The Wisdom of Peace

Speech at the Midwest City Martin Luther King Breakfast
Jan 21, 2013

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Nathaniel Batchelder

The title of today’s talks – The Wisdom of Peace – is crucial to our times. Dr. King’s words – his sermons and speeches – ring in our ears today as we commemorate his life and lift up again his prophetic messages for the ages.

He advocated nonviolence and love as a grounding for all efforts for social change. And indeed, our society and world badly need more love, compassion, understanding, civility, and nonviolence in speech as well as action.

We support your dream, Dr. King, of overcoming racism and all divisions among people simply on account of who they are.

We support your dream, Dr. King, to overcome poverty by creating a society and an economy in which every person has access to development.

We support your dream, Dr. King, to overcome militarism and war that destroy lives, drain resources, and render unaffordable the programs that serve people in our society.

And I suggest that Dr. King would expand his vision of peace today to include harmony with nature, with all other species, and with the natural systems that support life on earth.

Spiritual people whose prophetic voices ring across the ages were always those called to speak out about things that were just not right … as we have heard the words of Amos in the Old Testament: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Jesus, Gandhi, and Dr. King all challenged their societies for justice and compassion for the outcast, the vulnerable, and the oppressed, and love for all members of the human family.

I daresay everyone here is an activist for peace in the expansive way Dr. King described peace. The Rev. Wm. Sloane Coffin said it’s our spirituality that calls us to action for justice and peace. He said, “Spirituality is all about choices and causes. Spirituality is what people do with their freedom. To all the prophets, a spiritual person was somebody whose mind was open to truth, whose conscience was open to justice, and whose heart was open to compassion and love for others.”

Like Jesus, Gandhi and King, spiritual people are disturbed – you might say angry and sad – about things that are not right or fair in the world. They speak up about them, often arousing opposition, because people find unpleasant truths hard to swallow. Perhaps this explains Jesus’s puzzling statement in Matthew,  “I came not to bring peace but with a sword.” Perhaps Jesus refers to the sword of truth spoken to power.

So, what are some issues today disturbing to spiritual people?  Here are some issues disturbing to me:

I’m disturbed that we do not have universal single-payer health care in America as they do in Canada and many other countries. There’s private insurance for folks who want it, but most use the national system. Too expensive? Nonsense. Even Cuba has universal health care, and Cuba’s health statistics rival those of Canada and the U.S.

I’m disturbed that US military forces were misused in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course we should have pursued Al Qaeda after the 9/11 attack, but that was happening. Then we got side-tracked by talk about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. The result was the longest wars in US history. Whenever there is international discord, somebody advocates military solutions, perhaps because America spends a trillion dollars a year on our military. And Dr. King said, “A nation that spends more on military defense than on programs for social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

Thank God – and this administration – that there has been no attack on Iran, which does NOT have a nuclear weapon – nor – according to United Nations inspectors, does Iran even have a program to develop a nuclear weapon.

I’m disturbed that 440 billionaires in America own or control as much wealth as the bottom 55% of Americans. Since 1980 the numbers of billionaires in America has grown from TEN to 440. That’s not the result of genius or hard work, but of tax and trade policies that shifted money up the economic ladder, from working families to the wealthiest 1%.

I’m disturbed about the impact of excessive money in politics, especially the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision calling money “free speech”. Our democracy needs campaign finance reform, and that Supreme Court decision must be revisited.

I’m disturbed about injustice in our justice system incarcerating a high percentage of people of color in what has been called the New Jim Crow. The statistics are horrible about lives and families of people of color disproportionately torn apart by incarceration for crimes, many of which are nonviolent, where alternative sentencing would be appropriate.

I’m disturbed that women still struggle for equal pay and dignity at work, and still need protections against violence against women. But women voted in unprecedented numbers in this election, surely in part because women perceived that reproductive freedoms were under attack. The numbers of women voting in 2012 actually increased 20% over 2008, and, as a result, there are now more women in the US Senate than ever before.

I’m disturbed about those in America who make political hay by arousing fear and suspicions about Hispanic/Latino people in America … and gay and lesbian people in America. Latino people not properly documented deserve fair treatment while they apply, and Latino citizens deserve protection from insulting investigation of their status.

And regardless how you feel about gay and lesbian people, surely we can agree they deserve the same civil rights and liberties afforded to all people. Not long ago, “marriage equality” was not about same-gender marriage, but about marriage between people of different races.

I’m disturbed that our nation and government have still done so very little about global warming and environmental sustainability. I studied the challenges of population, resources, and pollution at OCU in 1972.  And reporting began in the 1980s, that the release of greenhouse gases like CO2 and methane causes atmospheric warming. Since then, world population has risen from 5 to 7 billion, and sources of greenhouse gases have expanded.

Baby birds soil their nests, but baby birds are not going to live in their nests forever. Humanity is soiling our planet, but folks, there is no place else for us to go. We are the stewards of God’s Creation, and we must support every effort and program contributing to sustainability.

Now in all of these issues, our personal behaviors and choices are crucial to changing things. The ways we use energy affects the environment. Our treatment of people in other groups expresses our expansive or narrow beliefs regarding human dignity. Participation or non-participation in military actions makes a difference.

But on all these issues, the policies and regulations of government will always have the greatest impact. And that requires all of us to be as politically involved as we can stand, or to stand on the sidelines of significant issues of our day.

Some say they want change, which is spiritual, but they prefer to avoid politics. To that, it was Gandhi, who said, “Those who claim that the spiritual and the political don’t mix understand neither” … a point well understood by Dr. King, whose political actions for justice often landed him in jail.

But I feel a newborn surge of hope for change since the astonishing outcomes of the elections just past. Voters had the clear choice of candidates representing either the agenda of the wealthiest 1% – – or candidates for the rest of us, more committed to the Middle Class, and the 99%.

The deck was stacked against candidates of the Middle Class … by voter suppression laws; by excessive money now in politics; by the shock-jocks on Fox radio who ridicule and vilify everything progressive, liberal, compassionate, peaceful, or Obama.

The elections proved that motivated people can overcome the odds to support policies in the general interest and common good. A New and Reasonable Majority voted into office candidates who demonstrated love of diversity, compassion for the suffering, perhaps even commitment to environmental sustainability.

It was majorities of women, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Middle Eastern-Americans, gay and lesbian Americans. It was majorities of young people, environmentalists, activists for human rights, social justice, and peace. It is a Diversity Majority. Just imagine if every one of those populations increased voter registration and voter participation by 20%.

I want to believe that the victories of November signal hope for progress moving America toward Dr. King’s dream of a Beloved Community – with justice for all – and for all earth’s inhabitants, even the possibility that America could come to be seen as a good neighbor in the world and not just a Super Power exerting its will through military might.

Now, we must push the candidates we have elected to improve the prospects for human rights, social justice, and peace.

The future of life on earth is in our hands. It is WE who must advocate for Dr. King’s dreams – for a peace that is not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.

May we go forward with passion and conviction that more victories lie ahead for all our dreams – yours, mine, and Dr. King’s.

Thank you.