I will be speaking at Riverside Church in NYC this Tuesday (April 4th) as part of an extraordinary event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic sermon, “Beyond Vietnam.” It was the most controversial sermon of King’s life and was condemned by nearly every major newspaper in the United States. It divided the civil rights community, alienated countless political allies, and transformed King from a hero into a pariah in many circles. King knew the likely consequences of saying what he did at Riverside, but he said that his “conscience left him no other choice.” In the sermon, King not only called for an end to the Vietnam War; he went much further and condemned the United States government for being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” He pointed out that our government repeatedly and consistently aligns itself with brutal governments and corrupt dictators in order to crush democratic revolutions against imperialism and colonialism — largely for reasons of greed. He forcefully argued that we must “get on the right side of the world revolution” and, as a nation, “undergo a radical revolution of values.” People of faith and conscience, he said, must align themselves with the marginalized and oppressed peoples of the world who are building a global revolution against imperialism, colonialism, racism and the exploitation of the poor.
Some people believe that the “Beyond Vietnam” sermon delivered 50 years ago at Riverside Church ultimately led to his assassination exactly one year later. Whether or not that is true, I think it is clear that this sermon has proved to be his most prophetic.
In the era of Trump, we can see clearly that the “giant triplets of evil” that King identified — racism, excessive materialism, and militarism — threaten not only our democracy but the future of the planet. We can see that militarism has come home with a war on drugs, a war on terror, and a war on immigrants, as well as police departments that operate much like occupying armies. We can see how bigotry enables fear-mongering and also how greed and plunder has led to climate change and the disappearance of natural resources. We may be able to see all of these dangers more clearly now with Trump as commander-in-chief, but as King pointed out 50 years ago the forces that have brought us to this moment in time are not new or unusual features of American empire.
On Tuesday, I’ll have the opportunity to be in dialogue with the inspiring and courageous activist Ruby Sales about the meaning and significance of King’s “Beyond Vietnam” sermon today. If you’re able, I hope you’ll attend and join a spirited discussion about how we might breathe new life into the global revolution of values that King and many others aimed to build 50 years ago. The event is free, but please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/beyond-vietnam-50th-anniversary-tickets-32002459217?invite&err=29&referrer&discount&affiliate&eventpassword#loginbox
Whether or not you can come, I hope you’ll take the time to read King’s speech and share it with others. See http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/
It is even more urgent that we understand this message today than it was 50 years ago.
Beyond Vietnam: 50th Anniversary
Commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence sermon in an evening with Michelle Alexander and Ruby Sales, voices of the past and future of the Civil Rights Movement. Written by Dr. Vincent Harding, and delivered at Th