While Koinonia Farm had been doing its thing since 1942, the apparent spark that caused the powder keg to blow was Brown v. Board of Education (1954). It was when the Supreme Court mandated integration that southerners took action.
They began with a boycott of Koinoina Farm. Suppliers stopped supplying seed, mechanics stopped repairing equipment, the egg market went bust (literally), the butane salesman refused to sell anything to Koinonia.
Those not satisfied with the economic boycott soon resorted to physical violence, from 14 year old Jim Jordan being bullied and abused at school, to the roadside market being bombed a few times, to nightly potshots being taken at the community compound.
How do you live under those circumstances? Clarence and Florence had to send Jim away to go to school just so he’d be safe. The community had to set up a sentry schedule to keep watch at night. Eventually, Clarence wrote a letter to President Eisenhower that essentially went no where. The local and state law enforcement authorities weren’t helpful, either. As Dallas Lee says, “Their intention obviously was not to protect Koinonia Farm. Their aim was to prosecute it” (120).
How do you live with the constant threat of physical violence? How do you live with people shooting at your home every night? How do you live in these circumstances with no faith in the authorities? How do you live in these circumstances with any faith at all? I just don’t get how they did it.
I also don’t get the hatred that gave birth to the violence…like the man quoted in the Albany Journal who said: “I had rather see my little boy dead than sit beside a Negro in the public schools” (112). Excuse me? I just don’t get that kind of hatred
It’s easy to focus on the outrageous violence committed against Koinonia…and perhaps even to wonder why the way I live my life has never invited that kind of violence. But to get bogged down in the outrageousness of the violence and hatred would be to miss Clarence’s point.
Lee begins this chapter by reminding the reader that “Clarence did not look to confrontation as a strategy for exposing hypocrisy. He held firmly to the tactic of persuasion, and regardless of evidence to the contrary, he hoped [men’s] hearts could be changed through grace before their lives had to be changed through law” (105). (Indeed, Clarence often wondered aloud whether forced integration was any better than forced segregation.)
Again Lee writes: “It became increasingly clear that (Jordan’s) ideals did not dull his capacity for confrontation. He simply believed in living as normal a course of events as possible, free of fear, without abridnging his own freedom or that of anyone else. He would not go out of his way to create an incident, but he would not go out of his way to avoid one, either. Asked in later years if he had ever been on a freedom walk, Clarence replied: “No, but I always walk freely.” (105)
Here’s what so impresses me about Clarence Jordan–the one guiding principle of his life was living the Gospel as authentically as he knew how. Period. If living the Gospel got him into confrontational situations, so be it. If it didn’t get him into confrontational situations, so be it. I think for most of us, we live our lives either seeking out confrontation or avoiding it. (I’m an avoider.) How free it must have been–even in the midst of the violence–to walk freely.
This thing about living the Gospel authentically is beautifully illustrated in the encounter Clarence and a Koinonia colleague had with the butane salesman. (You can read the whole thing on pp.113-114.) The Koinonians talked with the man, reasoned with him, trying to get him to reconsider his decision to boycott the farm. After all, they needed the butane for heat, for heating water, and for cooking.
When the man wouldn’t change his mind (out of fear of confrontation–he was an avoider), Clarence said, “We said that we would be praying for him. He said, you are doing what Jesus taught, for he said: to pray for your enemies and I guess I am your enemy. Friend or enemy, we said, you are an object of God’s love and our love. We shook hands with him and told him goodbye.” (114)
See? I don’t know that I could have done that. I just don’t know that I could have shook the man’s hand and assured him of God’s love and mine. I don’t think I could have done it. But I think that’s exactly what living the Gospel looks like. It might try to persuade (Clarence works hard to change the salesman’s mind), but it never imposes. And in the end, always, the Gospel sees God’s love for the other.
Recently, I was in a group that was asked, “What do you want written on your tombstone?” I said, “She lived the Gospel.” That’s still what I’d like to be written…but after reading this chapter, I realize–again, still–just how far I have to go to be a true “Gospel-liver.” (Oh, man. That sounds like a dish at a Gospel singing potluck…but you know what I mean!)
Okay. Let’s end on a lighter note. In the summer of 1956, four Sumter County farmers petitioned for an injunction to stop Camp Koinonia, a camp for kids Koinonia had sponsored for several years, on moral grounds. They were concerned, in part, that the children would see piglets being born. While the case never went to court, Clarence’s statement about the petition is worth repeating:
“We have been unable to guarantee absolute privacy to our 40-odd sows during farrowing season, and because our hogs are rather stupid, we have been unable to teach them to seclude themselves during this act. Furthermore, we have read all the latest development on hog-raising, but have discovered no other way of getting baby pigs than by the old-fashioned process of birth.” (108)