Reconciliation, Redemption, and the Beloved Community

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, January 12, 2024

The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.

—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After the Montgomery Bus Boycott ended in victory and the Montgomery Improvement Association met to assess its work and the future of the movement, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the young minister who was pressed into the leadership of the boycott and electrified the Black community and the nation with his rhetorical skill, declared that the work was more than just about the right to sit anywhere on a public bus. The work was about reconciliation, redemption, and the beloved community. It was a lofty, audacious dream and claim, flowing from religious conviction and action. King set his sights on nothing less than the total transformation of society, espousing an ethic of love as the most reliable means to achieve it. And lest anyone doubt that this was as much a movement of faith as it was of democracy, the tagline of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King formed to coordinate direct action campaigns by churches to end segregation, was “to save the soul of America.” In King’s hands, nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience were faith in action in the journey to becoming the beloved community.

Unsurprisingly, King and the Civil Rights Movement are inextricably associated with our conception of faith in action. Current vigils, rallies, and protests about war, injustice, and racial justice, even those organized by secular or non-religious entities, often have a decidedly spiritual feel, allowing room for churches and people of faith to show up fully. Perhaps that makes the King holiday resonate with spiritual vision and meaning across religious traditions. There is something larger we seek beyond the immediate righting of a particular wrong we hope to address. We want all God’s children to be reconciled, redeemed, and included in the beloved community.

The historian Jason Sokol asserts that one of the most remarkable transformations wrought by the death of King was “the revision of his image in the American mind.” That reassessment and reconsideration of the man who was derided as an outside agitator, communist dupe, and rabble-rouser and viewed unfavorably by vast majorities of white people in opinion polls up to the day he was assassinated precipitated a remarkable shift in the view of the dream King espoused. Amid the inevitable backlash against progress and persistent racial disparities in health, wealth, and education, the Martin Luther King holiday serves as a reminder and a warning that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Every year, even for those who would rather not confront racism and poverty, King’s life, words, and dream force us to reckon with the unfinished work of beloved community. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, may his life, words, and dream inspire our faith in action in pursuit of reconciliation, redemption, and the beloved community.