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M.L. King III: Role of Faith-Based Service in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals

Speech to UPF Assembly 2007, New York, New York, September 21, 2007

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The twentieth century will be marked by the magnanimous women and men who made the ultimate sacrifice for truth and justice, peace and nonviolence, conflict resolution and community reconciliation. They were the peace ambassadors of the people-powered revolution of the Philippines, the velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia, the modern civil rights movement of the United States of America, the freedom movement of South Africa, and the satyagraha of India. And what was the secret of their success? I submit that it was their unwavering commitment to faith and service. During the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century in the United States, many people of conscience and good will worked tirelessly toward a dream of equality. The hard-fought battles of the movement then were waged with the sword of service and the shield of faith.

Arguably, as the movement’s most ardent and articulate champion, my father believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all and encouraged this nation to live up to the true meaning of its creed. His faith was summed up in this statement: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but bends towards justice.” Even more, his dedication to service was exemplified in the ultimate sacrifice he made serving garbage workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Equally important, and too often overlooked, he encouraged all peoples to live up to their purpose and potential by uniting and taking action to make this world a better place in which to live. That action, he believed, would be a living manifestation of their faith.

He further expressed that faith and its magnificence in action as he framed it in the context of service. Now listen just a moment as I paraphrase what he said. He said that everybody can be great because everybody can serve. He said you don’t have to have a college degree to serve, you don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve, you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.

Their collective faith that the arc of the universe is long but that it bends towards justice energized and gave direction to service. The twentieth century’s victories were not so much those of politicians or presidents, kings or queens, but ordinary people energized by faith and galvanized in service, and because of their faith and service they are seen today as yesterday’s champions of peace through nonviolence.

Our world cries out for a new generation, one whose line of vision extends beyond the endless chain of revenge, retribution, and retaliation to one of faith and service. As in the twentieth century, through faith we can command the moral authority to act in service to our brothers and sisters, whether locally or globally. Just as service and faith-based humanitarian action spawned the victories of the last century’s movements, so can they kindle a fire that wins victories in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in this century.

It was the service of a few good women and men that challenged and changed the world. It won victories in the United States, such as civil, voting, and fair housing rights legislation. That same faith and service won freedom and democracy in nations around the globe. And it will be the same faith and commitment to service in this century that can win victories in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.

My father declared that the ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where they stand in times of comfort and convenience but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy. He went on to say that cowardice asks the question: is a position safe? Expediency asks the question: is a position politic? And vanity asks the question: is a position popular? But something inside called conscience asks the question: is a position right? He went on to say that sometimes we must take positions that are neither safe nor popular nor politic, but we must take those positions because our consciences tell us they are right.

I would like to paraphrase the portion of that statement. Cowardice asks the question: is service safe? Expediency asks the question: is service politic? Vanity asks the question: is service popular? But faith asks the question: is service right? And there comes a time where one must serve not because it is safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must serve because one’s conscience, one’s faith compels him or her to know that it is right.

I challenge all of us to think confidently and creatively about ways our faith and service can be regenerative in spawning a new movement of faith in service to meet the challenges and opportunities found in the Millennium Development Goals.

Article - Martin Luther King III Addresses UPF Assembly 2007