The movement of Christian community, where more and more Christians are seeking to share their lives and resources together at deeper and deeper levels, could very easily end up in groups of white, middle-class Christians talking themselves out of the loneliness and meaninglessness of the suburbs. It could end up as a new form of withdrawal from the realities of evil in our systems into a new form of communal materialism. Christian community is still a phenomenon enjoyed basically only by those people able to have the mobility and the leisure to “shop” around the country for a new life, a luxury which the poor and disenfranchised in our country have never been able to afford.
And the movement of church renewal could follow the institutional church’s pattern of noninvolvement with victims in the poor, black communities of this country and result in the terrible stagnation that has been the fate of so many religious movements committed to inner growth without relevant outreach.
We need a quiet revolution.
But for me, hope and fear dwell together as I look out at the church today and see how what could be revolutionary might be just some more religious jive. Pope Paul VI said it for me. He was hosting a conference in the Vatican on church spiritual renewal and in one address he said something like, “This movement for our church is like opening up the windows in an old house. The joy! The life! But I admonish you, there are those in the world who make up the majority – they are hungry, thirsty, naked, without shelter. They will demand more than your joy.”
We must lie awake at night and wrestle with how we can individually and collectively bring our faith from talk to power, how we can bring works to bear on the real issues of human need.
There is, I believe, one key issue, which if addressed by the church today, would give meaning to each of these movements. The issue is this: How do we as Christians relate our lives and our resources to the real needs of the human victims around us? This issue could take the form of some specific questions too, like: “How do we as Christians get rid of and replace the welfare system in America?” or “How do we as Christians preach the gospel in the Mississippi Delta?” or “How do we as Christians begin to minister in the Hill District of Pittsburgh?”
How can we be part of a quiet revolution?
To me, our legitimacy and our identity as the church of Jesus Christ is wrapped up in our response to the victim in our world. As Howard Snyder writes in his book The Problem of Wineskins, “The gospel to the poor and the concept of the church are inseparably linked. Failure to minister to the poor testifies to more than unfulfilled responsibility; it witnesses to a distorted view of the church.”
If the church is to be the quiet revolution, it must face the poor in our society....
We must relearn what it means to be a body and what it means to continue Christ’s ministry of preaching the gospel to the poor. I believe there is a strategy to do this. We have seen three principles work that seem to be at the heart of how a local body of Christians can affect their neighborhood. We call them the three Rs of the quiet revolution: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution.
First, we must relocate the body of Christ among the poor and in the area of need. I’m not talking about a group of people renting a storefront through which to provide services to the community. I’m talking about some of us people voluntarily and decisively relocating ourselves and families for worship and for living within the poor community itself. ...
If we are going to be the body of Christ, shouldn’t we be like he was when he came in history? He didn’t commute daily from heaven to earth to minister to us poor sinners. He didn’t set up his own nice mission compound. No, the Bible says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That’s how we were able to behold his glory, because he dwelt among us. ...
Relocating myself makes me accountable to the real needs of the people because they become my needs. Ministering from within the neighborhood or community, I will know and be able to start with the real needs of those around me instead of forcing on the people what I have assumed their needs are. After meeting some real needs, I can begin to communicate through these “felt needs” to the deeper spiritual needs of a person.
The whole idea of the love of God was to draw people together in one body. That’s supposed to be the glory of the church! Are we manifesting the love of God today that can really move across racial and cultural barriers?
When this happens the quiet revolution has begun.
Then we must reconcile ourselves across racial and cultural barriers. I hear people today talking about the black church and the white church. I do it too – it’s reality. But it’s not in Scripture. We should not settle for the reality our culture presents us with.
You see, the whole idea of the love of God was to draw people together in one body – reconciled to God. That’s supposed to be the glory of the church! But we aren’t manifesting the love of God today that can really move across racial and cultural barriers. What we do is to go on preaching the gospel within the limits of our own culture and tradition.
The test of the gospel in the early days of the church was how was it going to affect Samaria. I believe the gospel is being tested again today. To reconcile people across racial lines, black people, white people, all people, is to stage a showdown between the power of God and the depth of the damage in us as human beings. It’s been my experience that the power of God wins and the result is a dynamic witness for Jesus Christ that brings others to confront him in their lives.
When reconciliation is taking place across cultural lines – between blacks and whites, between rich and poor, between indigenous and those who are new in the community – the quiet revolution is ready to spread.
The final result is redistribution. If the blood of injustice is economics, we must as Christians seek justice by coming up with means of redistributing goods and wealth to those in need. ... A ministry in the poor community which has no plans to create economic support systems in the community is no better than the federal government’s programs which last only as long as outside funds are budgeted. The long-term goal must be to develop a sense of selfdetermination and responsibility with the neighborhood itself.
It’s at the point of redistribution that I begin to see a possibility for structural change to take place. What we need is a change, created by Jesus Christ, in our institutional behavior equal to the change that can occur in the life of an individual. And as we commit ourselves to just redistribution in terms of creating a new economics in broken communities, we can see how Jesus, through us, offers himself. The body of Christ becomes the corporate model through which we can live out creative alternatives that can break the cycles of wealth and poverty that oppress people.
When this happens, the quiet revolution is winning the battle for the community. ...
If we as Christians can see the issues of our day – poverty, racism, war, and injustice – and if we can use the skills and resources that we get from our training at school or on the job, and if we can really be open to being equipped by the spirit of God, then we will be used. We must lie awake at night and wrestle with how we can individually and collectively bring our faith from talk to power, how we can bring our faith and works to bear on the real issues of human need.
Source: John Perkins, A Quiet Revolution: The Christian Response to Human Need, a Strategy for Today (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1976), 213–216.