“Uncompromising Reconciliation and Resistance”
A Review of
Writings on Reconciliation and Resistance.
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Stephen Lawson.
Partisanship seems to be on the rise these days. In Washington, talk of health care reform has brought out the dark side of our public discourse. Politicians and pundits on both sides heave verbal stones at one another. The result is a political slight of hand. The comparison of each party’s institutional self conception is left to the wayside and we are left with banal laments about the loss of civility in public discourse. This partisanship has crept in to our churches time and again. Churches maintain their pristine institutions by demonizing the ‘other.’ Whether the ‘other’ is the avowed liberal socialist or the red-state hillbilly it really makes no difference. We find our identity by saying who is in and who is out.
It is in a situation such as this that a voice like Will Campbell’s needs to be heard. Will Campbell is a prophet of a different kind of Christianity, one marked by uncompromising reconciliation and resistance. For Campbell, Christ has already reconciled everything. If Christ has really reconciled everything, then this means not only that he has reconciled the marginalized blacks in the American South, but also that he has reconciled the most stanch racists and Ku Klux Klaners. If we believe in Christ’s work of reconciliation, then we know that there is nothing that we do, there is only something we can be. There are not programs or institutions that will bring about reconciliation, but only unrestrained friendships and offering of ourselves. This is summed up in Campbell’s memorable summation of the gospel in eight words (two fewer than he was allotted): “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway” (8). It is this unwillingness to recognize anything other than our universal sinfulness and the universal reconciliation offered through Christ that has resulted in Campbell’s prophetic stance. He was friends with Dr. King and with Grand Dragons of the Ku Klux Klan. His refusal to acquiesce to the divisive labels that divide people whom Christ has already reconciled serves as a witness to us.
At the same time, Campbell offered a powerful resistance to institutions; be they exemplified in churches, governments, or universities. All of these institutions go about trying to do the work that Christ has already done, and they imprison people in their work of institutional self-preservation. For Campbell, this means that the fundamentalist, sectarian, serpent-handling church is closer to the truth of the gospel than the well-off socially acceptable and quiescent mainline churches.
Campbell is truly a prophet. As such, he doesn’t fit into our ideological labels of left and right. He seems to be an enigma, a contradiction. But for him this is not contradiction. “Thus my seeming contradictions, in a life which has spanned almost 70 years, reflect an effort to survive as a human being, free of other archies which inevitably define a channel in which its adherents must swim or be excluded, and which, by nature, are enslaving, for they claim ultimate allegiance” (63).
This collection of various short (and often unpublished or hard to find) excerpts from Campbell’s extensive writings serves to give the reader a broad-sweeping introduction to Campbell’s unique and uncompromising witness. They are arranged in topical order, which is very helpful in getting to the core of Campbell’s thought.
One negative about this collection is that it bears the markings of being over-edited. In effort to keep the excerpts short, I feel that Goode has often cut too much out. However, the overabundance of ellipses should not detract the potential reader from checking into this important and challenging book.
More books by Will Campbell from ChristianBook.com :
|Brother to a Dragonfly, 25th Anniversary Edition
By Will D. Campbell / Continuum International
|The Stem of Jesse: The Costs of Community at a 1960s Southern School
By Will D. Campbell / Mercer Press
The Stem of Jesse is about the ironies of history, the ambiguities of even the best-intentioned of human actions, the complicity of all human beings in the histories of their respective societies, and crucial roles of repentance and forgiveness in the health of any society.
|The Convention: A Parable
By Will Campbell / Mercer Press
Organized religion has become more fractured in recent years. The faithful within traditional denominations have divided into warring camps. But how does all this look and sound to outsiders? Indefatigable Will Campbell puts a mirror up to our souls in this riveting parable of a fictional Baptist convention. 416 pages, softcover. Mercer University.
|Soul Among Lions
By Will Campbell / Westminster John Knox Press
A collection of thirty meditations challenging readers toward a more conscientious faith. Campbell combines scripture and homespun humor with a deceptive naivete to indict the hypocritical and the self-righteous, striking to the core of such issues as the death penalty, race relations, religious pluralism, and flag burning. Illustrations by award-winning artist Jim Hsieh.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com