Becoming Beloved Community in a Hate-filled Time
In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote the following words in a defense of non-violence as the only way to true and lasting freedom: “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives (Non-violence: The Only Road to Freedom). For King the beloved community was a society with economic and social justice for all. It was a society in which the color of your skin, your ethnic background, or your religious affiliation were not your fundamental identity. Every person was a beloved child of God, made in the image of God, deserving of love and respect. The beloved community was God’s vision for society.
The focus of this Saturday’s convention of the Diocese of Southern Ohio is “Becoming Beloved Community.” This focus was also the major focus of last summer’s General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas. In the days ahead, the congregations of our diocese will be looking at how we can help God build a “beloved community” in our communities and in our country.
Needless to say building such a community will be no small task. Last week we were once again reminded of how far we are from being a beloved community in this country. 11 Jews were gunned down by a man full of antisemitic hatred. (In 2017 antisemitic attacks have increased 57% according to the ADL.) Prior to that slaughter, one man sent 13 bombs to political leaders with whom he clearly is at odds. Another man killed two African Americans in a store in Kentucky after failing to get into his primary target, a largely African American church. The President and others have turned desperate Honduran migrants fleeing for their lives into an invading force that should be resisted by the United States military. And of course, let’s not forget the appalling march in Charlottesville, VA a year ago when 250 people marched for all to see shouting “Jews will not replace us!”
What has caused all this hatred? Well, let us acknowledge that antisemitism and racism have been deeply imbedded in our society for generations. Let us also acknowledge the ways we have contributed, perhaps unwittingly, to these destructive attitudes. Having said that, it is also true that these hateful attitudes often lie dormant until they are given permission to emerge, or some sort of societal breakdown makes people look for a scapegoat. I think the single greatest factor in the present situation is the way the President demeans and diminishes his opponents, as well as his inability to forcefully denounce in a sustained way bigoted behavior. Bigoted behavior is held in check when societies, especially leaders, shame the purveyors of such hatred. If the behavior of leaders even begins to suggest that such behavior is ok, the floodgates open. At the 1996 Republican Convention, Bob Dole said in his acceptance speech to the Republican party what all leaders should say to their own parties: “The Republican party is broad and inclusive. It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view. But if there’s anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this is the Party of Lincoln. And the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.” Dole told bigots he didn’t want their votes. All our leaders should do the same.
Leaders speaking out forcefully will help, but let us be clear it is going to take more than that—a lot more than that. It is going to take entire communities of people who have, as King writes, experienced “a qualitative change in their souls as well as a quantitative change in their lives.” It is going to take churches like St. Timothy’s and other groups filled with love, who stand up forcefully against hatred but do so with love rather than more hatred. It is going to take churches like St. Timothy’s and other groups raising our kids to see every human being as a child of God. And it is going to take a sustained effort, not just in this generation but every generation, to resist destructive forces that have plagues humanity forever.