Today, Cynthia R. Nielsen wrote an excellent piece on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam“. She notes the connection that King made between his own efforts in the Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam. For King it was self-evident that any nation who spends vast resources on war is destined to forget the poor in their own land (something I believe history proves, but I will defer to Nielsen’s article for further exposition). This includes those who are neglected for many reasons–race and ethnicity being only one of those. I recommend you read the entire thing here. It is from her post that I found this week’s quote.
After his introduction King began his speech against the war in Vietnam saying this:
“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements, and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”
I cannot think of a more fitting rebuke to echo for our nation over the last decade. We have been too quick to support the war policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. We haven’t reviewed our priorities, but instead we have maintained our standing as a nation of war all across the globe while the citizens for whom this nation’s government is to care are often overlooked. Many of us buy into war rhetoric that what is best for this country is our forceful presence against “evil” everywhere else.
While I am sure there is some truth to this, it is always statements with a hint of truth that are most deceiving. It may be exhausting for our preachers to remain prophetic against our nation’s leader’s hunger for war. We need less “prophesying of smooth patriotism” and much, much more “firm descent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history”. Lord, give us more peacemakers like Dr. King in this violent world.