Friday, April 5, 2013

Christian Nonviolence (MLK): Rabbi Heschel Implored to Heed the Prophetic Voice of Dr. Martin Luther King

THE LAMB CATHOLIC WORKER, Columbus - RABBI ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL, one of the greatest thinkers and writers of the 20th century, implored us to heed the prophetic voice of MLK just ten days before the assassination. Their words are more prophetic today, forty-five years later.  Here are excerpts from “What Kind Of People Worship Here? Who Is Their God?” by Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, April 4, 1993 [at the 25th anniversary of the assassination], Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tenn., (Fr. McCarthy is an Eastern Rite [Byzantine-Melkite] priest of the Catholic Church in communion with the Bishop of Rome).
                "Shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. commented,  with the question, 'Who killed President Kennedy?' [After having been killed himself then, the more important question one could ask about either Kennedy or King is], 'What killed him?'
                Humanity is a historical phenomenon. Every person and every generation are partly the result of the persons and generations that preceded them. Whatever killed Martin Luther King did not first make its appearance on April 4, 1968.
             The man who was murdered on this balcony 25 years ago [45 years ago in 2013] unreservedly committed his entire adult life to the war against the loathsome spirit of violence… There is no Martin Luther King to be honored who is not irrevocably vowed to nonviolence. Dr. King taught: 'We must pursue peaceful ends by peaceful means...Many people cry, 'Peace, Peace' but they refuse to do the things that make for peace...The stage of history is replete with the chants and choruses of the conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace.'
             A world mired in so-called "justified" homicide does not know what to do with the nonviolent. The only Martin Luther King is the man who said and lived: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, we will still love you... We cannot in conscience obey your unjust laws... Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good.'
           Dr. King always gave voice to his great truth without equivocation: 'I'm committed to nonviolence absolutely, ... I am just not going to kill anybody, whether it's in Vietnam or here...If nonviolent protest fails this summer, I will continue to preach and teach it...I plan to stand by nonviolence...(because) only a refusal to hate or kill can put an end to the chain of violence in the world and lead toward community where people live together without fear.'
          He accepted this risk [of his life] because he understood that (both) 'violence and nonviolence agree that suffering can be a very powerful social force. But there is a difference. Violence says suffering can be a powerful social force by inflicting it on somebody else, so this is what we do in war...The nonviolent say that suffering becomes a powerful social force when you willingly accept the violence on yourself, so that self-suffering stands at the center of the nonviolent movement... There is no easy way to create a world where people can live together...but if such a world is will be accomplished by persons who have the language to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflicting suffering on others...Unearned suffering is redemptive…' 'Those who adhere to or follow the philosophy of nonviolence,” he asserted, "just follow a consistent principle of non-injury. They must consistently refuse to inflict injury upon another.' He was convinced that: 'Humanity is waiting for something other than blind imitation of the past...1f we want truly to advance a step further, if we want to turn over a new leaf and really set a new man afoot, we must begin to turn humanity away from the long and desolate night of violence. May it be that the new person that the world needs is the nonviolent person...A dark, desperate, sin-sick world waits for this new kind of person, this new kind of power.'
           Dr. King realized with the clarity of the Hebrew prophets that nothing was more powerful or pragmatic than following the will of God, which meant following the way of nonviolent love of friends and enemies. He preached: 'We have power, a power that cannot be found in bullets and guns, but we have power. It is a power as old as the insight of Jesus of Nazareth and as modern as the techniques of Mahatma Gandhi...The Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence is one of the most potent weapons available...' 'Evil may so shape events that Caesar may occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into AD and BC so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by His name...God is more fundamental than sin or evil. Good Friday must give way to Easter Sunday.'
           On April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was to be murdered in Memphis, he delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City what many consider to be one of the strongest and most cogent denunciations ever made of the Vietnam War. But through it all, Martin Luther King never wavered in his adherence to nonviolence. When volley after volley of protest against his position battered him from every direction, he responded: 'In recent months several people have said to me: ‘Since violence is the new cry, isn't there a danger you will lose touch with the people and be out of step with the times if you don't change your views on nonviolence?’ My answer is always the same...Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. That is what I have found in nonviolence… You ought to believe something in life, believe that thing so fervently that you will stand up with it until the end of your days. I can't believe that God wants us to hate. I am tired of violence. What kind of nation is it that applauds nonviolence whenever Negroes face white people in the streets of the United States but applauds violence and burning and death when these same Negroes are sent to the fields of Vietnam?'
          As Martin King declared in his magnificent anti-Vietnam War speech: 'A time comes when silence is betrayal..' he was well aware that 'the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony.' One can only conjecture in sorrow what the texture and contour of humanity would be like in our time, if, for the last 1700 years, in response to an ever-expanding edifice of justifications for "Christian" homicide, … pastors spoke about violence.
          It is a telling fact of history that, while Dr. King declared, 'eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism,' when the roll is called of religious leaders of yesteryear, one will not find many with such a commitment. At this point, one can only recall the soul-chilling words of Martin Luther King during the terrible days of the Birmingham campaign: 'I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. I have looked at her beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlay of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over again I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?’'
            The God of Martin Luther King is the same God as the God who is proclaimed by Jesus Christ and He is a God who rejects what a large part of Christianity and what a large part of the other religions of the world teach as acceptable human behavior. When reflecting what was the nature of the Ultimate Good, Dr. King said: 'What is the summum bonum of life? I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, 'God is love.' He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.' 'There is no graded scale of essential worth (among people); there is no divine right of another. Every human being has etched in his or her personality the indelible stamp of the Creator. Every person must be respected because God loves him or her. The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his racial origin or his social position. Human worth lies in relatedness to God. An individual has value because he or she has value to God.' 'We love people not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves them.'
            Ten days before his death, Dr. King addressed the 68th Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly. He was introduced by one of the great Rabbis and one of the most profound spiritual writers of the 20th Century - Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. In his introduction Rabbi Heschel asked: 'Where does moral leadership in America come from today?.Where does God dwell in America today? Is He at home with those who are complacent, indifferent to other people's agony, devoid of mercy? Where in America today do we have a voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel? Martin Luther King is a sign God has not forsaken the United States of America. His mission is sacred. Martin Luther King is a voice, a vision and a way.'
          Rabbi Heschel knew well the Spirit and the Truth to which Martin Luther King was committed. He knew well that Martin Luther King was 'committed to nonviolence absolutely' and to a God who loves and values each and every person. Rabbi Heschel said to the Assembly of Rabbis, 'I call to every Jew to hearken to his voice, to share his vision, to follow his way.'
         Today I invite you to give your strength to that Spirit to whom Martin Luther King gave his strength. Today I invite you to give your life to that God to whom Martin Luther King gave his life."

Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, April 4, 1993, Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN"

Where are the Roman Catholic Priests?
      Why does it take a beautiful protestant minister (MLK) preaching about the methods of a Hindu spiritual leader (Ghandi) promoted through a Jewish rabbi (Heschel) and a Byzantine priest (McCarthy) to bring about Christ's way of peace in the world?  Where are the Roman Catholic priests?  Why is it modeled so well through the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Quakers and not through Catholics?  Pacifism is not new, even though it appears to be very radical ("radical" comes from "roots," or going back to our "radich" roots). Peter Maurin described the living out of the Catholic faith in Truth as being "so old it is new."  Does God expect a manner of living far far beyond the ways of old and even beyond this world - that the Church followed purely for the first 300 years in the era closest to Truth itself, for longer than the U.S. has even been a country? 
       Rev. McCarthy helped to open the eyes of Fr. George Zabelka, a military chaplain over those who had bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when Rev. McCarthy pointed out several poignant facts.  First, those who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Christians from a mostly Christian country, Nagasaki being the most Catholic city of Japan{St. Paul Miki and Companions} who lost an entire order of sisters in one day. Nazism came to power and proliferated among and with Christians, with the deaths of multi-millions of Jewish and other people. Europe was decimated during World War I and World War II mostly by Christians upon Christians. 
        The grisly U.S. Civil War, when even biological brother fought against brother (with over 625,000 casualties and 50,000 more injured) was a war of Christians killing Christians.  {And an added note on that theme: the Iraqi War, where a mostly Christian nation (ours) pre-eminently attacked a country that did not attack the U.S. nor even threaten to attack the U.S., and killed over 40 times the amount we lost in 9-11, over 200,000 people, mostly civilians. It was not legally nor morally justified, according to Pope John Paul II, and yet Catholics were prayed onward during it, instead of our prayers following the Pope's lead against it}.
          Even though Jesus said there will always be wars and rumors of wars {how then could MLK be against militarism, something that will never go away?}, the real question is: to what extent should His followers participate in wars; and if they do, under what circumstances within a war?  Do we mirror Christ's way in the world?  Is God as tired of the violence - especially among Christ-followers - as Martin Luther King was?  Will people continue to die at the hands of Christ-followers? Are our actions indistinguishable from the Old Testament mentality that still heavily exists in the Middle East to this day?  What kind of people do worship in the Catholic Churches here and everywhere in the world?  Could we be marked out, so to speak, as children of God in our love of our enemies, as Jesus defined as being children of God?
     It is understandable though, why Catholics have this war-like mentality (we're the good guys and we can kill the bad guys).  One of my very dearest friends went through 16 years of very good Catholic education and was adamant that there were wars somewhere in the New Testament that God backed the good guys.  I said, "No you are wrong.  It was not part of Jesus' way as in the Old Testament.  New wine, new wine skins.  It is nowhere in the ENTIRE New Testament and early Church because it would have been unthinkable to kill the enemy with Christ's call to now love your enemies," in addition to many other words and actions modeling this.
          Fr. Zabelka, the former military chaplain, went on to become a peacemaker, boldly speaking out against weapons of mass destruction because they are designed and used against innocent noncombatant civilians - mass extermination of entire populations. Moreover, their fall-out clouds and radiation would encircle the world, killing and causing radiation sickness and cancers among people of all countries. To describe, the blast and fallout ranges used in the WWII U.S. nuclear bombs are pinheads compared to that of actual mega nuclear weapons of today whose massive radioactive clouds would be beyond imaginable.
         And so, to military chaplains:  we are amazed at your willingness to serve and to put yourselves in harm's way for the salvation and nourishment of souls!  Because all of you are part of the military (you had to join to become a chaplain), we continue to personally pray that the following remains strong in you: that your first and foremost allegiance is to God, and especially His teachings through His Son, Jesus Christ; that your second allegiance is to the Chair of St. Peter himself, your true moral and spiritual shepherd, Pope John Paul II, called to "feed My sheep,"; and that your third allegiance is to your country (the people of the United States). Please do not be afraid to speak out as boldly as St. Stephen, St. John the Baptist, or Fr. George Zabelka - by the power of the Holy Spirit - if you see or experience anything that goes against God and the teachings and modeling of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, or against our Pope and his guidance as well as that of the Catholic Church - the encyclicals, pastoral letters, and statements. Also, if a young soldier comes forward with serious moral issues in his role, we pray for strength and courage on your part to support him if you feel it might be from Jesus Himself, even if it means your allegiance to the above three is higher than your allegiance to your role in the military.  We will continue to pray for you!  Pray for us at The Lamb Catholic Worker!]