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Five Dimensions of Prophecy

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FIVE DIMENSIONS OF PROPHETIC MINISTRY

To be prophetic means more than protest.  The following five dimensions of the prophetic ministry are adapted from a paper by Peter Henriot, SJ and the Rev George Chauncey for Interfaith Action for Economic Justice, where the application was made to the hunger issue.  Here our focus is peace as well as poverty.


1. "REMINDING":  The victims of war and injustice are largely invisible.  We do not see the poor, even in our own country.  Out of sight, out of mind.  The prophetic task is to make the invisible visible, to give voice to voiceless victims.  We must not let anyone forget.  Faithfulness demands that we remind ourselves, our constituencies and our government of the plight of the poor, and the evil of the arms race.  Like the Hebrew prophets, who continually reminded Israel of God's special concern for the poor, we provide reminders by:

•  the symbols we wear; buttons, ribbons, bumper stickers on our cars; posters and banners in houses of worship.

•  pamphlets and materials in our churches and synagogues.

•  providing space and publicity for justice groups.

•  telling the stories of the victims in our preaching.


2. "INTERPRETING":  It is not enough simply to remind ourselves and others of the plight of the poor; we must interpret the causes and meaning of that plight in ways that open eyes and move hearts and redirect the political will.  We can help others to see the arms race for what it is:

•  a form of idolatry, placing our trust in weapons and alliances  (Hosea 5:13, 7:8-12, 9:1; Isaiah 30:1-31:2)

•  a theft ("Every rocket fired, every warship launched, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."  President Eisenhower, April, 1953)

•  murder ("...even when they are not used, by their cost alone, armaments kill the poor by causing them to starve."  The Vatican on Disarmament, 1976)


Eyes are opened and hearts are moved by experiencing the lives and stories of war victims, refugees and the poor, and those of today's prophets.


3. "PROTESTING":  We are also called, on occasion, to say no - no to policies, structures, institutions and ways of seeing things and doing things that dehumanize.  The Hebrew prophets protested repeatedly Israel's injustice to the poor, its trust in military fortifications and alliances rather than in God, its luxuriousness in the face of poverty.  We can too, by:

•  using our power as consumers (through boycotts and letters) and as shareholders (with letters and shareholder resolutions) to challenge those economic institutions contributing to poverty and the arms race;

•  joining with others in public demonstrations, vigils and marches for peace and justice.  In this we experience both solidarity and hope: that God is raising up prophetic people everywhere;

•  modeling a simpler and more faithful style of living.


4.  "ADVOCATING":  Prophetic protest must be matched by vigorous advocacy.  While churches meet the immediate needs of the poor through direct service (food banks, emergency shelters), we must also address more effectively the public policies contributing to poverty and the arms race and press persuasively the moral claims of the policies we recommend.  The Hebrew prophets took God's word directly to Israel's political leaders; we can do the same by:

•  letters and calls to legislative leaders; and offering of letters as part of a worship service,

•  encouraging shut-ins and retired persons in their ability to affect public policy by writing and calling,

•  setting up urgent action phone trees on public policy or linking with existing networks.


5. "ENVISIONING":  We all need vision, a sense of hope, and ever deepening awareness of Shalom as God's will for the world.  Further, we all need to see our small - seemingly insignificant - efforts as part of God's working in the world.  Jesus is Lord of history: He combines our efforts with those of millions of others.  Our work will not be in vain if joined with his.   Jesus has risen.  Injustice and death are not the last word.  The Hebrew prophets brought hope, even in the midst of disaster.  We can too, by:

•  internalizing and acting on God's vision of Shalom (Isaiah 65:17-25; Amos 9, Ezekiel 34, and others).

•  helping people identify present manifestations of God's Shalom.

•  reminding others that it is our faithfulness, not our success, that God demands.

•  promoting small communities of Bible study and prayer that incorporate our struggles in social action.

      •  affirm each individual as they move more deeply into living out the vision of Shalom.

Resources on Prophecy

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Resources on Prophecy


2 quotations from Thomas Merton on prophecy (from Jan Hoffman):

. . . It is better to prophesy than to deride. To prophesy is not to predict, but to seize upon reality in its moment of highest expectation and tension toward the new.  This tension is discovered not in hypnotic elation but in the light of everyday experience.

-- Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, p. 159


. . . [Prophets] in the traditional sense [are] not merely [people] who foretell the future under spiritual inspiration.  That is in fact quite accidental.  [They are] above all ['witnesses']. . . . [Prophets] shoulder the 'burden' of vision that God lays upon [them]. . . . Prophets are those who live in direct submission to the Holy Spirit in order that, by [their] lives, actions, and words, [they] may at all times be a sign of God in [this human] world.

-- Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions


In his classic book, A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly quotes Meister Eckhart:  "There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves."  Kelly goes on to say, "It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without any reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me--commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him."


Quotations from The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Summary of each chapter in The Prophetic Imagination

Transcript of Krista Tippett's interview from the NPR show "On Being" with Walter Brueggemann on Prophetic Imagination

Interview with Walter Brueggemann at Georgetown U Center for Christian Discernment


Marion McNaughton, An Orientation to Prophecy plenary talk FWCC trienniel held in Dublin in 2007


Bangladesh Blockade

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Nonviolent Fighters for Bangladesh Freedom

by Richard K. Taylor

            My wife, Phyllis Taylor, and I feel very fortunate to have been a small part of the freedom struggle that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh. I am very sorry to say that, during the war of independence, our own beloved country, the United States of America, was secretly sending military supplies to Pakistan which were used to kill and oppress citizens of what was then called East Pakistan. 

            How well we remember hearing from a Bangladeshi freedom fighter during the war who said, "We knew that the U.S. government was against us, but when we heard what you did, we knew that the American people were on our side." 

            So, what did we do? Let me explain. In the late 1960's, I  and a friend of mine, Bill Moyer, were fortunate enough to be on the staff of Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Bill and I were already committed to active nonviolence as a means of advocating for peace and justice, but our intimate involvement with Dr. King and his movement strengthened and deepened our commitment. After the tragic assassination of Dr. King in 1968, a group of us who admired him very much decided to form an organization in our city of Philadelphia that would train people in his methods of nonviolent action and also engage in such direct action. We decided to call it the "Movement for a New Society (MNS)." People came to us from all over the United States and some other countries to receive training and to be involved in direct action.

Because of our keen interest in struggles for justice and peace, we were horrified in 1971 to learn of the West Pakistani army's invasion of what was then East Pakistan and all the atrocities they committed. However, we felt helpless to do anything. Then we learned that our own country, the United States, was secretly still sending military aid to the West Pakistani government, even though a dozen other aid-giving countries had  cut off such support as a protest against Pakistani army's massacres. That made us even more horrified. We realized that it was American bombs and bullets that were killing innocent people who wanted nothing more than freedom from oppression. But what could we do to make our government stop its lethal military aid? 

            Just as we were holding a meeting to discuss this dilemma, we learned from a newspaper report that West Pakistani ships were secretly picking up military cargoes in American ports. We learned furthermore, that one such ship, the Padma, was en route to Baltimore, Maryland (a small city just to the south of Philadelphia) to load US military goods. We began to discuss what to do. Susan Carroll, one of the founders of MNS, said angrily, but not really seriously, "We should mine the harbor! Use explosives! Blow up the ships!" 

            Bill Moyer countered, "Yes, that's right, we should mine the harbor; but we should mine it with our own bodies. We should get some small boats--canoes and kayaks--and paddle them in front of the ships. Obviously, a few little boats won't stop a big, ocean-going freighter. However, we should do it for two reasons: One, the action would be nonviolent and in the spirit of Dr. King. Two, it would have such drama that the newspaper and TV stations would cover it. Right now, our government is keeping our military aid to Pakistan a secret. There are no stories about it in the mass media. This action would get the story into the press and out to the American people. Three, it also would show how much some Americans oppose our government's policy and how willing they are to risk their lives to oppose it."

            Everyone agreed with Bill's idea. Soon after our meeting, we learned of a Philadelphia group called "Friends of East Bengal." The group was made up of Bengalis and Americans who wanted to do everything they could to stop the slaughter in "East Pakistan." We contacted the group and were invited to present our idea to their July 7 meeting. As one of their Bengali members, Sultana Krippendorf, told me later, "At first, we thought you were absolutely crazy. What a wild scheme! Who ever heard of trying to stop freighters with canoes?!! But then, as we listened to your rationale and how you believed the action would use the press to focus public attention on what was really happening and mobilize people to resist US policy, it began to make sense. In the end, we agreed that your group could become the Direct Action Committee of Friends of East Bengal and try out this scheme."

            By combing maritime newspapers and other sources of information, we learned that The Padma was expected in Baltimore on July 11. That gave us only four days to prepare. The Direct Action Committee, which now was made up of Bengalis as well as Americans, met in our living room to prepare. We organized committees to handle such matters as contacting the press, getting canoes and kayaks, making signs and leaflets, finding communication equipment, handling police and legal liaison and recruiting other participants. We reached out to sympathetic groups beyond Philadelphia, such as the Quakers and the Bangladesh Information Center. In a short period of time, we had recruited a very diverse group with a professor of medicine, a social worker, teachers, a Quaker peace activist, a school guidance counselor, four teenage students and others, about 30 people in all.

            On the morning of July 11, we drove from Philadelphia to Baltimore with our small boats strapped to the roofs of our cars. Since we had informed newspapers and radio and TV stations about what we were going to do, we began to hear news reports about us on the radio even before arriving in Baltimore. Upon arrival, we went to the harbor pier where The Padma was expected to dock and set up a picket line. The Padma did not arrive on July 11, so we spent the next days keeping up press attention by such means as paddling our boats out into the harbor to "do maneuvers, just like the Navy does before a sea battle." We explained to reporters that we needed to familiarize ourselves with the tides and currents of the harbor and to decide which "formation" of boats would be most effective to block the big freighter. A doctor from Johns Hopkins University called our small flotilla "the first Navy of Bangladesh."

            During all this time, our American government kept denying that it was sending military aid to West Pakistan. A statement from the US Department of State said: "No arms have been provided to the government of Pakistan since the beginning of this crisis." We were about to demolish those denials by revealing what really was happening.

            In all of our actions--picketing, marching, paddling in the harbor, giving press interviews--we did all we could to maintain a nonviolent attitude in the spirit of Dr. King. For example, we met with Baltimore police officials, explained our purpose, and told them we would be strictly nonviolent. That meant that, not only would we refrain from any verbal or physical violence, but if anyone tried to harm the police, we would put our own bodies in front of the officers to protect them. 

            When The Padma finally arrived on July 14, we paddled our small "fleet" out into the harbor, determined to get in front of the freighter. We were met with Coast Guard cutters and a large police boat called "The Intrepid." A policeman on board used a bullhorn to shout to us that we were breaking harbor regulations and would be arrested if we didn't turn back. He warned us that the ship's wake would flip over our small boats and the enormous propellers would chop us up into little pieces.               

            I shouted back , "You have to do what you have to do, but this is a death ship. It is picking up military cargo that will  kill thousands of innocent people. We are here to prevent it from docking." 

            Soon, we noticed that two of the motorboats in the harbor were not police or Coast Guard craft, but were filled with reporters, one with a TV crew that took footage as it sped in for a closer view.

            One of the young people with us, who was paddling a canoe with her father, was only 12 years old. She heard workmen on the pier yelling: "Get the hell out of here. That ship won't stop and you'll go drown like ants from its suction." She admits that she was frightened, but she was encouraged when she saw the motorboat with the TV crew. "I realized we were making a point; I was afraid no one would know what we had done and nothing would come of our efforts."

            All of us paddled as hard as we could toward The Padma, while the police in the Coast Guard cutters tried to cut us off and keep us back. Sally Willoughby, another young paddler said, "I was scared, but I was really determined to stop that ship. I think I was really willing to die for this."

            Finally, an order came for the police to arrest us. The cutters pulled alongside us and the police hauled us out of our boats and placed us under arrest. We spent the night in the Baltimore city jail and were sentenced to a year's probation, but in the morning we were happy to see that the story of the blockade got good TV coverage and was in newspapers and on the radio. A reporter from Reuters told me: "This demonstration is going to hit the papers from here to Singapore." Years later, a Bangladeshi freedom fighter told me that he had heard the story on BBC. 

So, we accomplished what we set out to do. No longer could our government deny that we were sending military equipment to a military dictatorship. More and more people spoke out against US policy. The Beatles held a concert in favor of Bangladesh. Sympathetic members of the US Congress spoke out. Our Direct Action Committee did many other nonviolent direct actions: We blocked other Pakistani ships in other ports. We lobbied Congress. We demonstrated in front of the White House. We helped Bengali sailors jump ship from West Pakistani freighters where they feared for their lives, and much more. When our government finally did cut off military aid to West Pakistan, Phyllis, I and the others were happy to feel that we had played a significant role in turning our own country around and helping a new nation--Bangladesh--be born. And now, here we are, celebrating the 40th anniversary of that new nation's birth. How grateful I am to God for giving us the courage to put our bodies in the way of the death ships. And how grateful I am to Bangladeshis who supported us and joined with us in the blockade for Bangladesh.

Reprinted with the permission of the author Richard Taylor, who wrote this article in 2011 at the request of the Bangladeshi ambassador to the U.S. for inclusion in a publication of that embassy celebrating important moments in Bangladesh's history and culture.  This subject is dealt with in much greater detail in Richard's 1977 Orbis book on the subject entitled Blockade: A Guide to Nonviolent Intervention.

Richard is a member of Germantown Monthly Meeting. As of 2012 he stated that his main Quaker activity was participating in the Mass Incarceration Working Group of that meeting. He can be contacted at his home: 515 W. Chelten Ave., Apt. 1108, Philadelphia, PA 19144 or via email rktpbt@me.com

Proclaim Jubilee

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Jubilee: Proclaim Liberty Through Out the Land!

Although Jubilee is often thought of as an inward-directed "Sabbath of Sabbaths", inviting us into rest and rejuvenation as a faith community, Jubilee also invokes a prophetic role in the world.  This witness dimension is rooted in the way Jubilee themes were utilized by Isaiah and later Jesus to challenge exploitation of the poor, enslaved and imprisoned (Luke 4:14).  Leviticus 25 is based on the belief that the land and all of God's people belong ultimately to God. The Jubilee year was intended to move us back to our original birthright before God where none is valued any less than another.

This has many echoes in Friends testimonies. Our testimony of equality is rooted in the value of each human as a vessel of the Light. This requires us to challenge a global economic system that denies much of humanity even minimal access to food, shelter, education and healthcare.  Many Friends wrongly assume that our peace testimony was originally based in Jesus' injunction to love our enemies (Matt 5:38-48). In fact early Friends based their objection to war on its spiritual roots in greed, often citing James 4. Woolman also believed that the seeds of war are found in "these our possessions". The violent conflicts of the coming century are likely to spring from conflict over economic inequity and dwindling resources.  Can Friends help our nation understand the profound interconnectedness of violence and injustice in tackling the critical choices facing us all?

Our testimony on integrity requires that we speak (only) what is truth. As Jesus suggests, if we remain silent in the face of oppression, will not the stones themselves cry out? (Luke 19:40)  Our testimony on simplicity teaches us to let go of whatever gets in the way of our capacity to hear and obey God's living voice - and what Woolman believed was most likely to get in the way was material possessions.

Finally, Jubilee reminds us that the earth itself needs relief! One of the most amazing things about Woolman was his prophetic insight into the devastating damage to North America that over-consumption would eventually cause. Jubilee challenges us, therefore, to also proclaim liberty to the air, soil, oceans and creatures of this planet from the consequences of human longing for more and more "stuff". Friends' ability to speak authentically to those around us will be limited by our capacity to take the lead in shedding out own attachment to the death-giving U.S. lifestyle that so many of Earth's peoples long to attain.  May God help our YM use this Jubilee time to rediscover this prophetic voice that our world is longing to hear from us.

 Printed in New England Yearly Meeting News, June 2010, in preparation for the 350th annual sessions of NEYM.

Queries on Sexuality

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Queries on Sexuality

based on Peter Blood-Patterson's paper
"In the Presence of God & These Our Friends"

These queries should be viewed as my own shot at brainstorming to encourage Friends and others to reflect on important issues around sexuality and our life in God. I invite your feedback, new queries, responses, and suggestions for improvement. Can you encourage your meeting or faith community to come up with its own (far better!) list? (The statements in italics following each group of queries are some of my own personal reflections on each issue: articulated as a provisional sense of what God "wants" or "hopes for" us in this area of sexuality. These are drawn from my essay on this subject entitled In the Presence of God and These Our Friends.)

#1 Hearing God's Voice as a Faith Community:

Do you believe there is a Heart in the Universe that has specific intentions & hopes for us as humans generally and as a faith community specifically?
Do you believe that God cares what we believe and practice about sexuality?
What are you doing as a meeting (church, synagogue, sangha, etc.) to try and discover together what God wants of us in these matters?
Is your search for unity on these matters carried out in the spirit of humility, tenderness, mutual respect as well as forthrightness and courage?

[God cares what we do with our bodies and minds sexually. God wants us to struggle with each other towards unity of vision as to what is right and wrong sexually.]

#2 Personal Guidance:

Do you believe in the kind of God who has specific hopes or intentions for what you do personally in your life?
Do you believe God has intentions for us around the decisions when and with whom we marry?
Does your meeting consider clearness for marriage a shared search for God's will regarding the couple's intention to marry?
Have you experienced God as providing guidance for you around specific sexual acts?
What spiritual disciplines do you practice to make it easier for you to hear and obey God's leadings in your life?
Have you been obedient to the promptings of the Spirit in your sexual practices?

[God also cares about the sexual decisions we make personally. God wants us to attempt to hear and heed the leadings of the Spirit as we attempt to be faithful in our personal sexual lives.]

#3 Embodiment:

How do you embrace your own bodiliness?
What are the ways in which you treat your body as a temple of the Spirit?
Do you experience your sexuality as healthy and holy? How do you embrace your sexuality as being "of God"?

[We are physical beings. Sexuality is an integral part of our spirituality. Sexual joy can be as holy as any other kind of joy. Physical expressions of love can draw us closer to God as well as to the person we are touching physically.]

#4 Sexual Acts as an Expression of Love:

How do you think God looks on casual sex? Can casual sex be holy? Does it honor the sacredness of your body? Of your partner's?
Are you responding to that of God in your partner every time you engage in sexual activity? (inside or outside of a marriage)

[God wants us to utilize the act of physical lovemaking as the outward expression of emotional and spiritual intimacy with the person we are touching physically.]

#5 Long-term Partnering:

Do we mean it when we take vows today to be a lovely and faithful partner "as long as we both shall live"?
How does your meeting nurture and support the sanctity of the marriages among its members or the marriages of those joined together under the care of the meeting?
What, in addition to sexual infidelity, threatens the long-term stability of marriages within the faith community?
What can the faith community do to educate its members about the spiritual riches of live-long, loving partnerings?
Does your meeting take action to support and protect marriages among its members that appear to be challenged?
Would the meeting expect a couple whose marriage is in trouble to seek clearness of the meeting prior to any decision to dissolve the meeting?
How relevant today do you feel Jesus' strong spiritual opposition to divorce is?
If your marriage is in danger, do you seek the guidance of others in your faith community to assist you in discerning God's will about your marriage before reaching any decision that might affect its stability?
What are you doing to strengthen and enrich your own marriage? The marriage of your friends? The marriage of your parents? The marriages of others in your faith community?

[Sexual intimacy has a special and unique role when it occurs in the context of a permanent life-long committed relationship. God wants us to support and nurture stability in long-term relationships as an important part of God's vision for humanity.]

#6 Honesty & Openness:

What does the Testimony on Integrity have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
Is there ever room for deception in holy love?
Would you ever countenance or collaborate with deception tied to marital infidelity?
What are the boundary lines among discretion, privacy, and untruthfulness in the area of sexuality?
What does it mean when the psalmist writes in Psalm 139 about being searched and known by God, even in the deepest parts of our being? Is there any part of our sexual lives that we would be ashamed to bring before the Living Spirit? Before our precious partner in life?

[God desires that we be radically honest with others in our sexual practices and to be willing to allow others to know what we are practicing.]

#7 The Testimony on Simplicity:

What does the Testimony on Simplicity have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
Does our sexual practice make us more or less open to hear God's voice? To follow God's leadings? To be used by God in Meeting for Worship or in the gospel community?
Does our sexuality bring us closer to God or move us farther away?
Does our sexuality open up your heart to the Heart of the Universe or close it off?

[We are called to practice sexuality in a manner that keeps our hearts as open as possible to God.]

#8 Equality within a Sexual Partnership:

What does the Testimony on Equality have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
Does your touching another person respond to and give honor to that of God in the other?
What happens to the sacredness of lovemaking if you come to your beloved with more or less power than your partner brings?

[God intends for us to enter into sexual relationships as equals.]

#9 Equal Access to Sexuality:

What do you believe is God's hope for the person who is deeply attracted to the same gender?
Do you the perceive evidence of the fruits of the Spirit at work in life-long committed same gender partnerships that have been blessed by a faith community?
What is God's hope or intention (in terms of sexuality) for people with physical disabilities, older people, those with developmental disorders or others who are often denied full access to sexual activity?

[God wants to insure that whole groups of people are not excluded from being sexual because of prejudice or injustice.]

#10 Freedom from Violence & Force:

What does the Peace Testimony have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
What is your faith community doing to educate itself about and prevent rape, date rape, sexual harassment and sexual abuse?
What are you doing to combat rape, sexual servitude and other forms of sexual violence in the world?
What is your faith community doing to support its members who have experienced sexual violence and abuse and to help them heal the scars of these experiences?

[Spiritually grounded sexual acts are only possible between partners acting out of free choice, making decisions to participate free from any form of violence or coercion.]

#11 Pornography & Awe:

Does your faith community wrestle together in any way with the ethical and spiritual implications of personal sexual practices such as the use of sexually explicit media?
Does viewing or reading sexually explicit media bring you closer to or move you further away from God?
Does such activity open or close your heart to others as children of God - including your sexual partner or partners, your family, your faith community, and any persons involved in the production of that media?
What is your relationship with a person whose sexual image you view? Is it possible to view pornography and still hold all human beings in awe and deep respect?
How is your faith community educating its young people and other members regarding the violence and degradation involved in pornography and the increasing use of exploitative sexual images in advertising and commercial media?
Is there a fundamental discernable spiritual distinction between pornography and erotica? If there is, how is your faith community providing guidance to its members about this?
What is the effect upon your heart of reading a piece of sexually explicit literature or viewing sexual images? What is the effect upon your relationship with your partner?
If you read or view explicit media, how do you seek to enable God to guide your practice in this?

[Pornography is based on addictive pulls and rooted in exploitation of those involved in its production and use. It at best avoids and at worst suppresses healthy intimate relationships with others. It is incompatible with treating all persons with awe, respect and love - as children of the living God.]

#12 Sex & Care of the Earth:

What does our emerging Testimony on Care of the Earth have to teach us about sexuality and lovemaking?
How do sexual attitudes contribute to overpopulation? To overconsumption? To other attitudes that threaten the viability of the planet?
Does treating another person with less than total respect and awe in a sexual relationship encourage similar attitudes towards the earth and its endangered species?
Is there a relationship between treating our own body as a temple of the Spirit and treating the earth itself as a vessel of the Living Spirit?

[Wrongly-ordered sexual attitudes and behavior are damaging to the earth.]

#13 Sexuality between Singles:

Is the traditional Christian ideal of chastity outside of marriage still relevant today?
Does sexual practice between single people ultimately undermine or strengthen the joy and stability of marital love?
What does your faith community do to encourage abstinence among its single members?
How does God feel about sexual activity between single people if it is practiced in the spirit of deep love and spiritual discernment?
Was the world a safer and more loving place when sexuality was (at least in the ideal) limited to life-long marital relationships?
Is there significant biblical teaching for singles regarding sexuality?

[I believe God embraces some kinds of sexual activity between single people when it is practiced as an expression of deep spiritual and emotional caring and in response to a mutual effort to discern God's will.]

#14 Fidelity in Sexual Relationships:

What is the meeting doing to encourage its members to love their partners single-heartedly?
Is your loved one first in your heart? (as opposed to your job, Quaker service, good causes, financial security, your children's needs, protecting the earth, personal enjoyment, etc.)
What actions draw you closer to the love of your life? Which draw you further away?
Is sexual infidelity ever permissible in God's eyes?
Do you believe a person can ever engage in sexual activity outside of marriage and still love her or his partner with all of her or his heart?
Would you ever protect deceit of a friend or meeting member regarding sexual infidelity? What action would or should your meeting take if it was aware of a member participating in sexual infidelity?
Do you have any reason to believe that God ever approves of plural marriage?
Is there ever any conflict between putting your life partner first and your ultimate loyalty to God?

[God longs for us to love our life partner with all our heart.]

Fears of Shared Accountability

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Facing Fears of Shared Accountability
among Friends Today

In June 2005, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting met in called session to consider its response to Earth-wide challenges of climate change. After meeting and dialoging with experts, scientific and political, we gathered in small regional groups to share with each other how we experience these issues touching us. Then we returned to gather in "meeting for worship with a concern for business."

At the end of the day there was great unity among those present on the urgency to address these issues personally, as a religious community, and as a nation. No one present questioned the scientific urgency of the risk to our planet or the spiritual imperative this places on Friends. The only disagreement that arose among us that day regarded the use of the word "accountability" in the minute we were to consider.

The phrase that caused concern read: "We call upon the yearly meeting, in all its manifestations, to seek ways to hold our members accountable to live in God's world in a more environmentally sustainable fashion and to join other like-minded groups and organizations in supporting this concern." Several Friends expressed fear that holding each other accountable could lead to mutual judgment, discord, and perhaps even disownment for failure to live up to other Friends' standards of personal environmental stewardship and forceful witness against the destruction of our planet.

The yearly meeting ended up accepting the minute even with the "A" word--with the insertion of "lovingly" before it. At the end of the day, however, I was struck with how the problem this word raised for some highlights a fundamental challenge for us as a religious movement today. Why, in fact, are Friends so terrified of engaging each other spiritually?

There are many reasons, I suspect! Our collective memory still reacts to the type of eldering illustrated in the film Friendly Persuasion, where meeting elders sternly criticize a member for owning a musical instrument. My wife's family is one of many who had a Quaker ancestor read out of meeting for marrying a non-Friend. In Philadelphia we have only just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rejoining of our Orthodox and Hicksite divisions. When the schism occurred, Friends were so bitterly divided that some wrote letters to the editor attempting to convince non-Friends that members of the other side were not "real" Friends. Others went to court to battle over property. Some Orthodox Friends in London, went to the unquakerly extreme of barring women from speaking at the World Antislavery Convention--a thinly disguised stratagem for preventing Hicksite minister Lucretia Mott from speaking and taking a leading role at the convention.

So we have come to fear deeply that if meeting members challenge each other strongly around matters of faith or lifestyle, it will be done in an unloving and insensitive manner--and could lead ultimately to some being forced to leave our spiritual family or to suppress others' deeply held spiritual intuitions and life choices.

Another great impetus, of course, is secular. We live in a society today that celebrates the individual. We cherish dearly our right to "do our own thing." Most liberal Friends cite "that of God in every one" or the "Inner Light" as the center of our faith as Friends. This can often be interpreted as being synonymous with the supreme inviolability of individual conscience.

The elevation of individual access to God over the community was not, however, Quaker dogma prior to the 20th century. My own understanding of what is unique to our Quaker vision is that we experience God speaking and leading us as a people through a gathered community. This gathered community reaches its fullest expression in our meetings for worship, and meetings for worship with attention to community decisions. This process of trying to discover God's voice in close collaboration with others has always been rooted in the local Friends meeting, but has also extended outward through a network of quarterly and yearly meetings.

When we run from this vision of revelation as a communal process, we shatter the possibility of creating and maintaining a Quaker movement and become a disordered association of individual seekers. We close ourselves off from the possibility that God can speak and lead humans in a coherent fashion. We are so accustomed to being turned off by the self-righteous judgmentalism of religious fanatics of various stripes that we may end up rejecting the possibility of there being a living God who really does have wishes and hope for our world--for example, a God who rejects war utterly or longs for this earthly creation to survive environmental degradation. We flee from the hope that God can provide prophetic leadership out of the dark challenges facing our world today.

The Quaker vision of corporate discernment of God's voice is rooted in humility and love. It is a fragile venture and has no possibility of success if those present cling too fiercely to their own personal intimations of the Divine Wind. The process demands both radical faithfulness in expressing one's own provisional sense of what God is saying to the group and willingness to discover through the differing revelation of others that our own intimation may not have been God's intention for the group after all. This combination of passionate, prophetic insight with readiness to let go of that same insight is difficult indeed.

As a community reaches each new unity (for the process is an ongoing one), this vision of the faith community also demands great tenderness towards the individual member or family or meeting that may apparently lie outside the community's shared vision of what is expected of its members.

We will not always get it right. We may err in our conclusion as to what God is inviting us to at this time in history. We may fail in our obligation of tenderness as we attempt to wrestle with each other around the demands of faithfulness to a shared spiritual journey. The answer, however, cannot be to abandon the effort to discover together what God is saying to us. And when we do end up stumbling mysteriously into unity, the answer is not to flinch from wrestling with each other on how we are living out the difficult challenges God appears to be leading us into.

Let's take the risk of trying to discover how God wants us to take on this great environmental challenge. Let's take the risk of communicating to each other the lifestyle choices we are making as families in response to this new testimony that many of us believe God is laying on us. Let's help each other tenderly to find new ways to "get off the back of the Earth." Let's take the risk of doing this more lovingly and patiently and uncertainly than we imagine to be possible.

With God's help we can bring to birth once again a fundamental corporate dimension to our efforts to hear and obey God's voice as Friends--and do so in love.

The Philadelphia YM minute referred to in this article read as follows, "Friends at this session unite behind the desire that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting incorporate this concern about the rise of global climate temperatures and its dangerous implications for life on our earth into the body of its work in the world. We feel ready, with divine assistance, to assume the challenges of being prophetic witnesses to protect our earth. We call upon the Yearly Meeting, in all its manifestations, to seek ways to hold our members lovingly accountable to live in God's world in a more environmentally sustainable fashion and to join other like minded groups and organizations in supporting this concern." More information on this called session of Philadelphia YM on Climate Change can be found at PYM Epistle.  Here are some steps that the YM suggested that meetings consider taking to take on the challenge contained in the YM minute on climate change.

© 2005 Peter Blood. Appeared in the October 2005 issue of Friends Journal.

Fears of Accountability

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Facing Fears of Shared Accountability among Friends Today

In June 2005, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting met in called session to consider its response to Earth-wide challenges of climate change. After meeting and dialoging with experts, scientific and political, we gathered in small regional groups to share with each other how we experience these issues touching us. Then we returned to gather in "meeting for worship with a concern for business."

At the end of the day there was great unity among those present on the urgency to address these issues personally, as a religious community, and as a nation. No one present questioned the scientific urgency of the risk to our planet or the spiritual imperative this places on Friends. The only disagreement that arose among us that day regarded the use of the word "accountability" in the minute we were to consider.

The phrase that caused concern read: "We call upon the yearly meeting, in all its manifestations, to seek ways to hold our members accountable to live in God's world in a more environmentally sustainable fashion and to join other like-minded groups and organizations in supporting this concern." Several Friends expressed fear that holding each other accountable could lead to mutual judgment, discord, and perhaps even disownment for failure to live up to other Friends' standards of personal environmental stewardship and forceful witness against the destruction of our planet.

The yearly meeting ended up accepting the minute even with the "A" word--with the insertion of "lovingly" before it. At the end of the day, however, I was struck with how the problem this word raised for some highlights a fundamental challenge for us as a religious movement today. Why, in fact, are Friends so terrified of engaging each other spiritually?

There are many reasons, I suspect! Our collective memory still reacts to the type of eldering illustrated in the film Friendly Persuasion, where meeting elders sternly criticize a member for owning a musical instrument. My wife's family is one of many who had a Quaker ancestor read out of meeting for marrying a non-Friend. In Philadelphia we have only just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rejoining of our Orthodox and Hicksite divisions. When the schism occurred, Friends were so bitterly divided that some wrote letters to the editor attempting to convince non-Friends that members of the other side were not "real" Friends. Others went to court to battle over property. Some Orthodox Friends in London, went to the unquakerly extreme of barring women from speaking at the World Antislavery Convention--a thinly disguised stratagem for preventing Hicksite minister Lucretia Mott from speaking and taking a leading role at the convention.

So we have come to fear deeply that if meeting members challenge each other strongly around matters of faith or lifestyle, it will be done in an unloving and insensitive manner--and could lead ultimately to some being forced to leave our spiritual family or to suppress others' deeply held spiritual intuitions and life choices.

Another great impetus, of course, is secular. We live in a society today that celebrates the individual. We cherish dearly our right to "do our own thing." Most liberal Friends cite "that of God in every one" or the "Inner Light" as the center of our faith as Friends. This can often be interpreted as being synonymous with the supreme inviolability of individual conscience.

The elevation of individual access to God over the community was not, however, Quaker dogma prior to the 20th century. My own understanding of what is unique to our Quaker vision is that we experience God speaking and leading us as a people through a gathered community. This gathered community reaches its fullest expression in our meetings for worship, and meetings for worship with attention to community decisions. This process of trying to discover God's voice in close collaboration with others has always been rooted in the local Friends meeting, but has also extended outward through a network of quarterly and yearly meetings.

When we run from this vision of revelation as a communal process, we shatter the possibility of creating and maintaining a Quaker movement and become a disordered association of individual seekers. We close ourselves off from the possibility that God can speak and lead humans in a coherent fashion. We are so accustomed to being turned off by the self-righteous judgmentalism of religious fanatics of various stripes that we may end up rejecting the possibility of there being a living God who really does have wishes and hope for our world--for example, a God who rejects war utterly or longs for this earthly creation to survive environmental degradation. We flee from the hope that God can provide prophetic leadership out of the dark challenges facing our world today.

The Quaker vision of corporate discernment of God's voice is rooted in humility and love. It is a fragile venture and has no possibility of success if those present cling too fiercely to their own personal intimations of the Divine Wind. The process demands both radical faithfulness in expressing one's own provisional sense of what God is saying to the group and willingness to discover through the differing revelation of others that our own intimation may not have been God's intention for the group after all. This combination of passionate, prophetic insight with readiness to let go of that same insight is difficult indeed.

As a community reaches each new unity (for the process is an ongoing one), this vision of the faith community also demands great tenderness towards the individual member or family or meeting that may apparently lie outside the community's shared vision of what is expected of its members.

We will not always get it right. We may err in our conclusion as to what God is inviting us to at this time in history. We may fail in our obligation of tenderness as we attempt to wrestle with each other around the demands of faithfulness to a shared spiritual journey. The answer, however, cannot be to abandon the effort to discover together what God is saying to us. And when we do end up stumbling mysteriously into unity, the answer is not to flinch from wrestling with each other on how we are living out the difficult challenges God appears to be leading us into.

Let's take the risk of trying to discover how God wants us to take on this great environmental challenge. Let's take the risk of communicating to each other the lifestyle choices we are making as families in response to this new testimony that many of us believe God is laying on us. Let's help each other tenderly to find new ways to "get off the back of the Earth." Let's take the risk of doing this more lovingly and patiently and uncertainly than we imagine to be possible.

With God's help we can bring to birth once again a fundamental corporate dimension to our efforts to hear and obey God's voice as Friends--and do so in love.

The Philadelphia YM minute referred to in this article read as follows, "Friends at this session unite behind the desire that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting incorporate this concern about the rise of global climate temperatures and its dangerous implications for life on our earth into the body of its work in the world. We feel ready, with divine assistance, to assume the challenges of being prophetic witnesses to protect our earth. We call upon the Yearly Meeting, in all its manifestations, to seek ways to hold our members lovingly accountable to live in God's world in a more environmentally sustainable fashion and to join other like minded groups and organizations in supporting this concern." More information on this called session of Philadelphia YM on Climate Change can be found at PYM Epistle.

© 2005 Peter Blood. Appeared in the October 2005 issue of Friends Journal.

Christ's Jubilee Challenge

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CHRIST'S JUBILEE CHALLENGE

I have been reflecting since late last year on the spiritual meaning of the end of the millenium.  At first I wasn't coming up with much.  I was intrigued by the ideas put forth by Jubilee 2000, a movement using the end of the millenium as an opportunity for challenging developed nations to forgive the crushing debts of poorer countries.  Beyond that, most of the thoughts I had heard seemed to fall into the category of "media hype" rather than serious reflection.

I was carried deeper in this inward journey in an unexpected way.  My wife and I received an invitation by New Zealand Yearly Meeting to do six weeks of music ministry in that country last winter.  After flying for 13 hours across the Pacific, our New Zealand Quaker hostess arranged for us to spend a few days at a retreat house built by Friends on an island across the bay from Auckland.  Amid family preparations for a very different Christmas far from home, I discovered a stack of back issues of the New Zealand Friend.  I decided to skim through these as preparation for our work among Friends there.

Jesus' call to open prison doors.  I came across an extraordinary article in the November 1997 issue of this periodical entitled, "Quakers, Jesus, & the Theology of Prison Abolition".  In this article, Llewelyn Richards zeroed in on what was perhaps Jesus' first act of public ministry, recorded in Luke 4:17-18.  In this passage (long a favorite of mine) Jesus is asked to read from the scripture during Sabbath services in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  He unrolls the scroll from Isaiah 61:1-2 and reads: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce pardon for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's amnesty."

This last phrase is also translated as "the time of the God's favour" or the "Jubilee Year". One translation has Jesus announcing that "This is God's year to act!" Jesus then rolls up the scroll, hands it back and states: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Although those present at the service are at first impressed by the authority with which Jesus speaks, they quickly become angry at him. Luke says that Jesus was fortunate to escape with his life.  Richards went on to challenge Friends to use the ending millenium as an opportunity to re-examine deeply our attitudes towards prisons and prisoners.

Reading this article struck me deeply.  What was Jesus talking about in announcing that the good news of Jubilee was fulfilled that very day?  I knew that Jubilee had something to do with forgiveness and new beginnings. Reading through Leviticus 25 I discovered that these rules were all based firmly on the idea that everything and everyone belongs to God: the land, homes and other property, wealth and the Hebrew people themselves. They were based on the understanding that however far we stray from our roots in God, it is critical that we return from time to time to our beginning state of belonging to God.

Origins of Jubilee in Hebrew Bible.  This in turn spurred me to find out more about what the Old Testament idea of Jubilee actually involved. What I discovered (in reading through Leviticus 25) Jubilee were all based firmly on the idea that everything and everyone belongs to God: the land, homes and other property, wealth and the Hebrew people themselves. It said that however far we stray from our roots in God, it is essential that we return from time to time to that beginning state of belonging to God.

According to Leviticus, every seven years was to be a Sabbath year.  In this year all agricultural lands were to be left fallow so that the land itself could experience the spiritual and physical restoration of Sabbath rest.  (You may have heard that there is great controversy today in Israel because the Orthodox leaders of Judaism have decided to no longer endorse the loopholes under which Jewish farmers went through paper transfers of their property to non-Jews each seventh year.)  The earth is the Lord's, not our own.  It deserves to be loved and cared for and rested and given spiritual renewal just as we need to rest every week.  This year, every year we need to love the land (and air and water and all of God's creation) and care for it and allow it to flourish once again.

This status as belonging to God extended down even to the very poorest individuals and families whose desperate economic circumstances caused them to lose everything they owned, leading them not only to sell away their family property or to accumulate large debts, but even to the point of selling away their status as free people and becoming slaves to their neighbors.

As a result, every seven Sabbath years, a much more radical returning to beginnings was to occur.  Once every fifty years, all outstanding debts were to be forgiven, all Hebrews who had the status of slaves were to become free, and all properties that had been sold during the previous fifty years were to be returned to the families that sold them.  (How different U.S. - and New Zealand - history would have been if all the broken treaties and shady land deals under which indigenous people lost their lands were annulled every fifty years!)

It is unclear to historians to what extent these radical principles were ever put into practice in ancient Israel.  To the extent they were, they were applied to the Hebrew people alone. Land acquired from non-Jews was presumably not returned. Nor were non-Jewish slaves or prisoners set free. 

Jesus and Jubilee ethic.  It is also clear, however, that the very heart of Christ's good news was to extend the basic principles of the Old Testament ethics beyond the boundaries of the Hebrew community to the entire human race.  No longer is Christ's message of liberation and forgiveness limited to one's own extended family/faith community.

When Christ unrolled Isaiah in that synagogue 2000 years ago, it didn't fall on the official Jubilee year of the Hebrew community (see Luke 4:14-30)        .  What Christ was saying is: "This is my challenge, my invitation to you right now, today!"  In his promise to be with us always, to the end of time, he challenges us to live this good news every year, not just every 50th year or even every 1000th year. Here, at the very outset of his ministry to this world, Jesus was saying:  "What my messiahship is about is a radical new beginning, a fresh start, a change that will turn the world upside down."  Surely, this provided a key to what this new millennium was about: far beyond the specific issue of forgiving Third World debt!

Our economic system does much good in creating things we treasure and rely upon. It is hard to imagine the upheaval it would create in our economy and social life if those old Jubilee rules (forgiveness of debts, reversal of property sales back to original owners, leaving land fallow for a year, release of prisoners) were put into effect today.  But our economic system also creates almost inconceivable inequities among us, leaving some in enormous wealth and others in utter poverty.  I hear Christ challenging us to remember that every human being is a member of God's family and deserves to be given a fresh chance to start over without crippling burdens from the past of debt or lack of economic resources.  How can Christ's good news extends even to those in prisons or in a state of effective slavery (due to the economic, political, gender or ethnic status they find themselves in) - to all of these he offers a fresh new beginning to under His reign?

These are powerful, disturbing messages.  I recognize the fears in me of trying to put them into practice today. If I listen to a call to prophetic witness to the society around us on these issues, I could easily face the same hostility and resistance from today's "powers that be" as Christ did in Nazareth.  Closer to home, I know I have to face resistance to this Jubilee message in my own heart.

Letting go of attachment to material wealth today.  When I returned from New Zealand I was laid off from my well-paying secure (I thought!) job as a hospital administrator.  I struggled with whether to rush into another job of this kind.  After prayer and discussion it felt scary but right to try and cut way back on our family expenditures and see if we could make it on my wife's much lower salary from a Friends School.  We decided we were not really using the top floor of our large old farmhouse and found a college student to rent it from us. It left us a bit cramped, but not nearly as cramped as most families around the world.  Annie (my wife) acknowledged ways in which she had come to use shopping as recreation or even therapy and expressed readiness to find other outlets.  My six year old has difficulty understanding why we are much less ready and able to buy him as many of the toys he wants as before.  I threw myself into ways we could save money in my new unfamiliar role as primary homemaker.  But I too can easily give way to spending money on non-essentials.  And there are so many "things" we own that I am attached to: it is hard to hold them up to Christ's challenge and know what is right.

I am also just beginning to recognize the need to move beyond these ways of trying to alter my relationship with God's "imprisoned" children in the inner city or across the world through economic changes. I am also trying to practice radical reformation here within my family and in the ways I spend my time each day. What does it mean for me to give all back to God, to make a Jubilee new beginning in my daily life? To make a fresh Jubilee beginning in my response to my son who struggles with an emotional and behavioral disability or in my marriage?

I struggle with ways to establish balance and rhythm in my day-to-day life as I embrace each day as a new beginning in Christ. Our monthly meeting has always been helpful in supporting us when we feel called to carry our ministry around the world. It is harder to ask for help and support when we are struggling with more mundane struggles, such as how to make ends meet or how to achieve peace with God each day.  We still have a long way to go - and yet I know we have many partners available in this journey to faithfulness.

Christ invites us to start over each year as if we are all radically of equal value to God, as we were when God first created us. Only by taking this challenge to heart as a faith community and as a nation can we begin to find the courage and vision to discover how we can respond to his invitation, this millennial year - and every year to come.

(The author spent seven weeks in late 1999 and early 2000 traveling with his wife and family under a minute of religious concern from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to Friends in New Zealand and Hawaii.  A shorter version of this essay was printed in the January 2001 issue of Quaker Life.)

Holy Obedience

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HOLY OBEDIENCE

Corporate Discipline and Individual Leading

When the time of Jesus' death was approaching, he promised his community of disciples that after his death he would send the Holy Spirit to comfort them and provide them with direction as to what they should be doing as a Church.  The Book of Acts provides several examples of ways the early Church tried to carry out this mission of being a faith movement led by Christ's spirit.  This includes a description of their efforts to reach common understandings of what is expected of community members on key issues such as circumcision and Jewish dietary laws. For many years prior to the blending of the Church with secular authority at the time of Constantine, the Christian community stood apart from the surrounding secular society and government on a number of major issues, including participation in the military.

A generation or two before early Friends, Anabaptist fellowships on the Continent attempted to recreate this earliest form of church community both in terms of radical expectations of its members set apart from secular society and in terms of the methodology of community decision-making and discipline. 

The first unique dimension of Fox's ministry was to proclaim the possibility of a direct, ongoing relationship with Christ as teacher and leader of the faith community.  The second unique dimension of his ministry was to establish a system of church governance that institutionalized this relationship with the inward living Spirit of Christ in terms of corporate decision-making and discipline.  The structure of monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings offered a practical method by which Friends could discern the will of God in decisions facing the community. This included the position which the community was to take on key social questions such as payment of "tithes" that supported the established Church of England and whether Friends should participate in the military.

One of the key reasons why Fox and other early Quaker leaders established this system was to provide a mechanism by which individual Friends' leadings could be tested and either approved or disowned by the larger Quaker community.  This became an issue when some Friends (such as Naylor and his Bristol followers) engaged in forms of public witness that were profoundly disturbing to many other Friends.  Another reason for establishing organizational structure to the early movement was to organize support for those who suffered persecution for following through on their Quaker faith.  The main original reason, for example, for establishing meeting membership rolls was to have an organized way of identifying individual families who should be provided financial support as a result of religious persecution.  This was necessary in part because Friends had rejected adult water baptism as the outward ceremony marking a boundary between members and non-members utilized by the Anabaptist communities.  (This is the origin of the name for Britain Yearly Meeting's interim meeting as "Meeting for Sufferings".)

This ongoing intimate relationship between the individual Friend, the larger larger Quaker community and the living spirit of Christ remains at the heart of Quakerism to this day.  This interplay can be summarized as follows:

l. INDIVIDUAL LEADINGS. The first question that an individual Friend must ask her/himself is: "What do I believe God is telling me to do?"

Individual Friends feel leadings to carry out their faith in many particular ways, including the leading to carry a "concern" to other Meetings or to carry out acts of conscience which may violate secular law. Such a leading may in some cases take the individual Friend into new territory which Friends have not as yet recognized as acts of conscience or obedience to God's voice.

2. CLEARNESS & CORPORATE SUPPORT FOR INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS. Are we as a Quaker community able to unite in believing that God is in fact telling this individual to carry out this action?

The meeting tests the authenticity of the leading which its member feels drawn to and either unites with it (often expressed through writing a traveling minute or a minute of support) or is unable to do so.  The Friend may or may not go ahead and carry out the leading without the support of the community.  A committee of clearness may meet with the Friend to assist with the individual Friend's discernment process and the Meeting's process of discerning whether to unite with the individual's leading.  

Individual Friends may be far ahead of the rest of the meeting in terms of what they see as holy obedience.  Individual meetings may also be at a very different place than their yearly meeting.  And various yearly meetings today have very different understandings of what they are prepared to recognize as authentic expressions of obedience to God's will.  Such differing understandings of God's voice have been present since the beginnings of Quakerism. Two early conflicts among Friends were over whether to schedule regular beginning times for worship and whether men should remove their hats when someone prayed out loud during meeting for worship.

Although Friends today like to "claim" the Underground Railroad as a shining example of Quaker faithfulness, the large majority of Friends at the time did not support either abolitionism or violation of fugitive slave laws.  This led during the early 19th century to separations by Friends in several yearly meetings who were uneasy with the reluctance of their yearly meeting to take a more forceful position in opposition to slavery. Benjamin Lay was read out of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for the colorful and forceful manner in which he communicated his concern about slavery to other Friends. 

Although Friends led to take a draft noncooperation position since 1940 initially encountered lukewarm support or even active resistance from their Meetings, support for this stance became stronger and stronger during the Vietnam War years especially among unprogrammed Friends.  Many Friends read letters of support from their monthly or yearly meetings during their draft trials.  The same evolution in the response from the wider Quaker community has also occurred for Friends led to refuse taxation supporting the military during this century.

Some of the other forms of support offered to individual Friends during the Vietnam War include: offering symbolic sanctuary in the meetinghouse to a member at the time of arrest, attendance of and testimony at trials, prison visiting and support for families of imprisoned Friends, and the "Sufferings Column" printed for a number of years in the Friends Journal.  Meetings have also "released" members at times though providing financial support for them to pursue work they feel called tocarry out.

3. CORPORATE GUIDANCE TO THE MEETING'S MEMBERS. Can the meeting unite in believing that God is telling it to call upon ALL its members to take (or at least seriously consider taking) a certain stand--as opposed to simply supporting individual Friends called to take that position?

Friends have traditionally utilized the Bible, Friends writings, and the corporate experience of other Quaker and Christian groups to assist them in the process of hearing together in the present what God is telling them is required of them.  These sources are not always clear in what they suggest God is saying to the community.  As a result, it often takes a considerable period of time for Friends to move from support for individual concern to full unity around the position originally taken by a few individual Friends. It took a century of contentious struggle, for example, for Friends to reach unity around the unacceptability of slave owning by Friends. We may well forget as we struggle to hear what the Bible is offering as guidance today on issues from war tax refusal to same gender sexuality how many biblical passages were cited over the centuries justifying the practice of "kindly" slave-owning.

The classic ultimate expression of unity once it has been attained is a statement on the subject in the yearly meeting's Book of Discipline.

A conference on the subject of conscription was called at Earlham College in 1968 that was attended by representatives appointed by a large number of yearly meetings.  The new Richmond Declaration on Military Conscription agreed upon by this gathering expressed strong opposition to military conscription and offered strong and unequivocal support BOTH for those called to accept conscientious objector status and those called to the noncooperation position.  This conference represented a kind of watershed shift in the corporate position of Friends from an earlier position heavily weighted towards the cooperating C.O. position.

As yet, few Friends bodies have moved from support for individual Friends war tax resisters to statements asking all Friends to wrestle with the incompatibility of opposition to war and paying for it.

4. PUBLIC CORPORATE WITNESS.  Is the meeting able to unite in believing that God is asking it to communicate its position to the wider non-Quaker community around it?

This is presumably the basic source of the term "Testimony", although the term is used today to refer both to the public aspects of the corporate position and the internal expectations placed upon members. Some of the ways in which Friends expressed their public opposition to war during the period included: the public offers of "sanctuary" mentioned above, letters to the media, letters and delegations to public officials, and publication of books and pamphlets expressing Friends' position on the issues.  Friends were increasingly willing as the Vietnam War progressed to join with a wide variety of church, pacifist and other antiwar groups in attempting to mobilize opposition to the war and the draft.  This was in sharp contrast to the relatively limited attempts by Friends to influence broader public opinion during other wars in the past.

5. CORPORATE ACTION BY THE MEETING.  Can members unite in believing that God is asking the meeting to carry out action as a group as an expression of one of the community's corporate testimonies in a given area? 

Many monthly meetings, yearly meetings, and Quaker organizations wrestled with whether they could as corporate bodies directly carry out actions in violation of law.  Examples included willingness to send medical supplies to all sides in Vietnam, willingness to honor employees' requests that their salaries not be withheld for federal income taxes, and active support for those led to leave the military during time of war.  A number of yearly meetings were in fact able to unite on such actions, though only after considerable struggle and conflict.

There have been many other examples of meetings wrestling with similar issues of corporate action since that time.  Many meetings wrestled with whether to hold onto investments in South Africa under apartheid.  Some meetings today make it a matter of principle to avoid use of paper products, Styrofoam or plastic utensils as an expression of their understanding of our new unfolding testimony on unity with nature.  The question of whether to hold a ceremony of commitment for a same gender couple is particularly challenging for many meetings precisely because it represents corporate action by the meeting rather than merely an abstract position on the issue of same gender relationships.

6. INTERNAL TEACHING TO MEMBERS. How does the community communicate to its own members (including especially children raised within the group and new converts) the positions that it feels are important? 

Differing religious communions utilize a variety of similar methods from religious education, camps, religious youth organizations, voluntary service projects, and rituals surrounding rites of passage such as first communion, first baptism, and confirmation.  Amish churches set up youth fellowships to help maintain interest in the church community prior to an adult decision to join, but then struggle when those fellowships engage in practices contrary to church beliefs.  (For example, several members of such an Amish youth group were arrested recently for selling hard drugs to other members of their group.)  Friends in Philadelphia Yearly wrestled for years with the question of whether to permit smoking at Young Friends gatherings for similar reasons. The upshot is, however, that if a community cannot effectively communicate to new members its deeply held convictions, it will either die out or no longer stand for those values it once held dear.

The Peace Churches have had widely varying degrees of success in communicating the importance of non-participation in the armed forces to their draft-age male members in different wars. Different branches of Friends have often placed very different emphasis on what kinds of behavior are considered essential to being a Friend and what behaviors are considered "optional extras".

7. DISCIPLINE OF MEMBERS.  What action does the faith community take if individual members fail to practice the teachings of the group?

Several examples are given in the Book of Acts of ways a religious community can handle failure by its members to follow its teachings.  These efforts are rooted in the foundational teaching of Christ given in Matthew that when a member of the community strays from the community's principles that bind it together, it should be handled first through one-to-one private discussion. If this fails, then a meeting with two or three other members of the community, is to be arranged. Only after these steps have been attempted is a question of "discipline" to be brought to the community as a whole.

Presumably Friends follow this practice today: beginning with informal one-to-one communication of concern, proceeding to private discussion with a few other individual members, next taking the matter to an official committee such as overseers or worship and counsel, and finally bringing the matter to the attention of monthly meeting itself.

The ultimate form of discipline for Catholics is excommunication, which means banning the incalcitrant member from receiving the rite of communion.  An important method of discipline for some Anabaptist groups is "shunning", which involves members in good standing being asked to stop socializing with the member who has violated church teaching. 

There are two ultimate forms of discipline which have been practiced traditionally by Friends. The first is being read out of meeting, through which the monthly meeting decides to remove a member from its rolls. 

The second is disownment.  Disownment technically means something quite different from removal from membership, although the terms are often used interchangably among Friends today. The term disownment originally referred to the public action of witnessing to the surrounding non-Quaker community that the action of a person who claims to be a Friend is, in the meeting's understanding, inconsistent with Quaker practice and testimony.  The purpose of disownment is essentially evangelical - that is, to maintain the clarity of the Quaker message to the world.  The practice has largely fallen into disfavor - perhaps in part because of the frequency with which different Friends groups disowned each other during the 19th century schisms.

Concern among many liberal Friends about Richard Nixon's Quaker membership illustrates well the difficult issues around reading out and disownment.  Friends outside of California YM who were deeply uneasy with Richard Nixon's active leadership of the nation in prosecuting a war clearly lacked authority to tell East Whittier Meeting or California YM what they should do concerning his actual membership.  They certainly did have the option, some might say the obligation, of communicating in a loving and respectful manner their concerns to Nixon's own meeting what effect they saw Nixon's publicly recognition as a Friend having on the clarity of Friends' testimony against war. 

In the end, however, disownment is not in the end an issue of membership but of witness.  Therefore, it does not seem inappropriate to the basic idea of disownment that in some extreme instances (such as Friend Nixon) a yearly meeting might feel called to communicate to the public that the behavior in question seems to it to violate core tenets of Quaker belief. 

A meeting which publicly distances itself from the actions of Friends from another Quaker group must, of course, be prepared to accept the possibility that other Friends groups may feel called, in turn, to distance themselves from other actions of their meeting or its members.  There is a real danger that Friends today could be drawn into another process of mutual disownment over difficult issues such as same gender commitments.

INDIVIDUALISM AND 20TH CENTURY FRIENDS

Friends and Buddhists have classically leaned more heavily towards individual conscience while certain other religious communities like Anabaptists and Catholics have leaned more towards corporate discipline.  This difference is illustrated by the discussion following a presentation that a Friend made to an ecumenical course on spiritual direction on the Quaker practice of clearness committees.  The non-Friends present were deeply intrigued and drawn to the practice.  One asked what happens when the group and the individual Friend reach different conclusions at the end as to what God is asking the individual to do. Her expectation (based on her own faith community's approach to corporate discernment and discipline) was that the individual Friend would follow the direction of the clearness committee.  The Friend making the presentation surprised many of the non-Friends present by confessing that in most cases the individual Friend would probably go ahead and do what she or he felt was right.

In fact, corporate discipline seems to be little exercised among Friends in this century.  Some view this fact as a strong pendulum swing away from overly severe exercise of discipline by meetings on issues like marrying out in the 19th century.  Some see it as the influence of rampant individualism ("Do your own thing") in the surrounding secular society.  Still others see this as a healthy and natural evolution towards respect for diversity of personal discernment.

Very few Meetings, if any, read out members for military participation during the Vietnam War.  I expect that even gentler forms of discipline have been fairly rare in many meetings during this century for military participation.  There have been Friends meetings that have exercised stronger corporate discipline in response to social taboos such as dancing than towards participation in war.  Mid-America Yearly Meeting recently revoked the recorded minister status of two of its members for public disagreement with its stand on homosexuality. The only basis for being read out of many liberal meetings, on the other hand, appears to be consistent failure to attend meeting, contribute to the meeting, and to respond to letters of inquiry from overseers. 

There are actions which do sometimes put members of liberal meetings "beyond the pale" of tolerance by their meeting.  Members whose long-standing mental disorders lead them to consistently disrupt worship or to seriously disrupt in other ways the life of the meeting have occasionally been removed from membership.  The same has been true in some meetings for a member who has engaged in sexually abusive behavior towards another member.  A member of Canada YM at the Friends and the Vietnam War gathering described the efforts of that yearly meeting to wrestle caringly with protocols or guidelines dealing with sexually abusive behavior which occurs within the life of the meeting. 

·    Has your meeting ever counseled or otherwise challenged a member for failure to live out core Quaker testimonies? 

·    Has it ever removed a member of your meeting from membership for anything other than wholesale non-participation in the life of the meeting? 

·    Are you aware of any other meetings in your yearly meeting which are more willing to engage each other on such questions? 

·    What area, if any, would you feel it might be positive for your meeting to exercise discipline or offer direct guidance concerning personal behavior of its members? 

·    How could this best be approached in a way that was tender and supportive rather than judgmental? 

·    Has our deep reluctance to practice any discipline among liberal Friends weakened the meaning of membership or our testimony to the world?

PASTORAL CARE IN UNPROGRAMMED MEETINGS

What in fact is the best way in which members of a religious community should approach issues of personal behavior?  One of the major differences between pastoral and non-pastoral meetings is that a pastor has access to homes in the way that members of a non-pastoral meeting often do not.  You almost have to go into members' homes to know them well enough to communicate concerns about personal dimensions of faithfulness in a way that is both true to the members' actual life context and tender to their efforts to obey God in their life. 

Some meetings have a practice of assigning responsibility for each meeting family and single Friend to a member of overseers or ministry and counsel.  The idea is that this member of the meeting gets to know each of her/his families and single members well enough to be able to recognize pastoral needs and provide a loving and appropriate response to unhelpful or un-Friendly behavior.  My sense is that this is a nice theoretical plan, but that such assigned overseers often find it hard to carry out this role as intended.  Both the committee members and the members of the meeting assigned to them may feel too uncomfortable with this level of engagement with each other.

Perhaps the deeper question is:   How can our meetings become the kind of redemptive community which is touched by the Holy Spirit in a way which changes the lives of its members - and creates the sense of deep trust and safety necessary to wrestle together with issues of personal and corporate faithfulness?  How many of us have ever experienced that kind of redemptive community any time during our lives?  Certainly the early church was that kind of community - as was the early Quaker movement.

In large "super churches" today, it is generally felt that the larger church community as a whole should be a place for public worship, celebration and affirmation of common bonds. Issues of personal discernment and lifestyle choices can be much more easily addressed in much smaller ongoing face-to-face groups. Such churches often require all members to be part of small "cells" or prayer groups who remain together over time. There may be hundreds of these cell groups in a single large congregation.

Even if none of our unprogrammed meetings approach the size of these mammoth congregations in terms of membership, this model may be a useful way for meetings to try venturing into the risky territory of loving mutual accountability.  Certainly it is much more possible to experience the sense of safety, of being personally known at the core, and of being touched by God's love in an ongoing group of 6-10 than even in a modestly sized meeting as a whole.  The richest experiences I personally have had of tender accountability have been in the context of small ongoing cell groups of this type.

SOME CLOSING QUERIES

  • What are the "frontier areas" that you know of individual Friends today being led to take stands which may be hard for many Friends to support?
  • What do you see as possible new "testimonies" emerging among Friends in the 21st century?  War tax resistance?  Unity with nature?  A stronger commitment to simple lifestyle given the terrible impact which over-consumption has both on environmental integrity in planting the "seeds of war"?
  • Are there actions which our meetings, yearly meetings and Quaker organizations could be taking today to live out what we believe in the peace testimony or other core testimonies?
  • Does our peace testimony mean anything at all when our membership in this country is living at a standard of wealth so distant from that of most of the world's inhabitants, sowing the seeds enormous future conflicts?
  • How are our meetings communicating their ideals to our young people?  Do our younger members know anything at all about the stands taken by older members of our meetings during periods such as the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam War?
  • Has the pendulum swung too far from corporate discipline to individualism?  Do we in fact stand for anything as Friends today? (I am thinking especially of FGC and other unprogrammed Friends.) Are we truly "members of one another" in any sense?  Do we want to be?
  • What will it take to raise up public ministers among us today who will communicate powerfully and effectively to the world around us an alternative vision of a peaceable kingdom shaped by the living Spirit of God?

© August 1998.  Written after participating in a panel at the Friends Conference on the Vietnam War, held at Bryn Mawr College under the sponsorship of Pendle Hill earlier that year.

Testimonies Course

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This Is Our Testimony to the World

A 7-week course on Quaker social testimonies (aka "Quakerism 201")


This Is Our Testimony to the World     Week 1:

What Is a Testimony?

A "Testimony" is what Friends refer to as how we believe people should be living their lives in a particular area as an expression of their faith.  It grows directly out of the idea of Gospel Order, or God's vision of how a faithful community should be shaped.  (See Sandra Cronk's Pendle Hill pamphlet of this title).  God's hope is that Friends will live in certain ways with each other as part of the beloved community.  This dream of a way of living with each other spills over into the way Friends live in the surrounding non-Quaker society.

The specific testimonies have gradually evolved over time.  There is no fixed or universally agreed-upon list of testimonies.  Different people like to use different terms.  Many overlap.

A testimony is a way of approaching a particular lifestyle issue that is widely agreed upon by Friends.  This consensus is reflected in its inclusion (in various forms) in many yearly meeting disciplines.  The evolution of testimonies can be traced by reading Yearly Meeting disciplines over time.  New "testimonies" get added.  Old ones become de-emphasized or may even be dropped entirely.

A testimony grows organically from an individual Friend's "concern" or religious leading about a particular issue.  This concern may (or may not!) by adopted or supported by the individual Friend's monthly and yearly meeting.  The individual may communicate her/his individual concern to other Friends through writing or (in theory at least with the approval of her or his meeting) through "travel in the ministry".  John Woolman is the best-known example of a Friend struggling to share widely his personal concerns with Friends around this country and in England.  His individual concern eventually led (after a very long period of disunity) to widespread agreement that Friends should not hold slaves.

Prior to the 20th century Meetings often wrestled with individual Friends who failed to live in keeping with the testimonies that the wider Quaker community agreed were essential.  A humorous example was illustrated in the film "Friendly Persuasion" when elders went to investigate rumors that a meeting member owned an organ. This type of "eldering" is very rare today.  If most Friends fail to live out a given testimony, it becomes hollow and is eventually dropped from our disciplines.

Reflection questions:

·      What testimonies do you think are most important to Haverford Friends today?

·      What testimonies are so obvious to non-Friends that many non-Friends identify these with Quaker membership?  (Would the list have been different a century ago?)

·      How does the Meeting communicate what it holds to be important about lifestyle to its children, its adult members, to prospective members & to the surrounding non-Quaker community?

·      Are there any activities that would be likely today to elicit some form of counsel or eldering from the meeting?  Are there any that could lead to disownment?

·      How actively does the meeting explore together its responses to the Yearly Meeting queries that address our testimonies?

·      How receptive do you feel the meeting is to new concerns that arise within the membership?

 

Faith & Practice: Extracts # 195-214, 247-8, 260 (pp. 145-64). Also: pp. 65-7, 74-5.  

Biblical passages relating to leadings and being called by God to a prophetic role.  1 Samuel 3, 1 Kings 19: 9-16, 1 Kings 19: 19-21, Isaiah 6:1-9, Jeremiah 1:1-10, Amos 3:1-8, 7:10-15, Joel 2:28.

 

This Is Our Testimony to the World    Week 2:

The Testimony on Integrity (truthspeaking, oaths, plain speech)

Early Friends considered it critical to live in a way that reflected their sense of integrity.  This meant speaking truth at all times.  It meant trying to find ways to keep scrupulously to an ethical way of life and to do nothing to hide one's convictions or status as a Friend even at great cost.

Early applications:

Refusal to take oaths ("But I say swear not at all, but let your yea by yea and your nay be nay" - Matt 5:23)

Plain speech 1) "plural address" (use of "thee" & "thou" to all persons), 2) names of days & months

Refusing to hold Quaker worship in secret even if this meant imprisonment

Speaking the truth to others even when it got one in trouble

"Wear thy sword as long as thou canst." (Fox's statement to Wm Penn)

Refusal to pay tithes to support a state church Friends did not agree with

Commercial honesty (e.g. refusal to haggle prices) led to commercial success

Other possible applications of this testimony:

Refusing to take "loyalty oaths" during McCarthy period

Cheating on income taxes

Software use without purchase

Honesty when given the wrong change at a store

"Affairs" -refusing deception in personal relationships, refusing to collude with others doing this.

Reflection Questions

·      Do you ever "cheat" on your income taxes?

·      Does the meeting discuss issues of personal ethics together?

·      Would you ever tell a friend that you disagree with something she or he has done that is dishonest or unethical?

·      Is being scrupulously honest as important today as it was in the 17th century?

·      Where might you not be strictly commited to truthtelling (e.g. hiding runaway slaves, Anne Frank)?

·      Do you think Friends still have a public reputation for honesty? 

 

Faith & Practice:   Extracts #270-97 (pp.167-74)  Query #12 on Integrity & Simplicity(p. 214)

Biblical passages:  Matt 5: 10-11 (8th beatitude), Luke 9:23-25 (Take up your cross & follow Christ), Matthew 5:33-37 & James 5:12 (on oaths)

This Is Our Testimony to the World  Week 3:

Simplicity (or "Purity")

This is probably the least understood of the Quaker testimonies.  It overlaps, to some extent, with virtually all the other testimonies (integrity, equality, peace, family life, community, unity with nature).

The heart of the testimony involves living one's life in a manner that enables one to stay focused on God -  to avoid activities which get in the way of a disciplined daily life of prayer and inward attentiveness to the motions of the Divine Spirit. 

This has been an important aspect of spiritual faithfulness in other religious traditions, e.g.

--St. Francis of Assisi - gave up wealth and his personal possessions to be closer to God

--Brother Lawrence was a monk who tried to pray without ceasing even while doing housework.

--Thich Nhat Nahn and other Zen Buddhists are keenly aware of how certain activities distract us from a spiritually grounded life.

Early applications:           

--Plain dress - taken up primarily to avoid ostentation and frivolity associated with "worldly fashions".  (Margaret Fell referred to opposition to bright clothing as a "silly testimony". See Extract #255.)

--Rejection (in common with the Puritans) of "world's" holidays / feast days.  Until the 20th century many Friends schools were open on Christmas Day!

--Along similar lines: rejection of musical instruments, choral singing, dancing, plays

--Sexual faithfulness (no sex outside of traditional marriage)

--Requirement to be married to a Friend

Later applications:           

--Gambling

--Drugs and alcohol use / abuse

Other possibilities           

--TV, internet abuse

--Wearing suit & ties.  (Jeans & T-shirt as "plain dress"?)

--Personal spiritual disciplines

--Fasting

Reflection Questions:

·      What kinds of activities (diet, clothing, place) help you to feel centered / grounded in God / to hear God's voice speaking to you?

·      What kinds of activities interfere with your ability to pray / to hear God's voice / to feel present with God?

·      What kinds of possessions seem to interfere with your ability to live in God?

·      What dangers do you see addictions playing in your spiritual life / the integrity of your relations with others?

·      Do you talk about these issues with your family?  Your friends?  The meeting?

Faith & Practice: Extracts #225-40, 255 (pp. 155ff). pp. 70-71. Query #12 (p. 214)

Biblical passages: Eccles. 5:1-7 (2b often quoted by early Friends), 6:11, 9:17.  Matt 6:25-34 (lilies of the field), Matt 5:8 (5th beatitude: pure in spirit), Luke 16:12-4  (on serving 2 masters cf. Matt 6:23)


This Is Our Testimony to the World   Week 4:

Equality (including antislavery, women's rights, social justice)

 

This testimony grows from the conviction that God is present in every life.  It is essential to make certain that no oppressive assumptions or social structure interfere with the ability of God to find expression through each precious person.  This means:

  1. Treating each person we meet equally.
  2. Allowing each person a voice in meeting life and (by extension) in the larger body politic.
  3. Ending social institutions that by their nature oppress or exploit others.
  4. Becoming sensitive to the ways in which our possessions and lifestyle result in harm to others.

 

Early applications:           

Hat honor (still enforced in courtrooms!)

            Honorifics in speech (e.g. plural address to superiors)

            Allowing women to take active role in church leadership (revolutionary at the time)

Later applications:             

Slavery

            Women's suffrage

Concern about how some possessions & lifestyles exploit / harm others (Woolman)

Prison reform (extended to prison visitors, meetings in prisons, Restorative Justice movement, AVP, opposition to capital punishment)

Recent extensions:           

Rights of disabled people

            Resistance against ageism: oppression & disenfranchisement of children & the elderly

            Sexual orientation (discrimination against gays)

Other possibilities:            

Socialism (there is a Quaker Socialists organization in the UK.)

            Use of titles, degrees, current honorifics (e.g. "Your Honor", "The Honorable...")

            Rights of children

 

Reflection Questions:

·      What differences in empowerment do you perceive as persisting within the life of the meeting? Of Yearly Meeting (the regional organization of Friends)?

·      What is the impact of being a relatively affluent faith community in a city and a world with so many who are severely disenfranchised by their poverty?

·      Do we live off the back of others?

·      Is living a simpler lifestyle a witness to the surrounding society that furthers change?  A personal ethical act regardless of effectiveness?  A deceptive luxury for those working to effect change?

Faith & Practice Extracts #243-6, 249-50, 254, 268-9 (on pp.159-67). p. 75-6, 80.   

Queries # 6 & 7 (on pp. 210-11).

Biblical roots: Eccles. 6:10-12, Amos 2:6-7 & 5:21-24, Isaiah 11:3-5, Luke 18: 18-30 (rich young ruler), Acts 2: 42-7, 4: 32-7 (on sharing of goods in the early church), Matt 5:6 (4th beatitude), Galatians 3:28, James 5:1-5.


This Is Our Testimony to the World    Week 5:

The Peace Testimony

Rationale for the peace testimony:

Initially "We do not fight with outward weapons." (cf.rejection of outward sacraments).  Separation from

    the world & its struggles.   "My kingdom is not of this world". "I'm not that kind of Messiah"

Fox also alludes to "James doctrine" (James 4) attributing "lust" (greed) as a cause of war. 

    Woolman extends this idea to focus on the seeds of war in possessions and lifestyles.

Later religious justifications:             

            Admonitions of Jesus ("Turn the other cheek... Love those who hate you.")

Killing violates "that of God in every one." (John Gallery suggests that the spiritual root of the

    peace testimony is God in ourselves rather than in the others.)

Political reasons

Wastefulness of military spending

Insidious effects of hatred begetting hatred & violence begetting violence

Importance of developing international understanding and institutions

 

Evolution of focus: Testimony was originally limited to personal non-participation in military & violence

First publicly articulated in 1660 to avoid confusion with the Fifth Monarchy Insurrection.

(How do you feel about Fox attributing the death or illness of some of those who persecuted him as being evidence of God's punishment?)

After Friends withdrew from public government (in Pennsylvania due to conflicts regarding the French & Indian War), Friends generally expressed neutrality toward governmental decisions, similar to Amish position today.

John Woolman: Extended Fox's ideas from James 4 on greed as a root of violence to the "seeds of war"

in personal possessions & lifestyle. 

He also questioned paying taxes for war (similar to refusing tithes)

20th century extensions of peace testimony: 

"Political peacemaking" - organizing opposition to government war policies (including conscription)

The movement to abolish capital punishment

Conflict resolution work in communities

Alternatives to Violence Project. Started by Quakers, especially in prisons - holistic personal change

Vegetarianism.   An extension of peace testimony, right sharing of world resources Unity with Nature, care for our bodies. (Much more common among Friends in England, New Zealand & Australia.)

Struggle against violence towards women

Ending Use of Physical Restraints (in care of the elderly) - Friends life-care communities & nursing homes have led the way in pioneering alternatives. 

Violence towards the environment (treating all creation with deep respect just as other people)

Reflection questions:

·      What approach do you think the Meeting should take to a member who is joining the military?

·      Should our children be playing with war toys? Violent games? Watching media with violent content?

·      What attitudes or institutions do you see as holding the seeds of war in our society? In our own lives?

·      Do the affluent (by world standards) lifestyles of U.S. Friends contradict our testimony against war?

·      Where did the peace movement go? What can Friends do to witness more actively to peace today?

Faith & Practice Extracts # 215-24 (pp. 151-5), 230.  Query #8.

Bible roots: Isaiah 11:6-9, Micah 4:2-4,  Matt 5:38-48, 26:51-2, Romans 12: 9-21, James 4: 1-3


This Is Our Testimony to the World    Week 6:

The Testimony on Earthcare (aka "Unity with Nature")

This is the youngest of the widely agreed-upon testimonies.  Many Yearly Meetings have passed statements in recent years on this issue.  Many have added queries and other passages their disciplines.  Many Friends around the country have in the past couple of decades felt "deeply exercised" about this issue.

This represents an extension of our testimonies on peace and equality to other creatures besides humans and to the natural world in general.  It arises from a far-reaching re-evaluation of traditional theological assumptions that saw humans as being superior to and dominant over the rest of creation.  Grows from seeing humans as a small part of and our own future intimately intertwined with the entire planet and natural order.  The term "stewardship" is a fine traditional Christian term (and we humans have certainly been poor stewards of the earth!)  Many of the Quaker pioneers in this area preferred the term "unity with nature" in order to move away from the old concept that humans are above the rest of creation.

This new "testimony" is seen as involving both profound inward shifts in consciousness and spirituality and radical changes in personal and political behaviors, such as:

 

--Cutting back significantly on levels of consumption & energy use below what is considered "normal" in the USA

--Environmentally sound practices (recycling, cutting water use)

--Eating lower on the food chain

--Personal limits to family size

--Environmentally aware investing and purchasing.

 

Also involves heavy involvement in environmental organizations and political advocacy to affect local and national policies in areas such as:

 

--World population growth

--Increased support for public transportation, heavier taxation on fossil fuels

--Laws that make strong economic incentives for recycling (common in Western Europe)

--Protection of undeveloped wilderness areas

--Protection of oceans and marine mammals

--Laws to protect endangered species.

 

Reflection Questions on Stewardship of Creation:

·      What steps has your family taken to live in ways that protect the future of this planet and all its creatures?

·      What has the meeting done to change its corporate practice (e.g. energy use, recycling, investing, etc.) in this area?

·      Has the meeting carried out witness on this testimony to the surrounding community? Could it?

·      Do you see this testimony conflicting with our testimony of equality (e.g. in terms of conflicting priorities regarding development and social justice for the poor?)

 

Faith & Practice Extracts #263 & 265 (pp.165-6)   pp. 81. Query #10 (on pg. 213)   Bible: Gen. 1-2, Lev. 25: 1-8 & 11-12; 26: 4-6 & 34-35, Psalms 24:1 & 104, Job 38-40, Matt. 5:5, Rom. 8:18-27.


This Is Our Testimony to the World   Week 7:

Continuing Revelation: How new testimonies are born...

Friends believe that God continues to speak to us today.  This may lead us to hear new divine promptings and requirements of us as a Quaker movement.  Testimonies begin as the concerns of individual Friends.  These concerns grow into full-blown testimonies as they are gradually accepted as "divinely-ordered" by wider and wider corporate bodies of Friends.  Here are 3 examples of testimonies that gradually grew into widespread acceptance by Friends:

1.    The application of the testimony on equality to the issue of slavery.

2.    The extension of the peace testimony from personal non-participation in war to public stands against warmaking by secular governments.

3.    The growing sense among Friends that the whole relationship between humanity and the natural world has deep spiritual implications.

If God continues to speak to us, people may also feel led away from positions that were once widely or even universally accepted among us.  Here are testimonies that were very important to early Friends but which are no longer widely supported:

  1. Plain Speech.  Became obsolete because "you" is now used in addressing everyone.  Still relevant perhaps in other languages (such as French) that continue to use plural versus singular 2nd person usage to reflect differences of status ("vous" vs. "tu").
  2. Plain Dress.
  3. Against Payment of Tithes.
  4. Names of Months & Days of the Week. 
  5. Times & Seasons - Friends objected to popular holidays like Christmas and Easter in part due to association with pre-Christian pagan traditions and partly to affirm the holiness of every day.  Quaker schools and businesses used to be open on Christmas day. 
  6. Instrumental Music & Choral Singing.  (Although many Friends are still ambivalent about choral singing during Meeting for Worship.)
  7. Dancing.  When I was a child, folk dancing had to be called "folk games" when Lake Erie Yearly Meeting held its annual session at the Friends Boarding School in Barnesville, Ohio.
  8. Plays - Associated by Puritans & early Friends with sexual promiscuity & "frivolity".

Possible "New" Testimonies

  1. Embodiment.  Is it possible for us to develop a new vision of "rightly ordered" sexuality beyond the traditional "it's only ok if it's inside heterosexual marriage"?  (See the books of James Nelson.)
  2. Vegetarianism
  3. TV & Video Games.  Some Quaker families refuse to have these in their homes. Others try to place sharp limits on amount of time and quality of use.
  4. Music - as being the birthright of all rather than just the "experts"

Reflection Questions:

  • Are there issues of deep importance to meeting members not yet included in a "testimony"? Are their issues that you sense Friends here would be very reluctant to look at?
  • How do you feel a person is received when they bring deeply held concerns to the meeting around which there is not yet any clear corporate agreement?
  • Are there other old assumptions & values that Friends are holding on to that God may be inviting us to let go of?

A free bonus: The Testimony on Community (Care for Others)

 

This testimony is closely related to the testimony on equality but focuses more on caring about and caring for those who are suffering or in need.  It is interesting that in English the word "care" refers both to an emotion (having tender feelings towards another) and an act of help towards another (as in taking care of someone, caretaker, or healthcare).  Some biblical scholars have suggested that the 2nd beatitude ("Blessed are those who mourn") focuses on the capacity to feel others' pain while the 5th beatitude ("Blessed are the merciful") focuses on those who are willing to take care in practical ways of others' needs (see Matt. 5: 4 & 7).

The first couple of generations of Friends did not have a formal membership.  They were well aware, however, of who was part of their spiritual family and were deeply committed to "taking care of their own".

It was not difficult for later generations to extend the idea of care for those within the faith community to others who were suffering in the surrounding society, including:

Slaves

The mentally ill

Prison inmates (including those facing execution or torture)

The poor and chronically economically disadvantaged

War refugees

Victims of genocide

People with AIDS, etc.

 

In previous centuries this concern led many Friends to individual efforts to provide relief to those in need.  During the past century Friends tended to focus increasingly on efforts to effect change in the social and economic systems that perpetuate suffering.  Groups like the Catholic Worker have emphasized the need to continue efforts to directly aid those who are suffering in our communities.

 

Reflection Questions:

·      How can we open our hearts more to others who are suffering?

·      When you see images of suffering on TV or in films, do you feel empowered to action or immobilized and overwhelmed by the pain you are watching and discouragement about the possibility of change?

·      Do you perceive your meeting as being a place where members feel accepted and cared about?

·      In the time of the early Church, it was said that non-Christians marveled at how Christians loved one another.  Do you think non-Friends perceive us this way?

·      Does the caring we experience within our faith community create a wall that interferes with caring towards those outside or does it spill over into love for those around our community?

Faith & Practice:  Extracts #241-2, 251-2, 256-9, 261-2 (pp. 159-65). 

Biblical roots: Matt 5:4, 7 (2nd & 5th beatitudes), 25: 31-46 (the "works of mercy"), Acts 2: 42-7, 4: 32-7, 6:1-7, 11:29-30, 1 John 4:7-21 (you can't love God without loving your brothers).

Additional readings:  Howard Brinton, Friends for 300 Years, pp.  126-9, 170-4.

Parker Palmer, A Place Called Community, PH Pamphlet #212, 1977 (online


READING LIST

Everyone should have a copy of Faith & Practice of Phila. YM for the class.  This will be our main "text".  If you read nothing else, try to read at least a few of the Extracts from Writings of Friends for each class and choose one that especially appeals, puzzles or bothers you to read out loud to the group.  Please bring your copy to class if possible.

The Bible:  These are readings that shed light on the biblical roots of each testimony we are studying.  Many of these were critical in shaping the views of early Friends on these issues. 

A great collection of writings on this subject (Leonard Kenworthy Friends Face the World) is, sadly, out-of-print. There may be a copy on your family bookshelf. Used copies areb available via Amazon.com.

There are many Pendle Hill pamphlets on this subject. I can order copies from the bookstore if participants would like to buy some of these. Here's 4 great ones. (Others are online at www.pendlehill.org/pendle_hill_pamphlets.htm.)
Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of the Faithful Quaker Community
(#297, for Week 1)
Elaine Prevallet, Reflections on Simplicity
(#244, for Week 3)
David Morse, Testimony: John Woolman on Today's Global Economy (
#356, for Week 4)
Steve Smith, Living in Virtue, Declaring Against War: The Spiritual Roots of the Peace Testimony
(#378, for Week 5)

Week 1:  - What Is a Testimony?

Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of the Faithful Quaker Community (PH Pamphlet #297).
pp. 9-13 describes her view on what testimonies are.  pp.21-31 is a wonderful story on mutual accountability.

Faith & Practice: Extracts # 195-214, 247-8, 260 (pp. 145-64). Also: pp. 65-7, 74-5.  

Biblical roots:  The following passages relate to leadings and a sense of being called by God to a prophetic role.  1 Samuel 3, 1 Kings 19: 9-16, 1 Kings 19: 19-21, Isaiah 6: 1-9, Jeremiah 1:1-10, Amos 3:1-8, 7:10-15, Joel 2:28.

Add'l reading:  Jack Kirk, "Creaturely Activities or Spiritually Based Concerns?", Ch.1 in Friends Face the World.

Paul Lacey. Leading and Being Led, PH Pamphlet #264, 1985. (available online at www.pendlehill.org).

Week 2:  - The Testimony on Integrity

Faith & Practice:   Extracts #270-97 (pp.167-74). Also: Query #12 (p. 215)

Biblical roots:  Matt 5: 10-11 (8th beatitude), Luke 9:23-25 (Take up your cross & follow Christ), Matthew 5:33-37 & James 5:12 (on oaths)

Additional reading:  Good Business Ethics at Work, The Quakers at Business Group, London, 2000.

Wilmer Cooper, The Testimony of Integrity, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #296, 1991.

Robert Barclay's Apology: Proposition XV, espec. Section III (titles) & X (oaths).

Week 3:  - Simplicity (or "Purity")

Faith & Practice: Extracts 225-40, 255 (pp. 155-63).  Also: pp. 70-71, pp. 73-4 (addictions). Query & #12 (p. 214)

Richard Gregg, The Value of Voluntary Simplicity, PH Pamphlet #3 (available online at www.pendlehill.org)

Biblical roots: Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (2b was often quoted by early Friends), 6:11, 9:17. , Matt 6:25-34 (the lilies of the field - cf. James 4:13-17), Matt 5:8 (5th beatitude: pure in spirit), Luke 16:12-4  (=Mt 6: 23-5 - serving 2 masters)

Additional reading:  Elaine Prevallet, Reflections on Simplicity, PH Pamphlet #244, 1982.

Thomas Kelly. "The Simplification of Life" in A Testament of Devotion.

Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God.

Fran Tabor, "Finding the Taproot of Simplicity: The Movement between Inner Knowledge & Outer Action", Chap. 5 in Friends Face the World.

James Neff MD, "Alcohol & Drugs: A Quaker Concern". Chap. 10 in Friends Face the World.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment; The Miracle of Mindfulness, and other books.


Week 4:  - Equality

Faith & Practice: Extracts # 243-6, 249-50, 254, 268-69 (on pp. 159-67).  Also: pp. 75-6, 80. Queries # 6 & 7.  We will also run off several Woolman passages for this class.

Biblical roots: Eccles. 6:10-12, Amos 2:6-7 & 5:21-24, Isaiah 11:3-5, Luke 18: 18-30 (rich young ruler), Acts 2: 42-7, 4: 32-7 (on sharing of goods in the early church), Matt 5:6 (4th beatitude), Galatians 3:28, James 5:1-5.

Additional reading:  David Morse, Testimony: John Woolman on Today's Global Economy (PH Pamphlet #356).

Mildred Binns Young, What Doth the Lord Require of Thee?, PH Pamphlet #145, 1966. (available online).

John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor.  (appended to most editions of his Journal & reissued as PH pamphlet #357.)

Severyn Bruyn, Testimonies & Economic Alternatives, PH Pamphlet # 231, 1980 (also online).

Margaret Hope Bacon, ed. Lucretia Mott Speaking: Excerpts from the Sermons & Speeches of a Famous Nineteenth Century Quaker Minister & Reformer, PH Pamplet #234 (available online)

Margaret Hope Bacon, "Beyond Equal Rights: The Quaker Concern for the Rights of Women", Chap. 9 in Friends Face the World.

Week 5:  - Peace

"A Perspective on the Peace Testimony", by John Andrew Gallery, in the Nov. 2002 issue of Friends Journal. Available online at: http://www.friendsjournal.org/contents/2002/11november/feature.html  (We will make some copies available for those who request it.)

Faith & Practice: Extracts # 215-24 (pp. 151-5) & 230. Also: pp. 76-9. Query #8 (pg. 211).

Bible roots: Isaiah 11:6-9 (peaceable kingdom), Micah 4:2-4 (swords into plowshares), Matt 5:38-48 (love your enemies), 26:51-2 (resisting Jesus' arrest), Romans 12: 9-21 (cited by Barclay), James 4: 1-3 (cited by Fox in 1651 & in Declaration of 1660).  See also: Matt. 10:34-9 (bringing a sword, not peace), 21:12-13 (cleansing the temple), 22:15-22 (paying taxes), Romans 13 (obeying authories).

Additional reading

Steve Smith, Living in Virtue, Declaring Against War: The Spiritual Roots of the Peace Testimony (PH pamphl. #378)
The Declaration of 1660 in the Journal of George Fox
(page 398-403 in the Nickalls edition)

Barclay's Apology Proposition XV, paragraph XIII.                            Woolman's Journal. Chapter 5.

Howard Brinton, Friends for 300 Years, pp.151-5 (on Quaker work to reform prisons and mental hospitals).

Wallace Collett, "Pay Thy Taxes as Long as Thou Canst".  Chap. 14 in Friends Face the World.

Friends & the Vietnam War: Papers & Presentations from a Gathering for Reconciliation, Reappraisal & Looking Ahead, ed. by Chuck Fager, Pendle Hill, 1998.

Many Pendle Hill Pamphlets including A.J.Muste, "Of Holy Obedience" PH pamphlet #64 (available online).

Robert Hillegass, Nonviolence on Trial, PH pamphlet #274.

John Andrew Gallery, Reflections from a Prayer Vigil for Peace, PH pamphlet #358.

Week 6:  - Earthcare

Faith & Practice:  pp. 81.   Query #10 (on pg. 213).

Biblical roots: Gen. 1-2, Lev. 25:1-8, 11-12; 26:4-6, 34-35 (sabbath rest for the land), Psalms 24:1 & 104, Job 38-40, Matt 5:5, Rom 8:18-27.

Additional reading:

George Fox, Journal (Nickalls edition), p. 27 and 206

Ruth Lofgren, "Sharing Stewardship of Our Planet Earth". Chap. 11 in Friends Face the World.

 

Week 7:  - Continuing Revelation:    How new testimonies are born

Faith & Practice:  Parts of Query #6 on clearness process.  See also readings for Week #1.

Bible: Matt. 5: 13-48, 9:17. Rev. 21:5.

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Quote that speaks to me

Death Cannot Kill What Never Dies

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They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  
Death cannot kill what never dies.  
Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same Divine Principle; the Root and Record of their friendship.
If absence be not death, neither is theirs.  
Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.  
For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent.
In this Divine Glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure.
This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.
 - William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude, 1702.

Note: This passage was quoted by J.K.Rowling as the epigraph of her novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Braithwaite on Outreach

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Men & Women with a Message of Power

It is as a "religion of life" that Quakerism will be presented in the future and is being presented now.

Its distinguishing note will be its resolve to bring all this human life of ours under the transforming power of spiritual life.  It will stand out against all divisions and compartments that separate the sacred from the secular, the sanctuary from the outward world of nature, the sacrament from the days' common work, the clergy from the laity. 

It will tell of a Christian experience that makes all life sacred and all days holy, all nature a sanctuary, all work a sacrament, and gives to every man and woman in the body fit place and service.  Its concern will be to multiply men and women who will have a message of power because they are themselves the children of light.  It will claim the whole of man's life, and the whole of life, individual, social, national international, for the dominion of the will of God.

William C. Braithwaite and Henry T. Hodgkin, The Message and Mission of Quakerism (Philadelphia, Winston, 1912), 25-26.

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