I am at a loss as to what Friends have come to represent. Currently, I have a concern that we are no longer a Religious Society, and perhaps, not even a particularly Spirit-led society. Perhaps Quakers are no longer the Religious Society of Friends (certainly no longer Friends of Jesus as represented in John 15), but a more or less social group of liberal Greens or Democrats. Perhaps even a few Socialists who can’t yet let go of the possibility of a God. In my current state of disdain, however, I no longer know if we are a people of peace.
There appears to be a concern among Quakers that Gays and Lesbians should have the right to serve in the Armed Forces. Of course they should. There should never be discrimination of any kind in regard to an individual’s ability to participate in public, social, political, or service-related institutions. Discrimination against any group, especially a marginalized group like the LGBT community, should never be condoned. However, is this a concern that Friends should take a public stance on under the guise of our testimony to equality?
For years, I believe Quaker participation in liberal democracy has taken a toll on our sense of justice. I believe our Quaker community might seek to provide an alternative community that seeks a higher sense of justice, a justice with a alternative view of what constitutes integrity. We instead appear to be concerned with a utilitarian justice that simply welcomes individuals from marginalized groups to find their way into a socio-economic position in which they can exploit others, whose self-determination remains unrealized. It seems that all it takes for the American sense of justice to be realized is that we open our collective arms and welcome new communities of “others” into privileged status as equal opportunity exploiters.
Yet, why on earth would I commit myself to fighting for a marginalized individual’s right to participate as an equal in war making - an endeavor that not only commits murder against exploited populations, but does so in a manner that suggests to both the exploited and formerly exploited populations that violence is always considered an appropriate response to injustice. Are we as Freinds suggesting that we recognize that communitites have the right, not only to defend newly realized self-determination, but in ensuring that the formerly exploited populations enjoy the ability to enjoy to a heaping portion of the benefits derived from the entitled status as member in good standing of the empire.
If we as Quakers, or Friends, or whatever we have become, are going to be a people of peace, we need to offer an example of justice that not only refrains from using violence as a means of achieving equality, but refusing to defend such a community with violence. We must deny ourselves the benefits reaped as fruits of militarism. Refusing to fight in wars of the empire, or wars of liberation, or wars of self-defense, is a cupcake baking example of peace making if we are fighting for the rights of others to defend our status as peacemakers. This is the very claim of the empire, the assertation of liberal democracy. That we can only “practice peace” because we do not face the violent threats to property, material comfort, and privilege that those citizens of hated socialist or tyranical dictatorships do.
Quakers rightfully insist that gay and lesbian intimate relationships, sexual practice, parental competency, and community values are fully representative of the relational, spiritual, and social values of our denomination. This is the kind of community that I desire to be a part of and voluntarily commit myself to in service of the Creator God. That is why we should create communities where the rest of the world can see what peace looks like when it values an integrity that lives out an example of equality without suggesting that equality is represented by new opportunities for once marginalized individuals to participate in an economically and socially unjust political system. How odd must it be for Muslims to look at Quakers and see us proclaiming peace in the Middle East, peace in Iraq, and peace in Afghanistan, and at the same time speaking out publicly on behalf of those individuals who are seeking the right to kill them.
How can proclaimed pacifists tell people that they should not use force to resolve conflict, then participate in a political process that seeks to ensure the rights of all persons to use force equally, especially when it fills their apparently vocational dream to identify as a warrior. As we counsel some soldiers that seek to cease their participation in war by serving as CO counselors and mediators, are we to run to the court room next door in order to ensure that some one is ready to take the other’s place?
I took up a similar issue at a meeting for worship with attention to business. Our meeting has been seeking contributions to support FCNL’s stance against cluster bombs and some other such wonders of modern engineering. As the kids write these days - WTF? Our stance against all outward wars and strife is now a stance that suggests there are kinder and gentler ways of mass murder that will better express our values as an empire, until someday the killing will stop. It is one thing to have the self-awareness and integrity to refrain from pushing the values of non-violence upon an exploited population that must decide upon its own collective response to economic, social, or military aggression. It is another thing to suggest that we will be more morally acceptable as particpants in empire if we can at least stop the governments and insurgents of the world from using those nasty land-mines.
I myself insist upon a government that uses only laser guided missiles and remote controlled drones that kill fewer innocent civilians, and never intenionally target any. In fact, we hardly lose any soldiers anymore, though it seems as though as many or more are wounded, and they only kill a few women and children once in a while. While I contribute money to this cause in the name of Friends, I’ll make sure to tell the newly enlisted soldiers who won the right to fight not to make us look to bad when they might happen to make deadly mistakes due to bad military intelligence, mistakenly identified insurgents, or simply the combat trauma they've experienced because we worked so hard politically so that they might experience that sinking feeling that they have just debilitated an innocent person. The nature of combat is, you cannot trust anyone, and most often have a difficult time identifying your enemiy. Why do we need cluster bombs when we send our youth into situations that force a response to evil that does more damage to everyone involved, including the American warrior, than any modern weaponry can inflict.
Indeed, why on earth would Quakers be in favor of gun control (as some folks protested the sale of firearms to civilians in Philadelphia). If we fight for the right for individuals to kill Muslims, why can’t our neighbors defend their television sets from theft by using lethal force. Perhaps, instead of fighting against capital punishment, we should insist upon a public viewing of executions so that people can get the real feel of it. You know, make them feel a little guilty that another black guy was killed so that we could all feel a little safer about our kids ability to walk teh streets of Texas suburbs. Funny about American history. We don’t feel guilty to much about our past, and when we do, we make up for it by welcoming new groups into the system of exploitation that we are always saying we abhor. Who needs any god as a moral or spiritual authority when we have reason.
We are Quakers. We are educated, we are for peace, and you will know this by our Birkenstocks.