Beloved Community. This beautiful vision articulated most broadly by Dr. Martin Luther King is one that still captivates the imagination of most Americans. The phrase connotes harmony and peace where humanity lives in unity with each other. It paints a picture of human flourishing, almost a utopia. But what does it actually mean? What does it look like? And what role might Christians have in cultivating such a beautiful vision of the world?
Before I go further, let me share 25 Qualities of Beloved Community that are adapted from King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
- Offers radical hospitality to everyone; an inclusive family rather than exclusive club;
- Recognizes and honors the image of God in every human being;
- Exhibits personal authenticity, true respect, and validation of others;
- Recognition and affirmation, not eradication, of differences;
- Listens emotionally (i.e., with the heart) – fosters empathy and compassion for others;
- Tolerates ambiguity – realizes that sometimes a clear-cut answer is not readily available;
- Builds increasing levels of trust and works to avoid fear of difference and others;
- Acknowledges limitations, lack of knowledge, or understanding – and seeks to learn;
- Acknowledges conflict or pain in order to work on difficult issues;
- Speaks truth in love, always considering ways to be compassionate with one another;
- Avoids physical aggression and verbal abuse;
- Resolves conflicts peacefully, without violence, recognizing that peacefully doesn’t always mean comfortably for everybody;
- Releases resentment and bitterness through self-purification (i.e., avoidance of internal violence through spiritual, physical, and psychological care);
- Focuses energy on removing evil forces (unjust systems), not destroying persons;
- Unyielding persistence and unwavering commitment to justice;
- Achieves friendship and understanding through negotiation, compromise, or consensus – considering each circumstance to discern which will be most helpful;
- Righteously opposes and takes direct action against poverty, hunger, and homelessness;
- Advocates thoroughgoing, extensive neighborhood revitalization without displacement (this also applies to the Church – working toward responsible and equitable growth, discipleship, and worship);
- Blends faith and action to generate a commitment to defeating injustice (not forgetting that injustice can also be found within the Church);
- Encourages and embraces artistic expressions of faith from diverse perspectives;
- Fosters dynamic and active spirituality – recognizes that we serve a dynamic God who is not left behind by a changing world or people, and that a passive approach will not work;
- Gathers together regularly for table fellowship, and meets the needs of everyone in the community;
- Relies on scripture reading, prayer, and corporate worship for inner strength;
- Promotes human rights and works to create a non-racist society;
- Shares power and acknowledges the inescapable network of mutuality among the human family.
I don’t know about you, but when I imagine what life would be like if our community was radically committed to living out these 25 principles, I imagine it would feel a little bit like heaven on earth. Our marriages, our workplace and school relationships, and our neighborhoods would all look just a little bit more like Jesus. It’s no wonder that people from every religion (and even atheists) were drawn to this vision of Beloved Community during the Civil Rights Era.
It is actually really profound that this vision draws people from all backgrounds. God has written eternity on the hearts of mankind. In the midst of injustice, poverty, oppression, and violence humanity longs and aches for peace, forgiveness, beauty, and reconciliation. And not just humanity, but creation itself groans like it is a woman about to give birth as it waits for the children of God to receive redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23). But despite the longings, our world is fractured, divided, hostile, and violent. So just because the vision captivates humanity, we know that it is actually quite impossible to see it realized apart from Christ.
As God’s people, we are sent by the Holy Spirit to be a window into the kingdom of God. This involves the way we treat each other, the way we love our neighbors, and the way we make peace with our enemies. We are sent by the Spirit to display Jesus and the character of God to the world around us.
As we enter this Lenten season, we are reminded that we are powerless to do this in our own strength. Despite our longings and desires for peace and harmony, we fall short of God’s glory again and again (Romans 3:23). We are selfish. We hoard. We isolate. We consume. We’re possessive. We worship the good gifts God gave us and exchange our love for the Creator for the things He’s created. Even with eternity written in our hearts and the ways it bubbles over into great longings and ambitions to be whole, we just can’t grasp onto God’s reality. We can’t make ourselves, our relationships, or our world whole.
In our brokenness, we can hide in shame, we can wallow in guilt, or we can soak up the love and mercy found in Christ. That is what Lent, Good Friday & Easter are all about. We set aside time to name the sin, the hurts, and the burdens of living in our broken world and receive the Good News that Jesus has come to make us whole. Because of His life, death, and resurrection we are made new. But Christ doesn’t just offer us salvation from death and darkness; He offers us new life in Him. And that means new life in the family of God. This means Christians are given a beautiful mission to participate in the ministry of reconciliation and learn how to cultivate Beloved Community wherever we go.
You see, as Christians, we don’t sit back and cynically watch the world tear itself apart because we know humanity is too wicked and we know the end of the story–nor do we triumphantly seek to remove all evil in the world by some great Christian takeover of government, wealth, and authority. Christ calls us into something very simple and yet it is the simple method He’s chosen to reveal His kingdom on this earth. Love God, love each other, love neighbor, love enemy. These are the building blocks of a Beloved Community.
For Beloved Community to not just be an aspirational dream but a lived reality, we must set aside time to pray, immerse ourselves in Scripture, and deepen our practice of Christian community so that the ways we re-enact God’s story in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools mirror the person of Jesus revealed to us in Scripture.
And so we invite you to join us this Lenten season to participate in Scripture Reading for Beloved Community and take the next six weeks to intentionally pursue God’s vision and plan for wholeness in this world. You can read more about it and sign up here.