Clarence Jordan is one of my heroes of the faith. He was a leading Christian prophet in the southern United States during the twentieth-century. Born into a successful family in Talbotton, Georgia, Clarence studied agronomy at the University of Georgia before eventually earning a Ph.D. degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greek and New Testament.
Clarence was deeply committed to racial equality, and in 1942, he co-founded Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, which followed the then-controversial conviction that all people, regardless of race, should be allowed to live together, work together, and eat together around a common table. Members pooled their resources in a common treasury, and they trained farmers – black and white – in advanced farming techniques to help break a cycle of poverty. Because of these commitments, Clarence and other Koinonians were disfellowshipped by their Baptist church, and Koinonia Farm was subjected to threats, violence, and economic boycotts.
At one point, Clarence asked his brother and attorney, Robert, to serve as legal counsel for Koinonia. Robert refused, citing the damage it would do to his personal and professional aspirations. Eventually, Robert became a Georgia state Senator and Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. During their conversation, Clarence charged Robert with being an admirer of Jesus rather than a disciple. Their conversation is a gripping exchange that has challenged me to consider the ways in which I do or do not follow the challenging path of Jesus in my life.
While reflecting on the tense exchange between Clarence and Robert Jordan, I have been gripped by another question: what became of their relationship? Did the brothers part ways because of their different understandings and convictions? Did they drift apart as Clarence lived at Koinonia and Robert achieved professional success? Did they continue their relationship and have further conversations in which both brothers were challenged and stretched? Did they grow closer to one another because of their mutual sharing and love?
I have not been able to find a satisfactory answer to my question. One source suggests that Robert eventually came to be convinced by Clarence’s convictions. This source quotes Robert as saying that Clarence “was the greatest Christian I have ever known.” I find this possibility hopeful, but I have not located another confirmation. Perhaps this did happen. Perhaps the brothers who differed so vociferously over the most pressing social issue of their day did, in fact, remain in relationship with one another. I hope so.
If you are interested in reading more, you may want to read The Cotton Patch Gospel, Clarence’s translation of the New Testament in the vernacular of South Georgia English or The Substance of Faith, which includes many of his sermons. In so doing, you may find yourself challenged to join “The God Movement,” as Clarence called it, and work on your own “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.”