Around the country, every February people remember, celebrate, and learn about the various ways African American and black folks have impacted the country and the world. Many of whom have been forgotten about, or simply not given much attention in history books, biographies, and films. The same could be said about the impact that African American and black folks have had on the Church: overlooked and understudied. There have been many black folks who have significantly contributed to the advancement of Christ's church in the world. So as we approach the end of February, I would like to offer you a brief series about the life and works of four influential African American and black Christians.
Dr. John Perkins is a Christian minister, Civil Rights activist, author, and community developer. He is a champion of Biblical justice and reconciliation, and his personal experiences add sobriety to his words. Though he dropped out of school in 3rd grade, he developed dozens of community projects and organizations across the US- for which he's been recognized 14 honorary doctorate degrees. Perkins was born in Mississippi in 1930 and raised by his grandparents & extended family. He has suffered under the weight of racism most of his life. Early in life he came to Christ in California and there he became convinced of the gospel's power to break down barriers and produce cultural renewal. But though the message of gospel-centered reconciliation permeated his heart, it was not received well by his white contemporaries. The years where he saw the most promising advances in culture he also saw the most troubling things, and heard the most disappointing views about racial reconciliation. He's a firm advocate and witness to the fact that neither, "giving it time" nor simple confession is enough. We must, in love, move towards strategic action (what he calls, "relocation, redistribution, and reconciliation"). However, Perkins is known primarily for his gospel-centered hope. His final manifesto, "One Blood" is a clarion call for blacks and whites to work together at every level- secular and religious. In it he says that racism is a problem, "only the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can heal. It requires the quality of love that only our Savior can provide."
At the end of the day, there are more men who could have made this list and unless by God's providence we find more artifacts of history, there are even more men whom we may never know about. But may prayer is that we may be encouraged by what we do know, and that we may grow in our thanksgiving towards God for the way in which he's used different kinds of people throughout the history of the Church. May we be challenged by these men to persevere in the face of sin and hindrances to live radical, counter-cultural, and theologically driven lives that change our country forever- because we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). You can find part 3 of our Influential Black Theologians series here.