MLK’s “Radical Revolution of Values”

by Rev. Linda Hanna Walling
Faithful Reform in Health Care

“…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society.”  [Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967, Riverside Church, New York City]

In a recent gathering with Arkansas faith leaders, I listened as Rev. Wendell Griffen, the pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church in Little Rock, passionately proclaimed that what we need is the “radical revolution of values” of which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke a year before his death.  Absolutely!  Of all of Dr. King’s eloquent words, these are among the ones most needed now.

It was a very different time in our nation’s history, and Dr. King was speaking in opposition to the war in Viet Nam. But his words – a radical revolution of values – call us to the timeless need to turn to our moral values when deliberating over those things that define how we share life as an American family.  The revolution of values to which Dr. King called us still awaits the transformation of our hearts and minds – and our commitment to working for the common good… to building a sense of community that offers blessings for all… and to acting upon our concern for those who are most vulnerable.

The events of recent days demonstrate how little progress has been made in our ability to live together.  Senseless killings by a man presumed to be mentally ill have caused endless speculations about what led to these horrific acts. Was the killer incited by inflammatory political verbage?  Is security sufficient around public officials? Are our gun laws too lax?  Was this an anti-Semitic act? Is this a statement about inadequate mental health services?  Or was this simply a random act of evil which we don’t quite understand?

All of these potential explanations are woefully inadequate, perhaps because we are asking the wrong questions.  As people of faith, a revolution of values means that we have to challenge priorities that elevate politics over people… or protect the rights of gun owners over needs of victims and perpetrators of gun violence… or demonize rather than celebrate our diversity… or exclude those with mental illness from our system of health care.  If we were to engage in this deeper conversation about values, wouldn’t the teachings of our communities of faith lead to different conclusions about the Arizona shootings and our ability to live together as a national community?

The health care debate, which symbolizes our nation’s discussion on numerous social justice issues, was laden with what many called values-based messaging.  Economic values. Political values. Personal self-interest values. But people of faith labored on with messages about moral values which focused on the common good, compassion, concern for those who are most vulnerable, shared responsibility, and an equitable distribution of our abundant health care resources.  And we were right to do so.

In the midst of this tragedy, above the babble of blame, we are beginning to hear others join the call for a return to the values that bind us to one another.  And in that conversation we are called to commit ourselves to Dr. King’s “radical revolution of values” that will always put the needs of people – our brothers and sisters – above all else.  We do this believing that we can be instruments of healing as our country continues to dialogue about how to make Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community – and our vision of health, wholeness, and human dignity – a reality for all.

Health and peace,

Rev. Linda Hanna Walling

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Take action today in support of health care reform!

In honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., take action today to promote our faith-inspired vision for our health care future.  Send an email to your member of Congress — and then invite family, friends, and colleagues to join you!

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