Reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Beloved Community’

Dr. King’s idea remains visionary, achievable and important for the pursuit of a peaceful, just world.

Posted in , Jan 10, 2022

Martin Luther King waves to supporters August 28, 1963, on the Mall in Washington, DC.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of ending segregation on Montgomery, Alabama’s buses in 1956, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the goal of the boycotts he had led to advocate for desegregation. At a victory rally, he said, “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 opponents 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.”

According to The King Center, King was not the first to use the term “Beloved Community” to describe the ideal to which we should aspire. The term was coined by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, to whose interfaith peace organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation King later belonged.

Reflecting in these fraught times on the history of the visionary ideal of “Beloved Community,” I am struck by how King didn’t pretend conflict would be absent in a just society. Instead, he recognized that conflict is part of the human experience. In a Beloved Community, he said again and again, we respond to conflict with nonviolent action. Unafraid to disagree—particularly in the face of injustice—and with full acknowledgement of the dignity of all human beings, we can reconcile, evolve and come together without violence or explosive division.

“Justice,” said King, is indivisible. And honest, respectful love can bring about nothing short of “miracles” in our hearts.

What does “Beloved Community” mean to you? Where do you see opportunities to move toward King’s ideal in your life?

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