Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post was originally posted on the United Religions Initiative blogUnited Religions Initiative is the world's largest grassroots interfaith peacebuilding network. Their purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.


The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee, gave the following speech as the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration, hosted by the Interfaith Roundtable of Kaua'i, at the Lihue Neighborhood Center. Learn more about the celebration in this news article, and read the complete text of Rev. Swing's speech at URIHawaii - January 14, 2016I did not know Martin Luther King, Jr., although we served churches at the same time, he in Georgia and I in West Virginia. Nevertheless he had a profound impact on me at the time. In those days, the central issue of society was race. It wasn’t about all races; it was specifically about whites and blacks. Using the metaphor of a piano, Martin used to say, “Every man from a bass black to a treble white is significant on God’s keyboard.” In the little steel town where I served, God’s keyboard translated into advocating for open housing for the blacks in the exclusive white neighborhoods. If that Baptist was laying it on the line in the march on Birmingham, the least I could do was to lay it on the line for integration in my little town of Weirton, West Virginia....If Martin Luther King, Jr. and I were sitting on a bench here in Lihue today, I have no idea what he might say to me but I know what I would say to him. I would say, “Martin, you won’t believe what has happened to religion.” Let us remember that the Civil Rights movement came out of religion, the people in the marches were religious, but today, religion has fallen on hard times.Today, groups in Europe are killing Jews again. Again! One third of all Jews in Europe are contemplating leaving. Today, Christians in the Middle East are facing “the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing” whereby they must convert to Islam, or, perhaps, be beheaded. Today, the religious group that suffers the most deaths from the violent Islamic extremists are Muslims. A cataclysmic religious civil war between the Sunnis and Shia is brewing. Sights of the shattered streets of Yemen, appear to be a previews of coming attractions for a great swath of this earth. “Martin, you won’t believe what has happened to religion.”...Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. ... got religions to work together. “Together.” In his famous “Dream” speech he talked with amazement that “Catholics and Protestants, Jews and those of other religions” had come together to March on Washington. He had hit upon a startling phenomenon. If each religion could, for a moment, come together for the common good of society, the world would be enriched immeasurably. Instead of each religion, independently, always enriching its own identity, what if religions came together occasionally and served the common good, together? Today, the word “together” translates to the word “interfaith.” Interfaith aims at bringing together, on occasions and in actions, the diffuse religions of the world for the sake of the world.The other dimension that Martin Luther King, Jr. discovered was the power of “non-violence.” When the religions come together, what if……. each of them would forswear violence? Wouldn’t that honor the peaceful claims of the various religions? Wouldn’t that allow religions to meet each other at their highest and best? Wouldn’t that give the world an example of the best way to find an answer to the thorniest problems?Read  the entirety of Rev. Swing's moving speech at the United Religion's Initiative's website.

Image credit: URI and Bayport Marina.