The Letter

Breaking the Silence—an Intergenerational Call for Unity and Action

“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed … without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words—delivered at New York City’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 exactly one year prior to his assassination in 1968— resonate even more deeply now than when he first spoke them.Dr. King’s address was controversial at the time because it marked his articulation of the relationship between the struggle for civil rights domestically and the global struggle against what he referred to as “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” At the time, his speech, known as “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” drew intense criticism from institutions ranging from the New York Times and the Washington Post to the NAACP. Many felt he had moved outside of his narrow lane.  As America exports that toxic cocktail abroad and continues to wage war against the poor, Dr. King’s words still ring as prophetic.

As representatives of both the Jewish and Christian faith traditions, it is also significant that the anniversaries of Dr. King’s Riverside Church speech and his assassination this year happen to fall on both the final day of Passover and Easter Sunday. On the same day that Jews recall their Exodus from slavery and Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection; we are reminded that Dr. King used the language of faiths to condemn violence and injustice perpetrated in our name by the government of the United States. “Surely this madness must cease. We must stop now,” he said. “I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and dealt death and corruption in Vietnam.”

King’s target in 1967 was the escalating American war in Vietnam while decreasing the war on poverty but in 2021 we could just as easily substitute Black Lives, Native Americans or the poor and his charge would ring true as ever in the United States. Clearly it is our own humanity that is at stake.

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society,” he preached. “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.”

That night in 1967, Dr. King offered us a vision of how we might come closer to a culture of peace with justice.  Over a half century later, that vision has an urgency in terms of racial, social, economic and climate justice for our daily lives and our future that he couldn’t possibly have imagined.

We invite you and the communities you lead or are part of to join us on April 4, 2021 at 7 PM EDT for our national webinar where a diverse group of leaders, luminaries and thinkers from all walks of life will recreate his prophetic speech and discuss its relevance for organizing today. Learn more and register for the free webinar at www.kingandbreakingsilence.org.

SIGNERS OF THE LETTER:

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Associate General Secretary for Action and Advocacy, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

Rev. Becky Anderson, Assisting Priest, St. Luke’s & Good Shepherd Churches, Pawtucket RI

Melanie Merkle Atha, J.D., Executive Director, Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Rev. Cheryl Beard, C.E.O., The Rosa T. Beard Debutante Club, Inc.

Rev. Dr. Anthony Bennett, Lead Pastor, Mount Aery Baptist Church, Bridgeport CT

Rabbi Philip Bentley, Honorary President, Jewish Peace Fellowship

Rabbi Phyllis O. Berman, Spiritual Director for ALEPH Ordination Program

Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake, Presiding Minister, The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Rev. Dionne P. Boissière, MDiv., Chaplain of the Church Center for the United Nations

Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Senior Vice President & Director of the Shay Moral Injury Center, Volunteers of America

The Rev. Micah Bucey, Minister, Judson Memorial Church, New York NY

Rev. Jim Burklo, Senior Associate Dean, Religious & Spiritual Life, University of Southern California

Rev. John Cager, Senior Pastor, Ward A.M.E. Church, Los Angeles CA

Sister Clare Carter, Buddhist Nun, New England Peace Pagoda

Pastor Charlie Caswell, Founder, Legacy of Legends CDC

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, Professor, American Jewish University; Rabbi-in-Residence, Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Dr. Ilise Cohen, Chapter Co-leader & Founding member, Jewish Voice for Peace-Atlanta chapter; founding member of JOCSM Caucus

Rev. Janet M. Cooper-Nelson, Chaplain of the University, Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, Brown University

Bishop Leah D. Daughtry, National Presiding Prelate, The House of the Lord Churches

Rev. Dr. Cheryl F. Dudley, Regional Executive Minister, American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York

Rev. Paige Eaves, Board Co-Chair, Progressive Christians Uniting

The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, National Chair, Episcopal Peace Fellowship

Gregory Faulkner

Rev. John Fife, Pastor Emeritus, Southside Presbyterian Church, Co-founder of Sanctuary Movement ‘80s

Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Ph.D. Senior Pastor, Abyssinian Baptist Church, Memphis TN

Dr. Peter Gathje, Director, Manna House, Memphis TN

Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi Emerita, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills

Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson, Multifaith Voices for Peace & Justice

Rev. James T. Golden, Pastor, Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, Port Tampa, Tampa FL

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Teacher/Organizer & Founder, Shomeret Shalom Global Congregation

Rabbi Micah Greenstein, Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel, Memphis TN

Rev. Rachel Gunter Shepard, Regional Vice President, Together for Hope Black Belt; Co-Founder, Pastors for Florida Children

Rev. Michael Harrington, Director, OccupyFaith

David Hartsough, Faith Leader, San Francisco Friends Meeting (Quakers)

Rev. David H. Hunter, Co-Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Pottstown PA 

Rev. Floridia Jackson, Spiritual Director, Memphis School of Servant Leadership

Rev. Lucas L. Johnson

Rev. Nelson and Joyce Johnson, Co-Founders, Beloved Community Center, Greensboro NC

Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation USA 

Arthur Koch, Faith Leader, San Francisco Friends Meeting (Quakers)

Rev. Peter Laarman, Activist & Organizer, United Church of Christ

Dr. Kelvin D. Lake, Lead Pastor, Rhema Life Church, Olive Branch MS

Jody LeFort, Presbytery Stated Clerk, Cleveland OH

Ashley Levett, Associate Media Director, Southern Poverty Law Center

Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church, New York NY

Rev. Christe Lunsford, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville FL 

Rev. Eve McMaster, Pastor, Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Gainesville FL

Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director, Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing

Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer, Executive Director, Florida Council of Churches

Rev. Kirsten R. Mueller, Co-Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Pottstown PA

Rev. Mary Alice Nolan, Roman Catholic Women Priest, Sophia in Trinity

Rev. Felicia Parazaider, Founder, The Revolution of Love Ministry & Movement

Dr. Tyrone Pitts, General Secretary Emeritus of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.           

Rev. Donna Schaper, Senior Minister, Judson Memorial Church, New York NY

Bill Scheurer, Executive Director, On Earth Peace

Rev. Dr. Muriel Schmid, Administrative Director, Christian Peacemaker Teams

Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, Leading Pastor, The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn NY

Rev. Dr.  Gina M. Stewart, Senior Pastor, Christ Missionary Baptist Church, Memphis TN       

Samina F. Sundas, Founder & Director, American Muslim Voice Foundation

Rev. Dr. Felicia Thomas, Assistant Professor of History, Morgan State University

Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM, National Council of Elders and Pace e Bene

Rabbi Arthur O. Waskow, Executive Director, The Shalom Center

Rev. Don E. Williams, Retired Pastor

Rev. Jason Carson Wilson, Founding Executive Director, Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative

Jeff Wright, Global service worker (Disciples of Christ & United Church of Christ), Kairos Palestine

Sign On in Support!

Please send any questions you have to info@kingandbreakingsilence.org