangible example of how we might stand against the powers. His legacy of love is unrivaled in our country for good reason. However, we needed to find a living sage of the power of love. We had to find someone who was formed in the way of resistance that King embodied. A little less than two years after King was shot, John Perkins was working on his own nonviolent resistance movement in Mississippi. He was not simply following King but was observing him while trailblazing his own path for freedom and equality.
On February 7, 1970, John led a nonviolent march in protest of the racial inequality in Mendenhall, Mississippi. A group of students who participated in the march left to return home and were followed by police. Once they crossed over the line separating Simpson County from Rankin County, a police car pulled one of the vans over. All of the students were ordered out of their van and were arrested, then taken to the county jail in the town of Brandon. Doug Huemmer, who had been driving the van of students, was taken in a police car by himself, and was beaten the entire way to the jail by Frank Thames, the officer who had pulled them over. The students were kicked, stomped, and beaten with blackjacks and billy clubs at the police station in Brandon. Their nonviolence was met with violence. After the students had been arrested, the driver in the other van contacted John to tell him what happened. He quickly connected with two other protesters and set out for Brandon, even though they were worried about another ambush from the police. When they arrived at the police station, a highway patrolman met them in the parking lot. He told them to wait outside for the sheriff. Instead, a dozen officers poured out of the station to arrest them. From this point on, five of the deputy sheriffs and seven to twelve highway patrolmen beat them within an inch of their lives. In and out of consciousness, Perkins recalls seeing a lot of blood, and remembers being forced to clean it up while they beat him some more. (For the entire harrowing story, see John Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down.)
The anger I (Kyle) felt when I first read John’s story churned my stomach and made my fists clench. I cannot imagine enduring this kind of indignity and pain. I found myself bubbling with rage against these men. And yet, John’s own reaction to this horrific story of dehumanization differs from mine. He recalls, “They were like savages—like some horror out of the night. And I can’t forget their faces, so twisted with hate. It was like looking at white-faced demons. Hate did that to them.”
Like King before him, Perkins saw how evil defiled human beings. Evil power had destroyed them. While there is no question that John was being abused and dehumanized, he saw men who had been abused and dehumanized by evil. The very thing they turned to for power to control was warping them and making them less than human. John recalls, “I couldn’t hate back. When I saw what hate had done to them, I couldn’t hate back. I could only pity them. I didn’t ever want hate to do to me what it had already done to those men.” That night, in and out of consciousness as the students cared for him, John prayed. “God, if You will let me get out of this jail alive . . . I really want to preach a gospel that will heal these people, too.” (See John Perkins, With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development.)
John’s devotion to reconciliation and his witness against evil led us into the nature of the powers and principalities – systems of evil and sin in the world – and it became clear that we had to relate these to the question of power in weakness. What does it mean to bear witness against the powers, and how are we called to stand firm in this evil day?
To journey along with Kyle and Jamin as they sit at the feet of sages like John Perkins, Marva Dawn, and Jean Vanier, see their book The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that has Abandoned It (Thomas Nelson, 2017).