This edition of Connections is devoted to Becoming Beloved Community, a church-wide focus called for by our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. ‘Beloved community’ is a term that took on great meaning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he increasingly emphasized the civil rights movement’s essential relationship to workers’ rights, the peace movement and addressing poverty worldwide.
At the risk of over-simplifying a rich and elastic concept, I would suggest that beloved community combines Jesus’ notion of the kingdom of God with what should be striven for and accomplished here and now. Thus it names an attitude, a perspective and a commitment that is alive to every opportunity for connection across racial, economic, cultural and political divides. If Dr. King had lived longer he would no doubt have added gender and sexual orientation to this list.
Beloved community is not about political correctness. It is about re-grounding conservative and liberal thought in genuine respect for all people and recovering passion for a social order that brings such respect to bear. Certainly, this entails uncompromising resistance to any form of racism and abuse. But it also requires us to listen charitably and open-mindedly to decent people with whom we may deeply disagree. To begin with we do this to honor one another. But ultimately we do this so that we can come to love one another.
This is the agenda informing Michael Curry’s request that The Episcopal Church devote itself to becoming beloved community. We must continue to acknowledge and address the sin and consequences of racism. Yet, as he has stressed repeatedly, we must also move beyond self-knowledge, confession and reform to racial reconciliation. And it can’t stop there.
Reconciliation with one another must go hand in hand with the redress of our abuse of planet earth, and with our ability to demonstrate how the practice of reconciliation is grounded in the teachings of Jesus. So the Presiding Bishop’s call is threefold: racial reconciliation, creation care and evangelism. This three-dimensional focus was a major theme of our church’s General Convention in July, and we will be building on that in Southern Ohio as we move forward.
On a slightly personal note, I want to share with you that the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops is also concentrating its energies on Beloved Community. I am privileged and delighted to chair that committee, comprising eight bishops and seven academic theologians. Our charter is to be a theological resource to the House of Bishops, as it seeks to fulfill the teaching office of the episcopate and promote informed theological reflection throughout our church. This is a dynamic and creative group. Please keep our work in your prayers.
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal serves as Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.