The Common Good

Martin Luther King and the Spiritual Death of a Nation

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the martyrdom of Martin Luther King Jr. Although I never met him, I value his life and teachings more and more each year.

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One year before his death on this day, he delivered his now famous speech at Riverside Church in New York City, his decisive break with the war in Vietnam. He noted that "America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube," and concluded that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

In this season of three wars drawing money from programs of social uplift, Dr. King would make the same, or an even stronger, observation. The current skirmish over the never-approved FY11 budget is only the beginning. Next on the congressional agenda is the president's proposed FY 2012 budget.

In that proposal, the portion that Congress votes on (discretionary spending) totals $1.3 trillion. Security spending -- including the Defense Department, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and homeland security -- is $881 billion (65 percent of the budget), while all other spending -- health and human services, housing, education, etc. -- is $462 billion (35 percent of the budget). Not only is the military budget more than that of social programs, it is nearly twice as much.

On this anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, it seems to me that the growing movement to pray, fast, and act for a moral budget that saves the safety net for the poor and vulnerable is a movement to save America's soul.

Duane Shank is senior policy advisor at Sojourners.

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