Martin Luther King Jr. on America’s “obnoxious peace”

©Bob Fitch/FOR Archives

We celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year at a time when our nation has come to a fork in the road and the fate of our democracy depends on the path we take.  Just 12 days removed from the insurrectionists’ attack on the Capitol that left six dead and two days prior to the inauguration of Joseph Biden as our 46th president, some are making the case that pursuing impeachment does greater harm to the nation. According to the Wall Street Journal, Biden should instead try to “establish his leadership by calling off the House impeachment in service of his vow that this is a ‘time to heal.’”

It would be difficult to imagine a sentiment more antithetical to the meaning of Rev. Dr. King’s legacy. In response to a man who claimed that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was destroying peace and good race relations, King commented, “I agreed that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely the absence of this tension, but the presence of justice.” Fifty-three years after his assassination, by some perverse logic, people still think that protesting injustice is what creates division and not that division and unrest stems from injustice. 

We have not yet learned that there will be no healing without accountability.

America has raised the practice of erasing our history into an art but it is a poisonous gift we must finally learn to reject. The same white supremacy that killed Dr. King in 1968 stormed our capitol on January 6th.  The whole world bore witness to President Trump’s incitement to violence that day, and yet some among us ask with a straight face that we simply move on? We moved on when he incited violence at his campaign rallies. We moved on when he threatened violence against allies and other nuclear powers. 

The desire to move on after calling on supporters to invade the People’s House must either be a terrible joke or a delusion. Dr. King reminds us that this is the sort of peace that “all men of goodwill hate. It is the type of peace that is obnoxious. It is the type of peace that stinks in the nostrils of the almighty God.”

Dr. King left no room for confusion that the road to peace must travel through accountability, through justice and through truth. “If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace. If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.”

Doing the difficult work of determining the truth and demanding accountability for the president and the insurrectionists he incited is a small down payment on the truth required for democracy. 

Without that difficult work true healing and real peace can never occur.

Dr. King — and all of us — deserve at least that much.

Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson is the 26th executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA), founded in 1915. Under her leadership, FOR-USA is adopting a reparative lens to pursue justice and racial reconciliation in the United States. Ordained by the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in 1989, her leadership among New York’s advocates and organizers has centered on advocacy for children. As executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund – New York, she worked with advocates to name and address New York’s cradle to prison pipeline crisis; prioritize youth justice within New York’s diverse faith communities; and close abusive youth prisons redirecting resources to invest in youth and their communities. Rev. Jordan-Simpson is a graduate of Fisk University, Union Theological Seminary, and Drew Theological Seminary. 

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