By John Pierce
A recent coffee-shop conversation led me to note that Jesus was not very socially acceptable.
American Christians, in general, have domesticated the Son of God into someone less offensive than the real one — whose offenses included loving the unlovely, sharing table fellowship with outcasts and calling overly-pious religious leaders less-than-nice names.
Of course, that does not mean that modern-day Christians should seek to be offensive for the sake of being ostracized or simply disliked. There is enough unbecoming behavior by high-profile “Christian leaders” in the public arena — that has nothing to do with the actions and teachings of Jesus that got him in trouble.
Christianity is, however, (or should be) counter cultural. It is a different route from the wide and welcoming path of self-determination, self-focus and popular definitions of success.
Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) was a farmer (with an agriculture degree from the University of Georgia) and a New Testament Greek scholar (trained at the old Southern Baptist Seminary) who fully grasped the counter-cultural ways of Christ.
He lived out those teachings and convictions in an abbreviated, but highly influential life that included the founding of the interracial Koinonia Farm in Southwest Georgia and the translation of parts of the New Testaments in the language and setting of the cotton patch.
In 2012, a symposium was held at Koinonia and other sites in and around Americus and Plains, Ga., to mark the 100th anniversary of Clarence’s birth. It was designed to not only honor this remarkably Christian man but to motivate others to live so faithfully.
Some events, like this one, deserve more lasting power. So the good effort by Kirk and Cori Lyman-Barner to capture the essence of the Clarence Jordan Symposium in print is greatly appreciated.
Since I was unable to attend the symposium, having the various presentations to read is most helpful and inspiring. Contributors to Roots in the Cotton Patch include Tony Campolo, Charles Marsh, Tom Key and many more.
My own contribution to the first volume is an article based on an interview with the late historian, civil rights advocate and MLK biographer, Vincent Harding, who arranged a little-known meeting between his two friends, Clarence Jordan and Martin Luther King Jr., in Albany, Ga., in December 1961.
These two Baptist Christians who gave their lives to the struggle for equality and justice debated the use of boycotts as a means to bring social change. They did so, Harding recalled, with “loving respect and clear disagreement.”
Capturing that important, yet untold meeting of these two Baptist prophets is appreciated even more since Harding’s death a few months ago.
I recommend Roots in the Cotton Patch to those who want to better understand the life and radical commitment of Clarence Jordan — and to be inspired to take the more narrow, harder path of love, grace, justice and service.
It is widely claimed that those who fail to understand the past are doomed to repeat it. That is wise advice that can help us to see our social blind spots of today in light of our limited vision and wrong-mindedness in the past.
However, there is benefit as well in seeing that which in the past was good and faithful — such as the life and contributions of Clarence Jordan — and seeking to be better and more faithful followers of Christ ourselves.