“ ‘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.”
– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam” 1967
In reading the incredible speech “Beyond Vietnam” by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., eerie parallels between the role of the U.S. in Vietnam and the role of the U.S. in Iraq emerge. The voice of King that doesn’t get played in corporate commercials spoke passionately about the injustice of war and the hypocrisy of calling for nonviolent social change in America while staying silent as our nation wages war and “pummels the land” of our so-called enemy. In calling for the end to the Vietnam War and for nonviolent resistance and “firm dissent,” King called upon Americans to employ the moral values of justice, shared humanity, compassion and peace to bring about change.
Today, in the month we honor King, “moral values” have taken on a whole new meaning. After the recent election, the term “moral values” has come to be defined as synonymous with intolerance for gay rights, opposition to abortion, support for war in Iraq and U.S. hegemony in the world. And in defiance of the experts, many African Americans – largely due to opposition to gay rights – concurred with this conservative movement and came out to support Bush. Yet who defines “moral values”?
To explore this question, in this month’s issue we brought together six faith leaders of color for a roundtable discussion to examine what “moral values” means to them, what moral leadership is and what our nation’s cultural shift means for people of color, social-justice movements and the war in Iraq. The discussion was free-wheeling, powerful and spoke to the capacity of faith to find the “prophetic vision” to lead the way to a better and more humane future.
For the leaders in our roundtable, moral values do not belong to a political ideology or party. They cannot be owned by political pundits or talking heads. They come from within and from the efforts of people like King to take unpopular, courageous stances against incredibly powerful institutions and speak on behalf of truth and love.
To read King’s full speech “Beyond Vietnam,” visit http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html.