7 Jul 2006

Loving When It Isn’t Easy: Reflections on a Parable

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Bobby's World, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Forgiveness, Hermeneutics, Jesus, Kingdom, Love, Ministry, Mission, Race Relations

LOVING When It isn’t Easy: Reflections on a Parable
In Luke 10.25-37 we read one of the most famous short stories of all history – The Parable of the Good Samaritan. The parable was extremely offensive in its original social context but has lost much of its “edge” for us today because we are unfamiliar with the hate that seethed under the surface between two races: the Jews and Samaritans. However, I read something the other day that I think might help bring us back into dialogue with the scandal of this text.

Spencer Perkins (with Chris Rice) in his book More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (Amazon link) tells a frightening story that took place in February 1970 when he was a mere 16 years of age. His father, John Perkins (a hero of mine), was a minister and a vocal leader in Mendenhall, MS for Civil Rights. Spencer relates how a van full of children was pulled over by the State Police and the children were all arrested for disturbing the peace (!). The driver for some reason was allowed to go — she, of course, went straight to John to report the incident. That night, February 7, John and Curry Brown got into their vehicle to drive to the Rankin County Jail in Brandon. But the whole incident was a set-up. The State Police expected John and arrested him and Curry. In the wee hours Spencer’s mom received an anonymous phone call: “Have they hung’em yet?”

Spencer, his mom and a rather large group from John’s church journeyed to Brandon to find John and Curry. And find them they did, in jail . . . and almost dead! John Perkins had been beaten to within an inch of his life. His eyes were swollen shut. His skull was swollen with knots resulting from the blows of a nightstick. John would never be the same. Spencer writes, “I can still see vividly what my father looked like in that Brandon jail. I suppose a sixteen-year old boy would never be able to erase such a memory . . . he was covered in blood.” Spencer then confesses “the hardest memory of all is the humiliation my father suffered.”

If I had lived through such an experience, would it be possible for me to love? Loving isn’t always easy. In fact is can be quite hard! Spencer found it hard as well. He relates how his father struggled with the meaning of Christianity after his beating by white police. Listen carefully to his words, “I watched with interest as my father struggled through a crises of faith. Frankly, I hoped he would conclude that the gospel and Christianity were for white folks. I hoped that he would finally see the light and agree with Malcolm X that black peoplemore than equals could not afford to be Christians because it cost them their dignity. I hoped he would decide that we should have nothing more to do with white people.”

But that is not what John Perkins decided. Spencer says at church people would periodically ask if loving everyone included white people. John’s response was “loving my neighbor means especially loving white folks.” John, to this day, has continued to love white people. Spencer honestly confesses his struggles with resentment but especially loves white people – even when it isn’t easy.

Do we as white Christians, black Christians, yellow Christians love everyone? Especially those of another ethnic group? Do whites love blacks? If not, we have never heard, much less understood, what Jesus’ parable is really about. We, like the expert in religious doctrine, like to evade the issue by asking “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10.29). We evade because loving isn’t easy and it never will be. But Jesus, the Samaritan, John Perkins … and even Spencer show we can love — even when it is not easy – because we are not just white or black but Christians.

I think we could nuance this further for our contemporary setting and ask not only about black, Hispanic and white . . . but do we love Iraqis?

Bobby Valentine

Resources on John Perkins. You can read a full blown biography by Stephen E. Berk A Time to Heal: John Perkins, Community Development, and Racial Reconciliation (Baker 1997).

Another radical book is He’s My Brother: A Black Activist and a Former Klansman Tell Their Stories (Baker 1994). This is simply the amazing story of how God used Perkins to convert Thomas Tarrant III (a jailed for attempted murder Grand Dragon of the KKK).

Online: The John Perkins Foundation

23 Responses to “Loving When It Isn’t Easy: Reflections on a Parable”

  1. denimgirl Says:

    Great blog, Bobby. We are members of the Lord’s church too. The church of Christ in Oklahoma.
    Our blog site if you care to look:


    Our son is a preacher, my husband used to be an elder until circumstances beyond his control happened…can’t have just one elder.

    Our son writes also and none of his stuff is copyrighted and he said I could use what ever I wished to use of his.

    God speed to you and your family. Keep up the good work. I’m glad I happened on to your site because I think the good sites are outnumbered and I wish we could outnumber them.

    Best wishes, Edna

  2. Darin L. Hamm Says:


  3. Arlene Kasselman Says:

    Thanks for stopping my blog via Jim Martin. Good to “meet” you too.

  4. cwinwc Says:

    It is sad but there have been times when I’ve noticed that racial tension still lies within the hearts of some who claim the grace of Christ.

  5. CFOURMAY Says:

    The church has made a huge progress since the 50s when it comes to racial issues. However, there is still room for imporvement. This is an interesting story. It is hard to believe thats how things were less than 50 years ago. Yes racial issues are still present in the church, but they are getting better all the time.

  6. Velcro Says:

    What a thought provoking post. Recently, after our preacher’s sermon, I’ve been praying that God give me love for other people… not just black or hispanic or Asian… but people who I’ve had a tendency to look down upon.

    I am starting to see the fruits of my prayers.

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    C4, 1970 was not fifty years ago. I was two and a half when the episode took place related by Spencer . . . I may look it but I am a long way from 50.

    Historical events are often closer than we seem to realize. When I was in Grenada I had the privilege of interviewing a dear sister (though Baptist she was still my sister) who was at that time 101 years old. She sat on the knee of many slaves . . . including her grandmother, grandfather and hosts of others. When you can talk to a living human being that actually lived with former slaves suddenly the historical distance evaporates.

    But we have made progress. For that I am thankful. We have much further to go I am afraid.

    And then there is the question of the Iraqi. Do we see them as our neighbor?

    Bobby Valentine

  8. Stoogelover Says:

    Bobby, I’d read that story many years ago and was deeply moved by it then. Thanks for the refresher! Having grown up in an all-white church and having spent my last 13 years in a very racially, culturally, theologically mixed church, I’d never want to go back to the “good old” days that were not so good for some folks.

  9. CFOURMAY Says:

    You ask about the Iraqi’s. I think personally I feel so far away from the problem that I don’t know what I can do to be a good neighbor. I have had several teachers that are from the middle east. They are always nice. Do we see them as neighbors? Me personally, I see the ones that are already here as neighbors. But like I say I feel so far away from the problem that I don’t know what to do other than treat the ones here as fair as possible.

  10. Falantedios Says:

    Sometimes you are the voice of God in my life. To speak apocalyptically in the style of 2 Cor 12…

    I know a man in Christ who two nights ago was teaching a teenage Bible class about fear and forgiveness (cf. Ps 130 and Jacob’s life). This man in christ asked about what made people afraid. Being mostly young teens, they did not want to admit to being afraid of anything, but in a vile and simply astounding twist, racism reared its ugly head as several teens spoke of wishing certain ethnic groups (and their Caucasian imitators) could be sent to another continent or gotten rid of some other way. This man could not speak for some minutes, so great was his shock and heartbreak. Thank God for the parable of the Samaritan traveler for offering this man a way into these children’s hearts.

    in HIS love,

  11. Steve Puckett Says:

    Great thoughts, bro. My wife and I adopted two kids outside of our own cultural and ethnic heritage and have grown tremendously because of it.

    My wife teaches sociology and has some good stories from her students that move and touch the heart.

    Thanks for the “movie” resources as well.


  12. Dwayne Says:

    Babby…most excellent thoughts brother. Thanks for dropping by my blog.

    About this post. Thanks for sharing such a deep and impactful story. In one of our recent worship encounters, I was talking about how the Gospel is counter-cultural and that I had more in common with a Christian in Iraq than I do with my pre-Christian neighbor here in America. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

  13. Dee O'Neil Andrews Says:

    This post really hits home for us because we live so nearby and are so involved with Mississippi’s newspapers (my husband, Tom, is a newspaper publisher for the daily here in town and on the Miss. Press Assoc. board of directors).

    We go through Mendenhall going to Jackson all the time and the new president of the Miss. Press Association lives in Brandon, where he is the publisher of the weekly paper there.

    Tom’s son-in-law owns the dry cleaning business across the street there in the heart of town and I fled to Brandon early the morning before (Sunday) Katrina after one night on the road from Slidell, LA to here in Picayune at my son’s, while Tom was over at the paper. I spent two days and nights in Brandon before having to flee much farther (ending up in Abilene, Texas for the duration – some 3 weeks) the morning after the hurricane.

    I first moved to south Mississippi in 1973 from Falls Church, VA and it was quite a culture shock to say the least.

    I’m happy to say that things here in Mississippi have changed dramatically for the best overall in the years I’ve lived in the area. It is particularly heartening to go to the Miss. Press meetings (we just returned from one) and see what publishers and editors and reporters are doing and rightfully receiving awards for in their good investigative journalism concerning long time racial issues and old cases being brought to trial at last.

    As for seeing those in Iraq and all other places in the mid-east (and around the world) as our neighbors – the issue there (from my perspective) is not so much how we might view them, but how “devout” Muslims view us.

    I hold no ill will toward anyone anywhere in the world because of their ethnicity and would do anything I personally could do to help anyone in need. Any other person alive on this planet is my neighbor. There but for the grace of God go I.

    P. S. Thanks for stopping by my blog these days and for the comment this evening at “Grace Notes”. If you’d like to write a Grace Notes post to commend anyone, by all means let me know and send me your stories! Thanks.

  14. Blogging by Tina Says:

    I found your blog through a link at Dee Andrews’ blog. I’m a member of a Church of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia. Feel free to drop by my blog any time.

  15. David U Says:

    Bobbt, super post! Thanks for visiting my blog also. I noticed you said you are from N. Alabama….I am from Florence. Where are you from?

    Keep bloggin bro!


  16. preacherman Says:

    Excellent post.
    Your blog is always challenging and makes me think about my own life.

  17. Laymond Says:

    When I was a child in North Central Arkansas in the 50s I would sit in church with an all white congregation and wonder if black people (sad to say that is not how we refered to people of color) would go to heaven I just coulden’t understand how this would happen without belonging to the Church of Christ. Now as I have grown in age and christianity I wonder how we will go to heaven after treating our brothers as we have. the bible said we can be forgiven even for such horriabl things, I pray we can. God bless

  18. preacherman Says:

    I love for you stop by my blog and comment on Emerging church, Purpose Driven,What’s Next, Help!
    I appreciate your advice, wisdom and comments.
    Love reading your blog.
    Again great post.

  19. Angie Says:

    Having grown up in Mississippi, lived away for about 12 years and now returned home, the race issue looks a lot different to me. Things I didn’t notice when I was steeped in them now pop out at me since I’ve lived part of my life in other parts of the world.

    I think we could have lots of interesting conversations about it, but it’s really the implications that are so far-reaching, aren’t they? I really like how you use this issue as a catalyst to loving our neighbors in Iraq… Christ is the springboard for loving all people, ESPECIALLY those who are different from us. Loving them means being willing to embrace them and pray for them, speaking of them redemptively, not with hatred or disdain. African Americans, Athiests, Gay people, Republicans and Democrats… (and yes, even Baptists!!!) they’re all PEOPLE. And all people were made in the image of the same God – to reflect Him in some way, if we’ll only look a little deeper.

    Thanks for this call to let go of preconceived notions of others and live in the truest way of Jesus Christ!

  20. Candle (C & L) Says:

    Bobby- Thanks for your comment on my blog -Would you send me your email (to mlw@soonet.ca) I would like to send you some info.

    God Bless

  21. Mark Says:

    I was looking for “He’s My Brother” at Amazon and can’t find it. Could you possibly tell me the ISBN# for it? It sounds really interesting.


  22. David Johnson Says:

    You could have gone even further and asked if we really love, say, Zacharias Moussaoui or other members of Al Qaeda. Or you could have described it in terms of an aged Southern farmer and his wife during the Civil War who come upon 3 injured black Union soldiers in their fields and take the men in and care for their wounds and hide them from the Home Guard or whatever it was.

    I came across your blog pretty randomly, and having read many of your latest articles, I’m grateful for the depth and breadth of your musings (and studies, obviously) and for your unique and sage voice amongst those of our heritage.

  23. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    David welcome to Stoned-Campbell. I really like your analogy of the black union soldiers. I think that is on target.

    I hope you will make a habit of coming by more often and contributing to our conversations here.

    Bobby Valentine

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