Becoming Beloved Community is probably going to be part of the central formation of this diocese over the next several years. Part of me supports this theme wholeheartedly. The other part of me wonders how we can even be having this conversation in America in 2018. If the “Church” isn’t here to be a beloved community, then why even bother? Being a beloved community should be part of our DNA, our essence, and our identity. How is it possible that some of the most segregated places in this country are houses of worship?
If Jesus showed up in present day America, then who would be the “Samaritan” in his parable? Would it be the Parable of the Good Muslim? The Good Homosexual? The Good Undocumented Immigrant? The Good Homeless Person?
We try to practice what has become known as the Great Commandment. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40. NRSV) A version of this appears in all four Gospels.
Just loving our physical neighbors is often difficult enough, but of course, Jesus was talking about much more than just our physical neighbors. Parables like the Good Samaritan make that clear. Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question of who is our neighbor. Some of the impact of this story may be lost due to changes in societal norms, but Jesus implied that a Samaritan was a better neighbor than the priest and the Levite who both walked by the wounded man. This would have been equivalent to Jesus landing a metaphorical punch in the gut to the local Jewish leaders and scholars. The Samaritans were hated by the Jewish community, they were thought to be vile and unclean. This parable was radical. Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for water at the well was radical. He was breaking down barriers.
If Jesus showed up in present day America, then who would be the “Samaritan” in his parable? Would it be the Parable of the Good Muslim? The Good Homosexual? The Good Undocumented Immigrant? The Good Homeless Person? He might say it differently to each person he tells it to. He might use whomever you hate and fear the most as the hero of the story.
As some of you know, at our General Convention this past summer in Austin, members of Westboro Baptist were protesting outside one of our services.
I couldn’t help being struck by how much love was inside the hall where Bishop Curry was preaching and how much hatred was outside with the protest. Why does Westboro Baptist hate us so much? Because our circle of neighbors is too large and too inclusive for them. Our circle includes people they feel should be kept out. People who they feel do not deserve to enjoy the love of God and the community of Christians.
What does beloved community mean? It means coming together despite our differences. It means rejoicing in our differences. It means that we need each other. It means that it is the mission of the church to be one body. As Episcopalians, I think many of us already agree with the need to be a beloved community. Hopefully, all of us being focused on it together will help us learn from each other how to become better at it.
David Dreisbach serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Southern Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.