The Beloved Community

by | Jan 15, 2024

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.

1 John 4:11-12

Today would be a Happy 95th Birthday to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This has always been an important weekend for me in my ministry. I have mentioned that I actually used to honor it in the first ten years of my ministry—all spent in Hawai‘i—as “King and Queen Sunday” because not only was January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King’s birthday, but January 17, 1893, was the day of the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani and the sovereign nation of Hawai‘i. Both of these leaders of deep Christian faith spoke out as God’s prophets, calling for justice for their people and all people, and seeking that justice through nonviolent means.

It is especially timely that I write especially about the Beloved Community—a concept that Dr. King built on from its initial use by philosopher Josiah Royce—because it has become an important way of describing God’s will for reconciliation for the world, as we are drawn together into God’s agape love. It is also the vision driving our first presbytery-wide Lenten series, Becoming the Beloved Community. I am excited about this opportunity for our people to gather and come to know each other—and ourselves—at a deeper level, thus making us stronger as a diverse and unified body of Christ. I believe this series will address two long-held hopes of presbytery members, as expressed in different feedback sessions over the years: to build relationships across the presbytery, and to become an alternative glimpse of God’s kin-dom, free of racism, as we learn from each other about our various backgrounds and perspectives. I invite you to look into this series; you can get a preview of the series on Saturday, Feb. 3rd, right after our presbytery meeting. You can hear now from the series leader, Dr. Tracey Shenell, through a short introductory video.

In a planning session for the series, someone suggested that not everyone knows what the Beloved Community is. I don’t need to try to describe it in my own words because Dr. King mentioned it often, and he was of course more eloquent than I can hope to be.

Dr. King’s appreciation for the Beloved Community came early. In 1957, at the age of 28, he was still in his first pastorate at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, but now well- known from his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In April of 1957 he spoke on “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma.” This message—an appeal to church leaders to follow Christ’s call for unity—was repeated many times by Dr. King, most notably in 1963’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Here are some helpful excerpts from Dr. King’s 1957 speech:

We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization. Our motto must be, “Freedom and justice through love.” [T]he end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros . . . but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men.

The Church must become increasingly active in social action outside itself. It must seek to keep channels of communication open between the Negro and white community. Men hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they are separated from each other. And only by keeping the channels of communication open can we know each other.

The King Center describes the Beloved Community on a global scale, consistent with Dr. King’s broad world view:

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

Clearly there are great parallels between Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Matthew 25 commitments, and San Gabriel Presbytery’s dedication to social action that helps us grow stronger as we learn to see and hear each other beyond false controlling narratives, and “to work for the transformation of the valley by sharing our faith in Jesus Christ, becoming a mosaic of Godly diversity in a deeply divided society, and by demonstrating our faith by engagement in public life.” (cf San Gabriel Presbytery’s mission statement)

In a little over a couple of weeks, on January 31st, we will begin WinterFest 2024, culminating in the presbytery meeting and plenary on February 3rd. And on February 10th, we will embark on the Lenten series Becoming the Beloved Community. Our life together as San Gabriel Presbytery has been blessed by God, and I pray that these activities will offer a deepening of our commitment to Christ’s church, and our own understanding of God and God’s saving will for the world. I urge you to participate in all of the activities you possibly can.

In Christ’s love,