By Joanna Shenk, pastor at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco.
Written for The Mennonite.
Alongside writing Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “Beyond Vietnam” speech, Vincent Harding also wrote and delivered a speech to Mennonites in Amsterdam that same year. He made a call to Mennonites that, unrealized in that era, was fulfilled by Michael Jesse (MJ) Sharp.
At the Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam in 1967, Harding urged the mostly Western Mennonite audience to take seriously the concerns and anger of the poor and dispossessed across the world. He articulated why these people were angry and why they were justified in that anger due to the colonization of their land, the exploitation of their people and the theft of their natural resources.
By Joanna Shenk
A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a loved one in which they asked me if I thought holiness and righteousness were important… or if I valued them as a Christian. I can’t remember exactly how they said it, but it was said in a way that assumed I probably didn’t think they were important. I explained to them that it was frustrating to be asked the question in that way because it put me on the defensive… like I needed to prove something to them. To their credit, they understood and agreed it made for better conversation if they asked me how I understand holiness and righteousness or what has been my journey with those things. Continue reading
Today, we begin our Lenten journey together, daily meditating on the words of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, some of the most distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it’s always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.
I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
Highlights from Rose Berger’s April 2007 Sojourners Magazine interview with Vincent Harding (photo above: Rose with “Uncle Vincent”), the author of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech:
The Riverside speech (variously called “Beyond Vietnam” or “Breaking the Silence”) named the sickness eating the American soul as “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” It was a watershed moment. Continue reading
From Vincent Harding in Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement (1990):
Who knows, perhaps with insight, courage and serious study we could introduce ourselves and our students of all ages to some of the basic tenets of this nonviolent way, exploring such convictions as:
- The fundamental unity of all creation, including our essential oneness with those we call “enemy.”
- The deep and often hidden capacities in human beings to become much more than we realize; to approach much more closely the essential oneness of life; to create many more social, political, and economic manifestations of our unity than we dream.
- The purpose of true civilization is not to focus on higher and higher technology or greater material wealth; it is to help us live more deeply and grow more fully in the humanizing work of mutual responsibility and respect.
- The necessity of challenging anything–or anyone–in society (or in ourselves) that appears to destroy the God-ordained oneness, or which seeks to damage our great capacities for an ever-expanding development of our humanity.
- The greatest necessity of all is to seek out and hold firmly to the truths of our oneness, our hope, our mutual responsibility, our capacity to create, our refusal to destroy. Included here, of course, is a willingness to dies, if necessary, for such truths, but not to injure or kill others.
- The constant, disciplined quest for personal and collective communion with the One, the divine and ultimate source of all our unity.