The Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning and Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Wheaton College, MA hosted a virtual interfaith community conversation on MLK’s message of the Beloved Community on Thursday, January 21. The panel consisted of Laurie Cartier, Imam Abdur Rahman Ahmad, Conrad McKenzie and Rev. Adam Lawrence Dyer.
Laurie Cartier, a Unitarian Universalist Pagan, serves as chair of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor’s Worship Committee and makes sure that pagan thought and spiritual needs are met during weekly services. Imam Abdur Rahman Ahmad is currently the Imam and resident scholar at the Islamic Center of New England in Sharon, MA. Conrad McKenzie recently transitioned into the role of Care Pastor as Christ Community Church in East Taunton, after being the Pastor of Students since the fall of 2017. Rev. Adam Lawrence Dyer is the Lead Minister at First Parish in Cambridge, the Unitarian Universalist Chaplain at Harvard University and a member of the Cambridge Black Pastors’ Alliance.
Kayla Berrios, the Multicultural Program Coordinator for the Marshall Center and one of the hosts of the event, spoke of honoring MLK’s work not just as a trailblazer but as a reverend through the event. Berrios said, “We tried to invite diverse panelists who could speak from different faith perspectives and be grounded in social justice.”
Caleigh Grogan, the Interfaith Engagement Coordinator and the other host for the event, read an excerpt from a 1957 address on the Role of the Church to contextualist the phrase “Beloved Community,” explaining that it came from philosopher Josiah Royce, but was popularized by Dr. King. She then shared a brief excerpt from his 1957 address “The Role of the Church in facing the Nation’s chief moral dilemma.” Grogan quoted, “But we must remember as we boycott that a boycott is not an end within itself; it is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame within the oppressor and challenge his false sense of superiority. But 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 opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.”
To open the event, the hosts asked all panelists how they interpreted the message of the Beloved Community. McKenzie referenced the quote, and spoke of how he saw a “beloved community,” as one marked by dignity, equity and overflowing love. For him, in his Christian faith, he saw it modeled through Christ and his great sacrifice, and spoke of the conversion of opposers into friends through love. Cartier added that for her, it deals with connections and the deepening of connections, and she hoped to link it into social justice in the way that Dr. King did. She spoke of her personal communities, and creating love and compassion within them. Ahmad looked at it through the lens of his Islamic Faith, speaking of God creating the son of Adam in his own image, and the honor this bestows upon humanity, placing upon them a responsibility to interact with compassion to create a beloved community.
The hosts then asked how the panelists worked towards making their communities more equitable and just. McKenzie spoke of how the pandemic exposed a lot of pressures, opening up opportunities to help people. For him, he explained, investing time and intentionality is particularly significant. Cartier spoke of the isolation she felt, being an at-risk age group, and mentioned using every opportunity she could to help others through virtual services. In particular, she pointed to taking a greater role when it came to tech support for virtual meetings.
Ahmad spoke of the George Floyd incident pushing his community to explore ways to address the stuctural issues through an interfaith context, referencing grassroots work and connection with other Muslim communities. Dyer explained that he began with recognition of his community’s privilege, explaining that they had begun to explore questions of where they had not been paying attention, and where they could begin.
After several more guided questions, the panel concluded with an open Q&A session.