Clarence Jordan, Conscientious Objector to War and Killing: More Lessons From the History of American Fascism, Racism, Militarism, and Economic Oppression

Gary G. Kohls, MD

This year, 2012, would have been the 100th birthday anniversaries of Koinonia Farm’s courageous founder Clarence Jordan and his equally courageous life partner and wife Florence. Koinonia Farm, founded in 1942, is 70 years old this year. Koinonia was an innovative interracial farming commune that was set up according to the New Testament model of the pacifist, socialist early Christian communities formed in the first generation CE, based on the ethical values of Jesus of Nazareth. Those communities were described in the Acts of the Apostles. Jordan often referred to Acts 2:44 as his inspiration in establishing Koinonia Farm. The passage says, “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.”

The Jordans were famous (in the history of Christian peacemaking, albeit simultaneously and vehemently hated by most white Christians in the Bible Belt) for their persistence—and ultimate survival—in the face of that ugly form of American fascism so infamously exemplified by the homicidal culture of the pro-slavery Bible Belt South, where loyal Southern Baptist church members were often members of the racist White Citizen’s Councils. Many church members were also Ku Klux Klan “night-riders” who terrorized, tortured, and lynched “subhuman” blacks and other non-whites, non-Christians, foreigners, and assorted liberal “nigger-lovers” that they irrationally accused of being “race-mixing communists.”

Jordan was born on July 29, 1912. He was the seventh child (out of ten children) of a loving, non-punitive, and economically well-off south Georgian family. (It should be mentioned that sociologists and psychologists tell us that latter-born children are generally less harshly parented and more likely to be tender-hearted, compassionate, and non-punitive as adults, and therefore are more likely to be liberal/progressive-minded than first-born children, who, especially in the case of boys, tend to be more conservative and more punitive in their politics and theologies.)

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, Clarence noticed how much his local church-going sheriff enjoyed singing hymns on Sunday, but he also was appalled when he personally witnessed that same sheriff torturing unjustly imprisoned black chain gang members on Monday. And he couldn’t help but notice the un-Christlike-ness of so many “upstanding” pastors and their cowardly silence concerning the inhuman cruelty of racism, militarism, and poverty.
Clarence was an intellectually precocious and curious boy who attended church dutifully—but open-mindedly—during his entire childhood. Because of his open-minded search for the truth, he was able to see the hypocrisy of the Sunday morning piety of many of his fellow pew-sitters and how they mistreated their fellow humans the rest of the week.

For a time the hypocrisy of his church—preaching peace and love while simultaneously engaging in violence, war, and segregation—bothered Clarence enough for him to temporarily give up on religion, that is until he realized that the problem was with the church leadership refusing to teach what Jesus taught and refusing to live as Jesus lived. He saw that the problem with religion wasn’t about what was on the pages of the gospel.

Jordan had a BA in
agriculture and a PhD
in New Testament Greek

Jordan went to college following high school (1929) and got a University of Georgia bachelor’s degree in agronomy at the College of Agriculture. He then went to the ultraconservative Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he earned a master of divinity degree.

He continued on at that institution and earned a PhD in New Testament Greek because he believed that koine Greek (now a dead language), in which the New Testament was originally written, would reveal the most accurate account of the life and core ethical teachings of Jesus. For the rest of his life, Jordan, when he read from the New Testament during his sermons or talks, would read from his Greek New Testament and translate in English what he was reading in Greek.

By his second year studying agriculture at the University of Georgia, Jordan had associated farming with the altruism of Christian selflessness, and his life’s mission gained clarity.  

After his senior year, he reached another level of Christian maturity. He had participated in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) during his undergraduate years, and as part of that program he had to spend a summer at a north Georgia boot camp, becoming commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. cavalry. But during his time at boot camp, he witnessed the evils of military violence, killing on command, and nationalism, and concluded that war perpetuated human hatred, which was antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.  

The Sermon on the
Mount was central
to Jordan’s mission

Reading and reflecting on chapters 5, 6, and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew (the Sermon on the Mount, which Jordan later called the Lessons on the Mount), Jordan concluded that he could not simultaneously obey Jesus’ command to love and man’s command to kill, nor could he work for peace and simultaneously participate in war. Jesus’ command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44) particularly resonated with Jordan. And so he had no choice but to become a conscientious objector to war and killing.

By the time his 13 years of higher education were over (at age 30), Jordan and a Baptist missionary friend decided to implement what Jesus was commanding his followers to do: go up against violence, including the violence of racism, with active nonviolent resistance.

Understanding that the lack of economic opportunities for blacks (exploitation of non-whites and their resultant poverty) and not just the color of their skin was at the core of Southern racism, they naively decided to start an interracial communal farm right in the heart of one of the most pro-slavery states in the union.

After they found an affordable (and exhausted?) 400-acre red clay farm near Americus, Georgia, a well-off benefactor loaned them the down payment.  Jordan and his co-founder of Georgia’s first interracial commune thought of their experiment as “a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.” And they named it Koinonia (Greek for “fellowship” or “community”).

South Georgia was the center of what, at the time, met the definition of a fascist state, where blacks were terrorized by boycotts, cross-burnings, shootings, bombings and arbitrary lynchings by whites without any possibility that the perpetrator-thugs would be brought to justice by the cops or punished by the courts. Despite knowing the racism of the area, Jordan and his fellow idealists had no comprehension of the severity of the violence that they would soon suffer.

Soon after they acquired the farm, the racism of the neighborhood became apparent. Businesses seemed reluctant to do business with them. The local churches were suspicious, and it didn’t take too many years for the KKK to become involved with drive-by shootings, machine gun attacks, arson, and bombings.

Koinonia, which struggled financially and would have failed if not for the timely economic support from outside antiracist groups, northern churches, and individuals, was caught up in the national Civil Rights movement as well as the white Southern backlash to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. the Board of Education. The children of Koinonia’s black families were of course forbidden to enroll in the local public school, and even the farm’s white children were excluded. (Eventually, following a court order, they were reluctantly accepted by the school, but, of course, they were bullied, threatened, and ostracized.)

Niggers do our work
for us around here

The superintendent of the Americus school district succinctly summarized the rationale for the traditional Southern pro-slavery/segregationist culture and its ruthless exploitation of blacks when he said, “Niggers do our work for us around here and if we educate them they will all move away—so I don’t intend seeing them educated.”

The violence that was intended to drive these Koinonia “nigger-lovers” out of Sumter County was not resisted or condemned by any of the Baptist churches in the area, including the Rehoboth Baptist Church of Americus, to which Clarence and five other Koinonians belonged—and from which they were soon to be excommunicated.

According to one account of the excommunication story, Jordan had been called into an emergency Sunday afternoon meeting of the church’s board of deacons after one of Koinonia’s members had brought an Asian Indian—a Hindu and a non-white—to a worship service. To the leaders of the church, inviting a non-white to church was apparently an excommunicable offense, in the same category as murder, rape, and apostasy.

Standing before the seven elders of the church, he decided to use, as part of his defense against being driven out of his church, a theological approach. So Jordan, knowing his New Testament by heart and knowing that his colleagues had done nothing wrong, asked the deacons to find in the Bible the offense that they were guilty of.

Some of the seven deacons disinterestedly paged through the book; some simply passed it on to the next man without opening it. It seemed obvious to Clarence that none of these lay leaders had done much serious Bible study. And none of them came up with anything that the members were guilty of. Finally, the seventh deacon took the Bible, slammed it shut, and said, “Clarence, we don’t care what it says in the Bible, we just don’t want no niggers in this church!”

The church needs more
“divine irritants”
and more disturbers
of the peace

When one of the deacons apologized later about the excommunication, Jordan told him, ”I want you to go back up there and live so as to get kicked out.” Jordan remembered later that that deacon soon became a model “divine irritant” and a fellow disturber of the peace.

Koinonia Farm, largely because of Jordan’s pacifism and his belief in the truth and practicality of gospel nonviolence, survived numerous acts of racism, which included shunning, well-organized boycotts, thuggery, beatings, excommunications from more than one church, multiple drive-by shootings, monthly machine-gun attacks (usually after the Americus National Guard finished its monthly meetings), bombings of the farm’s roadside stands, vandalism (including the sawing down of 400 fruit trees), numerous arson attacks on community buildings, grand jury hearings, a state bureau of investigation aimed at blaming the victims for the violence, Georgia’s racist newspaper propaganda, anti-Koinonia ministerial association attacks, and the Ku Klux Klan’s determination to wipe Koinonia off the face of the map. The overt violence stopped some time after it peaked in 1957, when the local business community realized how the area’s economic growth was being hindered by southern Georgia’s reputation for racism and lawless violence.
The Cotton Patch Gospels

Jordan is perhaps best known for his short, pithy, humorous Cotton Patch series of books, which are revised versions of the New Testament, especially the gospels, that Jordan re-tells in the vernacular of the local Bible Belt culture. Jordan’s profound and meaningful reinterpretations of the New Testament in the Cotton Patch writings used well his intimate knowledge of Southern culture and his equally intimate knowledge of the language of his Greek New Testament. One of Jordan’s many legacies was making the ethical teachings of Jesus more understandable and usable.

Clarence Jordan died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1969, just before Millard Fuller, profoundly inspired by what Jordan was doing and teaching at Koinonia, started Habitat for Humanity at Koinonia Farm.

The farm survives to this day, selling many products online, such as pecans, chocolate, peanut products, baked goods, books, and retreat opportunities.

There will be a number of 70th anniversary events this fall, including a symposium co-chaired by President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn on Sept 28 and 29, 2012.

More information about the history of Koinonia Farm can be found at

Some of the information above was borrowed from a master’s thesis by Charles S. O’Conner, entitled “A Rural Georgia Tragedy: Koinonia Farm in the 1950s.”
The thesis is available online at