The Three R's of Unity: Part II - Respect

Many attempts at unity fail because they are based on tolerance instead of respect.  There are bound to be differences of opinion amongst a community of what that community is being called to do.  We can't expect someone to just accept our opinion and change theirs without divine intervention.  Furthermore it's not enough to just tolerate another's opinion.  Though we are often admonished to be tolerant of others who at not like us in one way or the other, it is my contention that tolerance is based on an elitist attitude that the other is somehow inferior or misinformed.  This is detrimental to living in unity, especially as a Quaker community.  However, if  we have taken the time to form relationships  with each other we can reach a point where we can respect the other's opinion or lifestyle.  Paul's analogy of the physical body's need for its various members is again apropo.  An eye can never understand what it is to be an arm, however it can appreciate and respect what the arm can do.  It can also appreciate how together with that arm it can avoid harm and do good, all while never understanding what it is like to be an arm.

As Quakers we need to respect the spiritual journey our fellow Quakers are on.  If we have taken the time to form relationships with them we have learned of their spiritual beliefs, yearnings, trials and victories.  Knowing how difficult our own spiritual journey has been and might still be we should be able to respect anyone who is seeking more of the Light in their life.  Sometimes we will have a greater understanding of where they are at than they do but that doesn't necessarily diminish in any way our respect for their steadfastness or patience in following their own unique leadings.  The respect that I advocate is the opposite of the judgment that Jesus spoke against when He warned his disciples to judge not lest you be judged.  It is one thing to discern the correctness of another's behavior, it is another to judge another based on his behavior.  It is here where we have to remember not to judge until we have walked a mile in the other's shoes.  Until we can respect each other's walk, we can not expect true unity.

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Comment by Howard Brod on 3rd mo. 10, 2017 at 10:07pm

When we come across this elitism in our meetings, I've come to feel that we owe it to our meeting's future to point out directly to the offender that they are coming across as "elitist and judgmental, which is not encouraging a healthy spiritual environment; and instead is creating a toxic environment that will destroy the meeting eventually". 

Of course, at my meeting there are no elders in place (by design); so it is not uncommon for Friends to elder one another on the standard of "unconditional love for one another".  I'm not so sure how this self-eldering would work in a meeting where there are appointed 'elders' who may not like this self-eldering approach to issues within the meeting.  It works well within our egalitarian meeting; it usually resolves issues quickly and organically.

Of course, I've more often been the receiver of eldering for various reasons.  Great for my spiritual gowth! 

Comment by James C Schultz on 3rd mo. 11, 2017 at 10:45am

Thanks for sharing Howard.  Your point speaks indirectly to the upcoming Part III.

Comment by James C Schultz on 3rd mo. 12, 2017 at 9:23pm

It's been pointed out to me that the classical definition of tolerance was to "respect" the right of others to have their own opinion.  However, in the age of "political Correctness" that doesn't work as some opinions are plainly politically incorrect and can not be tolerated so we have to change the definition of tolerance or just remove it from the dictionary altogether.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 3rd mo. 13, 2017 at 1:49pm

I share the suspicion I detect in this posting by James, of the word "tolerance" as in "to tolerate" which somewhat means "to put up with" but without ever taking the time to really study and appreciate, even if as a worthy foe. "Love thine enemies" is truly the road to a more spiritual journey than the more superficial "tolerate thine inferiors" directive.

Comment by David McKay on 3rd mo. 18, 2017 at 10:03am

I believe the word "tolerate" comes from the Latin word meaning to "endure" and entered the English language with the specific sense of — enduring pain or discomfort. Most the people who throw the word tolerance around as if it was an absolute good seem not see it in quite that way. They use the word tolerate to mean accept.

Comment by James C Schultz on 3rd mo. 18, 2017 at 11:19am

And accepting is not enough.  It's a surface bandaid that covers wounds.   When healing takes the bandaid falls off.  It protects from aggravation of existing conditions but doesn't otherwise contribute to the BODY'S healing process.

Comment by David McKay on 3rd mo. 18, 2017 at 1:36pm

I'm reminded of how truly all this conversation is. I remember talking over tea after meeting in the early 80s and covering pretty much all of the same points from this thread. And it isn't one of those conversations the changes anything other than me make us more aware of the issues.

1986 I got involved in a project to hold an interfaith gathering on the theme of peace being largely steered by the Baha'is. At one particular meeting after going around in circles trying to come up with some kind of mission statement/tagline to promote the event I said with some exasperation, "What if we just say, 'For God's sake, can't we just love each other for a change!'" And the Baha'i woman said to me, "But that doesn't include the Buddhists, they don't believe in God." And then a Zoroastrian turned to me and said, "Love would be very nice. But when you've left the country where people are being murdered for their religion here willing to settle for mutual respect and toleration."

Comment by Kirby Urner on 3rd mo. 19, 2017 at 11:30pm

I felt how members only tolerate non-members at business meeting today, when we said only members could join the ad hoc fundraising committee for the new heating and cooling system we need. The implication is: the core infrastructure of the meetinghouse is the purview of recorded members in particular i.e. membership implies a different relationship to the meeting's physical assets (a self-fulfilling prophecy no doubt). This property ownership aspect of our two tier ranking is not clearly documented in Faith & Practice, is more just accepted as common sense. Not being a member, I was reminded this is their meetinghouse more than our meetinghouse. They tolerate us. Some of us non-members have been with the meeting since the beginning but opting out of membership suggests a lower level of commitment, perhaps even disloyalty, is not accepted as a religious leading. I'm a non-member in part because I want to experience Quakers from this angle, to find out how snooty and snobbish the members are towards my lower class. I'm fairly impressed.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 12:15am

In most organizations with a purpose, whether explicit or implied, there are functional reasons to want to know: "Is you a you? -- Or is you an us?" People would ask a similar question and take a similar attitude were you to stroll onto a baseball field in the midst of a serious game.

Now I consider myself committed to helping accomplish God's purposes (most easily done, logically, by striving to stay out of the gears) -- and also consider that the most basic function of the Society of Friends (although not all would agree.)

So one day I was caught saying: "As an outsider, I think 'Blah' about it; but as a Friend I see it as ..." and pretty soon I went ahead and joined up.

I'm sure I don't entirely see eye to eye with this particular herd of cats, but I give what I am, for whatever that's worth. Although I'm technically supposed to haunt business meetings -- As a matter of practice I don't feel drawn in that direction (and the Meeting is probably relieved!)

I find that LiberalFriendish Meetings are prepared to embrace a wide range of oddities. But think of what that word "member" implies; do you think of yourself as an isolated individual who likes some aspects of this group of people? -- or as part of a body, like a glowing particle caught up in this flame?

Comment by Howard Brod on 3rd mo. 20, 2017 at 7:54am

There was a point 12 years ago when it dawned on Friends at our meeting that non-recorded members were often more committed to both a spiritual life and the meeting community than many members.  So, with this just one little opening the meeting began to question this whole concept of recorded membership, its inherent exclusivity, and its long-term value to our meeting community.  A three year process of discernment ensued to really consider the damage we were doing to non-recorded members, the meeting's longevity in a modern world, and our own consciences by excluding non-recorded members from some aspects of the meeting's life.

And mid-way through that three year discernment process, the Spirit convicted our hearts to feel remorse for having created such an unspiritual situation.  And now 12 years after that initial leading, the meeting is thriving with a sense of spiritual freedom and openness, unbridled love, and commitment. 

There are recorded members who have not set foot in the meetinghouse in years, and there are non-recorded members who are there every Sunday serving in every capacity from clerk of meeting, assistant clerk, clerks of many committees, and even meeting Trustees (a legal requirement in Virginia).  And they are all just people who have 'that of God' in them whether they personally want recorded membership or not; they indeed are all Friends living the Quaker way as equals within the life of the meeting, just as they are equals before God.

Quaker meetings often talk about things like 'acceptance' versus 'tolerance'.  Yet within their own structures they don't practice it fully, and in this case of 'membership privilege' they are hurting those among them who for conscientious reasons don't won't to be part of this Quaker elitism.

Quaker meetings also often talk about ordering the processes of one's life simply so they may become unencumbered; yet, the processes of operating our Quaker meetings are anything but simple - so complex and full of busyness that too many spiritual seekers leave us overwhelmed.

When will we come to realize that we are not a 'club'; we are not a 'political party'.  We are a spiritual community that is carrying on the great mission started by Jesus to transform the world - one heart at a time.


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