Some observations that Friends will disagree with. Another Friend asked if we have a center, or a sense of a center, at Meeting. After thinking, I believe that, as a Religious Society we do not. I also believe that a great many, if not a potentially large majority, of Friends, want it that way. If I am perhaps mistaken that a majority of Friends do not wish for a greater sense of centeredness in the wider FGC community, it is my observation that Friends are not willing to do the things that will facilitate a “sense of meeting” amongst our diverse community.
Friends no longer have a corporate peace testimony, but seem to live as though non-violence is a preferred response to injustice, militarism, or the presence of evil, if Friends will accept the concept of evil as a legitimate concern. I say we no longer have a corporate witness to peace for a variety of reasons, but I wish to make one thing perfectly clear. Many, many, individual Friends are wholly committed to non-violence, and live a life that reflects as much. There are some Friend’s communities that reflect the peace testimony in a corporate manner. These are positive representations of faith, but I am not quite sure how they are identifiably Religious, or that they are representative of the Quaking experiences of our apocalyptic forbearers.
Yet I have digressed. Friends no longer have a corporate peace testimony because our identity is that of American citizen (perhaps FUM), or liberal democrats or Green Party activists (perhaps FGC), or insignificant in number and outreach (RSOF Conservative). We have become, “like all the other nations.” Indeed, Friends reflect the same attitude of our fundamentalists counterparts (enemies?) in that we have come to view the nation state as the primary means of reflecting the nature of our beliefs, instead of our own committed corporate actions. Friends are a people of politics, who generally come together for silence with others who would not think of challenging another Friends politics, ministry, or reflections of witness. So, our allegiances are not with meeting, and, we refuse accountability to meeting.
We have become a people who recognize that the nation state and militarism are the reality of the current age, that the zeitgeist that never changes. However, since the American Civil War, and Friends commitment to secular political action, military service, and maintenance of political power that necessitated the discarding of peculiarities by most, Friends have stopped challenging the zeitgeist. We have acquiesced to the maintenance of, or obtaining of power, in order to carry out specific concepts of Equality, Peace, or Integrity. Simplicity, perhaps most of all, has lost its corporate sense entirely. In our struggle to legislate a specific ethic, whether it be equal social status for Blacks, immigration reform or hospitality for neighbors, or the right of Gays and Lesbians to join the military without the complications of identity, we have come to believe, in my observation, that the burdens of socio-cultural reality are such that we all must compromise a sense of the meeting in order to facilitate justice through the ballot box.
Ballot boxes, however, or legislation, are not the primary vehicle for justice or peace. They are legitimate means, but are they representative of the overall aims of a Religious Society who, at least among some, indicate that reconciliation is as important to our faith as western justice. In other words, we feel like our primary aim as a religious society should be to reconcile after justice is authorized through the political process. Friends, I am not naive enough to believe that reconciliation is part of this process. While we patiently wait for our worshipful business to be reconciled before making a decision that will effect the whole of the meeting, we will not be patient servants and advocates for those who lack the experience, education, or loving-kindness to accept justice. And, we fail to love our enemies when we act as a society to pick and choose which aspect of legislation our worth our time and support, while discarding the importance of apparently lost causes. We will not end war, but we can reduce nuclear armaments by a few. They will not be destroyed, only placed in storage.
We will support someone’s right to fight, as the military is a reality of our age, and this is an equality issue. But to fight for another person’s right to fight when you yourself refuse the obligation to defend your accepted lifestyle is terribly inconsistent. It lacks integrity. Some say that it was an important event when African Americans could be seen as equals in the armed forces. I agree, and I also agree that it was a major indicator that the time to fight the civil rights battles had come. But the result of this battle for equality. The victimization of communities by the poverty draft, the fact of black soldiers often being given the shit end of the stick in combat situations, the fact that civil rights has had little or no effect in correction the socio-economic standing of most Black communities. In essence, we have asked the Black population to serve disproportionately to defend “our” way of life, all the time saying it is an equality issue.
All the this time, we work to marginalize those persons who, because of their own socio-economic circumstances, and the erosion of their own admittedly unhealthy identities, are left feeling that they either did not have a voice, or were simply disregarded. This does not defend racism, it reflects the reality of legislating morality. It also does not suggest that such legislation has been entirely ineffective or immoral. I suggest that it simply does not represent a coherent or cohesive sense of Friends. We have lost a sense of corporate testimony. We say peace and security, but really feel that equality is more important than non-violence. The funny thing is, that while we talk about equality, very few of us sacrifice to make it a reality in our lives. We have things that are worth defending, perhaps hiding behind the peace testimony as an excuse to continue on, believing that world peace will someday vindicate our view of the world, and that it may occur before Jesus returns. God forbid that Friends legitimize Jesus, who preached that we love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. That we sacrifice to point out the injustices of domination, instead of engaging in power struggles to emerge victorious.
Friends, victory is never won. Not in war, not after the civil war, not after the world wars, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. It will not be won by gays or lesbians. It will not be won by the vast numbers of women who won the right to go into combat only to suffer incredible rates of rape and assault at the hands of their comrades. Victory is never won. We only have hope that our ethic is someday vindicated by a God who reflects our greatest potential for grace and mercy on the just and unjust. If we no longer accept this, then it is not just that we have lost our witness to Peace. We are no longer religious. We are a political club that engages in time-outs and potlucks. We are justified by our own arrogance, believing that we are a superior intellectual reflection of peace and justice than the living God, a God which we no longer know, and exclude the potential that we someday might.