Every Creative Method of Protest Possible

RicDay 24 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under a new regime which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country if necessary. Meanwhile, meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

As we counsel young men concerning military service, we must clarify for them our nation’s role in Vietnam and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection. I am pleased to say that this is a path now chosen by more than seventy students at my own alma mater, Morehouse College, and I recommend it to all who find the American course in Vietnam a dishonorable and unjust one. Moreover, I would encourage all ministers of draft age to give up their ministerial exemptions and seek status as conscientious objectors. These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

Now there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing.
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From Ric Hudgens, pastor at North Suburban Mennonite Church in Lake County, Illinois:

In April 1967 at the time of Dr King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech the number of US troops in Vietnam was peaking at half a million with over a thousand casualties per month. Simultaneously the anti-war movement was also reaching its apex. In New York City 300,000 marched against the war. 50,000 marched at the Pentagon with hundreds arrested and jailed. Yet in 1967 the majority of churches, white AND black, remained silent. Continue reading

The Long and Difficult Process

WestDay 23 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

I would like to suggest five concrete things that our government should do to begin the long and difficult process of extricating ourselves from this nightmarish conflict:

Number one: End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.    

Number two: Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.

Three: Take immediate steps to prevent other battlegrounds in Southeast Asia by curtailing our military buildup in Thailand and our interference in Laos.

Four: Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and any future Vietnam government.

Five: Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
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Excerpts from a recent Democracy Now interview with Dr. Cornel West of Union Theological Seminary:

…by “neoliberal,” what I mean is, when you see a social problem, you financialize, you privatize and militarize. You have mass incarceration on the one hand, privatized schools…and then you militarize, which is to say drop bombs on seven Muslim countries and then wonder why Muslims are upset, or you drop bombs on innocent children with U.S. drones and then wonder why the gangsters, the fascists coming out of the Muslim world, are organizing. And, of course, we’ve got to be anti-fascist across the board. But this is going to be the most trying of times in our lifetime. There’s no doubt about it. And at 63 years old, I am thoroughly fortified for this fight. I’ll tell you that.

… Unfortunately, given the right-wing populist and authoritarian orientation of Trump, he uses that kind of anguish to scapegoat Mexicans, Muslims and others, rather than confront the most powerful. Twenty-one percent of those who voted for Trump do not like him, but they feel as if they had no alternative. And we have to keep in mind, 42 percent of our fellow citizens didn’t go to the polls at all, already given up on the system, you see. And so, the system itself now is in such a chronic crisis. And we said before the election that Trump would be a neo-fascist catastrophe. And it’s very clear from his picks that he’s moving in that direction.

Wild Lectionary: We Are Animals

12289514_10153766241763739_1680757321006336246_n.jpgFourth Sunday in Lent
Psalm 23:1-3

1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2
God makes me lie down in green pastures; God leads me beside still waters;
3
God restores my soul.

By Ric Hudgens

I live in a household with a seven-year old who has no trouble connecting with her animal identity. I often awaken in the morning to hear her downstairs growling, barking, howling, or singing. She may be imitating a dog, a monkey, a bear, a lion, or a bird.  Like all young children she will eventually learn to separate her human identity from her animal identity. Mornings will grow quiet and my world will in one sense be a sadder place. Continue reading

Ready to Turn Sharply from our Present Ways

Joyce (1)Day 22 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam.”

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increased in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy, and deadly game we have decided to play. The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways. In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war.
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“Slippery Words and Concealed Souls” by Joyce Hollyday (photo above), founding co-pastor at Circle of Mercy in Asheville, NC

…With speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
   with words that were softer than oil,
       but in fact were drawn swords.
—Psalm 55:21

The year was 1983, and I was on a bus with a group of U.S. peacemakers, bumping over a rutted road from the tiny, isolated village of Jalapa, Nicaragua, toward Managua. Bursts of mortar fire erupted from the trees. A young mother riding with us held up her infant son. “Take him,” she pleaded in Spanish as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Take him to a place where there is no war.” Continue reading

The ACA and the AHCA: Understanding What is at Stake

MisakBy James Misak MD (photo right), Cleveland, OH

With efforts underway to “repeal and replace” the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA) with the proposed American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), understanding what is at stake can be challenging. It is my hope that this essay will bring some clarity to this issue.

  1. The US Health Insurance System Prior To The ACA: A Brief Review

The United States is currently the only high-income country without nearly universal health-care coverage. As a result, an estimated 44.6 million Americans (representing 16.7% of the US population under age 65) were uninsured in 2013, the year before the ACA went into effect.1

Most Americans under the age of 65 receive health insurance as a benefit from their employer, but this percentage has been steadily decreasing over time, from 67% of nonelderly Americans in 1999 to 56% in 2013, or approximately 148 million people. Additionally, people in families with lower incomes were less likely to receive health insurance through an employer, and these families lost employer-sponsored insurance at a faster rate than the population as a whole.2 Continue reading

A Citizen of the World

Dee DeeDay 21 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

At this point I should make it clear that while I have tried to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroy, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.
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“A Bootcamp Against Cynicism” by Dee Dee Risher (photo above), the former editor of The Other Side Magazine and author of the recently released The Soulmaking Room

The dynamics Dr. King names in this his Riverside address—militarism, materialism, and racism–which we are slowly journeying through this Lent, are as old as history and as sharp as flint. That these realities have been around forever does not lessen their power, nor can it lessen our own resistance to them. Continue reading

Spoken of Peace and Built up its Forces

ElaineDay 20 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam.”

Also, it must be clear that the leaders of Hanoi considered the presence of American troops in support of the Diem regime to have been the initial military breach of the Geneva Agreement concerning foreign troops. They remind us that they did not begin to send troops in large numbers and even supplies into the South until American forces had moved into the tens of thousands.

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the president claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight hundred, or rather, eight thousand miles away from its shores.

“Refusing to tell the Truth?” By Dr. Elaine Enns (photo above), Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries

I was born only a few months after Dr. King delivered his Riverside sermon. In today’s passage, King names American duplicity, lying and subterfuge to justify military aggressions in Vietnam. Unfortunately there would be plenty of opportunity in my life time to learn that these strategies are not exceptions but rules of American foreign and military policy. This part of King’s analysis is very specific to the diplomatic deception around the Indochina War in 1967, and at first glance it does not seem to be relevant today. But in fact, even here where King is addressing political particulars, we are seeing him unmask American government’s habit of “refusing to tell the truth” about our foreign policy objectives including fundamental misrepresentation of the enemy in order to justify domestically its military escalation.

In 1990, shortly after I arrived in California from my home place of Saskatoon, SK I got to witness firsthand the lies and propaganda of the first Gulf War. But 13 years later, during the second Gulf War, was my baptism by fire into this reality. In the spring of 2003, Ched and I were visiting professors at Memphis Theological Seminary and Christian Brothers University.  We learned quickly that many folks in the “Bible belt” South didn’t like to hear U.S. policy criticized or a war effort questioned.   I was teaching a class at Christian Brothers University; half of the students were African American women. In January our class began by looking at basic Restorative Justice theory and practice, which set the context for difficult but meaningful discussions during the days leading up to the second Bush invasion of Iraq in March. It was during this time that Ched and I first started using the King sermon to speak truth to this new chapter in American duplicity – the relentless fabrication of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Up until that time, my experience in teaching Restorative Justice had been that once students wrestled with more complex narratives of violation, and mapped them on the “spiral of violence” model they tended to question the dominant paradigm of retributive justice (see Ambassadors Vol 11). However, in the early days of this second Gulf War, the majority of my white students remained stuck in the prevailing war propaganda. Each class became more difficult for me, and I only survived because of the Black students who privately thanked me, saying “we never have conversations like this here.” In one poignant exchange, a Black mother of two small children revealed with fear and frustration that she was being deployed to Iraq; we cried together. (The fact that there is still a disproportionate number of people of color in the “volunteer” military underlines the persistence of the “economic conscription” King called out in this sermon.)

Once the bombing of Iraq commenced, Ched and I looked for ways to break the silence that had descended on the Memphis citizenry (especially the churches). King’s Riverside sermon was a powerful gift and tool we used repeatedly; it was far more effective to let this “national hero” frame issues that had suddenly become taboo in the “fog of war.” The resonance was immediate—whether it engendered embrace (in African American congregations) or resistance (in most white congregations) into which we were invited to preach. The power and poignancy of this text inspired us to use it again to engage the so-called “war on terrorism” in our Philadelphia Word and World School later that year.

Today, almost 15 years and many more military interventions later, it is obvious that we still need to revisit this sermon. Clearly, we have not yet fully grasped the key integrative elements of Dr. King’s catechism as he applied it to the Indochina war, namely:

  • To understand militarism as the war of the rich against the poor;
  • To analyze foreign policy through the lens of race and neo-colonialism; and
  • To insist that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

May this 50th anniversary review help us inscribe King’s truth spoken to power on our own hearts.