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Dr. King’s last Christmas sermon

Fifty years ago Sunday — Christmas Eve 1967 — the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood in his pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and told the congregation that in order to achieve peace on earth, “we must develop a world perspective,” a vision for the entire planet. “Yes,” he said, “as nations and individuals, we are interdependent.” Then, with a sentence that could easily have been uttered by John Muir or Rachel Carson, Dr. King stated, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.”

In the last years of Dr. King’s life, his holistic vision led him to emphasize the connections between racism, militarism and economic injustice, and to see continuities across social movements. In a 1966 telegram to the labor leader Cesar Chavez, he wrote, “our separate struggles are really one.” Three weeks after his Christmas sermon, Dr. King visited the singer Joan Baez in jail, following her arrest after a sit-in at a draft induction center. Stopping to speak with Vietnam War protesters gathered outside, he told them, referring to civil rights and antiwar activism, “I see these two struggles as one struggle.” …

His Christmas Eve vision took things further, to encompass the intrinsic interconnectedness of existence itself. “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” he preached in his booming voice, “tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly” — “Yes, sir,” someone in the audience responded — “affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.” …

Fifty years later, so many of our challenges represent a failure to understand our interconnectedness. White supremacists and neo-Nazis, emboldened in these times, preach a timeworn hatred that corrodes community. Corporate capitalism, with its widening gulf between the ultrarich and the millions of people living in poverty, strains our social fabric while the worsening climate crisis provides unforgiving reminders of the earth’s delicate interrelatedness. …

We may come to see that Dr. King was, in fact, well ahead of his times. In important ways, he is still ahead of ours.

Dr. King’s Interconnected World