"Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great;... for the judgement is God's" Deutoronomy 1:17.  George Fox paraphrased this passage when stating his belief that the respect shown to persons of status by tipping the hat, or using forms of address appropriate to persons according to their status, was anaethema to God. "Moreover, when the Lord sent me forth into the world, He forbade me to put off my hat to any, high or low; and I was required to Thee and Thou all men and women, without any respect to rich or poor, great or small."

What else does this passage imply? What does it imply for Friends in Meetings today?

As we revisit the history of Friends with their treatment of those members who failed to conform to Meetings "forms," by dressing inappropriately, or marrying outside of Friends or working in unacceptable occupations, we learn that Friends had often misjudged each other. They  behaved in an unfriendly way to Black Friends, who were made to sit on the back bench in Philadelphia Meeting. They disowned certain women Friends, such as an astronomer (not acceptable work for a woman) who worked publicly in a library (alone), privately in her attic, where she discovered and named a comet.  Today, as we revisit the fundamental beliefs of early Friends, we are taught to fear the "Naylor" who might live among us,. we learn the importance of testing our leadings through a discernment process.  Perhaps some of the forms used in Meetings today were instigated to prevent such a one rising to an unpopular, but  prominent position that might jeapordize Friends, or reflect poorly on status of Friends in the community. 

How does this Biblical passage apply to the conditions we find ourselves in today, what does it imply for us Quakers in our beliefs or cultural heritage of implicit bias?  Just today I read a post from a friend who felt hesitant to admit to a mental illness because of how he or she might be received in Meeting or in the regard of other Friends. In the wide world, the stigma of mental illness means many people fear discovery, similarly gays or LGBTQ have feared being "outed" or shunned

Recently, racial injustice has been addressed within Quaker circles, with whites struggling to overcome their "white priviledge". 

We may think that by not showing respect, we show disrespect. That was the reaction of people of higher status to early Quakers, from a perception of injury or offense from the lack of "proper form" and duty to notice one's superiors. Failure to speak and act accordingly resulted in severe punishments of early Friends. 

Now to reconcile the biblical meaning of respect in Deuteronomy with the idea of respect that we often long for, or indeed expect from others.  Ought we show our respect for others, by truly seeing them? Is it more just to acknowledge the differences in our skin, our culture, our heritage, our language? Or ought we instead simply see each other as human beings only? Do we see the both the small and great without judgement? What about in our meetings for Worship: are we obliged to hear alike the voice of the spirit coming from a new attender or an elder in the meeting? In Meeting for Business are we obliged to give more "weight" to weighty Friends when they state their position on an issue or concern before the meeting? Does the Clerk of a Committee who gives a report to the Meeting have more "truth" to offer on a subject, than a Friend who was not involved in the committee's deliberation?

We must consider whether we are respecting our fellows when we judge them on their outward "clothing" in the form of a title, their length of service, or historic position within the group that constitutes the Meeting or Committee within the Meeting. Fox said that we must not be" reflecting on persons," saying that by giving names or titles to individuals, we are creating an opportunity for envy and hatred.

Are we giving all Friends a proper hearing when they rise to speak in Meeting? Or do we say to ourselves, oh so and so speaks too often, or so and so has a mental illness or .... add the words that come to mind.

Do we leave the judgement to God?

Views: 282

Comment by Keith Saylor on 7th mo. 27, 2020 at 10:25am

# Untitled Note

Personally, because I share Fox's testimony (to a measured degree) to the witness of being drawn out of the process of reflection (respecting outward forms, including persons)  to guide and inform my relationships and interactions, spoken messages in Meeting are not relevant. The indwelling presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ in my conscience is my sole and sufficient teacher and guide in matter of human relations. Through the indwelling presence of the Life itself, I am drawn out of respect for the agency or mediation of Christ in persons. Of course, this is no way means that I would that people did not speak in silent meeting or the a preacher did not speak before a congregation. It is merely that through the direct agency of the inshining impulse of the Life itself, I am drawn out of respect for the agency of others in matters of human relations and mind the spirit of Christ only. I am also drawn out of the process of reflecting upon or judgement of others who testify to being mediator between Christ and his people. So while I testify to the living witness of the inshining presence of Christ in my heart and conscience and, through this agency, am come out of the agency of outward forms including persons, it is not mine to judge or reflect upon others who testify to ministering the spirit of Christ. Even those who participate in the process of reflecting upon others. That is to say, if is not mine to judge those who judge.

Marcia, I have read this piece a number of times. A concern keeps manifesting. I will speak plainly for the sake of clarity. It strikes me that, while you participate in the process of reflecting upon others you, at the same time, judge people for participating in the process of reflecting upon others. Am I understanding you correctly? Do you value the process of reflecting upon others who you determine judge others in a disorderly or unfair manner? This is not intended as a judgement against you, even though it may happen (after mutual deliberation) and for conscience sake, I may not join with you.

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 27, 2020 at 12:49pm

Keith Saylor wrote: "Marcia, I have read this piece a number of times. A concern keeps manifesting. I will speak plainly for the sake of clarity. It strikes me that, while you participate in the process of reflecting upon others you, at the same time, judge people for participating in the process of reflecting upon others. "  

Oh, the intolerance of tolerance!!!

Comment by Marcia P Roberts on 7th mo. 27, 2020 at 1:13pm

Your comments, Keith, and the follow-up comment of William, both touched a chord. You describe my dilemma perfectly.  How I struggle with judgement! Tolerance might be easier.

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 27, 2020 at 1:22pm

Marica: Don't take it personally!  The mind plays tricks on all of us.  I have yet to respond to your challenging comments but don't want to cut off the interesting dialogue before it plays itself out!

Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 27, 2020 at 1:28pm

Marcia: Sorry I didn't proofread my spelling of your name!

Comment by Keith Saylor on 7th mo. 28, 2020 at 9:18am


I share your struggle with the power of the reflective process in matters of human relationships and interactions. When relating to people in the power of reflective thought, the power of the immanent presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ in our hearts is diminished and overshadows the Spirit in others. The impulse and power of divine Love itself is ever upon us. The experience of a different way of relating to people in and through the continuous impulse of the Spirit is our victory over bondage to the reflective process in daily life. The impulse of Christ in our hearts heals, soothes, and nurtures human relations. As a people in the presence of the everliving being of Christ, we can reach down feel for the foundation of life in itself and hold each other in everliving and mutual love; which is not of the nature of reflection, but directly experienced divine life itself.

In the everliving peace of Christ,


Comment by Marcia P Roberts on 7th mo. 28, 2020 at 1:51pm

William, Keith:

Thank you for your words, which strengthen me and comfort me in this struggle.

In Friendship,


Comment by Kirby Urner on 1st mo. 18, 2021 at 5:43pm

Methinks "mental illness" (vs. "physical illness" -- hard to part them) is underused in Christian discourse, where we tend to prefer the word "sin". Then we get judgemental, as the word "sin" triggers images of fire and brimstone sermons, inveighing against the damned and so on (what I think of as "kitsch religion" i.e. tacky).  

We know that we shouldn't moralize about illnesses, i.e. once alcoholism became an illness, it was easier for people to be more respectful, i.e. less judgemental of alcoholics. 

I think "mental illness" is one of those leveling egalitarian concepts that Quakers could embrace, by accepting it in place of Original Sin, i.e. we all suffer from these "mental" illnesses with which we must wrestle, mentally (psychically, within our souls).

I have never met a person entirely free of mental illness (who could I know, given my own projections), but I've met people who seemed relatively free of it, or free enough to be healers. 

Once you've tackled your own illnesses (those which may be resolved at the personal level), you have collective illnesses, such as mob paranoias, to work on, to heal from, i.e. there's no upper limit to your healing, as you become a bigger person i.e. less narrowly focussed on your own personal gripes, with more space for your friends and family, and so on.

I see a lot of misdirected energy focused on healing, at the individual level, that which only has a cure at the more collective or social level. For example, the excessive militarism of this society, which produces many suffering from their experiences in wartime, cannot be cured with better drugs for the veterans (although I'm not saying better drugs can't help).  You need cures that work at a societal level, like better theater (i.e. TV programming).

Quakers, as healers, have something to contribute insofar was we embrace that we live in a spherical Asylum for the Insane (aka Spaceship Earth) and it's not our business to feel superior or otherwise moralize about our mental condition or that of others.  Rather, we are more like medical doctors, with expertise, a clinical eye, and an actual toolchest of healing memes.  May God guide us in our practice and show us a way forward.


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