Sunday, December 23, 2012

Post-Newtown Choices 2

"Adoration of the Shepherds"
by Gerard van Honthorst  1622
In a recent post I mentioned a person whom most Catholics have not heard of and most evangelicals have forgotten—Clarence Jordan.  I thought I might have mentioned Jordan in a previous posting but checking back, I don’t find that I did.  Sometimes I find that I become to “Catholic” but not “catholic” enough in the way I focus this blog.   In any event, Clarence Jordan (1912-69) was an Evangelical Protestant from west-central Georgia who from his youth was conscious of the plight of the African American and white sharecroppers in his State.  To help with this problem he studied agriculture at the University of Georgia but then was convinced that the problem was not only a matter of economics but of spirituality.  He attended the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville and earned a Ph.D. in New Testament Greek.   He never presented himself for ordination but he remained a New Testament scholar throughout his life, able to translate the scriptures on sight from their Greek original into contemporary American English.  In fact he produced the “Cotton Patch” edition of many New Testament books—a paraphrase of the scriptures in the language and culture of the American South.  In his adaptation of the Christmas story Jesus is born not in a stable but a garage, and laid not in a manger but an apple-crate.  And at the end of the stories, Jesus is not crucified at the instigation of the High Priest and Sanhedrin, but lynched at the urgings of Baptist preachers.  Explaining his “adaptation” of the story, Jordan wrote: “they crucified him in Judea and they strung him up in Georgia with a noose tied to a pine tree.”  Of course Jordan was not the first to take the story and give it this sort of a twist.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his novel The Brothers Karamazov, has Christ brought for an interview before the Grand Inquisitor, representing the powers of the Catholic Church, who condemns Christ to death.  (In the end, however, the Inquisitor allows Christ to leave rather than consigning him to the stake to which he had been condemned.)
In 1942 Jordan and his wife, Florence, along with another couple, Martin and Mable England, began Koinonia Farms, an interracial commune modeled on the early Jerusalem Christian community described in the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  This sparked a huge outrage among the locals as it was against the law for blacks and whites to live within the same household.  The community was dedicated to the principles of racial equality, ecological responsibility, common ownership of possessions, and a rejection of violence.  How un-Georgia could you get?  It also turned out how un-Southern Baptist could you get as according to theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Jordan was dis-fellowshipped from the Convention.   As the Civil Rights movement began to pick up momentum, Koinonia Farms became the target of much violence but Jordan and his friends  remained committed to what they saw as the path of Christian discipleship.  Millard and Linda Fuller came to Kononia Farms in 1965 and Jordan’s example and inspiration led them to the establishment of Habitat for Humanity.   Another American influenced by Jordan’s Christianity is President Jimmy Carter.   Clarence Jordan died in 1969.  Consistent with his evangelical life he was buried in a pine-box in an unmarked grave on the Farm at a funeral attended by family and the neighboring poor.  In many ways, Clarence was a Protestant Saint Francis—a man whose love for the Gospel led him to follow Christ in his poverty and his passion for the poor.  He gives us something to think about and reflect on this Christmas season.  The baby came for a reason and the work he began isn’t finished yet.  Clarence took up the work for the span of his years.  There is a need for others to take up that work today. 

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