Moving Towards the Building of a Beloved Community

This piece was written by Dorlimar Lebrón Malavè, one of the 2016-2017 Boston Bridge Fellows.

There is so much that could be said of this post election nightmare and it’s ensuing trauma. Like 9/11 and the 2008 economic recession, the 2016 elections will be a marker in our history of collective trauma, of fear, of lack of safety for many, of the veil of a “post-racial” society being lifted for some, and of much division and conflict across the country. The election of a racist, classist, sexist, tax-evading, xenophobic, misogynist and self-described sexual predator (who was overwhelmingly endorsed by Christian Evangelicals) prompted much chaos throughout our country. It did not take very long after the announcement of the elections results for news outlets and social media to be flooded with reports of anti-semitic and Islamaphobic hate crimes. Of the turmoil that was prompted from the election, many cases resulted in hate and violence, directly targeted towards people of color, Muslim and Jewish communities.

For many of us, instead of a prestigious, admired and celebrated ceremony marking the commencement of a President in the United States, January 20th will feel much more like a scene directly from the Disney motion picture “The Lion King”. Mufasa is gone and power hungry Scar will be taking over the pride lands. Even more haunting is the reality that our country’s election of Donald Trump reflects the broader reality of the social fabric of the United States, that is not only actively present in institutional structures, but reinforced by them.

As religious leaders and scholars, what is our response to this precise moment? In moments like these I draw from the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Specifically I draw on the ideal he popularized of the ‘Beloved Community’. King envisioned a beloved community as a reality where full equality and justice was available to all Americans. In an ever growing and expanding pluralistic world, the ideal of beloved community drives my scholarship and my leadership. I believe that to realize this vision, there is a moral imperative in this moment which compels us to build genuine and authentic relationship with one another across lines of difference. More than ever before, as religious leaders, we need to build relationships across faith traditions that move beyond tolerance and beyond annual thanksgiving interfaith services. In this precise moment, there is a moral imperative to call for collaborative efforts and radical inclusion of different racial, ethnic, sexual, and differently abled bodies to come together, not to silence or erase individual experience and narrative, but with the intentions of creating, strategizing, and imagining a new community together, a beloved community. This beloved community will not only serve as a tool for survival, but also as a deliberate strategy to expand our ability to imagine realities that make room for all our thriving.

There are many who have adopted Dr. King’s legacy and have used his words as social furnishings but have done very little in regard to becoming the enfleshment of those words. We have become enamored by the rhetoric of “peace building” and one-time “interfaith services”, and have failed to allow those words to become flesh and dwell and live among all of us.  As religious leaders and scholars, our goals should be measured by our capacity to invite our specific communities to the highest ideal of what it means to be human, of what it means to be to be compassionate for ‘the other.’

It becomes increasingly clear to me that in these days to come, the duty before us is to be more human. Theology is an intellectual understanding of faith, but even more than a life of the mind, it is a life of the heart.  The times in which we live call us not to be more holy or pretentious, but to be more human. Void of any title that you think you need to be made better, being human is title enough and being a human who pushes other humans to be the best they can be, is work enough.

I was recently reminded by one of the elders of my community to remember that my ancestors survived in me this long, and that through the struggle I am becoming them – it is up to me to make sure that survival continues into new life. She also invited me to name a hope and a fear that I may have for the future. I fear becoming content and subscribing to this notion of being comfortable with what has happened and what will continue to happen.  I fear that we become comfortable in our own safety nets whatever they look like for us, may that be privilege, class, etc. I fear that we become comfortable and selfish which often leads to not thinking of ‘the other.’ As. Dr. King once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. So, my hope and my prayer is that we can find the boldness, courage and strength for the process, for the journey, to not be silent, to not become comfortable, to stand with our neighbor and never stop fighting for the building of a more just and loving beloved community for the sake of the world.

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