Friday, January 15, 2016


©Wendell Griffen, 2016
Justice is A Verb!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, January 15, 1929, eighty-seven years ago.  His life and memory is correctly honored by a national holiday.  Have we forgotten why that is so?  Have we forgotten who Martin Luther King, Jr. was?   

Dr. King was a black Baptist pastor (of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta when he died, and of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama earlier).   Have you taken time to visit either of those churches? 

Why not?

Dr. King preached thousands of sermons and speeches after his 1963 “I Have A Dream” oration at the March on Washington.  Have you read or listened to any of them besides the “I Have A Dream” speech? 

Why not?

Dr. King was murdered April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.  On April 4, 1967, he delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New York City that we should be listening to this weekend instead of the “I Have A Dream” speech, and pondering every day.  It is titled “A Time To Break Silence.”  Have you heard of it?  Have you listened to it?  Have you read it? 

Why not?

A Time To Break Silence was the speech in which Dr. King publicly called on the United States to end military operations in Southeast Asia, and condemned our nation for worshipping what he termed the “giant triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism.”  Teachers, did you assign that speech to your students?  Public officials, have you read it?  Religious leaders, have you read it?  Do you quote it?  Do you discuss it? 

Why not?

Dr. King preached a sermon that was more than a “prophesying of smooth patriotism.”  President Lyndon Johnson cursed him for it.  Black and white newspaper editors condemned him for it.  Black pastors pulled away from him.  I suspect that most preachers who may gather in solemn assembly for inter-faith and cross-cultural assemblies honoring Dr. King this weekend may not have read or listened to A Time To Break Silence

Why not?

Listen to Dr. King’s voice during A Time To Break Silence.  Then ask why we do not talk about the things Dr. King mentioned.  Perhaps, it is because Dr. King’s words hit home now to indict and condemn U.S. policies and priorities.
When preachers and politicians parade this weekend and pontificate about the King Holiday, ask them about A Time to Break Silence.  Ask them why they haven’t talked about racism, militarism, and materialism.  Ask why they do not see the connection between the militarism Dr. King mentioned and the images of militarized police we see in so many police forces across the United States. 

Allow me to share part of that speech with you.  I hope it will cause you to find the entire speech on the Internet, read it, listen to it, ponder it, and discuss it. 

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy-and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. … In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution.  … I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.  On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act.  One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway.  True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial.  It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.  A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.  With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say:  "This is not just."  It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say:  "This is not just."  … A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war:  "This way of settling differences is not just."  This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.  A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. 

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values.  There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.  There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.[1]

It is time to stop playing and reciting the I Have A Dream speech.  It is time to hear and heed the prophet our nation ignored, and some would say murdered.  It is time for us to hear and heed our nation’s greatest prophet. 

It is time to break our own silence. Why not?

[1] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam:  A Time to Break Silence is among the writings of Dr. King compiled by James Melvin Washington and published under the title A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco, Harper and Row, 1986).


  1. This man was a bad-ass visionary of the first order. If we'd listened to him instead of murdering him, all the social and environmental issues that are killing us at this moment would have seemed like strange anomalies of a twisted past.

  2. Been up most of the night reading much of your works - been avoiding it ever since I met you as I knew it will call me to some difficult action and work. Listening to Beyond Vietnam (truly amazing and under-read by most). I will be in touch again when I have a clearer idea about God's path for me. Thanks (I think). NMexico