Forty years since the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King. I read the speech again this evening. It is simply amazing – for me the essence of prophetic oratory. As often, the bits which are not often quoted come as the greater surprise:
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: in the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
I was asked for a 50 word comment today on Tony Blair’s ‘Faith and Globalisation’ Lecture yesterday at Westminster Cathedral. In some ways, he has it right. The great conspiracy – difficult word – of the secular society is that religion has ceased to matter. Plainly religion, for better or worse, is a major force in shaping societies and events across the world. Right too in suggesting that, taking the sweep of history, one can point to immense benefit which people of faith have brought to social reform, the relief of poverty, the building of peace. Considering his huge contribution to the Irish peace process – probably his greatest legacy – he doesn’t really seem to understand that the greatest danger of religion is not extreme religion – but the way in which religion allows itself to be subverted and distorted in the service of political and cultural causes. So it was in South Africa, in Ireland and now in the Islamic world. And over the whole lecture looms the unstated feeling that his decision to go to war in Iraq was a faith-shaped decision. If you want a searching analysis of the too-rapid recourse to war, read Peter Selby’s recent article in the Church Times – Why war is never a final solution
No Martin Luther King, I think.