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MLK’s Assassination Remembered in the Wake of Bloated Military Spending and Proposed Cuts to Public Funding (Church & Society)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was accused of harming the struggle for civil rights and stepping out of line when taking a stance against excessive military spending. However, Dr. King realized the connection between the struggle for civil and human rights, government spending and peace.

April 4, 2023

Today marks the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, fifty-five years ago. For decades since his death, Dr. King’s legacy has been a drum major for justice on every side of the phrase and his message of equality rings true in movements for social change all over the world.

A year prior to his murder, Dr. King delivered a speech at the Riverside Church in New York entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”. This speech was a clarion call to move the United States from a war economy to a peace economy, one rooted in uplifting and protecting the most vulnerable communities rather than increasing investments in death dealing practices.

Over the course of his ministry, Dr. King began to see the Vietnam war as the enemy of the poor – a national obsession that was draining resources from impoverished communities at home. He also questioned the hypocrisy of non-violent community actions here at home, while the U.S. government perpetuated worldwide violence through military action. To do harm to vulnerable people anywhere in the name of imperial expansion was wrong and he called it out. Prophets are not often recognized in their own time, and his speech received harsh criticism from both the public and politicians.

While it’s tempting to sanitize Dr. King’s message about military action and remember only the statements that are now politically popular, we are dishonoring his legacy by shying away from the ways he challenged us to interrogate our priorities. As we face a significantly bloated defense budget, proposed cuts to public funding, and still, the three evils of racism, militarism, and poverty – we must remember Dr. King’s words: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”

As followers of Christ and United Methodists, our Social Principles and Resolutions call us to speak out concerning the need for common sense military spending and investments in programs that uplift marginalized communities.

In 2022, the United States passed the largest defense budget ever, including more than $80 billion dollars in spending over the previous year. The United States spends more annually on defense than the next nine countries combined. A 2021 Congressional Budget Office report determined that our government could cut $100 billion from the 2022 U.S. defense budget without affecting national security.

According to the National Priorities Project, $100 billion redirected from the military budget could completely fund one of the following initiatives:

  • Hire 892,745 nurses to address the current nursing shortage
  • Provide either 35 million children or 20 million adults with health care coverage
  • Provide over seven million military veterans with medical care
  • Create over 570,000 clean energy jobs to help combat the ongoing climate crisis

Tell your Congressperson that you support a $100 billion cut to military spending via Church and Society’s Action Alert on our website.

Dr. King’s words are still relevant today as we continue to fight those triple evils he fought against in his own time. While we are far from the beloved community, as United Methodists, we believe each of us can take action and advocate for a flourishing economy and just world.

Let us remember Dr. King’s life and words by cultivating a culture where, “justice rolls down like a river, and righteousness’ like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)