This series of reflections dips into the well of Scripture as regards the Quaker testimonies of: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship/Sustainability.
The concept of equality among all people is a message that runs throughout Scripture. Passages such as that from the Hebrew Bible: “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great…” (Leviticus 19:15) and in the Christian Scriptures: “For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11) are foundational to the Judeo-Christian mindset. However, various cultures and their interpretations of these scriptures have done nothing but cause division through classism, sexism, racism, and religious persecution.
George Fox took these passages and others like them to heart. Genesis states that God created humanity “in the Divine image…male and female God created them” (Genesis 1:27). Fox made this a living passage by providing that, in the manner of Friends, "If but one man or woman were raised by his power, to stand and live in the same spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the scriptures, that man or woman should shake all the country in their profession for ten miles round." Thus, it was recognized that the Spirit could speak through anyone (ie. Even women could have vocal ministry!) and that no distinction should be made according to any divisive notions determined by society.
Some of the most oft-quoted passages by those who wish to denigrate or at least minimize the possibilities of God working or speaking in the lives of those they deem unworthy have to do with keeping them silent or making them invisible. For example, as regards the roles of women, especially in religious organizations, the commonly invoked scripture quotes are: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet" (1 Timothy 2:12) and "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says" (1 Corinthians 14:34). In focusing on these culturally narrow and often-quoted-out-of-context passages, people overlook the key Christian teaching as seen elsewhere in the epistles: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
If the accepted practice in society is the exclusion of the "other," it follows that each individual or group whose experience places them outside of societal norms takes their place in line to be so targeted. This queue includes labels related to racial, ethnic, and religious bias, LGBTQ concerns, the rights of those with disabilities, the aforementioned silencing of women, socio-economic profiling and more. This exclusivity has a long history. In the epistle of James, the early Christian community is admonished for treating people differently based on their appearance or socioeconomic status. "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here’s a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:2-4). The story is prefaced by the admonition to “show no partiality” and is followed by the query: “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the [Kin-dom]?” It is this turning upside down of societal expectations that forms the Peaceable Kin-dom and thus is a reminder for us to approach our relationships counterculturally. Friends were and are already a "peculiar people" for practices and beliefs contrary to popular view. Even the name Quaker was used in derision referring to those who trembled or quaked during prayer and worship. Early Friends did not let this discourage them from taking a stand to treat all people with dignity. They held the belief, as Fox taught, to “answer that of God in everyone.” The way of Friends recognizes this most profoundly in seeking the Light in each person, walking hand in hand with each other on equal terms, and advocating that there is no “better than” in relationships.
Our call then, as Friends, is to see all people as God sees them and treat them with compassion, love, and generosity – not judging whether or not they are ‘worthy’ of this treatment. In every situation, we must ask ourselves:
- Where is “that of God” in the situation or person?
- How can I lay aside my preconceived notions or judgments in this situation?
- How can I strengthen my ability to see with the eyes of God rather than with my own limited vision?
In order for Friends to truly step into this testimony, we would do well to examine our own inherent prejudice or bias with open hearts and minds. "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51).