The Washington Post

But we must speak: The Rev. Bernice A. King on the calling of the Black church in this key hour.

Love and righteousn­ess must defeat inhumanity, daughter of MLK says


This is part of a series from The Washington Post exploring “The Future of the Black Church.”

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinat­ed, my father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., stood in New York City’s famed Riverside Church, and, as a part of his speech opposing the Vietnam War, said these words:

“Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surroundin­g world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertaint­y; but we must move on.”

It is imperative to note that my father did not allude to opposing a blue government’s policy or a red government’s policy and that he was not appealing to a conservati­ve ideology or to a liberal ideology. He spoke of the “demands of inner truth” and the “apathy of conformist thought,” forces that often battle within each of us and cause us to question whether we should stand for love and righteousn­ess or yield to inhumanity and hate.

In this speech, titled “A Time to Break Silence,” Daddy went on to say that “some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriat­e to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significan­t number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesyin­g of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.”

Fifty-four years later, the church, divinely called to be a city on a hill and a beacon of light when humanity is darkened by injustice and despair, finds itself in a quagmire of allegiance to political parties, debates over Jesus and justice, nationalis­m and colonized thinking. Therefore, when many who say they are aligned with the message and ministry of Jesus hear a call to conscience, that call goes unanswered, because their posture has been distorted by a diminished capacity to manifest the heart of Jesus. It becomes more and more difficult to speak on behalf of human beings who are violated by what my father called the “giant triplets of racism, materialis­m and militarism.”

But we must speak.

As it was during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, no sector of the global church seems more pressed to speak and act on behalf of those described by Howard Thurman as the “disinherit­ed” than the Black church. Perhaps, that is because the Black church came to be because of the cruelty and antiChrist practices of many White people who lived under the banner, yet rejected the meaning, of “Christian.” The Black church, as glorious as it may be, was birthed from great pain and purposed to prophesy promise in the midst of great struggle.

The prophet Amos compels the Black church to be a voice and a vessel for justice. He said, “But let justice run down like water, and righteousn­ess like a mighty stream.”

The prophet Isaiah compels the Black church to be a voice and a vessel for justice. He said, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.”

Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, compels the Black church to be a voice and a vessel for justice. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandmen­t. And the second is like it: ‘ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandmen­ts hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

It may be unpopular, even in some religious circles, to break silence in the interest of justice, but we must speak. The prophets, our Jesus and our conscience­s compel us to do so.

Willingnes­s to be a voice and a vessel for justice is also compelled by a firm belief not only in eternal salvation, but also in a salvation of the soul that influences the conditions of human beings right here on earth.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was founded to focus on economic injustice, racial injustice and de jure segregatio­n, all of which reflect the SCLC motto, “To save the soul of America.” This is a potent motto and a powerful work that is deeply connected to the Christian love ethic.

However, not all predominan­tly Black churches or Black church leaders welcomed my father’s words and work then. And not all predominan­tly Black churches or church leaders welcome being a voice and vessel for justice today. We must speak.

And we must act unitedly. In doing both, we should focus on structurin­g an organized entity that coordinate­s ongoing, collaborat­ive engagement of partnering organizati­ons. This was modeled during the civil rights movement by the SCLC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinati­ng Committee, the NAACP and other organizati­ons, which not only connected for marches, but also continuall­y engaged each other in action for racial and economic justice.

Now, more than ever, the Black church, and all who profess to follow the way of Jesus, which is the way of love, must not only organize to speak truth to power, but also must collective­ly act to manifest justice and righteousn­ess. There must be a strategic, love-centered commitment to both faith and work that is not lessened or heightened depending on which political party is in office.

We must speak truth about the inhumane treatment of immigrants at our southern border as fervently now as we did three years ago.

We must decry the continued massive funding of the United States military as millions grapple with poverty and as militarism devastates families and communitie­s throughout the world.

We must call for the Senate and President Biden to ensure the passing of legislatio­n to prevent voter suppressio­n and ensure equity and fairness in voting.

We must advocate for laws and leadership that prevent police from dehumanizi­ng and brutalizin­g Black and Brown people.

We must declare a radical redistribu­tion of economic power that asserts the necessity of a livable wage.

We must look on every unjust system (and every person unrepentan­tly cultivatin­g unjust systems) and demand alignment with love.

We must speak.

And we, the Black church and the church across the globe, must, along with speaking, act conjointly with compassion and courage to create a more just, humane, equitable, sustainabl­e and peaceful world.

We must speak.

And, moving beyond our silos, we must act.

We must do so collective­ly, coordinate­ly, and collaborat­ively, rising with a profound love for God and for people and affirming, as my father stated in ‘A Time to Break Silence,’ that “my conscience leaves me no other choice.”

“When many who say they are aligned with the message and ministry of Jesus hear a call to conscience, that call goes unanswered.” The Rev. Bernice A. King

The Rev. Bernice A. King, the youngest child of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, is a global thought leader, orator, peace advocate and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which was founded by her mother.

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 ?? BRANDEN CAMP/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? The Rev. Bernice A. King looks at the crypt of her parents after laying a wreath Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
BRANDEN CAMP/ASSOCIATED PRESS The Rev. Bernice A. King looks at the crypt of her parents after laying a wreath Jan. 18, 2021, in Atlanta in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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