The Spirituality and Politics of the Beloved Community

By Bruce Epperly

In the wake of January 6, we need Beloved Community more than ever.  Our national harmony is in tatters. Insurrectionists occupy the Capitol.  Alternative factual universes divide families and put democracy at risk.  The bonds of community are stretched and stressed.  Religion has been a force in creating chaos and propping up demagogues.
The issues that face us are communal and political. They are also spiritual.  In fact, we cannot separate the spiritual and the political if we are to have personal integrity and seek the wellbeing of our communities.

In I Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul describes Christian community as a sacred place that requires everyone’s gifts to be healthy and strong.  In the body of Christ, which, from my perspective, goes beyond the institutional church and Christianity, we discover that our joys and sorrows are one.  When one succeeds all succeed; when one is in pain, the whole community is in pain.  Injustice to one group threatens the well-being of the community, whether in the body of Christ, the body politic, or the planet.  The goal of our quest for Beloved Community, even when it involves protest, boycott, and political action, is reconciliation between oppressor and oppressed despite contrast and diversity.  This comes from seeing the holiness of those with whom we contend and recognizing that we are kin to all creation.
Beloved Community is grounded in the intricate interdependence of life.  During the quest for liberation in South Africa, social activists were inspired by the message of “ubuntu,” the belief that we are all connected and create one another’s experiences and destinies through our positive or negative interactions.  In his quest for justice in North America, Martin Luther King championed this same vision of interdependence.  We are not isolated atoms, or rugged individualists.  We are connected, even when we try to be most independent or isolate ourselves from persons whom we deem inferior or other than us. 

God’s presence in the interdependent fabric of history and in the human spirit is the foundation of creative and liberating relatedness.  When persons turn away from God, the inexorable impact of interdependence can also be the source of suffering and injustice.  As King asserts, “We have made the world a neighborhood, and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make it a brotherhood.”[1]  Still beneath our false isolation, we are all joined as one humanity and one planet.  As King affirmed,
It all boils down to this, that all life is interrelated.  We are caught in an inescapable            network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one              directly, affects all indirectly.  We are made to live together because of the interrelated      structure of reality.[2]

No nation, no community, no species, no race, no individual can go it alone.  We need each other to flourish as nations and persons: “For some strange reason I cannot be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to me.  That’s the way the God’s universe is made.”[3] In an interdependent world, the most pitiable – and dangerous – person is the rugged individualist, whether in business or in the White House,  who goes their own way, assuming they can succeed without the support of others.  “Me, first” and “nation first” not only go against personal and national well-being; they go against the structure of God’s world, where individuality and community, and solitude and relationship, cannot be separated.
In committing to Beloved Community, God’s dream of Shalom comes to pass and the alienated are reconciled.  We protest and pray and discover with Abraham Heschel that when we march for justice, we feel like even our legs are praying!  This emerges through the interplay of non-violent protest, creative challenge, peacemaking, redemptive suffering, and the discovering that we are all God’s beloved, all connected by God’s dynamic and providential web of life. This isn’t easy, and seems almost impossible today.  Still, Beloved Community can emerge when we make a commitment to join contemplation and action to heal the world.  Then we can, as King affirms in his “I Have a Dream” speech that “all of God’s children – black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestants – will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the Negro Spiritual: ‘Free at last, free at last; thank God almighty, we are free at last!’”[4]


Bruce Epperly is  a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 60 books, including “Mystics in Action: 12 Saints for Today,” “Prophetic Healing: A Mystic’s Guide to the Internet,” “Process Theology and Politics,” “God Online: A Mystic’s Guide to the Internet,” and “Walking with St. Francis: From Privilege to Activism.

[1] Martin Luther King, edited by Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran, A Knock at Midnight  (New York: Warner Books, 1978), 201.

[2] Martin Luther King, A Testament of Hope (New York: Harper SanFrancisco), 254.

[3] A Knock at Midnight, 208.

[4] Testament of Hope, 220.