Living into the Beloved Community

Beloved Community Logo

This month I’ve been exploring what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said and wrote about the Beloved Community because our AB Women’s Ministries mission focus for 2015-16 is “See…the Beloved Community: Transformative Relationships.” Dr. King spoke often about agape love that seeks the best for all persons. Such love extends from the source of love: God. In the Bible, the short New Testament book of 1 John (especially chapters 3 and 4) describes agape love. These verses may be familiar to you:

  • God is love. (1 John 4:16)
  • We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
  • This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:11)
  • We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (1 John 3:16)
  • Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (1 John 3:18)

It is not enough to simply espouse the words without living out this selfless love in our relationships with others. Dr. King envisioned a Beloved Community and the vision guided his principles for justice without violence. For him, justice is the result of agape love. Similar to the dichotomy of God’s Kingdom on earth being present now but not yet, Dr. King repeatedly urged Americans to live into the vision of being the Beloved Community.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries shares this vision to live into the fullness of Beloved Community. In 2014, our national board sought counsel from our constituency and we learned that while we preached justice for all, in truth we had some work to do to remove barriers that were excluding women and girls from full participation in our ministries. We began our work as a board to design how AB Women’s Ministries will live out our cultural reality into God’s intentional desire. Our cultural reality is that God’s diversity is expressed through the races/ethnicities and cultures of American Baptist women and girls. Our cultural reality is one of multiple generations: young girls, teen-age girls, young adult women, women in their midlife years, and elders. Our cultural reality is that American Baptist women and girls worship in a variety of languages and worship styles. Our challenge is to develop a more beloved community through AB Women’s Ministries. Our call is for transformative relationships—agape love for one another—that seeks the best for all persons.

We’re currently developing tactics to address four strategic themes drawn from what women and girls told us through extensive interviews and opinion surveys.

  • Strengthened Relationships. The result that we are striving for is that women and girls build strong racial/ethnic, cultural, generational, and multi-language relationships, experienced as a beloved community.
  • Inclusive Leadership. The result that we are striving for is that leadership throughout the organization reflects generational, racial/ethnic, and social status realities where everyone’s voice may be heard.
  • Relevant and vital programming/missions. The result that we are striving for is Christ-centered women and girls serving God by living Luke 4:18-19* in radical and relevant acts of mission and ministry.
  • Competent, responsive governance. The result that we are striving for is that women and girls leverage the craft of making quality decisions amid differences, similarities, and related tensions.

Living as the Beloved Community calls for each person to love others because God first loved them, to lay down our individual need to speak and make decisions so that others’ voices and perspectives can also shape ABWM’s ministries, and to love one another through transformational relationships that seek the best for all.

*Luke 4:18-19 provides us inspiration by Jesus’ missional reference to Isaiah 61:1-3— to bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty and release… to provide for those who mourn and give them a garland instead of ashes, a mantle of praise instead of a faith spirit.

Virginia Holmstrom 2012 smVirginia Holmstrom serves as executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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