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The Silence of Clergy Today versus Rev. King's "Silence is Betrayal!"

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"For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who followed these words with a description of U.S. crimes against humanity.

At the polls, citizens have finally expressed themselves against the war in Iraq. Candidates and incumbents feel the need to call for an end to the war. But we rarely hear even a peep from Clergy. Is this for its observing the doctrine of ‘Separation of Church and State’ or because the Church has become BOUND to the State and SEPARATED from its faith?

Our ordained professional guidance counselors, the priests, ministers and rabbis, the stewards of personal morality, are by and large without complaint or even suggestion regarding the wars of occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Except for the usual time honored exhortations to pray for the dead, the dying and those doing the killing, and an infrequent academic discussion of what constitutes ‘just war’ and ‘just killing’, the senior leaders of the various religions are MUTE.

But, Martin Luther King Jr. thundered, “For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be SILENT!”

Collective guilt, collective accountability and responsibilities are very rarely, if ever, addressed from the pulpits of American churches and synagogues. There is an eerie canonical absolving of personal responsibility for crimes against humanity committed ‘under orders’, (curiously, Adolph Eichman’s defense at his trial in Israel).

The clergy even in largely progressive cities generally feels constrained to speak against the policies and actions of State, as if it were against the law. They deem to ‘respect’ a quite back-assward interpretation of “Separation of Church and State”, pretending that Church be not meant not to denounce the crimes of State, even while highest officials of State often clothe themselves with a vestment of Church dogma, respecting the assumptions and superstitions, often speaking as subjects of a church or as its representatives and protectors.

In a sermon outline, a young King wrote, “We may well be ashamed of much that is associated with the history of organized Christianity and with much of what goes on in the churches today.”

This off and on weak failing of faithful ministry is a far-flung tradition that predates the American experience. There were priests and ministers in Nazi Germany who blessed the soldiers of the Wehrmacht as they left to invade neighboring nations even after Hitler began to crush the Church. In fascist satellite nations the history of an open collaboration of the Church with the Nazis was even more flagrant. Christianity and its complicity vis-à-vis the Holocaust is well known, though there were heroic renegade exceptions.

But there is a history of successful ministry of faith as well. Alongside the black popes, the inquisition and massacres in the religious wars of the Middle Ages, one can counterpoise the earlier church as sanctuary and protector of the persecuted and patron of literature and the fine arts and the many brave orders, even of today, within the movement in Latin America called Liberation Theology, unsupported by the pope. The history of Islam is similarly complicated.

It would seem that given King’s example, mainstream clergy in America has a clear choice. Continue to be silent, copying the shameful role of the Church during the Vietnam War almost to the end, or quote the documented words of a martyred giant the establishment has felt forced to honor with national holiday.

No church is going to lose its tax status for quoting a fellow Reverend Doctor with unassailable national recognition no less! MLK is an icon. King has stature. His words bite true! Only to put King’s words in Sunday sermons now in the nation’s and the world’s hour of need.

King cried, “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government!" King would not have believed that al Qaida is primary and the world’s single superpower must forever invade other countries, creating more and more al Qaidas, for he warned, “Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love."

And, "We in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways ..."

And, "Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of (Substitute Iraq and Afghanistan for) Vietnam"

If this writer were clergy, what with the spate of books and TV programs challenging religions for breeding violence, I would be galvanized to step up and say SOMETHING about the present U.S. wars. The critics of those, who profess moral leadership in the name of interpreting the Unknown within an organized religion as their sustainer, are lining up like never before: Christopher Hitchens’,’ best seller “God is Not Great”; a schedule of debates between Christians and Atheists during NBC prime time; “A Brief History of Disbelief”, TV series by Jonathan Miller introduced on NPR’s Bill Moyer Journal show. These bold confrontations appeared just within the week.

Judged by, and held to, the standards of both their kindest teachings and many of the more useful and intelligent taboos of their own faiths, the vast majority of organized religions’ leaders are being accused of being apostates to their faiths, for not respecting their very own teachings, scriptures, blessed exhortations and proscribed injunctions; apostates for their silence, acquiescence, consent, approval, or support of war and its slaughter. All these critics go rather easy on organized religion, considering the horrendous amount of genocide and disgustingly ignorant and brutal behavior of millions of their followers recorded throughout the history of these three otherwise great religions of the Middle East.

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Jay Janson is an archival research peoples historian activist, musician and writer; has lived and worked on all continents; articles on media published in China, Italy, UK, India, in Germany & Sweden Einartysken,and in the US by Dissident (more...)

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