In 2012, just after what would have been Clarence Jordan’s 100th birthday, a contingent of theologians, activists, academics and lay leadership influenced by the Koinonia Farm founder came together in Americus, Georgia for the Clarence Jordan Symposium.
Jordan was a radical Christian theologian who put the teachings of Jesus into a 20th century perspective through his writing of “The Cotton Patch Gospels.” Among the many people he inspired was Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity and then The Fuller Center for Housing.
In preaching that what the poor needed was capital instead of charity, Jordan came up with the concept of partnership housing that formed the basis for Fuller’s affordable housing ministry.
Kirk Lyman-Barner co-edited “Roots in the Cotton Patch” and “Fruits of the Cotton Patch” (a.k.a. “The Clarence Jordan Symposium, Volumes 1 & 2”) with his wife, Cori. He said that while Jordan’s putting Jesus teachings in a modern perspective rubbed some people the wrong way, he is now seen as a real Christian visionary who was ahead of his time.
“He had a gift of making the teachings relevant and becoming a demonstration plot,” said Lyman-Barner, who added that his teachings are just as relevant today, if not more so. “The concept of anti-violence and no war continues to be extremely radical and sorely missing in our world — we can see that in the news every day. And race relations continues to be an unresolved problem. But the biggest challenge today relates to his views on economics — for those who have means to be sharing with those who are without, empowering and creating ownership opportunities through housing or farms or micro-enterprise. Those are such important issues.”
The sessions that were presented during the Symposium by such people as Fuller Center President David Snell, co-founder Linda Fuller, theologian Shane Claiborne and others comprise the two books.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Lyman-Barner said of compiling the editions. “You had differences in writing styles, so reconciling it into a format that was acceptable for the publisher was a challenge. But what was a tremendous joy was getting to see the whole picture of all the different presentations in one place and all the different angles and stories that different researchers and artists brought to the table. It was just fascinating to see.”
He added that the books may be especially valuable for those whose connections to the affordable housing movement were formed in recent years.
“They will learn about the rich history of the affordable housing movement and the ties between Millard and Clarence,” he said. “The new generation of volunteers, many of them maybe have never heard of Clarence or Koinonia or even Millard Fuller. They go on church trips and school trips and just don’t know the history. My goal is to create a tool through which we can tell that story to the next generation.”
One person who contributed to the symposium was Dr. Vincent Harding, a civil rights activist and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Harding, who occasionally wrote speeches for King, died on May 19 of this year.
“One of my biggest regrets is that I wasn’t able to actually give a copy to Vincent Harding,” Lyman-Barner said. “I saw him a few months ago at the Atlanta airport, and we talked about the book and I gave him a flyer. He was real excited about it. His story was so groundbreaking in that it was something that had never been told about Clarence — the one and only time that he and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. met. So I was excited to be able to give that gift to him. He was working on his own autobiography and wanted this story to be a part of that.
“It was a reminder that that generation is getting older and that if we don’t capture these stories now, then we can’t share them. Folks may pass on, and those stories may be lost. So any type of project like this that can preserve history is important.”