When Peace Becomes Obnoxious was a sermon delivered on 18 March 1956 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Martin Luther King, Jr. This is roughly the second half.
“In a very profound passage which has been often misunderstood, Jesus utters this: He says, ‘Think not that I am come to bring peace. I come not to bring peace but a sword.’ Certainly, He is not saying that He comes not to bring peace in the higher sense. What He is saying is: ‘I come not to bring this peace of escapism, this peace that fails to confront the real issues of life, the peace that makes for stagnant complacency.’
“Then He says, ‘I come to bring a sword’ not a physical sword. Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come to declare war over injustice. I come to declare war on evil. Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force—war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force—justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.
Peace, peace, when there is no peace
“I had a long talk with a man the other day about this bus situation [the Montgomery boycott]. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agree that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely the absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes, it is true that if the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be a peace boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity, and if peace means this, I don’t want peace.
1) If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it.
2) If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
3) If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
4) If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated, and segregated, I don’t want peace. So in a passive, non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.
“Jesus says in substance, I will not be content until justice, goodwill, brotherhood, love, yes, the Kingdom of God are established upon the earth. This is real peace–a peace embodied with the presence of positive good. The inner peace that comes as a result of doing God’s will.”
Part of the problem
My blogger buddy Thom Wade wrote this some months ago, after George Floyd’s death: “It is frustrating to watch fellow white people constantly appeal to MLK while using the very arguments used to condemn him to condemn protesters today. I remember how some folks responded to non-violent protests just a few years ago. It was not good enough. Some people in my own friend and family sphere posted disdain for athletes peacefully kneeling. No form of protest was appropriate or good enough.
“When MLK was marching peacefully, he was met with gas and beatings. He was ultimately murdered. And you are going to complain NOW? When you would not listen before? When no protest was good enough for you? You are part of the problem. Crying out for peace when peace was not good enough over the past several years? I look at this city and my heart breaks. Mainly because people want to decry the results of their unwillingness to face the problem.”