In 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced a painful dilemma. How could he tell oppressed young blacks and police to shun violence on the streets of our country, but rather to behave nonviolently, when the entire country watched state-sanctioned violence in Vietnam on evening TV?
What Dr. King chose to do then needs to happen again—NOW. Against the “practical” advice of virtually all his Realpolitik associates, King asked one of his closest advisers, Vincent Harding, to draft a speech, Beyond Vietnam, in the dangerous prophetic tradition of speaking truth to power. (Thirty-five years later, I studied under the late Dr. Harding at Word and World, a timely workshop in Greensboro, North Carolina, aimed at making faith relevant by closing the gaping gaps between Seminary, Sanctuary, and Street.)
In that momentous Vietnam speech before 3,000 people at Riverside Church in New York, Dr. King broke multiple taboos by making unmistakably clear and explicit the organic connection between violence at home and abroad. The date of the speech was April 4, 1967; King was murdered exactly a year later.
But who will be today’s Dr. King? Who will have the courage of Harding and King to tell it like it is—to draw the connections between 15 years of state-sanctioned violence abroad and what is happening in our streets at home? Are there no prophets left?
I edged toward this key issue in an article that I wrote last year, which Consortiumnews.com dusted off from the archives and posted again in the wake of the despicable, but—I would suggest—largely explainable violence in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas.