Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Courage to Follow Our Consciences

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Thursday Evening Online Program

January 20, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

Dear Still Water Friends,

The above excerpt is from “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution,” a sermon offered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Washington, DC, National Cathedral on March 31st, 1968, five days before his assassination.

We live in tumultuous times. The challenges of 2022 include a fractious, polarized congress; a seditious, attempted takeover of the democratic process; unbridled racism; voter suppression; racially motivated police brutality; nuclear standoffs; a politicized response to the Covid pandemic; and increasingly destructive changes caused by climate change. Dr. King’s sermon was prophetic and prescient. “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution” speaks to our times.

In an 1999 introduction to the sermon Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote:

It is almost as if he were preaching that sermon for us today for it is as apt today as it ever was nearly thirty years ago. We are undergoing another period of transition, when we could so easily become Rip Van Winkles sleeping through great revolutions because we had failed to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses that the new situation demands. We have become so aware that this world has become a global village—a car accident in France throws the entire world into mourning—and yet we could still live as if this were not an increasingly interdependent universe we inhabit. When we could spend obscene amounts on weapons of death and destruction when just a minute fraction of those budgets of death would ensure that God’s children everywhere would have clean water, adequate health care, enough to eat, a decent home and education. It is wonderful that Dr. Martin Luther King was so passionate in his opposition to war and so zealous for peace.

Toward the end of his sermon, Dr. King spotlighted the courage that is necessary to follow our conscience even when it is “neither safe nor politic nor popular”:

One day a newsman came to me and said, “Dr. King, don’t you think you’re going to have to stop now opposing the war and move more in line with the administration’s policy? As I understand it, it has hurt the budget of your organization, and people who once respected you have lost respect for you. Don’t you feel that you’ve really got to change your position?” I looked at him and I had to say, “Sir, I’m sorry you don’t know me. I’m not a consensus leader. I do not determine what is right and wrong by looking at the budget of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I’ve not taken a sort of Gallup poll of the majority opinion.” Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, Is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, Is it politic? Vanity asks the question, Is it popular? Conscience asks the question, Is it right?

There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right. I believe today that there is a need for all people of goodwill to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t gonna study war no more.” This is the challenge facing modern man.

As is our tradition on the Thursday following Dr. King’s birthday, Still Water will honor him by listening deeply to excepts from his sermon and sharing our reflections. You are invited to join us.

The audio of “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” is available on YouTube and the text is available online.

Warm wishes.

Many blessings,

Paul Flippin and Mitchell Ratner

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