Collection # 366, T1. Interview of Lemuel Simpson Tucker by Paul Ericksen on June 18,
ERICKSEN: This is an oral history interview with Lemuel Simpson Tucker by Paul Ericksen for the Missionary Sources collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the Voice of Calvary offices in Jackson, Mississippi on Thursday, June 18, 1987 at 3:15 P.M. [pauses] I’d like to start, Lem, by just finding out a little bit about your background. Can you tell me when and where you were born?
TUCKER: February 17, 1952, Norfolk Community Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. I was the second child of my parents, who were schoolteachers. And there are just two in our family, two children in our family. And I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia all the same years in basically the same house. I graduated from high school having lived in the same house and then I went to the college of William and Mary which is just right up the road, fifty miles from my house. And then from there, [unclear] Philly [?], came to grow in Christ, graduated in ‘74 and then went to seminary [Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia] for three years in ‘77 and met John Perkins and then came back...came to Jackson, Mississippi at that point.
ERICKSEN: Could you describe the religious environment of your home when you were growing up?
TUCKER: I guess traditionally Christian or religious. That...there was certainly a place for religion and church, and my parents followed that dutifully. One of the problems you have, I think, in the black community is have...of having a lot of people who may be Christian, but very untaught. And I contrast that a lot of times with they also may be religious and unsaved. But I think that in my home that it was more Christian and untaught. It’s still almost the same risk factor. So I grew up and remember my parents taking me to church all the time and saying [person talks loudly in background], “We want you to go so that as you grow up and get older that you’ll have a real habit of going to church.” And so even when I went away to college, I saw that my need to go to church was still there even though I always relish getting away from the church finally. But then I still had a habit of going, and so.... Then when I went to college, the pursuit of a good church to go to on Sunday morning is what the Lord used to lead me to the right church where I really was under some good teaching that thus helped me understand how to match my...what were some of my inclinations with a Biblical perspective which was trying to grapple with some of the deep problems of society, then understanding that there was indeed a Biblical response that could be made to that. And that was news to me.
ERICKSEN: Is that what you...when you say...you refer to your implica...or your inclinations?
TUCKER: Inclinations. Yeah, I think a conscious and semi-conscious thought of my whole life has been: Why is there racism? Why is there poverty? Is there something that I need to be doing about this. Yeah, do you go out and get a government job and solve the problem? Or is the way the government is trying to do it just one solution of which there are many? [person talks loudly in background] But now at a position to see that it’s only the way the church can do it and does do it is the real...only solution to a...the problems that we see facing our society.
ERICKSEN: What kind of church was it that all...that this happened in?
TUCKER: Well, you mean in college? It was more not...I guess not so much what kind as much as the circumstances surrounding it. It was...the kind of church it was, it was an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But what actually happened was that the minister who came to start the church had just gotten in the year before from seminary, so he had basically nothing to do. So he took me and one or two other guys under his wing and just really spent time discipling us. And it gave me some real tools for looking at the Bible, but also a real hunger for the deeper things of God. It’s that...that was I guess more the significance of the church than what kind of church. I mean it was an Evangelical church. That...that was important.
ERICKSEN: What kind of experience of racism had you had as you were growing up?
TUCKER: The, I guess, more blanket kind [of racism] you see everyday as you put two and two together like watching television, wondering, “Why there are no black people on television because, after all, those were all American kids, all American situations there? Why there are no white people that live in my community? Why was it that every time it seemed like I was looking at where black people were it was so poor and not like all the nice things that I ever saw in the white community?” I can remember things told me by my parents in their rearing that were racial. I can remember in my younger days with my mother really going...right in the final days of going to back of the bus sometimes riding the bus. Just being told many times, “Well, we can’t go there.” Like a library or something. “We can’t go there because I heard that somebody...a black person was.... I heard that a colored man got killed trying to go to that place.” And then just growing up, being on my own some, it’d be times where in public there’d be an affront maybe physical, maybe just verbally. Being told I wasn’t welcome in a church or.... I remember one time I had a best friend, you know, who was...who was a white guy who was engaged to a white girl who had a sister. That one time my best friend who happened to have his fiancee with him and her sister said, “Let’s go out and get something to eat.” So it looked like a double date. And that time I guess it was truck drivers that started throwing stuff at us in the restaurant trying to provoke a fight. And so we decided to just leave and then they jumped in the car and followed us, and then just through the Lord’s Prayer or however, they just stopped...just decided to stop following us, but they were chasing us at first. And so it’d be a few other things, but those would be just particular incidences. I...I...I suppose there might be some incidences in my own mind of just how the exclusion of black history and how, in my own reading of that, really seeing that the record of history has been very deliberately miswritten (Is that a word?), inappropriately, inadequately written. And so those would be things and more that have impacted me to say, “There’s a problem in this world.”
ERICKSEN: How did you respond inside to those kinds of things?
TUCKER: A variety of ways.... Hold on one second. I can.... [tape stops and restarts] I...I was looking at your head, Paul, and I saw behind it a book that...a copy of a book I’ve been looking for, but it’s called The Five Negro Presidents. It’s a little, teeny book that’s written by J.A. Rogers, a fascinating black scholar who was doing most of his research at the turn of the century, but has basically been ignored because the stuff he says is so heavy, but it’s so scholarly that you can’t argue with it. But he’s writing the side of history that’s been basically “Caucasianized.” And he’s saying that if indeed the definition of Negro holds (that is I know of blacks who look like you do)...if that definition holds, and so the difference is that most...most blacks can tell who is black, but most whites can’t tell who is black when a black person looks white. And...and so how do you tell? It...it’s just like the lady in New Orleans recently who tried to get her race changed because she had passed for white all her life. And they looked at her record and by the census bureau 1/32 part black blood, you’re black. So what Rogers is saying “Then if that’s true then we’ve had five Negro presidents.” And he’s done the research showing that while [why] we don’t know this is because they all are pre-Lincoln, before there was photography. So in their pictures, as we see them, they’ve been “Caucasianized.” But to go back.... [pauses] Well here’s one. He...he’s saying President Harding in his paternal grandfather [is black]. So he’d be even more than 1/32 white [sic, black] blood. Well they’re...so they’re not all pre-Lincoln. Let’s see. [flips page] There’s a table of contents here. [pauses - flips pages] Well, I’m just going to glance at some names. I think one would be Thomas Jefferson, another’d be Andrew Jackson, for [which] the city Jackson’s named after. The city of Jackson is named after a black man! All right! We’ll all get a long way with that! Abraham Lincoln, Vice President [Hannibal] Hamlin [first vice president of Abraham Lincoln], Warren G. Harding. Okay, now, “Alexander Hamilton drawn from life by [Charles Willson] Peale; New York Public Library.” “Alexander Hamilton Caucasianized.” And so this would be Rogers going back and getting not the popular painting, but what was...something that was done from...from life. Then probably tracing the family tree, too. And so I guess I’d be reading stuff like this, I’d say, “Wait a minute. What’s going on here? Why would people have such a reaction to this?” And it’s because something’s deathly wrong in...in the culture, and the church is...doesn’t do any better in righting it.
ERICKSEN: Does that make you angry or...?
TUCKER: It’d be mixed emotions. It’d be anger sometimes; it’d be sadness sometimes; it’d be hurt a lot of times. And so...yeah, it’d be mixed emotions.
ERICKSEN: After graduating from college, then you went to Westminster. How did your education there continue your...?
TUCKER: Really...really seeing that I...I do a whole...I have a whole little lecture class on.... I...I guess I call it “Blacks in the Bible.” I think I call it that. But...because, you see, in...if.... (Okay, a little, maybe, teensy-weensy soapbox here.) But if.... I remember going through seminary and really believing that if you made an ‘A’ you were probably a little bit closer to God than if you didn’t, but then realizing that in most seminaries the Devil can make straight ‘A’s’ in America because most seminaries really focus on what you know rather than what you are. And what...the only thing that sets the Christian apart from the Devil is not how much more he knows about the Bible because the Devil approached Jesus in the wilderness quoting Scripture. He knows...he’s had a ten thousand year head start. But what makes us different is the capacity for us to be obedient. So what I began to see in seminary is that there’s a whole lot of knowledge that, in many ways, is a far cry from obedience. Not just in the way that it’s taught, but also in what is taught and not taught so that I would...that in America there could be a Ph.D. in history that knows nothing about the black community; that I would graduate, that I could get an ‘A’ in a church history course and know nothing of the black church in America; that I could go all the way through seminary and...and know nothing about biblical resp...concern or thought about economics. So that I began to see that where’s you can pirate a lot of good stuff out of seminary, that it in many ways is also part of the problem. The difference between, I say, skim milk theology and whole milk theology. That is, if you had whole milk all your life, somebody gives you a glass of skim milk you say, “Who...who took the fat out?” If you had skim milk all your life, somebody gives you whole milk you say, “Who put the fat in?” And I think that while theo...theology, just like milk from the cow, is whole, but I think that in many ways we have a very skim milk theological perspective of the world. But we’ve been weaned on skim milk so when somebody says, “Why aren’t you doing this?”, our response is “You’re adding something that shouldn’t be.” And so in seminary you get an excellent skim milk theol...theological education, but it’s a lot of fat left out that’s...that makes it unnatural.
ERICKSEN: What was the fat that was left out of your education at Westminster?
TUCKER: Well, perspective on the black church, biblical economics, that kind of thing.
ERICKSEN: When did you first come in contact with Voice of Calvary or John Perkins?
TUCKER: In 1975 when.... Because I was one of two or three blacks in our seminary and they were trying to do more black recruitment, I was always traveling here and there to represent the seminary. So they sent me to a National Black Evangelical Associations conference, and there I ran in and met to...met John Perkins there.
ERICKSEN: And what happened following that meeting that led to your coming to work for Voice of Calvary?
TUCKER: I...I knew of it. I read some of the books and I was very interested, but never, ever, ever thought I’d come into Mississippi for any part of my life because, again, all that you heard about it is people are trying to get out. But.... I mean black people were. But then the next year, 1976, I was invited to be an Urbana [InterVarsity Student Missionary Conference held every three years in Urbana, Illinois] speaker, and I found out that John Perkins had been invited too and we were speaking one right after the other. So that we decided, “Well, let’s team up and try and make some same applications.” And so that’s what kind of began our kind of exclusive relationship. And then after that, I invited John to come to Westminster to speak on a...a seminar I called “The Practice of Truth” because I felt like we’ve got a whole lot of principles that [are] true, now let’s get to some practice, and I felt that he was doing a good job. And while he was there he asked me if I would come to Mississippi and work with him. And I had.... Because I was an Urbana speaker, I was a hot prospect for a lot of Evangelical organizations. Some people made Urbana. For others, Urbana made them. I was one of those people that benefitted from Urbana. And I had a...a core group [pauses - door opens]...I...I had a core group whereby we had covenanted to really share where God was calling us. And at that time I had already accepted a job and they were affirming it, but then they heard that I had an opportunity to go to Mississippi and they said, “Go,” because they...from knowing me, they said, “That’s where we think God would have you go.”
ERICKSEN: This was at Westminster?
TUCKER: Uh-huh. So then their encouragement, the fact that I had been praying for the last two years about “Lord, where can I go that I can really live out a Gospel of reconciliation that is not against one race or the other?” Because during the late ‘70's through the ‘60's there developed a real polarity between the communities where if you were pro-black you had to be anti-white. And then in some ways if you tried to be pro-black in the midst of whites, you were either called Uncle Tom or what happened also was that you would spend most of your time really trying to educate the whites about what it meant to be black. So it became too much inreach to try to get to any outreach that a lot of times you never got to. So I wanted to avoid both of those and so that’s how I wound up here.
ERICKSEN: And in what capacity did you initially come?
TUCKER: I initially came to be an executive director...I mean the, well, director of the Studies Center program which at that time was really more reaching out to Jackson State [University] students and trying to develop a way for people to come from around the country to visit here. So it was to work with our local college kids as well as national pastors and lay people about Christian community development ministry. [clears throat]
ERICKSEN: And then when did you become president?
TUCKER: I got here in ‘77. In two years I was executive director, and then in two more years I was president. And so that’s...that was the timing.
ERICKSEN: What was the differ...what was the difference between being executive director and president?
TUCKER: I ran everything for John. I was the executive director job. His wish was my command. And, as president, I ran it for me so to speak.
ERICKSEN: What kind of man was he to work with, slash, for?
ERICKSEN: Slash, for?
TUCKER: Yeah. I’m writ.... There...there’s an article that’s going to be coming out in Leadership where I talk about the transition from him to me whereby I really try and bring out some of the struggles of that. [This article can be found on page 68 of the Fall 1987 issue of Leadership and was entitled “Following a Beloved Predecessor,” by Lem Tucker with Bill Chickering.] But it’s exciting because he was always like a Teddy Roosevelt leading the charge up San Juan Hill. But then that also had its limitations because of the high burnout of having a style of ministry that was always finding a hill to charge. And...so it...it was...it was mixed, but, you know, there was always more motivation that you could get from what he was doing.
ERICKSEN: So when you became executive director, was...was it already sort of in the plans that you would become the president?
TUCKER: No. John would, maybe two or three times a year, allude to the fact that he was getting ready to quit and leave, and so nobody took him seriously. And then one time it was serious, and maybe a day or so before he called me over to his house and he said, “I wanta...I want you to be president. I’m going to leave.” And I didn’t, you know.... Really, I thought, “Well, this is one more time where he’ll call me back in another few days and say....” Or maybe not call me at all, I’d just find out that he...nothing changed. So, but then it was for real this time.
ERICKSEN: And then he...I see from the letterhead, he’s president emeritus. What does that consist of?
TUCKER: It was a fancy way to keep him related to the organization without him having to be responsible for any of the operation. It was a kind of a way to try and put him into an active retirement, but he has since gone off and started his own organization.
ERICKSEN: Maybe your article talks about this. Is...is this coming out in a future...soon to be out?
TUCKER: Yeah. Probably in next couple months.
ERICKSEN: Have there been any complications just in having him in a president emeritus position or...? How has that worked?
TUCKER: Worked good, but mostly because, I guess, he’s in California probably rather than in Mississippi, whereby it gives enough separation whereby people can’t just run to him when they might be upset with me or vice versa.
ERICKSEN: What about having family members still here? How does that work?
TUCKER: The...it’s...it would be mixed again. That it...I think it comes down to understanding the nature of an evo...of an organization. That is if a John Perkins were to say while he were here.... (What? [pauses] Let’s see.) Well if...if he were to say something that would be a real change for the organization, then people would say, “Great. That’s our founder who is still...who is still providing great leadership. And now we all have to change and he knows what he’s doing.” But if...if I say the same thing, they said, “Well, wait a minute. We never did it like this before. You’re taking us away from the vision that we’re used to.” And...but what’s really has happened is that there’s a founder’s phase, there is a, you know, a founder’s phase in an organization, then there’s another phase that just...administration of it. And it has other phases, but where.... Most of the time when John was here things were small enough that it was fairly easy to have what I call, I think, a “mom-and-pop management style”, where basically it’s within the scope of your experience to run and administrate, not necessarily needing any skill. But I think they shifted more to what I call a “franchise style” of management, which is that to really be able to have skill and training, and where you’re not able to manage it within the scope of your natural experience. And so if there is more of a management style introduced it’s like, “Whoa. That’s...that’s destroying the vision we always knew.” And so there’s been that reaction, but then it’s good to have that...the stability of their presence because they’ve been here a long time. And so it...it would be a...a mixed thing.
ERICKSEN: What do you like most about your work as the president?
TUCKER: Really seeing the projects succeed. That is like the housing programs; see it really take off. That, I think what I’m primed for most is to really see the...see us as a ministry do...do more economic development, creative entrepreneurship, free enterprise-type stuff in order to empower the poor. And as I see that happening, our leadership development programs working, that’s exciting to me.
ERICKSEN: What do you like least?
TUCKER: Meetings. [pauses] Having to fire people. The...the...the repetition. I guess it’s almost like being a parent to the...to the...to the management, spirit, and potential in others that the demands of that kind of repetition and supervision. I’d guess [yawns] it be a little bit like police.
ERICKSEN: What kind of man would you say you are to work for?
TUCKER: I would say that if you don’t know me...if you...that...that I would suffer in many ways by comparison to the personality of John...John Perkins had, whereby he wa...he’s a very gregarious and extrovertish, and so is always able to just motivate people by his presence, whereas I’m much more introvertish, and so it really demands that you know me before you might understand me. And...and so the people that would know me, I think, would really enjoy the freedom that they would have to work with me or for me. The people that would...would not would maybe sometimes wonder what’s going on. Th...there’s...there’s one thing that did happen that’s not really easy to see, and that is that when.... See, when John was president, I did everything as executive director, and it’s not really ‘til recently that I had anybody else working with me, so that then when he left, I was president and executive director, and so I just didn’t have the time for a lot of relationships. And so the...a lot of the response would be, “Well, John Perkins was never like this.” And, well, some of it’s his personality, the other thing is that ‘cause I was doing everything for him. And so that would be one...one kind of thing that...circumstantial thing that’s just [?] been a little different.
ERICKSEN: How long...how long a time period was there after you became president that...before you (maybe you never did this)...you stopped asking, “What would John Perkins do?” or “What would John Perkins want me to do?” and start saying, “This is what Lem Tucker thinks we should do.”?
TUCKER: Maybe a couple of years. Two or three years.
ERICKSEN: Was it ever difficult not being one of the old-timers?
TUCKER: It.... [pauses] Yes, and it still is, but less so because there’s a certain status symbol that the...the old-timers carry with their pedigree that is good because there...there is a lot of history there, but it’s...it’s bad in that it...it almost, in...in the worst case, can...can breed a real historical centricism or centrism, if that’s a word, where it would be the historical side of ethnocentrism that...of seeing that what really doesn’t fit into the view of the history that we understand must not be legitimate. And so the...the penalty would be that...they used to be is that where you have a very flat authority structure, that is you have lots of camps, then most things move forward by power plays. And so it’s whoever has the strongest domino sequence of power, is the...the one that can define directions. And so one of the things is that, you know, in...with every formal structure there’s always an informal structure [which] is always much more influential than even the formal one...formal one. And that the...what the, quote unquote, old-timers would have is a camp...a camp that would have a...an informal structure that could really provide a lot of gravity to...to a certain direction. And the penalty for not going along with that can be a lot of informal social pressure. And so that would be the penalty, particularly for as a leader, seeing that we’re really...it’s not the organization that we always thought it was. It’s changing, and we got to make those changes or we’ll all be mad when there’s no money for the payroll. But when I’m trying to say, “Well, this is what we got to do,” then there can be reaction. So that would be some of the penalty that.... The reality is that I think now things are changing and there have been...there has been the beginning of, as it were, my own legacy and to see that well, hey, it’s not what we thought we had but it is making its own contribution. And I think there’s less and less fear and then, I guess, maturity on my part, too, of accepting the good of what is trying to be said, but also being more secure and mature about my own beliefs and convictions, too.
ERICKSEN: Could you briefly describe the different facets of Voice of Calvary’s ministry?
TUCKER: The things we’re involved in? Healthcare (Well, just to summarize ‘em)...healthcare, housing, economic development, leadership development, international leadership training, and...well, those would be the main areas. But healthcare is simply trying to say what’s good Christian healthcare, which is that in America today I think the number two expense in our economy behind defense is...is healthcare, and right now it goes to the highest bidder and that’s not the poor. So the move to private healthcare, the whole escalation of salaries in the healthcare industry is all away from the poor. And so the question is is...is healthcare a privilege or a right? And we’re saying it’s a right so that, therefore, the poor need good healthcare. So we’re trying to provide good healthcare for the poor in what we’re doing in it. We’re trying to figure out a way of how to do it self-sufficiently. Right now we’re still having to subsidize it. Housing, again, is a question of is that a privilege or a right? You know, if a person is homeless, well it’s...you know, that’s just a privilege he doesn’t get a chance to take up or is it a right? And we think it’s a right. So we think that not just renting, but a person really owning their own home is very important. So we’re trying to figure out how to be creative entrepreneurs in providing housing that a person on a working-class salary can afford that’d be good for him or her. And so that would be our housing. Our economic development, or our thrift store, is where we have tried to take the throw-aways of people’s clothing and create jobs and fix them up and sell them back to people who could not even shop at a K-Mart. And that’s our economic development, our thrift store. We have a youth ministry that’s trying to take the young people and teach them like one young lady who’s even sitting out there. [A conference sponsored by Voice of Calvary was meeting in a nearby room.] At age twelve she was packing a gun and one of the best drug salesmen in her community, came to know Christ, stopped carrying a gun, gave up her drugs, and that’s really the difference that holistic Christianity can make. And now she is a computer major, freshman taking junior classes, and she could really be a leader. Sh...she may be able to run her own computer business, which is adding so much to the society versus a person like her who may one day have to be a drug addict, turn to prostitution, welfare mother, or in a prison or insane asylum. And so that’s...those are really the alternatives to what we’re doing.
ERICKSEN: What’s the name of that?
TUCKER: Well, it’s Harambee Youth Ministries. And then, let’s see, our International Studies Center is really trying to multiply the ministry of Voice of Calvary in other cities, other countries, [dog barks] and our workshop here is a part of that. Then we have our Christian Social Services that really takes hard-luck cases off the street and tries to give them resources to get back on their feet, and even work with them longer if there’s a possibility of them getting some long-term skills.
ERICKSEN: Where does Samaritan’s Inn fit in?
TUCKER: It would fit in with the Studies Center as a residential place for people who are visiting us.
ERICKSEN: Of those different things, where do you think Voice of Calvary is at its strongest and where is it at its weakest?
TUCKER: Well, it’s...I guess at its strongest, all of them, I think, are doing well, but the...the weakest point would just be in the growth of our...our leadership, our managers, and really being good knowledge people, knowing what’s.... I think the best knowledge person is the person who can say, “I know more about what I’m doing than anybody else in the world, and I’m creating the most unique solution to this problem that will eventually solve this problem.” And you have to have a lot of confidence to want to go find out more than anybody else, and it’s kinda the basis of whether or not you are a decision-maker or you’re a take-order person. And...and so the real growth and the challenge and push to leadership is how do we have people who will make decisions rather than just take orders, you know, just take orders by matter of decision, that is, if...by suggestion. And if I said, “Then this.... Which way does this piece of paper look better to you? Like this or like that?” And then you said, “Oh well, it’s like this now so I think it looks better like that.” You know, that’s still just taking an order by suggestion rather than being a decision-maker, saying, “Well, I’ve read, studied, thought, seen that in ten other places they have it like this, and...and so I want to keep it like that.” So I say that in a real development of leadership potential that it’s at the heart of making an organization for perp...perpetuity.
ERICKSEN: [pauses] In some of Dr. Perkins’ books, Voice of Calvary is referred to as a model, and I think the fact that you have the workshops reinforces that. How...how has Voice of Calvary’s work that...that you’re doing here, how has that spread in this country and around the world?
TUCKER: Through workshops as people come here, but then also as we do workshops all around the country. And where we [?] would be on some, as it were, consulting relationships with church groups around the country that want to do what we’re doing.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of an example of where that’s happened?
TUCKER: Baltimore or St. Louis or Tampa or Philadelphia, Chicago. But say like a Baltimore or a Lon...or...or Chicago where it’s people who’ve been here, who’ve heard John talk, who said, “That’s speaking to my heart,” and then gone back and started a ministry in their community, that...then they would invite us there to speak or do a workshop, that kind of thing.
ERICKSEN: Are there any patterns, let’s say, within the...the church in general as to who sort of clicks with...with this and who doesn’t?
TUCKER: Well, it’s a...it’s really a changing scene in the church whereby you could go to a suburban church where people are really saying, “Well, what do we do?” And so you may have thought that they’re not open. Or an urban church where people are saying, “The best thing for us is to get up and out.” So there.... On the surface of it, you know, it’s really a fluid situation. You know, certainly there’d be certain sectors of the society that would not identify in.... You know, they would say so. But in general, looking at the church, it... Really, I’ve just have to really see where people’s hearts are as to how willing they are to be open to it.
ERICKSEN: Can you talk a little bit about.... (This is maybe going back to our talking about the organizational life of Voice of Calvary). Can you talk a little about when the Voice of Calvary and Mendenhall became Mendenhall Ministries? [talking in background]
TUCKER: Well, it was in ‘78...1978, when John Perkins had decided that the Mendenhall Ministries really needed to be independent. Problem is he decided that in about two days when it should have been a process of four or five, six months of dialogue with them. So he...he basically announced to the church in Mendenhall that they were on their own. And so the...one of the sensations that they went through was a traveling around and saying, “Oh yeah, you’re from Voice of Calvary and Mendenhall.” “That’s right, and we’re responsible for raising our whole funds and can you help us?” And they say, “But aren’t...isn’t that John Perkins’ ministry?” “Yes, John Perkins started [it].” “Well, he was just here two weeks ago and he said all the ministries were doing fine, so how do you need money?” And so it was out of a need to disassociate with the currency of a John Perkins, but still not disavow the history of his involvement. And so that was why they got saying, “Well, maybe we just need to get out from under the umbrella of a...any kind of Voice of Calvary.” And I don’t know that it’s worked, but that was the thinking behind it.
ERICKSEN: In.... (I don’t remember which...which of the books. It’s the...it was the last of the three.)....
TUCKER: Oh. With Justice for All.
ERICKSEN: Yeah. John talks about how...he admits that was a mistake, and he talks about the hard feelings in Mendenhall. What kind of relationship does Voice of Calvary have with Mendenhall Ministries now?
TUCKER: Well, for a long time, our relationship...my relationship to the leadership there was better than John’s relationship to the leadership there. I think they may have worked past that somewhat where now it may be as good. But, you know, I sought out to really affirm and build a bridge, and that’s...that’s happened.
ERICKSEN: How are...how are the two different, other than one’s here in Jackson and the other is there [Mendenhall, Mississippi] and...? I guess that’s more rural [unclear]....
TUCKER: Well, one would be rural, another’d be urban, so it’d be quite a bit of difference in just the problems, the kind of the nature of the problems. But also you could never ever hope to run the programs from Mendenhall out of the economic base in Mendenhall, whereas we could have that hope here in Jackson as well. So it’s...it’d be some fairly key differences between the two.
ERICKSEN: When you say you couldn’t hope to run it in Mendenhall; just that the resources within the city are insufficient...?
TUCKER: Well, Mendenhall is a town of about maybe three or four thousand. And the white folks that have the money are not that much different than the white folks that arrested and beat John up [referring to Perkins’ arrest and near fatal beating by police officers in Brandon, Mississippi in 1970]. And so they’re not about to give money to him.
ERICKSEN: [pauses] Where.... I’m just listening to you describe the different kinds of things that Voice of Calvary is doing. It doesn’t sound like your mis...ministry exactly fits in with the traditional understanding of mission or evangelism by evangelicals.
TUCKER: Yeah, and that’s why I would say that most evangelicals have skim milk theology. That...that when they see what we’re doing, they’re saying, “How come you’re doing all that?” And my question is, “How can you be a Christian and only do what you do?” And so it...it really, I think, is that.... Right, it doesn’t fit in, but it’s really we’re not the ones that don’t fit. It’s more the other people that aren’t fitting.
ERICKSEN: You get a lot of that kind of reaction?
TUCKER: The onus of proves...proof as to whether or not we’re biblical is shifted to us. It’s like Jesus healing on the Sabbath that they’re saying, “Prove to us that you can heal on the Sabbath.” And Jesus would all the time have to say, “You got the wrong idea.” That...the thought is that if you understand the Sabbath how can you not do good to somebody on the Sabbath. And so, yeah, the...the real onus is on the people who are doing good on the Sabbath to prove that that’s something you’re supposed to do. So yeah, I think that is a typical response. It’s almost like they should be going out defending why a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel is okay or why marrying the Gospel off to the Republican Party is okay. But it’s more like that is the norm, and if you get involved socially it’s up to you to prove why you shouldn’t just become a Republican and let the trickle-down thing [popular economic explanation in the Reagan years] work for the poor, or whatever.
ERICKSEN: Speaking of the trickle-down thing, how has...or what’s been the impact in Jackson among the black community and the poor, let’s say in this decade, as far...because of the government cutbacks?
TUCKER: Bad and getting worse, but when you’re fiftieth [state out of fifty states] when you got started, being further behind fiftieth is...is...is...is still bad, but it’s not as bad as some other places that had a more drastic fall.
ERICKSEN: [pauses] Which denominations have been traditionally more cooperative with Voice of Calvary?
TUCKER: When you go into a city, don’t even mess with the Baptists. Find a suburban Presbyterian or independent church, and they’re wrestling the most with their resources. Pentecostal, charismatic, Baptists, Episcopalian - they’re too busy playing religion or equating their prosperity and success to obedience to have gotten around about issues with the poor.
ERICKSEN: Back up a minute. You said don’t even bother with the Baptists. I...can you expand on that a little?
TUCKER: Well, and it’s probably mostly Southern Baptists, but.... Maybe to say why you aim at the Evangelical Presbyterians is because evangelistically there is a...a...a form of church government and doctrine there that if you read it right, you get to begin asking questions about your responsibility to some of the environment. And...and therefore you start feeling guilty that maybe I’m not doing all I should. But the Baptists are so bound to the culture and have a form of church government that makes them so independent that it’s kinda up to the leadership group in charge as to how they relate to life in the world. And so the Southern Baptists have their own empire whereby truth is Southern Baptist truth, so that, “Yes, we’ll help the poor if it’s the Southern Baptists helping the poor, but we won’t support anything outside of that.” And so that’s what I meant by the Baptist thing.
ERICKSEN: Okay. How does...how does more traditional mass evangelism work among the poor in the black community?
TUCKER: It really doesn’t when you...but because it’s so commuterish. You know, it’s like.... The key thing that the church has misunderstood is how it really...relationships really change people, e...equal relationships. So that when I come as a professional case worker, the suburban evangelist passing out tracts, the friendly policeman, the school teacher who doesn’t live in the community, that’s all well and good but I don’t have an equal relationship with those people when I’m the poor person. So it really.... When you come to me as my neighbor, though, when you stop over to get a cup of sugar and you see the bruise on my eye and you say, “Well, what happened?” And I know you’ve been there and you’re going to be there and I say, “Well....” You know as...as a woman, the woman says, “My husband beat me again last night.” But as said to the evangelist who’s at the door with a tract, what good is it? They’re going to ask you to pray for Jesus, and then they’re going to get in a car and drive back out to the suburbs. So that’s...that’s what works, and so.... What was your question?
ERICKSEN: About mass evangelism.
TUCKER: Oh. Yeah, that I don’t see this having...making much difference really. I mean, even the Billy Graham Crusades and Here’s Life America [an outreach of Campus Crusade for Christ to business men and women], they’re saying that less than five percent of those people ever make it as growing members of a church. And...so then everything else, I mean.... People looking for tricks, they’re looking for entertainment in the ghetto, so it’s just like when Paul Robeson [famous singer, actor, social activist of the 1930s] or Jimmy Swaggart goes to Haiti or South Africa. What would you rather do? Sit in the dirt and look in the dark all night long or go in the stadium where they got the lights on? And then you’re going to cooperate, I mean, what else do you have to do? “Yeah, let’s see what this gig is all about?” But in terms of any real lasting change, I don’t think it does anything.
ERICKSEN: Now the Graham Crusade was here in Jackson [the Billy Graham Mississippi Crusade was held in Jackson, May 11-18, 1975] before you got here, right?
ERICKSEN: That was ‘75, I think. You hear anything...did you hear anything about the impact of that...reaction to it?
TUCKER: Well, it’s kind of a bandwagon effect in that, “Ol’ Billy Graham’s coming to town. That’s a real status symbol. Let me get on the steering committee.” And then Billy Graham made a requirement that he wouldn’t come unless they had black ministers. So then the racist white ministers who wouldn’t let black members in their church had to go find out how to get some black members to be on the steering committee. And so they went and did that, and then John was one the black ministers who said, “I know you came and got a...me to be a token. And so I’m not going to be willing to be on this committee unless the white members are willing to say that they will take a black member into their church as well as we will say we’ll take a white member into our churches.” So they said that, but nothing changed.
ERICKSEN: Where is Voice of Calvary heading?
TUCKER: We’re...we’re heading to try and be a model of holistic community development here in Jackson, and then how to replicate that model in other key cities around America. There’s a battle for the soul of America’s cities, and as the cities go, so will the soul of America go. And right now it’s a losing battle. The government is not doing an adequate job. Part of it is that they don’t have a right policy or philosophy, but then secondly, they’re pulling all our resources out. The church is busy running from the problem as well. And so we have, you know, what I say ‘White flight, black flight, poor plight’ in all of the major cities. And right now, there are a hundred cities that half of black America lives in, and that shift is going to continue to increase. And so the church is busy defining success as how far I can get away with [sic] from the poor, just like the world is. And so we got to become more a part of the solution, so that’s what we’re trying to do. Figure out how we can replicate the models that we have here, living laboratories, that can help enable a church to be a good implementor of a total Gospel truth in...in the area of its calling.
ERICKSEN: What’s the personnel situation like at Voice of Calvary? I know when I was here a year ago you didn’t have an assistant and were having to do a lot of things yourself.
TUCKER: Yeah. Well, it’s getting better, and, you know, we have a two-year plan for hiring about another ten, twelve people that will be good complement for where we think we need to go in the next three to five years. And so with a certain turnover rate to that, you know, we’ll...we’ll get there and.... So we’re still in need of hiring some people, though we have a plan and a vision and a hope of getting there.
ERICKSEN: Who...who...what people are you looking to...to incorporate? People from Jackson? People from anywhere? Black people? White people? How does that...[unclear]?
TUCKER: Well, primarily, black Jacksonians, though, you know, we...I divined three cores of people: indigenous, or indigenized, that is people who are natives here or people who are natives by longevity; transplants; and then short-term. [talking in background] And we’ll always have a blend, but heavy on the indigenous. So key positions we look to indigenous and then some people who are long-term transplants, but majority indigenous. Right now the staff is about seventy-five percent black and maybe about fifty-five, sixty percent local.
ERICKSEN: In other words, indigenous.
TUCKER: Yeah, in...yeah, indigenous.
END OF TAPE