Our national Unitarian Universalist Association is considering a new articulation of Unitarian Universalist values – as some of you have heard. The new version is graphically represented as a six-petaled flower, with love at the center surrounded by six petals: justice, interdependence, transformation, pluralism, equity and generosity. Our theme for this month is justice. In subsequent months, our themes will explore the other petals, and finally, love, at the center of it all, holding it all together.

The fact that Justice and Equity are both among our values means that we see them as different. When we say justice is one of our Unitarian Universalist shared values, we mean:
“We work to be diverse multicultural Beloved Communities where all thrive. We covenant to dismantle racism and all forms of systemic oppression. We support the use of inclusive democratic processes to make decisions.”
And when we say Equity is one of our shared values, we mean:
“We declare that every person has the right to flourish with inherent dignity and worthiness. We covenant to use our time, wisdom, attention, and money to build and sustain fully accessible and inclusive communities.”
So there’s some overlap there. Both justice and equity are about inclusive community. Justice calls for a community where all thrive, while equity calls for a right to flourish – basically the same thing.

Dismantling racism and all forms of systemic oppression, as the Justice petal calls for, and every person flourishing with inherent dignity and worthiness, as the Equity petal calls for, are pretty much the necessary and sufficient conditions for each other. Still: we might not notice that each implies the other, so it’s good to be explicit about both dismantling racism and providing for everyone to flourish with inherent dignity and worthiness.

What Justice emphasizes, however, that equity doesn’t, is the idea of Beloved Community, and the explicit attention to systemic oppression. So let’s look at that.

Beloved Community

What is this idea of Beloved Community?

Our story begins with Josiah Royce (1855-1916). Royce coined the phrase, “Beloved Community,” and what he meant by it is not quite what you might initially think of when you hear “Beloved Community.” Royce was among the first to bring sustained philosophical attention to what community is and how it functions.

Royce argued communities are logically prior to individuals. That is: the usual idea is that individuals are prior, that individuals come first, and then they get together and form a community. But Royce said that gets it backward. Community relationships create individuals. We are formed as the individuals we are by being nurtured by a community into a place within that community, and our identity comes from that place. Individuals don’t make a community; communities make individuals.

Our Unitarian Universalist congregations are sometimes described as being, or aiming to be, communities of memory and hope. It is from Josiah Royce that we get these ideas of communities of memory and hope. A community of memory is one in which the members have a shared story about their past, and a community of hope is one in which the members share an aspiration going forward.

Royce wrote, “There is only one way to be an ethical individual.” Only one. He said:
“That is to choose your cause, and then to serve it, as the Samurai his feudal chief, as the ideal knight of romantic story his lady.”
But the cause we serve is itself a product of some community or other. The community is logically prior to the individual, remember, so it is communities who bring individuals into existence and, in the process, lay before them causes to which these individuals the community has created may choose to be loyal. So Royce said:
“My life means nothing, either theoretically or practically, unless I am a member of a community.”
To go further and be an ethical individual entails choosing a cause your community defines and places before you, and being loyal to that.

Royce then said that beyond all actual communities there is an ideal community – a community not realized but imaginable. This imaginary ideal community may nevertheless powerfully guide us. The ideal that Royce asks us to imagine is a community of those who are loyal to truth and reality and loyalty itself. It is this imaginary ideal community that Royce called, “Beloved Community.”

As I was reading about Josiah Royce’s philosophy this week, I was reminded of the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s words in his 1978 book, The Road Less Travelled. “Mental health,” Peck said, “is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” Following Peck, I think of spiritual development, spiritual maturation, in those terms: an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs. In other words, the project of growing spiritually -- or of mental health -- is a matter of vigilant attention to all the ways we fool ourselves, all the myriad tricks of our egos. It is to be constantly searching ourselves for the arising of self-deception, continuously questioning whether we are perceiving reality through the distorting lens of mere self-interest.

We can never rid ourselves entirely of a proclivity to self-deception, but we can get better at catching such delusions sooner and releasing them once we spot them. That’s the “ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.” Scott Peck calls that mental health. We might call it spiritual growth. We might also call it love – because to see through the ego’s defense mechanisms to a reality of flowing interconnection where everything is everything else – to see that there are no permanent distinct things but only things temporarily appearing distinguishable – this is to participate in the Universal love that holds us always, that has never broken faith with us and never will.

When there is a community of people all together dedicated to reality, to truth, at all costs – no matter how inconvenient, no matter our self-interests – then you have a community participating in that Universal Love. So Royce called it Beloved Community. This imaginary ideal is, as I said, not quite what you might initially think of when you hear “Beloved Community.”


Martin Luther King, Jr’s theology studies – at Morehouse, at Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and at Boston University, where he earned his PhD – included substantial philosophy study, including of Josiah Royce. King appropriated Royce’s “Beloved Community” and specifically tied it to his campaign for nonviolent social change. King wrote in 1957:
“The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts, but noncooperation and boycotts are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent. The end is redemption and reconciliation. The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of violence is tragic bitterness.”
He added:
“Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love — which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies — is the solution to the race problem.”
Throughout his career, King emphasized not winning, not ending segregation by defeating segregationists. He emphasized, instead, reconciling with segregationists, and he identified beloved community with this condition of reconciliation. For King, Beloved Community was the name of the end goal of all positive social change. In his “Sermon on Gandhi,” he wrote:
“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle is over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor....The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the way of nonviolence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
What Does All This Mean for What Justice Requires of Us Today?

So here we are, in the Fall of 2023, here today to reflect on what justice is, what justice requires of us. And what we’re seeing is that what justice requires of us is love. The language in our national association’s new bylaws, as proposed, puts beloved community at the center of its conception of justice.

Beloved community is conceived with some different emphases by Josiah Royce, who originated the term, and by Martin Luther King, who brought it to his social justice activism. For Royce, it’s more about participating in universal love as manifested and realized in and through participation in an imaginary ideal community committed to truth, to reality at all costs. For King, it’s more about directly living by the injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to Love your Enemies.

Justice is about beloved community and beloved community is about love. Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in public. Or we might say love is what justice looks like – or simply, as Zen master and African American woman Angel Kyodo Williams writes in Radical Dharma: “Love and Justice are not two.”

We live in polarized times – in some ways even more polarized now than in the Civil Rights Era of the 50s and 60s. And what justice requires of us in these times, just as in any time, is love. In these times – when almost half of our country consists of people who deny women autonomy of their bodies, who glorify guns and facilitate the ongoing carnage of 30,000 gun deaths a year, who are persecuting LGBTQ folk, whose embrace of white supremacy is all but explicit, who deny climate change and obstruct any efforts to reduce carbon emissions, who are undermining democracy on every front, embracing authoritarianism, and taking to cruelty not as an unfortunate means but delighting in it as a sufficient end in itself – in the face of all this, what must we do for justice? What we must do is love.

Since Martin Luther King, Jr. did so much to advance the concept of beloved community, and since beloved community is so central to our Unitarian Universalist conception of justice, let’s look more closely at how King explained Jesus’ injunction to love your enemies.

In a 1957 sermon called “Loving Your Enemies,” King speaks the passage that has become one of the best-known King quotations. I will quote more than is usually quoted, to give you a little more context:
“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why. Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Only love can drive out hate. Only love. King goes on to speak of the damage that hating does to the one who hates. He says:
“Another reason we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. It certainly harms the hated – and is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity....Psychiatrists report that many of the strange things that happen in the subconscious, many of our inner conflicts, are rooted in hate. They say, ‘Love or perish.’ Modern psychology recognizes what Jesus taught centuries ago: hate divides the personality -- and love, in an amazing and inexorable way, unites it.”
King then adds:
“A third reason we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate. We get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.”
So far, what King has said seems anodyne. We have heard it many times. For most of us, grasping King’s point so far does not seem a difficult challenge. But when he says it means loving even the white racists and violent segregationists, it gets a bit more challenging.

King cites the example of Abraham Lincoln, who appointed some of even his bitterest critics and enemies to his cabinet. King then says:
“It was this same attitude that made it possible for Lincoln to speak a kind word about the South during the Civil War when feeling was most bitter. Asked by a shocked bystander how he could do this, Lincoln said, ‘Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?’ This is the power of redemptive love.”
For King, what it comes down to most fundamentally is:
“We are called to this difficult task in order to realize a unique relationship with God....We must love our enemies, because only by loving them can we know God and experience the beauty of his holiness.”
We might prefer to say that only by loving them can we be whole.

Anytime you hate, any time you reject, any time you simply cannot accept another person, that person represents a part of you that you are seeking to excise. Our own wholeness requires that we accept all parts of our ourselves, accept all of who we are.

Nowadays we don’t like to use the word “enemies.” I don’t know if I’ve ever in my life identified someone as an enemy, except maybe in a facetious reference to my opponent in some game we were playing. Even our military now prefers to say, “hostiles.” And, yeah, maybe you can’t, or wouldn’t, identify anyone as an enemy, but you can think of times when someone was hostile toward you. You may have been hostile back.

There are people who you find difficult. And I’m suggesting to you that what you don’t like about them is a reflection of a part of yourself that you don’t like. Accept them, welcome them, love them. For only then can you accept, welcome, and love all of who you are. Even a certain former president is manifesting parts that are in all of us, and any part of ourselves that we try to excise and exile simply goes subterranean and becomes more powerful. But what we accept, welcome, and love can play its useful role and stay in its place. Only when an inner voice is heard and respectfully acknowledged will it, in turn, acknowledge and be willing to bow to your other and countervailing voices. Only love -- inward and outward not distinguished -- brings us into our wholeness.

Accepting, welcoming, and loving does not mean complacency or quiescence in the face of harm. It does not mean complicity with injustice. Dr. King’s “Loving Your Enemies” sermon made this point -- a point he reiterated many times in his career. He said:
“This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts. With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community. To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you....One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.'"
The victory to which King refers is not a once-and-done conquest, but an unfolding victory the earning of which is never completed. Under his leadership, the victory unfolded some. May we, with our lives, unfold further the double victory in which our opponents will be as victorious as we ourselves. For love and justice are not two.

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