With the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the brutality of the ongoing civil wars in Syria and Egypt, recall Dr. King’s words in a speech he gave at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, almost exactly one year prior to his murder. A full text and recording of the speech can be found here. In discussions focusing around war, peace, and Dr. King, share the following portion of the speech with your students. Assign the questions for journal writing or discussion.

A time comes when silence is betrayal. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men [sic] do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ A nation that continues year and year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all humankind. We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.


  1. What were your feelings as you listened to Dr. King’s urging you to speak out against war?

  2. Why did Dr. King oppose the war in Vietnam and modern war in general?

  3. What do agree with in his speech and why? And what do you disagree with and why?

  4. Do you think you have been participating in the “silence of betrayal”? Betrayal of what?

  5. Given your understanding of Catholic Church teaching on war, what do you think needs to be said and done at this point in the war on terrorism?

This activity is taken from Activities for Catholic Social Teaching* by James McGinnis.