"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Building Bridges


Many people will celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday this year as we do every year. From my perspective the holiday in honor of Dr. King has been well sanitized, and tends to gloss over much of Dr. King's powerful and important legacy. In honor of one of the greatest peacemakers of our time I plan to write a series of posts leading up to the official observation of Dr. King's birthday. This is the first, and I hope you find it worthy.




The Rev. Joe Hale (in a 2006 United Methodist News Service story) posed the question, "Is it ever possible to make peace by destroying bridges?" He was speaking in reference to Israel’s indiscriminate destruction of Lebanon (in 2006), but he could have been speaking of any number of foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001.

The events of that fateful day in 2001 sewed the seeds of fear, anger and hatred, and fueled decisions in the highest levels of government that have made our nation and the world a much more dangerous place. However, things could have taken a much different course, and (with a new administration dawning) we still have the opportunity to change course before it is too late.

To change course we must start building bridges rather than destroying them. To do so will require that our nation stop threatening other nations with regime change, fulfill our obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and stop holding the threat of nuclear weapons over other countries, and start using true diplomacy rather than military action as a tool of foreign policy. It will also require major shifts in our patterns of energy consumption that have created such a huge reliance on oil. Our priorities must change dramatically.

But none of this can happen without changing ourselves and how we define and address the evils in our world. Not long after 9/11 and before completing the mission in Afghanistan, President Bush laid out the next stage in his war on terror and announced his plans to confront the infamous "axis of evil", rogue states that threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction. Many years before, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of a completely different axis of evil, one of racism, poverty/materialism, and war that mire people in misery, divide people against one another, and threaten the world with extinction.

President Bush (and apparently much of the Congress) believes in ridding the world of evil primarily through military action, and foreign aid/poverty assistance linked to what we determine to be "good" government and "good" economic practices. Dr. King believed in addressing racial and cultural tensions, committing unconditionally to free the world of the scourge of poverty, and utilizing nonviolent intervention in international conflicts.

What ultimately set the two strategies apart are their motivations. The current one is based on fear and hatred and the need for power; the other on faith and compassion and the quest for justice, which are values shared by the world’s great religions. And beyond the motivations we have seen the consequences of coercion and violence. Whether from a religious perspective or from that of secular humanism, we are called to build bridges instead of destroying them.

As Dr. King once so eloquently stated, "Love is the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or to bow before the altar of retaliation. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate." (from Where Do We Go From Here. Chaos or Community? C1968). Dr. King’s prophetic voice calls us to follow the well-worn path (of nonviolence) that Jesus laid for us centuries before (and that Gandhi, King and countless others followed); let us continue to build on that path and the bridges along the way, changing course, and connecting with ALL of humanity.

Note: This post is a revision of my article originally published by Every Church A Peace Church as the August 8, 2007 Daily Commentary at http://ecapc.org/articles/article-11903.htm.

Photo Credit: Bob Fitch took this photo of Dr. King during his years documenting the most important social movements of the 60s and 70s.  See his photo archives at https://www.imagequix.com/vando/3/

1 comment:

AngieatWhatNewsShouldBe said...

As you continue your worthy endeavor of blogging about King this week, here is the contents of a two page flyer I prepared (email me for a nicely formatted version at Angie@WhatNewsShouldBe.org) which may also inspire you and your readers.

See if you can take to heart the words King spoke just four days before he was gunned down (these next 4 paragraphs).

“First, we are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood. . . . Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. . .

We are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty. Like a monstrous octopus, poverty spreads its nagging, prehensile tentacles into hamlets and villages all over our world. Two-thirds of the people of the world go to bed hungry tonight. They are ill-housed; they are ill-nourished; they are shabbily clad. I’ve seen it in Latin America; I’ve seen it in Africa; I’ve seen this poverty in Asia. . .How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when he sees with his own eyes God’s children sleeping on the sidewalks at night? In Bombay more than a million people sleep on the sidewalks every night. In Calcutta more than six hundred thousand sleep on the sidewalks every night. They have no beds to sleep in; they have no houses to go in. How can one avoid being depressed when he discovers that out of India’s population of more than five hundred million people, some four hundred and eighty million make an annual income of less than ninety dollars a year. And most of them have never seen a doctor or a dentist.

As I noticed these things, something within me cried out, "Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?" And an answer came: "Oh no!" Because the destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other nation. . .Not only do we see poverty abroad, I would remind you that in our own nation there are about forty million people who are poverty-stricken. . .this is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will. In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. . . We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. . . yes, it will be a Poor People’s Campaign. This is the question facing America. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation.

America has not met its obligations and its responsibilities to the poor. One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power. It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, "That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me." That’s the question facing America today."

(The full text of Dr. King’s sermon entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” containing the above quotes can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/82npj . Dr. King delivered it at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968, and you can listen to two audio excerpts of the sermon at that same website.)

****Today, more than forty years after Dr. King gave that sermon, 41 percent of humanity still shit in the streets because they have no access to sanitation, one-quarter of humanity is still forced to live without electricity, and 30,000 KIDS DIE UNNECESSARILY EACH DAY (See www.WhatNewsShouldBe.org for the proof, along with an article about the statistical accuracy of such numbers). If you are indeed up for King’s challenge, you’ll need to seek out that world perspective he spoke about and get the real front page news on your own, because news which affects the largest number of people in the most serious ways is rarely covered in TV news shows and newspapers!! This website, www.WhatNewsShouldBe.com, is one of the places you can find it. It is only when information about the most pressing issues facing humanity is widely known that the needless death and suffering can be stopped. As this and other websites demonstrate, it doesn’t have to be this way because THERE IS ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE (see proof at www.WhatNewsShouldBe.org.) Please pass on King's challenge to others. Thank you and Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Angie at www.WhatNewsShouldBe.com