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An Open Letter from Quaker Youth, Part 3

January 24, 2013 2 comments

Here is the third installment of these open letters from youth to the Northwest Yearly Meeting. Please also read Letter 1 and Letter 2. I welcome any insight or feedback you may have.

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Dear Northwest Yearly Meeting,

We hope you all find yourselves doing well and blessed in life.  We are coming to you with this letter regarding our thoughts on bettering our perspective of diversity in our yearly meeting, which will help us become a more welcoming community.

We believe that if our community were to be more welcoming of different opinions, we would also become more openminded and accepting to others.  Having a the same views on life should not be the main focus of our meeting.  Our focus should be on God and on loving each other while worshiping together.  A relationship with God is between that person and God, and others are in no place to judge someone else’s relationship.

Throughout our studies of Quakers in this course we have learned that throughout history Quakers have been a leading voice of radical and welcoming movements.  For example, Quakers were one of the first to put women in leadership and provided assistance in the underground railroad.  From the beginning of the early Quaker movement it has been deeply in our roots that everyone is equal.  Equality has played a strong role on how we relate to others in and out of the church.  Quakers believe that the Light of God is in everyone and therefore everyone has the ability to have God speak through them. We believe that this should in fact include everyone.  People who have opinions that differ from our own still have the Light of God in them and therefore we should still hold them with the same respect.

We hope you will hold this close to your hearts and discern on this deeply.  As a yearly meeting that believes in equality and that everyone can have God speak through them, our main goal should be to love and worship together and we should not let diversity in opinion get in the way of that.  We should still be able to be in community together without having unity in all of our opinions and views on life.

Peace,

Quaker students from George Fox University

Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 4

November 13, 2011 1 comment

Part 4 of this mini-series looking at how Quakers embraced diversity/social justice in the past. To see where I have come from, read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. This is only a glimpse of the subject matter – who or what would you add?

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Another way Quakers have attempted to practice a living faith was in relationship with Native Americans, especially in the United States during the 18th century. Though there are misperceptions as to how this relationship was actually practiced, there are certain aspects of these relationships that express the commitment of Quakers to social justice. The earliest examples of this are found in William Penn, who attempted to work peaceably with the Lenni Lenape instead of using force as earlier European settlers had done. Penn learned their language, sought to deal fairly with them as people who were equally human and equally possessive of God within them (Moretta, 136).

Other Quakers established with relationships with Native American tribes as they continued westward expansion. In one instance, a Seneca chief named Cornplanter sought out a relationship with Quakers in order to “expand economic opportunities for his people…and have political and legal advocates…who could help win compensation at the state and federal levels, for legitimate Seneca grievances that were left unresolved, or simply ignored, by the local American justice system” (Swatzler, 237). 

Perhaps the Quaker who possesses the greatest amount of social capital in the areas of commitment to diversity and social justice is John Woolman. Woolman is best known for his work in the abolition of slavery, and his commitment to the matter was central to his growing understanding of who God was and how every person was created in the imago Dei. His first encounter with the keeping and selling and slaves led him to “speak out” against the practice, and while he reflected later that he could have been clearer in his speaking, a spark was lit that burned brightly within him for the rest of his life.

Woolman’s approach was through a rooted mobility – a firm conviction in mind and heart juxtaposed with an ability to travel. From his first encounter in 1746 it took twelve years for the larger movement of Quakers to begin to see the disconnect of believing in everyone’s equal access of God and the holding of slaves. As Michael Birkel has noted, “Woolman’s reflections on the cross are profound because they grow out of his inward experience of participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Reading Colossians 1:24 (I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church) led Woolman to understand the world as “profoundly unredeemed” at the social level.

Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 3

November 12, 2011 5 comments

This is third post in this series. Here is Part 1 and Part 2. Feel free to weigh in!

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One of the earliest indications of Gospel order –  a Quaker understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as something that rightly orders all of life – was seen in the important role women played from the very beginnings of the Quaker movement. From its meager beginning, women were enlisted as preachers, leaders and integral to the spread of Christ’s message as far as possible.

As is often the case in a world dominated by male voices, the success of the Quaker vision is often attributed solely to George Fox. Yet this understanding of the Quaker movement’s roots is myopic, as more recent scholarship has shown. One of the most important prophetic voices during the nascent stages of the movement was from a woman, Margaret Fell. Fell was a prophetic voice throughout the English world, writing epistles, theological treatises and leveraging political relationships in order to further the case of what she believed was a fresh work of the Holy Spirit. Her home became a center for Quaker activity, a place of “integration, where the domestic and the mundane integrated with the ministerial and ecstatic” (Bruynell, 37). From its earliest days, the Quaker movement was dependent upon the voice of women to further its cause, and it is no different today.

A century later, a woman by the name of Elizabeth Gurney, later Fry, breathed new life into her family – her brother Joseph John Gurney is considered the father of pastoral Quakers – and into a social system that failed to care for those on the fringes. Though her work within society was broad, she is most known for two specific areas of social justice – providing an excellent education for the children of some of the poorest families in Lancaster, England and in reforming the conditions of prison, especially prisons designed for women and their children. It is within these prison walls that her work is most remembered – for in them she found depravity at its greatest, women and children crammed by the hundreds into small rooms where basic human rights were neglected or ignored. She established a school for the children, found jobs for the prisoners and shared the message of Jesus Christ with them in ways that transformed not just their inner lives but bore fruit in how they began to treat each other within the prison walls. The model of reform she instituted at Newgate was soon adopted in other towns throughout England and beyond. Fry’s concern for those on the fringes of society started with small movement in her heart to respond to the Quaker message of the ever-present Christ and became, through the work of the Spirit, a model for care of all people throughout the world.

Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 2

November 11, 2011 3 comments

See Part 1 here. This is a piece I have been working on for George Fox University in its continued commitment to more fully represent the Kingdom of God.

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There is inherent in the word “church” a structure often defined by rigidity. A byproduct of institutionalization, this rigidity often carries with it negative connotations that reformation-minded people long to shatter into indistinguishable pieces from which new life might spring.

These “forms” were the very thing a young George Fox subversively exposed when he encountered the active, living Christ whose voice enlivened a soul thirsty for something more than the unimaginative and oppressive church of his time. His revelation led to a conviction that living in communion with the ever-present God required him to, “Walk cheerfully over all the earth answering that of God in everyone.”

His revelation was one defined by action, by a living connection between what one believed and how one lived in the world. His convictions resonated with the people of his time, and what came to life through this revelation cannot be categorized as just another institution; rather a movement. It was a movement that sought unity through equality; that sought truth wherever it might be found; that lived boldly in spite of the difficulties they faced, because their message was not about them – it was about the living and active Christ available to all people.

From its inception, Quakers have emphasized the immediacy of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we are taught dwells within and in the midst of humanity. As people created in the image of God, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, true faith begins by recognizing the need for an intimate knowledge of the living Christ and living in such a way that values the work of the living Christ in others.

As one author has noted, “The Quaker apocalypse was a revolutionary ground swell aimed at transforming the entire society” (Gwyn, 319). This transformation was found in, among other things, the way women were valued, in relationships with Native Americans and in the abolitionist movement.

One of the earliest indications of Gospel order –  a Quaker understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as something that rightly orders all of life – was seen in the importance role women played from the very beginnings of the Quaker movement. From its meager beginning, women were enlisted as preachers, leaders and integral to the spread of Christ’s message as far as possible.

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More coming tomorrow!

Quakers, Justice and Jesus – Part 1

November 10, 2011 4 comments

I’ve been working on a short document on Quakers and diversity. This is part of our Theological Statement on Diversity at George Fox University, and while there could be a lot written about the subject, I tried to give a brief overview in a small amount of space. Over the next few days I’ll post snippets of it…

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Rufus Jones has written, “What does happen…to persons whose inner life has been vivified and quickened, is that they begin at once to feel a passion for the enrichment and enlargement of the lives of others” (Jones, 44). This inward awakening, this belief in the immediate presence of Jesus Christ in every human led the earliest Quakers to develop a way of living their religious convictions through what became known over time as the Quaker testimonies – simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality and stewardship.

These testimonies, described by Dandelion as the “consequences of the spiritual life as expressed in daily life,” (221) are the basis for any Quaker understanding of and investment in any form of diversity. If one truly believes that Christ is present to all people, then there can be no other response but to create and invest in communities that reflect the entirety of God’s creation. What follows are examples of these beliefs as experienced in the Quaker movement. Though they are not exhaustive, they begin to paint a picture of the important work done by Quakers over the past 300 years.

There is inherent in the word “church” a structure often defined by rigidity. A byproduct of institutionalization, this rigidity often carries with it negative connotations that reformation-minded people long to shatter into indistinguishable pieces from which new life might spring.

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More to come tomorrow…