Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
"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?