When Dr. King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in 1967, it was part of a conference held by Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV).
Founded in New York in 1965 by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, CALCAV served as a multi-faith organization made up of 100 clergy members who wanted to challenge the Vietnam War.
I caught up with Carolyn Scarr, board member of the Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned (EPI/CALC), which began as a local affiliate of the original Clergy and Laymen Concerned.
I wanted to know why CALCAV was necessary, to begin with, and what happened to the organization after King’s time.
Scarr said that Clergy and Laymen Concerned was necessary “because the religious establishment were not speaking out about the Vietnam War in particular.”
Scarr added that after King was killed, Clergy and Laymen Concerned “continued to be interested in and focused on the issues of militarism and racism and international and…local economic injustice.”
I discovered that the group went on to challenge apartheid in South Africa, U.S. military involvement in Central America and the role of corporations in U.S. foreign policy, and it eventually changed its name to the gender-inclusive Clergy and Laity Concerned.
Scarr said that in the 1990s “the national CALC office…decided that they were not going to operate anymore” and eventually shut down.
To this day, local chapters like EPI/CALC continue to exist and carry out the organization’s mission.
And in 2005, with the support of United for Peace & Justice, Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq sprang up with the blessing of Susannah Heschel, the daughter of the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
The founder of the latest iteration of the group, Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, told me that, as with Clergy And Laymen Concerned About Vietnam, Clergy And Laity Concerned About Iraq began as a response to silence from clergy about an ongoing war.
Listen to audio clips from my conversation with Rev. Sekou below.
Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou serves as the Senior Minister of Lemuel Haynes Congregational Church and a fellow-in-residence at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture. A third-generation Pentecostal pastor, he wrote Urbansoul and is the author of the forthcoming Gods, Gays and Guns: Religion and the Future of Democracy.
Why CALCAV Began and What It Accomplished
Clip One: Rev. Sekou describes why Clergy And Laity Concerned About Iraq began and what it accomplished. (2:16)
Supporting Social Justice
Clip Two: Rev. Sekou explains the tension that exists among clergy when it comes to supporting social justice issues. (1:30)
Tamika Thompson is a journalist and blogger for Tavis Smiley on PBS