This 50th Anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, we offer an excerpt from Dr. King’s own words from the pulpit of Riverside Church exactly one year before his death, April 4, 1967. Today is the 51st Anniversary of “Beyond Vietnam.” April 4 is a double anniversary.
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this often misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu, Moslem, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:
‘Let us love one another; for love is God and everything that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth no knoweth no God; for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.’
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the God of Hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says: ‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’ Unquote.
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Kayam is right, ‘The moving finger writes, and having written moves on…’ We still have a choice today, non-violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
The “Beyond Vietnam” speech and the assassination seem like yesterday, perhaps because they’re both happening 51 and 50 years later to the day. His voice and the shot echo down the corridors of time. “Tomorrow is today.”
Click HERE to listen to Dr. King’s first words at Riverside Church: “I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me with no other choice.”
“We still have a choice today….” – Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, NYC, April 4, 1967.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, April 4, 2018.