Pathway to the Beloved Community

Saturday, January 14, 2017, as a prelude to the birthday of Martin Luther King, the Plymouth United Church of Christ, which is the church I pastor, along with the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ and the Detroit Metropolitan Association of the United Church of Christ, embarked upon an important step in improving relations between the races with a luncheon entitled, “Pathway to the Beloved Community.” Martin Luther King Jr. often spoke of the “Beloved Community.” To me, the “Beloved Community” is not only what we shall and can be, but also what we are in the present. The “Beloved Community” is not always pretty or nice. Sometimes people are uncaring, mean, unforgiving and hateful.

“Black Lives Matter” has drawn attention to racial disparity in how black and white people are treated when stopped by the police. In simple terms, black people in America have a greater chance than white people of being stopped by the police and subsequently, killed by the police.


As I have considered tension among the races in America, it has become clear to me that a major cause of the problem is that some police, more often white than black, but sometimes black officers, do not look at black citizens the same way they look at white people. My opinion is that the police do not look at black people the same way they look at white people because we live in different communities, our children attend different schools, our social groups and churches are often segregated informally along racial lines.

To be honest, while I have a handful of relationships with persons who are white, I do not have any persons who are white that I could call the deepest level of friend. This does not mean that I do not have relationships that are friendly, amicable and pleasant across racial lines, but I do not see these persons often. We are not connected in the deep and close ways that friends connect. Starting with my own personal situation, it is clear to me that one way the police and frankly, even church folk, could improve racial relations is by intentionally improving dialogue outside of our racial groups.

The United Church of Christ is one of the most liberal denominations in the country, yet even within our peace and justice identity, our members do not always talk with one another outside of the large church gatherings. So, what we did yesterday was a step in the right direction.

125 persons from several of the 25 churches in the Detroit Metropolitan Association gathered at my church for lunch. Law enforcement representatives from the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County Sheriff Department and the Wayne State University Police where present. There were enough police present for each table of ten persons to have one or two police in the small groups.

In the fall of 2016, I made a proposal at the Annual Meeting of the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ for a series of luncheon meetings that would bring together our churches along with the local police departments with the goal of improving race relations. Along with Rev. Dr. Gary Bennett, Moderator of the Detroit Metropolitan Association and one of the ministers of the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Rev. Dr. Campbell Lovett, our Conference Minister, Rev. Jay Cummings, Stephanie Donaldson and others, we developed a series of table conversation questions, intended to increase mutual appreciation of our similarities and differences. The following are the questions we asked each of those in attendance to discuss with others at their table:

  1. Are your interracial relationships friends or associates?
  2. Are your interracial relationships work related or from some other aspect of life?
  3. As you have gotten to know persons across racial lines what similarities or differences have you noticed?
  4. For Law Enforcement participants: What drew you to law enforcement?
  5. How has “Black lives Matter” and scrutiny of the police changed the way you do your job?
  6. All: How have the killing and beatings of unarmed black men/women changed the way you look at the police and the way you look at yourself?
  7. How have the killings and beating of unarmed black men and women changed the way you look at yourself in the context of the police?
  8. Do you feel the scrutiny which is focused upon the police about killing unarmed African Americans is fair? Why or why not?
  9. How can the nation move forward in a positive way?
  10. What solutions would you propose for the best possible relations between the police and the community?

The luncheon discussion, “Pathway to the Beloved Community” was a good start down the road of racial harmony. The Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ has made a commitment to create several of these dialogues around the State of Michigan. God only knows where it will lead, but my concern is that it is imperative that each of us stretch outside of our comfort zone to intentionally establish relationships with persons outside of our friendship, kinship, and racial groups. In the process, we will have an opportunity to move society in the direction that God has intended for the world.

 

Focus Bible Verse:

I John 4: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. [1]

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What are you doing in your life as a participant in the “Beloved Community?”
  2. What does the “Beloved Community” look like?
  3. What is the role of Jesus Christ in helping to establish the “Beloved Community?”

 

Prayer: Bring us together, Lord. Help us to see one another as people and not objects. Bind us together in the spirit of peace, fairness, mutual understanding and love. Though Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior we pray. Amen.

 

Written by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III

Photo by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III

Additional Prayers Photos and Meditations from Rev. Dr. Nicholas Hood III at https://nicholashoodiiiministries.wordpress.com/

www.nicholashoodiiiministries.org

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (1 Jn 4:16–21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.