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“A Christmas Sermon On Peace”: Martin Luther King, Jr, 1967

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. Let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” And as we explore these conditions, I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one’s own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere. One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? They may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such. Until men see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars. One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we’ve got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there is neither Communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.

There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.

Then the Greek language talks about “philia,” which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.

Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word “agape.” Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I’m happy that he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can’t ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “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 and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

 

By: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Dr. King first delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor. On Christmas Eve, 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired this sermon as part of the seventh annual Massey Lectures

December 25, 2014 Posted by | Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr, Racial Justice | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Robbing-Peter-To-Pay-Paul”: Congress Unites To Screw The Hungry

Five years into our so-called recovery, hunger in America remains stuck at a depressingly high level. The number of families who struggle to put food on the table has barely inched downward, even though employment is up. And while a majority of those struggling families are already receiving food stamps, one of the biggest ways we assist families in need, it’s just not enough, making hunger in America a very real and serious concern.

You would think a generous, wealthy country like the United States would have no problem bolstering an initiative designed to help the working poor in such dire times. Surely, you might think, there is bipartisan support for one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the country. But in fact there has been bipartisan support for decreasing both the amount of food stamp money families receive and the number of families who receive them.

In any given month, roughly 46 to 47 million people receive food stamps. It’s highly likely that even more families are eligible to receive them, but don’t seek the help because they don’t believe they qualify, are reluctant to go through the hassle of applying, or are subtly or overtly discouraged from doing so by the caseworker they meet.

Food stamps help reduce hunger, but they don’t eliminate it. Estimates released by the United States Department of Agriculture last week show that 17.5 million families struggle to put food on the table, and 62 percent of them were already receiving food stamps. About 6.8 million of those families have so little money for food they skip meals or eat less than they should. Those numbers are about the same they were in the previous year.

The costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps are officially known, went up to about $78 billion a year during the recession, mostly because more people were using them. The increase in use tracks pretty well with the rise in unemployment and poverty during the downturn. More people lost jobs or income, and so more people needed help feeding their children.

In response to the rising need, Congress bumped up the amount of money families got on their benefit cards when they passed the stimulus act in 2009. The reasons were multifold: more money would help struggling families buy more food, but it also meant they spent more at their grocery stores, keeping their local economies pumping. Each dollar spent by the government in food stamps generates about $1.70 in economic activity.

Then, in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans teamed up to gut the program. As David Dayen reported in The American Prospect, the Democrats were the first to raid this piggy bank when they decided to use food-stamp funds to help pay for a state aid bill in 2010. The stimulus food-stamp boost was supposed to last until about 2016, but the changes the Democrats made meant the extra funding would end earlier, in 2014.

The food stamp program then lost $2.2 billion to help pay for a $4.5 billion increase in the school lunch bill in 2010. Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas who was then chair of the Senate agriculture committee, designed this Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul move. It drew opposition from anti-hunger groups but the bill passed anyway, partly because it was a centerpiece of Michelle Obama’s newly launched Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.

After Democrats laid that foundation, the Republicans came in and began attacking the program. First, they let the stimulus boost expire, which that meant an average family of three receiving benefits lost $29 per month. The cuts went into effect November 2013, right before the holidays.

Next, the House Republicans in charge attacked the base funding itself. Food stamps are the biggest and most expensive component of the farm bill—an arcane piece of legislation that sets farm policy. Because of the 70 percent increase in food stamp spending since the last farm bill had passed, in 2008, House Republicans refused to pass this one when it first went up for a vote last year. It was the first time in history a farm bill failed, and it later passed without the food-stamp component. After the House finally did address nutrition spending and work with the Senate, the program emerged in February with $8.6 billion cut over the next 10 years, so it’s no wonder families are still going hungry.

To be fair, Democrats fought these final cuts to the program: House Republicans originally wanted to cut $40 billion and the Democrats brought that number down. Indeed, a few Democrats—like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in the House and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in the Senate—want to rescind cuts and provide even more food stamp funding. But even if they succeed, that money might be too tempting for their fellow party members to pass up the next time they want to spend cash on something else.

 

By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making The Poor, And The U.S. Poorer Still”: It’s Both Unjust And Economically Unsound For Congress To Cut Benefits To The Poor

Congress may take up legislation this week to cut food stamps. The Senate passed a bill in June mandating $4 billion in cuts over 10 years; the House version, passed in September, imposes nearly $40 billion in reductions. A conference committee has been charged with resolving these differences. Somehow, this negotiation is occurring amid the worst poverty levels in two decades, a weak overall economy and rapidly falling budget deficits. Under these circumstances, it would be economically and morally unsound to carry out the cuts.

Nearly 20 percent of Americans are officially poor or near poor. The Census Bureau reports that 15 percent of the population — nearly 47 million people — lives in poverty, including 22 percent of children. For an individual, this means annual income of $12,000 or less. For a family of four, the poverty threshold is $24,000 or less. Consider what living on those amounts would mean.

Roughly 18 million other people are near poor, living within 130 percent of the poverty line, according to census data. For individuals, this means earning $15,000 or less. These people often weave in and out of official poverty, depending on the month.

Most Americans living in poverty experience hunger or the pervasive fear of it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 49 million Americans, including 16 million children, lived in food-insecure households last year. That means that at some point in 2012, these households did not have enough food or were uncertain of having enough. That is as if all of California, Oregon and Washington were experiencing hunger or were afraid of it. There are serious social, economic and health consequences; for instance, diabetes, obesity and other chronic conditions afflict Americans who don’t have access to adequate nutrition.

Total federal spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), this country’s main hunger prevention program, was $82.5 billion in fiscal 2013. To some that sounds like a lot, but it’s a small fraction of a $3.5 trillion budget and $16 trillion economy. This is evident when per-capita benefits are studied: The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act temporarily raised the weekly SNAP benefit by $25 to $33 for a family of four. But that temporary increase was allowed to expire this fall, so the SNAP benefit is back to the lower figure, or less than $1.40 per person per meal. These are small amounts relative to grocery costs, and even then only those with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line are eligible for the aid.

It is hard to reconcile traditional American values of hard work and generosity with the levels of poverty and fear of hunger in our country, especially because large shares of those suffering this plight work. Nearly 11 million working Americans had annual income below the poverty line last year.

The working poor or near poor are also disadvantaged by our tax system. When a low-wage worker gets a raise or his or her spouse joins the workforce, food stamps are cut back. The family’s Medicaid eligibility is in jeopardy, and earned-income tax credit refunds are reduced or eliminated. A November 2012 Congressional Budget Office analysis concluded that the marginal tax rate imposed on increased income for such workers can be as much as 95 cents on every additional dollar earned. This is counterproductive.

Food stamps aren’t just a question of social justice; they are also a matter of economic policy. SNAP spending was increased in 2009 as part of the stimulus legislation to help rescue the economy. Like other elements of that legislation, the idea was to put money into the pockets of financially distressed Americans who would immediately spend it. The CBO reported that this legislation was largely effective in protecting the economy. More broadly, investments such as SNAP equip the poor and near poor to succeed economically. Good nutrition — as well as health care, education and secure housing — is a requisite for productivity, helping unemployed or marginally employed workers move into better jobs. This also allows them to build a better life for their children.

We believe that it would be both unjust and economically unsound for Congress to cut benefits to the poor and near poor. It has been a generation since our country last had a robust conversation about combating poverty. Now is the time to reinvigorate that conversation, not cut needed benefits.

By: Robert E. Rubin, Roger C. Altman and Melissa Kearney, Opinion Pages, The Washington Post, December 8, 2013

December 11, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congressional Budget Proposals And Why We’re Fasting

I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to Congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry.

By doing so, I surprised myself; after all, I eat for a living. But the decision was easy after I spoke last week with David Beckmann, a reverend who is this year’s World Food Prize laureate. Our conversation turned, as so many about food do these days, to the poor.

Who are — once again — under attack, this time in the House budget bill, H.R. 1. The budget proposes cuts in the WIC program (which supports women, infants and children), in international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine) and in programs that aid farmers in underdeveloped countries. Food stamps are also being attacked, in the twisted “Welfare Reform 2011” bill. (There are other egregious maneuvers in H.R. 1, but I’m sticking to those related to food.)

These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts — they’d barely make a dent — will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now. And: The bill would increase defense spending.

Beckmann, who is president of Bread for the World, made me want to join in just by talking about his commitment. For me, the fast is a way to demonstrate my interest in this fight, as well as a way to remind myself and others that there are bigger things in life than dinner. (Shocking, I know.) I expect I’ll learn something about patience and fortitude while I’m at it. Thirty-six hours into the fast, my senses are heightened and everything feels a bit strange. Odors from the cafeteria a floor away drift down to my desk. In the elevator, I can smell a muffin; on the street, I can smell everything — good and bad. But as hungry as I may get, we know I’ll eat well soon. (Please check my blog for a progress report.)

Many poor people don’t have that option, and Beckmann and his co-organizers are calling for God to create a “circle of protection” around them. Some are fasting for a day, many for longer. (I’m fasting until Friday, and Beckmann until Monday. And, no, it’s not too late to join us.)

When I reminded Beckmann that poor people’s hunger was hardly a new phenomenon, and that God hasn’t made a confirmed appearance recently — at least that I know of — he suggested I read Isaiah 58, in which God says that if we were more generous while we fasted he’d treat us better. Maybe. But a billion people are just as hungry, human, and as deserving now as the Israelites were when they were fleeing Egypt, and I don’t see any manna.

This isn’t about skepticism, however; it’s about ironies and outrages. In 2010, corporate profits grew at their fastest rate since 1950, and we set records in the number of Americans on food stamps. The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined, the effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years, and General Electric paid zero dollars in U.S. taxes on profits of more than $14 billion. Meanwhile, roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their posttax income on food — and still run out monthly — and one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.

It’s those people whom Beckmann and his allies (more than 30 organizations are on board) are trying to protect. The coalition may be a bit too quick to support deficit reduction, essentially saying, “We understand the need for fiscal responsibility, but we don’t want to sacrifice the powerless, nearly voiceless poor in its name. As Beckmann knows, however, deficit reduction isn’t as important as keeping people from starving: “We shouldn’t be reducing our meager efforts for poor people in order to reduce the deficit,” he told me by phone. “They didn’t get us into this, and starving them isn’t going to get us out of it.”

This is a moral issue; the budget is a moral document. We can take care of the deficit and rebuild our infrastructure and strengthen our safety net by reducing military spending and eliminating corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich. Or we can sink further into debt and amoral individualism by demonizing and starving the poor. Which side are you on?

If faith increases your motivation, that’s great, but I doubt God will intervene here. Instead, we need to gather and insist that our collective resources be used for our collective welfare, not for the wealthiest thousand or even million Americans but for a vast majority of us in the United States and, indeed, for citizens of the world who have difficulty making ends meet. Or feeding their kids.

Though Beckmann is too kind to say it, he and many other religious leaders believe that true worship can’t take place without joining this struggle: “You can’t have real religion,” he told me, “unless you work for justice for hungry and poor people.”

I don’t think you can have much humanity, either.

By: Mark Bittman, The New York Times Opinion Page, March 29, 2011

March 31, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Human Rights, Income Gap, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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