Beloved Community—now, there’s a phrase that many good liberal people have tossed around in recent decades. Often the speakers don’t pause to define the phrase. Maybe they assume that we listeners can all just imagine what this kind of community looks and feels like, and what it takes to build and sustain it.
OK, I confess: I’m guilty of this too! But the wonderful thing about being in community with you is that every time I’ve mentioned Beloved Community without making it more specific, I’m guaranteed to receive at least one or two questions: What does Beloved Community mean? Where does it come from? What does it have to do with Unitarian Universalists?
Here, then, are some partial answers to frequently asked questions about Beloved Community:
Where does the phrase Beloved Community come from?
The phrase Beloved Community is first used by philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce in the early 20th century. Royce createds the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization with a beautiful name and mission to which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also belonged. And it’s Dr. King who popularizes this phrase and puts some flesh on its bones his writings and speeches in the 1950s and ’60s.
What does Dr. King mean by “Beloved Community”?
The King Center website offers a great summary of the way of living and being that Dr. King envisioned. Dr. King believed this vision to be practical and achievable when a critical mass of people dedicate themselves—ourselves—to the principles of nonviolence and the wellbeing of all peoples throughout the world.
For Dr. King, the Beloved Community is indeed about the whole world, not just individual communities here and there. To bring Beloved Community into existence, individual people and communities must form a global movement where governments and citizens, faith organizations, nonprofits, and even corporations refuse to tolerate poverty, homelessness, or hunger. The same is true for all forms of oppression and prejudice. In Dr. King’s philosophy, when enough of us worldwide recognize that we are all kindred, then we’ll be willing to face the truths of our human history of extraction and domination, feel the sorrow and pain that white supremacy and other forms of dehumanization have caused, recognize our different roles in these systems, change our institutions and ourselves, and find our way to reconciliation, redemption, and partnership. To be successful, all of this must happen through nonviolent means.
What do Unitarian Universalists say about Beloved Community?
In 2008, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Leadership Council names a powerful poetic vision of Beloved Community as a place “where all souls are welcomed as blessings and the human family lives whole and reconciled.”
In 2018, our UUA president, the Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray adds active verbs to her definition of Beloved Community as “a community that practices a radically inclusive and compassionate, antiracist, antioppressive, multicultural, multigenerational faith within, and acts powerfully in partnership and solidarity for justice and liberation beyond.”
In her essay in Unitarian Universalists of Color: Stories of Struggle, Courage, Love, and Faith, Yuri Yamamoto—musician, diversity activist, and a hospital chaplain resident—brings Beloved Community even closer to home: “To me a beloved community means a sanctuary where all of us can express ourselves authentically and celebrate who we are without the fear of rejection. It is not a place where only like-minded people gather or where everyone is simply nice to each other by withholding their feelings and opinions. In a beloved community, we are committed to candid conversation and love because of our many—and sometimes painful—differences. The road to build such a community is extremely long and rocky. It may be a never-ending process rather than an attainable goal.”
For Unitarian Universalists, the Beloved Community can begin with the local and grow—like cells joining together—into regional, national, and international bodies. So I’m thrilled that Beloved Community is our theme for the month of February. Now we get to lift up this vision, look at it from many angles, and decide what it means to us. And the focus on Beloved Community could not be more timely: With our country and many of our families deeply divided and in conflict about where we need to go and what we need to do to address the crises that plague us, we can use some guidance.
It will take all of us, dear ones, to turn the lofty aspiration of Beloved Community into a reality. Please do join us!
With love and faith in the community we strive to build together,