The pews of the First Free Methodist Church were nearly full as Tali Hairston, the director of the John Perkins center, interviewed John Perkins himself during his final annual lecture at chapel.
The two sat in chairs tilted toward one another as Perkins answered questions from both Hairston and pre-recorded messages from SPU students.
“What’s on your heart?” Hairston asked as the first question.
“I thank God for his redemptive love,” Perkins said. “That he found me and forgave me my sins and brought me with him.”
Forty years ago in the year 1977, John Perkins gave his first speech here at Seattle Pacific University.
On Tuesday, April 25, Perkins, the man that SPU named its Center for Reconciliation, Leadership, Training and Community Development for, gave his twelfth and final annual lecture.
In it, he emphasized discipleship before God above all else.
“I think we’ve got to get very serious about doing the work of discipleship,” he said.
According to the John Perkins Center page on SPU’s website, Perkins grew up impoverished in Mississippi. At 17 years old, after his brother was murdered by a town marshal, he left for California. He didn’t return until the year 1960, after he had accepted Christ.
Today he is an author, speaker and teacher. His commitment to racial reconciliation and Christian community development has earned him seven honorary degrees to date.
Perkins encouraged a spirit of discipleship and a language of love when answering Hairston’s following questions. He emphasized this as he thinks that often times, people are quick to speak “a language of hatred instead of a language of love.”
“But now if you don’t speak to my own opinions, I dislike you,” he said, describing the attitudes of those he criticized.
Speaking further to what he sees as problems in current societal discourse, Perkins warned that a lack of self-awareness leads to a toxic environment.
“Our culture can enslave us,” he said. “We have culturized hatred, and we have demonized certain people …We’ve got to talk about the justice that we have to live out here on earth.”
Although Perkins answered just two of the pre-recorded questions from students, he managed to give his thoughts on American politics and on social justice.
“How has the election changed things for you personally or in your understanding of justice work?” asked an SPU student in a video projected above the altar.
“What does justice look like? It looks like the Good Samaritan,” Perkins said. “Taking care of those who are broken in the world … And discipleship is the way to that.”
Perkins then spoke directly to the state of President Trump’s faith and consciousness of justice.
“Even our President, I’m going to assume … that someone had probably told him the gospel message and he received Christ as savior,” he said. “But he hasn’t been a disciple.”
When asked what they thought of Perkins’ lecture, students expressed praise and admiration. Sophomore physics major Nia Liggins said she especially related to Perkins seeing Jesus Christ and justice as one.
“His perspective is very valuable,” she said. “Literally justice, in essence, is about providing freedom for those who need it … As Christians, we should be following that model of justice in order to fully be a disciple.”
Sam Skillern, a senior theology major and student leader in the Perkins center on campus, spoke about a Christian tradition of justice when reflecting on the lecture.
“That’s the source of our understanding of what justice is,” he said. “That Jesus chose to reach out especially to those who were marginalized and say you are as much a part of our family as anybody else is … I think Dr. Perkins is spot on when he says Jesus is justice.”