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"When Peace Becomes Obnoxious"

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Author: King, Martin Luther, Jr. (Dexter Avenue Baptist Church)

Date: March 18, 1956?

Location: Montgomery, Ala.?

Genre: SermonTopic: Martin Luther King, Jr. - Political and Social Views


King delivered this sermon from Dexter’s pulpit the day before his trial for violating Alabama’s anti-boycott law.1 He begins this handwritten outline by recounting that, after Autherine Lucy's expulsion from the University of Alabama, many celebrated the relative quiet that followed days of rioting at the University. King condemns this calm as “the type of peace that stinks in the nostrils of the almighty God.” He recounts a conversation with someone who suggested the bus boycott was destroying race relations and peace in the community, and responds: "Yes, it is true that if the Negro [accepts] his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. Louisville Defender editor Frank L. Stanley, who was in Montgomery covering the trial, reproduced a version of this sermon outline in his newspaper on 29 March 1956.2

Mt 10: 34-363

  1. A few weeks ago, a federal judge handed down an edict which stated in substance that the university of Alabama could no longer deny admission to persons because of their race. With the handing down of this decision, a brave young lady by the name of Autherine Lucy was accepted as the first Negro student to be admitted in the history of the university of Alabama. This was a great moment and a great decision. But with the announcement of this decision, the vanguards of the old order began to emerge. The forces of evil began to congeal. As soon as Autherine Lucy walked on the campus, a group of spoiled students lead by Leonard Wilson and a vicious group of criminals began threatening her on every hand.4 Crosses were burned. Eggs and bricks were thrown at her. The mob even jumped on top of the car in which she was riding. Finally the president and trustees of the university of Alabama asked Autherine to leave for her own safety and the safety of the university. The next day after Autherine was dismissed the paper came out with this headline: “Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the university of Alabama."5 Yes things were quiet in Tuscaloosa. yes there was peace on the campus, but it was peace at a great price. It was peace that had been purchased at the exorbitant price of an inept trustee board succoming to the whims and carprices of a vicious mob. It was peace that had been purchased at the price of allowing mobocracy to reign supreme over democracy. It was peace that had been purchased at the price of the capitulating to the forces of darkness. This is the type 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.

  2. Now let me hasten to say that this is not a concession to or a justification for physical war. I can see no moral justification for war. I believe absolutely and positively that violence is self-defeating. War is devastating. And we know now that if we continue to use these weapons of destruction, our civilization will be plunged accross the abyss of destruction

  3. However, there is a type of war that every Christian is involved in. It is a spiritual war. It is a war of ideas. Every true Christian is a fighting passifist. 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.” {Mt 10:34-36} 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 on evil. I come to declare war on injustice

  4. This text is saying in substance Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force—war, tensions, confusion but it is the presence of some positive force—justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.

    1. I had a long talk the other day with a man about this bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agreed that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely to 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 accept his place, accepts exploitation, and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be an obnoxious peace. It would be a peace that boiled down to stagnant complacity, deadening passivity and

    2. If peace means this, I dont want peace:

      1. If peace means accepting second class citizen ship I dont want it

      2. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I dont want it

      3. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadning staus quo, I dont want peace.

      4. If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated polically, humiliated and segregated, I dont want peace.
        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. Peace is the presence of positive good.

  5. Finally, never forget that there is an The inner peace that comes as a result of doing God’s will.

Our Father God, who dost overarch our fleeting years with thine eternity and dost undergird our weakness with thy strength, in the midst of the pressures of another day, as we face its vast concerns.

Above all else save us from succumbing to the tragic temptation of Of becoming cynical

1. Dexter’s 18 March 1956 program indicates King preached this sermon. King's trial began on 19 March 1956. Judge Eugene Carter found King guilty after a four-day trial and sentenced him to either pay a $500 fine plus court costs or serve 386 days in jail. The sentence was suspended following an appeal by King’s attorney (Testimony in State of Alabama v. M. L. King, Jr., 22 March 1956, in Papers 3:183-196).

2. King, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious,” Sermon Delivered on 18 March 1956 at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 29 March 1956, in Papers 3:207-208. The published version follows the wording of this handwritten outline. In a 3 April 1956 letter, King wrote to Stanley to thank him for his “fine” coverage of the Montgomery movement and to “express my deepest appreciation for your interest in our cause and for the interest you have stimulated in Alpha men all over the country.” Stanley was national president of King's fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, at the time of this letter.

3. Matthew 10:34-36: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

4. University of Alabama officials expelled Leonard Wilson in mid-March because of his “unwarranted and outrageous attacks . . . upon the integrity of the president and faculty and officers of the university” (“Segregation: That Defiant Sophomore,” Newsweek, 26 March 1956, p. 25). Wilson was head of the Citizens Council of West Alabama and a sophomore at the University of Alabama.

5. An editorial in the 7 February 1956 Tuscaloosa News concluded: “Yes, there’s peace on the University campus this morning. But what a price has been paid for it!”

Source: CSKC-INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 111, "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious."

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