Day 2 of our Lenten Journey with Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
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 movement, and pray that our 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.
Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.
From Michelle Alexander (photo above), the author of The New Jim Crow and professor at Union Theological Seminary, posted a week after the 2016 election:
Like millions of people, I am still struggling to wrap my mind around what the election means for our collective future. I won’t try to sort it out here, in a Facebook post.
What I will say is that what happened can’t be explained simply as a failure of the political establishment — though it has failed spectacularly. Nor is it simply a problem of racism or sexism — though both are alive and well and flourishing in this moment. Nor is this election simply a matter of economics, though global capitalism and neoliberalism have created a world in which people of all colors are suffering greatly as factories close, work disappears, wages stagnate, and human beings are treated as disposable — like plastic bottles tossed in a landfill — as political and media elites (not just Trump) spew propaganda that encourages us to view “the others” as the enemy.
The problem runs deeper than all of that. The truth is we are stumbling badly in large part because we are just beginning to learn to walk. Roughly 50 years ago, we still had an explicitly racist system of laws and government: a racial caste system. It was not a true democracy by any stretch. We still don’t have a real democracy. And we’ve managed to rebirth a new caste-like system in recent years, a new Jim Crow. In the words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
What many of us have been attempting to do — build a thriving multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, egalitarian democracy out of the rubble of slavery and genocide — has never been achieved in the history of the world. Some say it can never be done.
Is America Possible?
That’s the question we face right now. And it’s the question Dr. Vincent Harding posed before he died and joined the many ancestors who are whispering to us, urging us not to falter now.
Posted here is an interview with Dr. Harding that aired a few years ago…Dr. Harding was a friend and mentor to me and I miss him, especially now. How I would love to hear what he has say about this moment. I can’t ask him, but I am grateful that I can listen to the wisdom he shared before he passed on.