Clarence Jordan

Good Friday is coming soon. Whenever I think of the Cross I think of Clarence Jordan. Jordan was a son of the south, a man who earned both a doctorate in Agriculture and Greek. Jordan felt called to help change his native south by introducing Gospel values to a land torn apart by racial strife. The farm was called Koinonia, which translates a fellowship or community. On the farm were persons of different races and the locals were not impressed. Clarence used his agriculture background to harvest pecans, cotton and peanuts. But he also used his Greek to translate the original Greek into the southern vernacular.

The farm was a demonstration plot of Kingdom values. Jordan felt he was witnessing for his faith, pushing the envelope in the Deep South in the 1950’s. Because he was raised in the South Jordan had to know what trouble he was getting into. The response was predictable; bombs were thrown at the farm, Crosses were burned on the front lawn, death threats were made and the local Chamber of Commerce organized a boycott of Koinonia’s products.

So to supplement the farm’s income Jordan would travel across the US and preach about his farm and what a witness it was to Jesus’ ministry. At the end of his sermons Jordan would ask the hosting church to take a collection to support Koinonia.

These visits would take Clarence to a variety of denominations. It was also introduce him to some very wealthy churches. When one pastor took him on a tour of a new building the pastor pointed to the new Cross that hovered over the sanctuary. “That Cross cost us $10,000” the pastor said proudly. Jordan’s response was typical, “Time was when Christians could get those Crosses for free.”

Clarence’s daughter Jan was hassled and ostracized at school. One especially vicious boy, Bob Speck, called her names and threw her books down repeatedly. After a few weeks, Clarence decided he had heard enough of this harassment, and told his daughter, “I’m coming to school tomorrow. I’ve tried to be a follower of Jesus, and he taught me to love my enemies and all that, but I’m going to ask Jesus to excuse me for about fifteen minutes while I beat the hell out of Bob Speck.” Jan said, “Daddy, you can’t be excused from being a Christian for fifteen minutes.” So Clarence suggested: “Maybe you could let your fingernails grow about three inches, and if he calls you a name, throw your books at him and scratch his eyes out; that would do him a lot of good.” Again she said, “You’re not serious.”

Two weeks passed, and Clarence had not heard a word about Bob Speck. When he asked Jan about it, she reported, “He doesn’t bother me any more.” Clarence was stunned: “Did he move?” “No, he’s still there.” “Has he been converted?” “No,” she answered. “Does he call you names?” “No, never.” “Well what happened?” Jan told her story: “Well, I got to figuring that I’m a little taller than Bob, so I could see him coming before he could see me. When I’d see him, I’d begin smiling and waving and gushing at him like I was just head over heels in love with him, like I was going to eat him up. The other kids got to teasing him about me having a crush on him, and now, the only time I see him is when he peeps around the corner to see if I’m coming. If I am, he goes all the way round the outside.”

In our culture we find Christians complaining they are being persecuted because they are persecuting others, refusing to serve gays and lesbians and loudly proclaiming, “Merry Christmas” even in situations where this is not welcome. “Why we can’t even say the Lord’s Prayer in class” they say. But is this what Jesus meant when he talked about taking up your Cross for Jesus? Surely these matters we call persecution are more like inconveniences. To find something more akin to the persecution Jesus suffered we need to hear stories like Clarence Jordan’s, people of faith who step outside the norm to live Gospel values, no matter the cost.

And that’s why I think of Clarence Jordan on Good Friday.