“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” –Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967
One of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most controversial speeches came exactly one year to the day before he died. In a sermon at Riverside Church in New York, he declared his opposition to the Vietnam War and decried the nation’s priorities of spending far more on the military than on social and anti-poverty programs.
These words are all too relevant today, as our nation is responsible for 40 percent of the world’s military spending. Within the U.S. budget, more than half of our discretionary spending goes to the military.
The budget agreement reached in December keeps some of the automatic “sequestration” cuts in place for the Pentagon but softens the blow by spreading them out over more years. Compared to drawdowns after previous wars, Pentagon spending will still remain at historically high levels.
In mid-January Congress approved spending levels for the current year that give additional flexibility to the Pentagon by putting more money than requested into the “war funding” account, intended primarily for military activities in Afghanistan. Budget analyst Winslow Wheeler calls this extra funding a “slush fund” which the Pentagon can use as it wishes.
What is the spiritual effect of this over-reliance and over-spending on military might?
For one, we find it difficult to fulfill God’s desire to provide for the most vulnerable. While the U.S. spends more than $20 billion every year to maintain our arsenal of 5,000 nuclear weapons, Congress is planning to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) by $8 billion over the next 10 years. As King said, “It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
For another, we find ourselves grasping at violence as the way to solve problems, rather than taking seriously the words of the Prince of Peace to love our enemies. Rather than giving full support to diplomatic efforts, policymakers say that the use of force “must be on the table” in order for diplomacy to work.
Finally, we lose sight of our need for God as our ultimate protector. In the end, no amount of weaponry or troops can keep us completely safe. Security is rooted in God and the values that God calls us to live out, including respectful and just relationships with one another.
If your congregation would like to explore Christ’s call to be peacemakers in more depth, resources are available from Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Consider inviting a speaker to your congregation–a list of 30 speakers is available online at Let’s talk peace.
Free posters feature the quote by Dwight Eisenhower, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” Free postcards with the same image are available for sending to Congress.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.