The following are excerpts from remarks I delivered at the 4th annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary, Indiana, on January 9.
Dr. King inspired and challenged us with a vision of love and hope, leading us toward a society no longer torn by racial hatred and segregation, toward a country distinguished not by its accumulations of superfluous wealth but by how well it treats the least of these, a nation that measures its strength not by the capacity to wage war but by its commitment to justice and peace.
King insisted on the inseparability of ends and means. “Nonviolence demands that the means we use be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot achieve a just end with unjust means, a peaceful result with violent means. History has seen too much of armies and conquerors “who came killing in the name of peace,” of revolutionaries who won power with the gun and ruled by the same. To achieve a moral end we must use moral means. As the great A.J. Muste said, “there is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
King warned of the dire consequences of militarization. He described the exorbitant spending on war in his day, which sadly persists in ours, as a “demonic destructive suction tube” consuming resources needed to improve society at home.
Today our nation is spending more than $100 billion a year on the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Surely that is a demonic diversion of precious resources in an era of acute economic need.
Dr. King said that the bombs being dropped over Hanoi were exploding on the streets of Harlem. Today the bombs being dropped in Afghanistan and Pakistan are exploding on the streets of Gary, and South Bend, and so many other neglected cities across this land. If we want to set America right we must shift our priorities from military to human needs.
I challenge those today who claim to be seeking smaller government and lower taxes: If you want to reduce the burden of government, begin first by ending unnecessary wars and cutting back wasteful weapons systems, shifting our resources from unwinnable battles abroad to necessary investments here at home.
Ending war is part of Dr. King’s legacy. In this regard I think President Obama deserves credit for achieving progress toward ending the war in Iraq. I know that some are disappointed in the President, but he has kept his promise to withdraw the troops from Iraq.
Dr. King was an apostle of peace and a leader for social justice. He died for our freedom, but his spirit lives on. They could kill the messenger but never the message. No one can destroy the spirit of freedom or erase the message of love and nonviolence that King preached and embodied. No one can deny the great progress he and so many others made possible.
King taught us the necessity of sacrificing for justice. “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability,” he said. “It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men and women willing to be co-workers with God.”
Let us accept that cosmic challenge and become co-workers with God, rededicating ourselves to the struggle for justice and peace.