Martin Luther King Jr.’s challenge to the American church’s capitalist God of war.
As an extension of his fight against racist laws at home, Martin Luther King Jr. became increasingly critical of US policies abroad. Indeed, many speculate that King’s progressively strident critique of US militarism and intervention, particularly in Vietnam, and his challenge to American market priorities were factors that accelerated plans for his assassination—the 50th anniversary of which we recently marked as a nation. Among his many detractors were white clergy who, already incensed at King’s challenge to segregation and Jim Crow, were dumbfounded that he would move to oppose US warmongering and to call out the evils of capitalism. As King’s confrontation revealed, their theology was not only implicated in their racist vision of society, but also in a worldview that prioritized economic supremacy by any means necessary.
On April 4th, 1967, exactly one year to the day before he was murdered, King gathered with other religious leaders to protest the war in Vietnam at the Riverside Church in New York, where he delivered his famous sermon, “Beyond Vietnam.” As he began, King addressed his critics, those who asked, “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?”; “Peace and civil rights don’t mix.” To such complaints, King responded: “the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.”