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When Silence Is Betrayal

Martin Luther King, Jr., at Riverside Church, New York, April 4, 1967



1.  "A time comes when silence is betrayal. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men [sic] do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war.  Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world.  Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty.  But we must move on.


2.  "Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.  We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.  For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.


3.  "We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.


4.  "I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.


5.  "A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ A nation that continues year and year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.


6.  "America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values.  There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities over the pursuit of war.


7.  "This call for a worldwide 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.  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.


8.  "We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.  We must move past indecision to action.  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…”





Reflections & Responses to Dr. King’s Challenge



1.  What are some of your feelings as you listened to Dr. King’s urging us to “speak” against militarism/war?







2.  In your opinion, is our nation “approaching spiritual death”?  If so, in what ways and why?  If not, why not?







3.  What feelings do you experience when hearing Dr. King’s warnings in paragraphs #7 and #8 about the fate that awaits the US if we don’t “move past indecision to action”?  Do you agree with him?   Why or why not?







4.  Do you think you have been participating in the “silence of betrayal”?  Betrayal of what? Does this criticism of “good people” apply to you?  Why or why not?

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”  (Dr. King, “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail”)







5.  Is there some policy that you believe needs to be challenged publicly for the sake of saving “the nation’s soul”?  If so, how could you “make yourself expendable” (Walter Wink) by adding your voice to those already speaking on the issue?







6.      What will be your next step in disarming your own heart, to unlearn “our learned preference for violence,” as Walter Wink put it?