Figure of the fornight
Unsung heroes for everyday life.
We need heroes. And we look in a lot of different places. Over my four-year stint at trinity and after a decade and a half of reading, I’ve found a few that I think deserve more attention. I hope these unsung heroes for everyday life inspire you as they have me.
Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) grew up in the American south at a time when brutal racism and oppressive segregation were the norm. The Klan ruled with violence. Blacks were denied basic rights, abused, harassed, tortured, and murdered when they stepped too far out of line. Even among the Church, racism was the status quo.
This hypocrisy irked the young Clarence. After studying agriculture with a heart to improve the lives of impoverished sharecroppers, Clarence followed his conscience, leaving the Reserve Officer’s Training Core to study Biblical Greek in seminary.
In a tiny shack nestled under pecan boughs, Jordan composed a translation of the New Testament set in his very own Southern and everyday-American language. In these “Cotton Patch Versions,” the good Samaritan story features a man robbed on the highway between Atlanta and Albany, with only a black man stopping to help after a White preacher and a famous Gospel singer pass by. The Pharisees were cast as “Sunday school teachers.”
But Clarence didn’t just hide behind his pen. He put his life where his mouth was. In 1942, Clarence started Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia as a community where white and black Christians could demonstrate radical, interracial love and harmony like the early Christians of Acts.
Their fourfold commitment was to treat all human beings with dignity and justice, to choose love over violence, to share all possessions and live simply, to be stewards of the land and its natural resources.
Needless to say, the neighbors didn’t take very kindly to his endeavors. Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, the little farm withstood bombings, bullets, death threats from the KKK, vandalism, economic boycotts and excommunication from their churches.
Pastor James Howell writes, “Koinonia perched itself on the American landscape as a mundane call to obedience – and the church responded poorly.”
After bringing a darker-skinned believer to church one Sunday, Clarence was pulled aside by the deacons and rebuked. When Clarence asked them to point to the part of the bible that he had violated, or where it said that if a man is dark-skinned he is not allowed to enter the house of the Lord, the deacons slammed down the book, asking him not to “pull that Bible stuff ” on them. Jordan left the Baptist church the same day.
As a preacher, Clarence delivered harsh truth in brilliantly straightforward phrases such as:
“The good news of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with him, but that he has risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, prisoner brothers with him.” Or “The trouble with God’s bride (the church) today is that she either has passed the menopause or she’s on the pill. Or perhaps even worse, she’s gone a-whoring.”
Jordan inspired many, including Habitat for Humanity founder. Millard Fuller, who ended up giving away his wealth and starting Habitat after visiting and working at Koinonia.
Clarence modeled a life courageous love and standing up for truth when it was not only unpopular but also difficult and downright dangerous.