Building Beloved Communities

The Bible calls us to create multiracial communities of faith.

by Jim Walliss

One of my favorite descriptions for the people of God is the evocative language of “the beloved community” used by Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

A beloved community is a powerful vision of a new coming together, a new community that welcomes all peoples in their diverse ethnicities and nationalities. Every group, clan, and tribe is included and invited in. That dream and vision undergirded King’s movement for civil and voting rights, both spiritually and philosophically, and deeply reflected his own underlying moral belief and hope as a Christian minister.
Yet in one of his most famous quotations, King also said this: “I am ashamed and appalled at the fact that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” He said this in 1953, while he was still associate pastor at his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But obviously, and most painfully, that quote is still true today.
Sojourner Magazine Columns

Racial Justice – Jim Walls


We need the Beloved Community now more than ever

In times of great polarization, we must look to moral visions that unite Americans around a bigger story of us.

by Adam Russel Taylor  – incoming President of Sojourners

JANUARY 2020  

This summer while working on a forthcoming book, I spent a great deal of time thinking, praying, and wrestling with identifying a moral vision and narrative that would be capable of uniting our country and counteracting its perilous levels of polarization. When I look back over American history, “the beloved community” stands out as perhaps the most hopeful and transformational moral vision, one that I believe can be recast and reimagined to unite most Americans around a bigger story of us. The beloved community combines civic ideals with deep spiritual and religious values—that’s why it’s a vision that can resonate across religions and with those who check “none of the above” on religious-identification surveys.

The term was coined in the early days of the 20th century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce. However, it was Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other leaders in the civil rights struggle, who popularized the term. Dr. King spoke about the beloved community in a 1956 speech he gave at a rally following the Supreme Court decision desegregating buses in Montgomery, Ala. King 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 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 [people].”

The concept of ubuntu, which Archbishop Desmond Tutu simply defined as “I am, because we are,” has become more than simply the philosophy that I embraced after spending six months studying in South Africa in 1995 — it has become the lifestyle that I aspire to. As our nation — and indeed the world — look to overcome the raging coronavirus pandemic, the ethic of ubuntu is essential. And, as Jim also reflects upon, “a commitment to building beloved community has long been embedded in the DNA of Sojourners, first when the organization started as a community and now as it has evolved into a nonprofit organization dedicated to articulating the biblical call to social justice and inspiring and equipping Christians to put their faith into action”.

“The beloved community is one in which people of different backgrounds recognize that our individual well-being is inextricably linked to the well-being of others. It is a society built upon and committed to extending liberty and justice for all and that embraces interdependence, empathy, and love. It is also a society in which neither punishment nor privilege is tied to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status and where our diversity is celebrated and valued as a source of our strength and shared prosperity.”

“I have long been drawn to the word sojourn, which means to be in but not entirely of this world — to be constantly on a spiritual pilgrimage. At our best, sojourners pursue and advance the biblical call to hesedtsedeq, and misphat — of steadfast love, communal righteousness, and justice. Through the continued work of Sojourners magazine and our mobilizing, I’m hopeful that we can help the church become a balm that bridges many of our most intractable divisions, as well as a vehicle that challenges hearts and minds to pursue the common good and prioritize the disinherited.