Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gays in the military: Don't get me started

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.


Raye said...

Thanks for seeing through some of the layers of . . . I don't know the word for it . . . that many of us have plastered onto the identity of "Quaker."

Thanks for publishing these insights.

Jeremy Mott said...

R.Scot Miller, In the late 1940's,
there was a big struggle over racial integration of the U.S. military. Many Friends felt much as you do, so they did not take a stand on the matter.
However, some Friends and friends
of Friends, including the remarkable Friend Bayard Rustin,
decided to press for the racial
integration of the U.S. military.
In the end, President Truman did
order this to be done. Now, Rustin
had served spent time in prison,
not the military or civilian service, during World War II; he
certainly did not plan to join
the military himself, nor did he
advocate that other Friends do this. However, he knew that service in the military is a fundamental right of citizens, so he spoke and acted accordingly.

After 9/11/2001, Friend Scott
Simon, who had a program on NPR,
said that the United States was
right in going to war in Afghanistan. He even defended
torture (in the pages of Friends
Journal). On radio, he runs a
wine-tasting program. None of this seems like Quakerly behavior. Yet I am sure that many Friends
agreed with him, and some still do.
At this point, we are an almost
entirely individualistic Religious
Society of Friends, in all branches. No meeting can make an
authoritative decision about any-
one's military service, not even
its own member's. This has been
true ever since the Civil War.
So I don't suggest that any
Friends meeting take a stand, one
way or another, for the rights
of gays and lesbians to join the
military. We can wish that we
were not such an individualistic
Religious Society of Friends; but there is no point in raging.
Jeremy Mott

Micky Jo Myers said...

It isn't about earning for them the right to fight. Many gays are already in the military, it is about making sure they are not refused their benefits when they leave solely because they are gay. Saying you can support the rights of gays in the military is similar to saying you can't support veteran rights.

Mary said...

Scot, I'm glad you got started. Why is it that only people like us, who never wait for invitations before getting started, seem to be the only ones who use that phrase anyway? :)

I try hard not to express opinions about the apparent piety of religious people. It's easy to be a pious agnostic, after all. Seeing Friends actively promote military service stuns me the way a particularly tiresome politician stating that Jesus had no opinion on the death penalty did.

There's a reason my childhood friend Roger once objected my Mom's praise, "Mary's not open minded at all. She's just closed minded in nice ways." That one stung in the way only a home truth can. The memory serves as something of a mental chastity belt, with similar efficacy. It only works under a nuanced and inaccurate definition of misbehavior.

Scot, Jenn, and the whole Hee Haw gang said...

Jeremy, I have worked very hard to make my feelings known about the direction of contemporary Quakers, but you have managed to do so succinctly. Thank you for giving Quakers the thumbs up to support torture, even if they are not willing to do so themselves. Nothing beats relative ethics more than irrelevance, no statemement that expresses the failures of modernity so well, yet falls so very short of critique, and nothing more could sum up the love of the Quaker "Brand" but manage to disenfranchise those known as "Friends" as well as you just have.

Excuse me, I have to rage somewhere at 7. Sorry my personality conflicts with Quaker irrelevence.

Scot, Jenn, and the whole Hee Haw gang said...

Micky Jo,
If you want to work for health care for everyone under the current system, or the extension of certain benefits to everyone, Hurrah, I'll walk beside you. But no one needs be recognized by teh war machine as a sole means of achieving you goal.

I work therapeuticly with combat veterans. I have never suggested, nor is it reasonably the same, to say that people who have been in combat or the armed services should not get benefits. But I am not goint to increase the military budget so thtey may receive better care. Rather, I will offer therapeutic relationship, and open my community, to veterans, accepting them for who they are.

Some folks feel comfortable with the dichotomy that exist between satisfying civil rights at home, and consistently recognizing the importance of human rights globally, such as not being massacred. Having an ethic of peace calls for sacrifice, and most pacifists recognize that being a pacifists means forgoing some rights, such as the right to protecting property, individual rights, or nation states. I have posted at other times that I doubt the pacifism of many Friends would stand if such concerns as those of reproductive rights, genocide, or freedom of speech were somehow threatened or legislated away. Most, I believe, would respond with violence if they felt it was necessary to do so. This is situational ethics, or utilitarian, and not pacifism. You can't say peace and security on one issue, then say something else is worth killing for on another, and maintain any integrity.

Why not instead create a community that has an alternative economy, social structure, educational system, and an alternative concept of community care and individual growth. Then we could welcome people of all kinds into that community, and extend full benenfits to everyone concerned.

That might cramp the style of some Quakers who feel comminity exiosts solely to underwirte our individual desires, and in return, we will do the same for others, regardless of their stance on teh testimonies.

Jeremy Mott said...

Scot, Friends are not about to unite on the conflict between our
testimonies against war and in favor of equality, no matter how much we wish. This is similar to
the situation during the Civil War, when probably half the male young Friends on the Union side fought in the Union armies, and
almost all who made even perfunctory acknowledgement were
not disowned. The conflict between our testimony against war and our testimony against slavery was simply irreconcilable.
Once Friends accepted military
service in some circumstances, we
accepted it in many others. During
the two world wars, though there were many Quaker conscientious
objectors, there were undoubtedly many more young Friends who joined the military and fought for "freedom." This was true in
all yearly meetings, though it was
probably least true in your own.
We have become acculturated---to
such an alarming extent that a few
Friends (not I) and Friends Journal have defended torture and the war in Afghanistan.
I suggest that Friends speak and act in the ways that should unite
us, or at least almost all of us
(not Scott Simon). Quaker House
of Fayetteville, N.C., is engaged
in defending a Muslim conscientious objector who is seeking discharge from the army.
Nashville meeting is also engaged in this difficult work. And Quaker House people, every month, attend local government meetings in their area, because their area
is the center of the U.S. torture
industry and they are trying to
put a stop to this evil. Let's give them a little bit of money,
or write some letters to support
the CO, or write opposing the
torture industry, or all of these
things. Doesn't this make some
sense to you?
Jeremy Mott

Scot, Jenn, and the whole Hee Haw gang said...

First, let me apologize for the tone of many of my posts. I refuse to use the excuse that "it's just who I am." There are things I need to work on....

That being siad, I recognize the important work that Quakers do in support of military personel seeking CO status. I am a trained CO counselor. Also, I support those Friends who have chosen legislative means to work on behalf of teh rights of others. Though I do not participate in the electoral process, much good has been done by those who do so.

One thing that I have been thought to believe, or even to promote, is that some folks are not welcome at Quaker meetings, or distract from a "pure" Quakerism. I can understand this criticism, and admit to being a sectarian to a certain extent, though it is more nuanced than Anabaptist sectarianism.

What I am trying to identify, at least in my writing, is an acceptance of a normative expression of Quakersism by those interested in a maintenance of identity.

This does not mean anyone should be asked to leave, or even remove themselves from a place at the table of dialogue about how individuals might engage in Quaker praxis. Normative Quakerism, or, a canon if you will, does not insist on the punishing, censoring, or otherwise negating individual actions. It does not necessitate corporate or prescribed behavior. What it does do is maintain a standard of traditionally identified leadings of the Spirit, especially articlulated by the Inward teaching of Jesus, that have been tested by the greater community of faith.

Because many Quakers no longer wait for a potential movement toward ministry by the Inward Light to be tested by the meeting, they have assumed that they can establish a personal ethic and call it Quaker. If a large portion of one's community of faith responds to an individual's leading as not of the Spirit, such as the support of torture (extreme) or the decision to take up arms in the Civil War (a potentially moral action)it should not be identified as a peculiar aspect of that faith.

The potential for a Quaker unity that excedes a warmth of certain familial comraderie is not possible, as indicated by teh many splits that have occured. When their has been reconciliation, it has included teh Peace Testimony. At other points, there is a potential for a redegeneracy of unity over the issue of homosexuality between those yearly meetings that are dually identified as FUM/FGC. At some point, there has to be a normative expression of Quakerism, if for no other reason, than to continue having a common point of debate over what is an appropriate measure of the Spirit.

I am honestly, and I do not mean this as negatively as it might sound, at a loss as to why many who identify themselves publicly as Quakers do not simply identify themselves as Seekers, one who has Unitarian or uiversalist leanings but prefers waiting worship (now known simply as silence) and their long-time fiends and intimates to the often boorish experience of being lectured by a professional. I am convinced, both as an academic with theology degrees and social science degrees, that many who attend Quaker meeting are simply unable to listen to lectures, sermons, or even vocal ministry by Friends because it might challenge their own Spirituality or their personal interpretation of Spirit leading.
As such, I think there should be some public testing of a leading to accomodate a gay or lesbian's, or a Muslim's, or a Wiccan's right to kill equally. This is not just a matter of militarism either. It is really a matter of Christ-centered pacifists refusing teh right even to defend themselves through violent means, understanding that faith means sacrifice. To quote and FGC favorite, even Gandhi stated that religious practice without sacrifice is a precursor to violence.

Jeremy Mott said...

Scot, thank you. I too must apologize for being a Quaker cur-
mudgeon sometimes. I think that
I am the most experienced Friend
active on the internet (which I
don't really know how to use).
Like you, I sometimes wonder why
there are now so many newcomers to
Friends now who have no experience of the Light Within and no knowledge of our history. I spend considerable time trying to help
and educate a few of these Friends.
Maybe the chances for communal
discernment among Friends are not as poor as you suppose. I'm told that Scott Simon has resigned from his meeting (though he still insists that he is a Friend).
In other words, he read himself
out of meeting! And I know that
Friends Journal published a book
of all the letters---many of them angry and legalistic---opposing
Scott Simon's stance.
You're quite right, of course. that being a Quaker should not be just a matter of cultural identity, but must be a matter of
the Spirit, of trying to stand in the power of the Inner Light or the Christ Within, whatever we may choose to call it.
Jeremy Mott