The Baptist theologian James William McClendon once reported a story about Clarence Jordan, the founder of an interracial community called Koinonia Farm. Jordan, who described his community as a “demonstration plot” for the Kingdom of God, asked his brother, Robert, to assist him in the struggle against the racial injustices of the Jim Crow South. Robert was keenly aware of the community’s hardships: Local citizens boycotted the farm, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the produce stands, and ominous letters flooded the mailbox. The cost weighed heavily on him.
“Clarence, I can’t do that,” Robert said, declining his brother’s request. “I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?” Clarence replied.
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
Today we find ourselves in the cleft between Clarence’s invitation and Robert’s refusal. White Christianity in America is mounting a breach that’s too wide to straddle. A house that sits on a fault line will crumble, forcing those who have lived in it to leap the gap to one side or the other.
This predicament is common to the entire cosmos, a certain theological reading would have it—this is the stage on which God’s apocalyptic incursion births a new Adam. And this cosmic dualism—old age/new age, old Adam/new Adam—gives rise to an ethical dualism. Either we participate in the suffering service of Jesus Christ, our tradition tells us, or we don’t. Either we’ll follow him on the cross, or we won’t. At this juncture of the ages, resurrection life is hidden and revealed in our cruciform service to the least of these, and everything else is in league with Sin and Death. There is no third way. There is no straddling the chasm.
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