Wednesday Word: The Beloved Community
What makes up a Beloved Community? Or, more appropriately, what are the hallmarks of a Beloved Community? The first, obviously, is that it is based in love. Not the starry, infatuated, emotional kind of first loves, but the kind that hopes all things, bears all things, endures all things. The second is that it is based in gospel justice, it proclaims the love of God to the world, it addresses that which is counter to the mission of God, and it attempts to do so in such a way that, hopefully, opens our eyes to see where and how God is working in the world around us.
Invariably, though, when the community of God meets the powers of the world, things will be said that offend certain people. The prophets offended kings. John the Baptist and Jesus offended Scribes, Pharisees, temple authorities, and other political leaders. Paul offended parishioners in Corinth and Galatia. Bishop Paul Jones of Utah, a recognized saint of the Episcopal church, offended church leaders when he spoke out against WWI. Bonhoeffer offended any number of Germans. Martin Luther King, Jr., offended the white majority. And, no doubt, I offended some people by calling out the president's anti-Christian behavior.
As people of the world, disagreements happen and people are offended. As Christians living in the world, we are no different – which is why I'm convinced that Jesus promised to be in the midst of us when two or three are gathered together. The difference, as I see it, is that the world has moved to a win-at-all-costs mentality, regardless of how harmful that may be. In contrast, the Beloved Community is continually working to align kingdom goals, gospel justice, and the baptismal covenant with our daily living. Sometimes that means pointing out inconsistencies with how we say we will live versus our actual behaviors. And sometimes that means people will be offended.
God, the Church, and her ministers have, at times, disturbed, disrupted, and offended the world. Thomas Kennedy did such a thing right here when he proposed removing the requirement that people holding public office be Christians in what came to be known as “The Jew Bill.”
I have offended people in the past, and I will probably offend people in the future. But those words spoken and written are never spoken or written with an intent to offend; rather, they are offered to make people aware of situations that are contrary to my understanding of gospel ideals, the mission of God, and of the Beloved Community.
As part of that community, our challenge is to confront the disparate goals of God and world in such a way that generates open and honest conversations without resorting to threats or personal attacks. In other words, if we can bear and endure with each other in all things, then we will have the foundation of a Beloved Community.