Beloved Community: What Is It And How To Get There?

by Mike Wilson

“Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the solution to the race problem.” Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

As Rev. Dr. King has shown us, beloved community is one that is formed in love and not violence. I interpret his comments above and elsewhere, as love being anything that affects people positively and nonviolently such as growth, creativity, learning, caring, support, interest, friendship and so on. He refers to Agape love which is a universal intention, a love for strangers, nature and a complete investment in the positive positions of humanity. It is altruistic, unselfish involvement in the welfare of others. It is giving assistance without request or recompense. It involves generosity and open heartedness without expectations, cooperation without reciprocation, and social balance that ensures all are understood equally with needs recognized appropriately.

The antithesis of love is violence which all too frequently involves anger, fear and hatred, but it is also reflected in anything that diminishes, restricts, weakens, destroys, damages or delimits. Poverty is violence because it destroys people’s lives. Racism and white supremacy are violence because they restrict, diminish, damage and destroy people. Making a profit without thinking about the negative consequences and damage it causes is violence. Simply listening without hearing is violence because it can diminish the importance of the person and ultimately the listener.

Within this beloved perspective, community is a collection of people with a purpose. The purpose is the source of connection and cooperation; compromise and collaboration are the structures and content on which it survives, develops and ultimately thrives. Communities can form geographically as in neighborhoods or municipal communities. They can also form through interests in communities such as the Sierra Club to support the natural world, or Polaris, a collection of people formed against the practice of human trafficking. They can form in search of spiritual involvement as reflected in churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and host of other forms. One could even think of an entire country as a community to the extent that all its members share a purpose and create some degree of coherent unity. Community, then, is a natural human process and a constant in most people’s lives. Yet, although communities are readily and constantly forming, becoming beloved community can be a very difficult next step.

As a community becomes beloved, it uses its love to promote security and connection through meaningfully shared purpose within the context of non-violence with community members as well as those outside the community. It is constantly striving to ensure that all its members have an equal voice and a sense of personal meaning in belonging. In beloved communities, all people are accepted, loved, respected and treated with compassion in all aspects of humanity and through their community involvement. In these communities, non-violence is constantly examined and embraced and violence is avoided, eschewed and discarded.

So, you may ask, how do we get to beloved community. The answer is both simple and exceedingly difficult. Simply put, beloved community is involved in learning, believing, owning and community forming. Learning starts with listening, knowing, understanding, experimenting, evaluating and adjusting. Believing includes self-knowledge, intrinsic motivation, self-regulating, mindfulness, perspective changing and committing. Owning involves responsibility, involvement, participating, energy, focus, respecting, knowledge utilization, perseverance, and constant questioning. As noted above, community includes connection, cooperation, compromise and collaboration, but to make it beloved it must be in the context of a non-violence which reflects an ardent desire for love to prevail.

The hard part is, of course, for each person to find his or her own path through those messages from inside and outside that negate non-violence and invite the pursuit of violence. These messages form all too often in fear, anger and the desire to strike back. They are violent pursuits reflected in desires, passions, interests, habits and the many internally and externally driven reactions that are anything but non-violent. Beloved community is a journey, the first steps of which must be traveled by each person while fighting the demons that are both inside and outside. However, once one finds oneself inside and with fellow travelers, the journey becomes gradually easier. Although, given our human frailties and the temptations that always surround us, it is never a quick and simple process and, for most of us, it is always part of our struggles and almost never complete.