The Burden of Spencer Perkins
In 1968 our nation suddenly and unexpectedly lost its leading light on racial issues. I felt history repeating itself for me when I heard the news that Spencer Perkins had been taken from us. On January 27, the president of Reconcilers Fellowship in Jackson, Mississippi, and the son of evangelist/activist John Perkins died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 43 (see the obituary on p. 73).
In 1993 Spencer and his white ministry partner, Chris Rice, authored More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (InterVarsity). CT ran an excerpt about Spencer's early struggle to assimilate two facts: one, that he was redeemed by Christ and, two, that many whites, allegedly redeemed by the same Christ, hated him ("How I Learned to Love White People," Sept. 13, 1993, p. 34). He told of his despair when, at age 13, a white principal assented to a classmate's judgment that Spencer was "just a nigger"; his pain at 16 when he saw the humiliation in his father's eyes after John was ambushed and beaten almost to death for his civil-rights work; the confusion and hurt of being befriended and then rejected by a white college student. While his story of growing up black in America was powerful, it was not unique. The freshness came in his gospel-centered message.
For Spencer, the burden for racial reconciliation was heavy: "If white and black Christians could not be reconciled, then either the gospel was a lie or we really weren't indwelt by the Christ we said had taken up residence in our lives."
Yet this burden never provided an excuse to play down hard truths: "Most black people are angry—angry about our violent history, angry for the hassle it is to grow up black in America, angry that we can never assume ...