Clarence JordanClarence Jordan (1912-1969) was a widely admired Bible scholar, speaker, writer and farmer. A Baptist minister with a Doctorate in New Testament Greek and a B.S. in agriculture, Clarence first gained a reputation as a preacher.

Jordan was born on July 29, 1912 in Talbotton, Georgia to J. W. and Maude Josey Jordan, prominent citizens of that small town.

racial and economic injustice

From an early age the young Jordan was troubled by the racial and economic injustice that he perceived in his community. Hoping to improve the lot of sharecroppers through scientific farming techniques, Jordan enrolled in the University of Georgia, earning a degree in agriculture in 1933.

During his college years, however, Jordan became convinced that the roots of poverty were spiritual as well as economic. This conviction led him to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, from which he earned a Ph.D. in Greek in 1938. While at seminary Jordan met Florence Kroeger, and the couple were soon married.

a demonstration plot for the kingdom of God

In 1942 Clarence Jordan found a unique way to combine his interest in scientific agriculture with his passion for the gospel of Jesus. Clarence and Florence came to Sumter County, Georgia to live out the teachings of Jesus amid the poverty and racism of the rural South.

In the midst of a segregated and racist society, Jordan envisioned a place where blacks and whites could live and work together in a spirit of partnership. Based on a radical call to discipleship, Jordan planned to create a community that was committed to racial integration, nonviolence, a simplified lifestyle, sharing of possessions, and stewardship of the land and its resources.

Jordan called this experiment koinonia, from the Greek word meaning community or fellowship that was used to identify the small community of faith in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus that pooled its economic resources and shared a common life in the spirit of Jesus. This was the model for the fledgling farm. Jordan referred to the adventure as a “demonstration plot for the kingdom of God.”

Koinonia farm

They founded Koinonia Farm, an interracial Christian community in Americus, Georgia, deep in the heart of the South.

They began with three principles:

  1. All people are related in God’s eyes
  2. Live in accordance with Christ’s love
  3. Common ownership—distribution according to first century Christian principles based on need, not profit

Jordan believed that the incarnation was the only effective method of evangelization. He said, “We haven’t gotten anywhere until we see the Word become flesh.” Bringing home the incarnation was the motivation for Clarence’s life. He saw the resurrection not as an invitation to heaven when we die, but as a declaration from God that he has established permanent residence on the earth. Through the incarnation, God and comes home with us, bringing all his suffering sisters and brothers with him.

Clarence lived the incarnation in his fervent love for the poor. He saw that it was a suffering and disinherited Christ who shows us the way to love the same among us now. And believing that it is a spirit-filled fellowship rather than the empty tomb that is proof of Christ’s presence with us, Clarence pointed Koinonia as evidence of the continuation of the incarnation.

racist reaction

Burning crossThe community grew through the turbulent 1950’s, as the Jordans and their neighbors farmed together, ate meals, and attended Bible studies and summer youth camps. Throughout the 1950s and early 60s, Koinonia Farms withstood threats, property damage, excommunication from churches, Grand Jury investigations, and economic boycotts.

In the mid-50s fences were cut, crops stolen from the fields, and garbage dumped on the property. A truck’s engine was ruined by sugar placed in its gas tank, and nearly 300 fruit trees were chopped to the ground. The farm’s roadside market was bombed several times and eventually destroyed. Nightriders sprayed machine-gun bullets at the houses. Fires were set on the property, and crosses were burned on the lawns of black friends.

Finally Sumter County residents bolstered their attack with an economic boycott, hoping to choke the farm’s livelihood, since they seemed unable to scare the Koinonians away. It was necessity that forced the community into a mail-order pecan business during the boycott. The United States mail and the open pecan market were two things the local people could not control. Their marketing theme was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”

Clarence Jordan was a man who conquered the fear that paralyzed others of his time. He spoke about fear as “the polio of the soul which prevents our walking by faith.” Only by living with the assurance of the victory over death can faithful witness shine forth.

Clarence had given up his life to God, and thus lived with the knowledge that no one could take his life from him. He understood deeply the connection between life and death, the impossibility of sharing resurrection without participating in crucifixion. And so he endured excommunication from his church and gunfire from nightriders, living as a man who knew that local hatred and the Ku Klux Klan had no more power over his life than Pilate did over Christ’s.

the cotton patch gospels and epistles

Cottonpatch version of Matthew and JohnIn the 1940’s, Clarence Jordan brought the books of the New Testament to life with his unique “Cotton Patch” version. A scholar in New Testament Greek, Jordan used original Greek manuscripts for his translations. He began to translate into a contemporary southern idiom and set the events in the towns, roads, and farms of twentieth century southern Georgia.

Jordan stated in the introduction to his first volume, “We want to be participants in the faith, not merely spectators.” And so he wrote a version of the New Testament that would bring its messages home to the people of his time.

Clarence spent many hours in his writing shack, located about 300 yards from the main buildings at Koinonia. By the time of his death in 1969, he had completed the Sermon on the Mount, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Acts, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, the general epistles, and the first eight chapters of the Gospel of John.

The Cotton Patch version tells of a Jesus who was wrapped in a blanket and laid in an apple box at his birth. He was killed by lynching. When he came out of the burial vault on Easter morning, he appeared to his disciples and said, “Howdy.” In the book of Acts (which Jordan calls “The Happenings”), Paul and Barney travel to New Orleans and beyond telling the story of Jesus. Paul addresses his epistles to churches in Atlanta, Memphis, and New Orleans.

Rich in humor and unsparing in their earthiness, Jordan’s translations “explode in our ears the mighty ideas which transformed the early disciples and enabled them to turn their world upside down.”

a vision of simple, decent houses

Millard Fullerin 1968, a young lawyer named Millard Fuller visited Koinonia Farm and was transformed by Clarence Jordan’s vision of the incarnated gospel. Millard later said that he and his wife, Linda, “intended to stay two hours.” “Then.” he said, “I met Clarence. When we started talking, I knew that guy was somebody special. So we stayed a month. Clarence and I milked cows together, and we packed pecans together, and day and night we talked about how to be a Christian. I was like a year, or two years, of seminary crammed into one month.”

Millard and Linda Fuller remained at the farm for several years. There, they and Jordan developed the concept of “partnership housing”—where those in need of adequate shelter would work side by side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses.


Clarence Jordan died on October 29, 1969, at the age of 57 in his writing shack. The local coroner refused to come to the farm to pronounce him dead.

In 1976, the experience at Koinonia led Millard and Linda Fuller to found Habitat for Humanity International. Based in Americus, Georgia, the organization sponsors the building of simple, decent houses across the United States and around the world. Habitat volunteers working with homeowners have built more than 100,000 houses.


The Koinonia Farm community thrives today as Koinonia Partners, steeped in the legacy of Clarence’s commitment to justice, reconciliation, and the partnership of black and white, poor and rich. Clarence Jordan’s spirit lives on in his writings, the Koinonia community, and in the work of Habitat for Humanity. In 2005, Millard and Linda Fuller founded The Fuller Center for Housing at Koinonia Farm.

published writings

  • Why Study the Bible (1953)
  • The Letter to the Hebrews or a First Century Manual For Church Renewal (“Cotton Patch” version, 1963)
  • Practical Religion, or the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James (“Cotton Patch” version, 1964)
  • Letters to Young Christians (I and II Timothy and Titus) (“Cotton Patch” version, 1967)
  • Letters to God’s People in Columbus (Colossians) and Selma (I and II Thessalonians) (“Cotton Patch” version, 1967)
  • Second Letter to the Christians in Atlanta or Second Corinthians (“Cotton Patch” version, 1968)
  • To God’s People in Washington (Romans) (“Cotton Patch” version, 1968)
  • Letters to Ephesians and Philemon (“Cotton Patch” version, 1968)
  • Letters to The Georgia Convention (Galatians) and to the Alabaster African Church, Smithville, Alabama (Philippians) (“Cotton Patch” version, 1968)
  • The Cotton Patch Version of Paul’s Epistles (“Cotton Patch” version, 1968)
  • The Cotton Patch Version of Luke-Acts: Jesus Doings and Happenings (“Cotton Patch” version, 1969)
  • The Sermon on the Mount (Revised Edition) (1970)
  • The Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Sermons (Edited by Dallas Lee) (1972)
  • The Cotton Patch Version of Hebrews and the General Epistles (1973)
  • Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation (With Bill Doulos) (1976)

film resources

"Briars in the Cottonpatch" videoBriars in the Cottonpatch: the Story of Koinonia Farm, is a documentary about Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm produced by Faith Fuller, daughter of Millard and Linda Fuller. It is available at the PBS website ($24.95), at the Briars in the Cottonpatch documentary website ($19.95), or at the Koinonia Partners website ($13.99).

"Cotton Patch Gospel" videoThe Cotton Patch Gospel is an award-winning musical drama based on the Cottonpatch gospels. Music and lyrics were written by folk singer Harry Chapin (completed shortly before his death in 1981). First produced on stage in New York in 1981, the Cotton Patch Gospel is a retelling of the Gospels of Matthew and John set in the contemporary South, accompanied by bluegrass music. The play is essentially a one man show with a cast of four musicians fleshing out many of the characters. The film version of the play was produced in 1988, released on VHS in 2002, and released on DVD in 2007. It is available at various sources online for about $15.00.

additional resources



Dorothy Day