Home > Uncategorized > Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 5

Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 5

Here is the final post of this 5 part series on Quakers and their commitment to social justice. It was originally written as a part of a theology for diversity in Quaker higher education. Earlier posts are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4). Please feel free to add your thoughts!

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At one point, while enduring a time of significant sickness, John Woolman had a dream which he describes in his Journal:

“I was then carried into the mines, where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved, for his name to me was precious. Then I was informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said amongst themselves, ‘If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, the Christ is a cruel tyrant” (186).

His concern for the oppressed was seen in more than just caring for the particular men, women and children in whom he saw the image if Christ so clearly, but also for the often invisible systems that contributed to the need for slavery in America. In 1772 he wrote words as apropos for today as they were over 200 years ago:

“The weight of this degeneracy is hath lain so heavy upon me, the depth of this revolt been so evident, and desires of my heart been so ardent for a reformation, so ardent that we might come to that right thing where, living on a little, we might inhabit that holy mountain on which [all people] neither hurt nor destroy! And may not only stand clear from oppressing our fellow creatures, but may be so disentangled from connections in interest with known oppressors” (185).

For Woolman, working and caring for underrepresented people grew out of an inward experience of the cross that “included both the suffering of the oppressed Seed of Christ in slavekeepers and the suffering of the oppressed people” (Birkel, 63). It was a holistic approach to expanding the “peaceable government of Christ” to all people, and his work reflected this belief.

These examples from the vibrant history of the Quaker movement are just a few of the many upon which one could draw to demonstrate a commitment to creating a world where all people are considered equal. Through these stories one can see that from its very beginning the Quaker movement was most concerned about creating space, in worship and work, in homes and in societies, for all people to encounter the living Christ. This is, in the end, how Quaker belief and practice should be fundamentally understood; as a gathering of people who, having experienced the presence and power of the Present Teacher, seek to make this Present Teacher known in every facet of life, in every corner of the world.

In one of his essays, John Woolman reflects on the meaning of Jesus’ kenosis as described by Paul in Philippians 2. This essay closes with his words:

“Now this mind being in us, which was in Christ Jesus, it removes from our hearts the desire of Superiority, worldly honors or greatness. A deep attention is felt to the Divine Counselor, and an ardent engagement to promote, as far as we may be enabled, the happiness of [humankind] universally.” (Birkel, 110)

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Sources:

Birkel, Michael. A Near Sympathy. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2003.

Bruynell, S. Margaret Fell and the End of Time. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.

Dandelion, Pink. An Introduction to Quakerism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Gwyn, Douglas. Seekers Found: Atonement in Early Quaker Experience. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Press, 2000.

Jones, Rufus. The Testimony of the Soul. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936.

Moulton, Phillips, ed. The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 2001.

Swatzler, David.  A Friend Among the Senecas: The Quaker Mission to Cornplanter’s People. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stack Pole Books, 2000.

 

 

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