“The Beloved Community” is Martin Luther King’s vision of a functioning world in which reconciliation, redemption, creation all converge. As King phrased it, “…the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
His words echo a broader truth Emanuel Swedenborg spoke of when he talked of the New Church view of heaven, a view in which the addition of each unique individual adds to perfection, where joy and variety join, where each finds a unique individual place within a unique, distinct communities that functions lovingly within the larger contexts in which it is embedded…. The Grand Man which is the Beloved Community writ large.
It is no secret churches including the New Church face challenges unforeseen just a few years ago. And the reclaiming of the Beloved Community appears critical in facing those challenges together. Why say this? I offer this because the disagreements over worship forms, women’s ordination, second marriage, elements of the Holy Supper have degraded into waring camps where rightness now trumps reconciliation. These very issues, deeply heated, at times might unfortunately masquerade as the work of the church at a moment when numbers are declining, missions are questioned, and longtime financial stability remains elusive. The weapons of choice in the debate are doctrinal “darts”, or as one theologian wrote of it “clerical condensation arrayed in pious words.” Of that I am guilty.
The Beloved Community however is not another camp but an authentic alternative, a Third Way, a way of loving each other enough to see our way through the tension of disagreement, to value dialogue, to live in the mess as it were and forgo the quick solutions-by-proclamation. This is not to say that such an approach as the Beloved Community “solves” these issues. The beloved community does not solve any particular issue but it does create a container for the conversation. Many of these issues are not going away. As King noted, “The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice” and as such the idea we will arrive at a final answer on the hot button issues appears as misguided as the attempts to end the slavery question once and for all through the Northwest Ordinance, Missouri Compromise, Kansas-Nebraska act etc…. As a New Church pastor, I wonder if “the arc of the spiritual universe bends towards emancipation” and may work in the same way.
What could then be a loving framework for an evolving conversation?