10 November 2004

Anxiety and reassurance

After reading some of the critical reactions to my comments on the "excellent" Evangelical Friends International election statement, I went back to Northwest Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice for reassurance, particularly the Richmond Declaration of Faith. The same uncompromising language I thought I remembered as being the basic teaching of our church is still there. We have not found a way of removing that powerful, awkward sentence, "In enjoining this love [of enemies], and the forgiveness of injuries, He who has bought us to Himself has not prescribed for man precepts which are incapable of being carried into practice, or of which the practice is to be postponed until all shall be persuaded to act upon them."

Another sources of perspective: The great American writer Mark Twain, a century ago, reserved some of the sharpest quills on his desk to describe his outrage at the American imperialists of his day, who found ways of shaping their patriotism around the grasping ambitions of that era's adventurists. No American crusader has ever proclaimed anything but the loftiest motives and most virtuous methods for their campaigns, but then as now we arrogated to ourselves the right to identify enemies, reshape the rest of the world to secure our interests and security, and acknowledge no obligation to consult with the powerless in our areas of self-declared national interest. Some samples of Twain here.

Although it is disheartening to read the justifications of Quakers who want our beloved little church to become yet another agent of great-power pacification rather than a courageous proclaimer of a genuine signs-and-wonders Christianity under the banner of the Lamb's War, I can't pretend to be surprised. Boldness has been in short supply among all the branches of Friends. We are far too polite to say bluntly that, within our spiritual heritage as Friends we have preserved truths that have been abandoned by most of the rest of Christianity. There are in fact instances where "we" are right and "they" (whether "they" are representatives of Caesar or of the religion industry) are just wrong. Is this timidity a reasonable expression of courtesy and an acknowledgment of our own limitations? Or is it simply that we too have been hypnotized by the worldly calculations of power and the terrorist-fed, Ashcroft-abetted anxieties of our age?

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