I posted this in the "Christian Quakers" Facebook group, but wonder what the broader perspective of Friends is on this question. It’s a question about what our Witness should be in the 21st century. This is not an infrequent question, I realize, which is a good thing; to badly paraphrase the philosopher, the unexamined religious life is hardly worth the effort. And I also realize that the RsoF often loves to talk about the Quaker message that Christ has come to teach His people Himself, and that there is "that of God in everyone." And important as these messages were in their time (and still are), and as much as they continue to speak to the condition of many, there is an urgency in our time and I wonder if the Religious Society of Friends may have a particular role in speaking to that urgency. We live in an era when large scale State violence, though still very present, appears to be on wane while interpersonal, communal, and social violence, from the surveillance state to online bullying, is finding new venues in the technological age. A new "democratization of violence" is happening, as culture wars begin to look more and more like real wars. What might the Sprit require of us?


What do Friends think? Should Quakers seek to promote, to use the phrase of Adam Erickson of the Raven Foundation, "a hermeneutics of non-violence," in keeping with our Peace Testimony and historic witness, as our collective role and presence and purpose in the church of Christ in the world today? Should this include a willingness on the part of each one of us to examine and speak out against ALL forms of violence, in ourselves, in others, in our S/society, in our country, and in our world, whether inter-personal violence or cultural violence, whether in the form of militarism, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or economic exploitation, or religious prejudice, or any other form, whether historical by our ancestors or in ourselves today, whether blatant, or latent, or actively denied? Should this include a declaration and commitment to repent of our violence, to learn from it and turn from it, to listen and respect those who are victims of it, to be willing to follow the voice and the lead of those victims, to collectively and loudly speak out against any and all forms of violence? Should this include a rejection of the idea that just because we may think we are "peaceable people" or call ourselves descendants of peacemakers, or believe "we are not personally responsible for the past", we are NOT therefore inculpable of violence? Should we take these words of Jesus,

"For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with shedding the blood of the prophets,’ thus you have witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets"(Matt 23: 29b-31),

as applying to us today as surely and as much as to the religious elites of his day?

Views: 442

Comment by Joanna Hoyt on 2nd mo. 18, 2014 at 6:26pm

I am very grateful for your raising this question.  I keep holding off commenting because I am painfully aware of having no adequate answer to the question.  No adequate answer at the level of my life, that is.  I can and do agree that we need to see, speak out against and live an alternative to all forms of violence, inward and outward.  But I don't do that.  I am inching closer to it, but I don't do it. 
Right now I am most aware of struggling on two fronts. (And yes, I do mean struggling...I know some people who consider that violent language and don't use it, but it seems merely accurate to me.)   There's with the economic piece, with the ways in which my consumption continues to support war, injustice and environmental degradation in spite of farming and thrift shopping and  cutting back.  And there's the wish to unsee things, the will to lie.  This doesn't look overtly violent, but I think that for me at least it is at the root of violence.  In order to harm another person and yet live with myself I have to unsee the other person.  And any form of unseeing that becomes habitual makes larger unseeings easier.

Comment by Randy Oftedahl on 2nd mo. 19, 2014 at 5:25pm

You raise an interesting point regarding so-called "violent" language.  I recall the quote attributed to Gandhi which I always held as a principle (not always followed) to live by, "all our battles should be inner ones."  I have no problem using even violent imagery to convey the darkness of evil - it's a fine Biblical tradition, after all.  I even have a preference for using the term "Satan" as a personification of violence (because I believe it conveys the spiritual force of evil), which is why I believe the Biblical authors used it.  We shouldn't shy away from this language, IMO; if there was no ultimate demonic force of evil, we would not be as dependent on the absolute saving Grace of the God of Love.

Comment by Olivia on 2nd mo. 20, 2014 at 9:39pm

Hi Randy, friends,

Randy you said " I even have a preference for using the term "Satan" as a personification of violence (because I believe it conveys the spiritual force of evil), which is why I believe the Biblical authors used it.  We shouldn't shy away from this language, IMO; if there was no ultimate demonic force of evil, we would not be as dependent on the absolute saving Grace of the God of Love."

You are reminding me of an old Keith Green song where the character singing is the Devil and he  sings "it's getting very easy now 'cause no one believes in me anymore."  (a good song, too!)

I'm not personally clear that we gain anything by personifying evil, but on the other hand I'm not able to offer a better way to think of it for our spiritual benefit.  And Jesus seems to have also personified evil, didn't he?  I don't want to presume that the translations "Satan" mean what I think they mean when in the original language, but...it seems so until I'm corrected on this. 

You aren't saying this, quite, but you're also leading me to the thought that "oh! actually yes, Christ does simplify this quite a bit.  Christ kind of takes care of this whole problem for us."   Of course it's fully thorny with "what do we mean by Christ?" and "how do we practice that?" and these things...

But Actual Christ, vast, progressive Divine Spirit that is known by many names in various cultures but always is that Essence.... this Spirit does solve this problem for us, I think.

My anecdote should perhaps be stated instead as "I love that through Christ sometimes this issue appears to be fully resolved."  One time a Quaker friend (Kevin here on QQ) had shared with some at our meeting that scene in the movie Witness where the Amish grandfather is teaching his son Samuel to avoid violence and avoid guns, and of course in that scene you-know-who (Harrison Ford) has brought a gun into their house.   It is sitting there on that table where they are sitting.  He said to Samuel "touch not the unclean thing."  Kevin shared some thoughts about that and it had stayed with me. 

Then, several months (?) after that, after either some prayer time or just some divine intervention, I was standing at the bus stop.  I had just picked up the local news magazine.   There was an image on the back that I recognized --at that moment -- as profane in some way.  I think it was a generally "normal" advertisement.  But in that moment I had been struck that:  this woman on the back advertisement does not need to be used in this way.  I am complicit in this by simply existing within this sort of society because as I stand at the bus stop reading the news, I am holding up the advertisement that profanes this woman's spirit.  I'm part of it.  I perpetuate it by just reading the news.  

But all this was not a drawn out awareness.   It actually was simply a flash of a pang (as if from Christ) for her, and then the words kind of spoken through me guided me (with Kevin's post about "Witness" in mind) to "Touch not the unclean thing."

I recognized in that moment that the answer was to not hold the paper.  It was simple, and spiritually profound.  There is Way to not be complicit and to feel in line with that Spirit and clarified in this struggle by it's guidance.

But if these moments of guidance come rarely, and our world being what it is, how many examples of being complicit do we live with every day?

Comment by Randy Oftedahl on 2nd mo. 21, 2014 at 12:36am

Thanks, Olivia, for your comments.  I find that whole "touch not the unclean thing" thing quite an intriguing idea.  But I could see how we might misuse it as well.  Same with the word "Satan".  What makes it powerful, IMO, and why we should not shy away from it is that it conveys an image that is quite unequivocal.  It captures all the darkness of evil, violence, hatred...the terror that rests in the total rejection of God and That of God in the human spirit.  The danger with that word of course is that it has been abused and directed toward people and we must never do that.  But modern Quakers should also not reject consideration that such darkness exists...I've heard liberal Friends sometimes speak as if evil is nothing more than a kind of extreme negative attitude...and this is very troubling because it horribly minimizes the pain and suffering in the world caused by those dark, yes, Satanic, forces of evil.  Plus, as you allude to, Jesus used such language and he seemed to want to evoke something to it, and I think we should try and figure out what that was.   

Comment by Keith Saylor on 2nd mo. 22, 2014 at 10:22am

Disclaimer: The follow is not to suggest that any individual or group of individuals should or, would be better off if they did, follow the conscious and conscience experience merely reflected in these outward words. There is no wish, intention, or agenda, to impose a conscience on another. The intention is to express my conscience in the quiet of Presence and that is all.

Dear Randy,

The interpretive nature of your piece goes against my conscience. A consciousness anchored in and conscience informed by Presence does not turn to outward forms (testimonies, scriptures, etc.) to inform and guide conscience. In the Presence, the self-conscious ego does not identify with or find awareness in outward forms. In the Presence, these outward forms are not turned to, and therefore there is no interpretation (hermeneutics).

A consciousness anchored in and a conscience informed by immediacy experiences peace and non-violence directly and in all things and events; even in outwardly violent events and where there is no outward peace. Peace is Presence. Non-violence is Presence. Presence predicates peace and non-violence not the other way around. These are not ideas to be imposed on others through outward means such as testimonies, declarations, and moral and ethical institutional tyranny. Peace and non-violence are experienced within not from without. To repent from violence is to re-turn to Presence. It is not to proclaim or profess against violence. A self-conscious ego identified with and a conscience informed by outward ideas about peace and non-violence only manifests and realizes more violence.

A consciousness anchored in and a conscience informed by the one Principle or Rule (non-ideological, non-institutional, non-outward, not predicated) knows peace and non-violence directly and in all things and events and there is no need for interpretation. Mine is to faithfully witness to the inward Presence, and trust peace will manifest through the workings of Presence within individuals.

May these words edify.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 2nd mo. 22, 2014 at 11:38am

Different ways of putting things for different folks. I find those presents arriving in a great many ways, myself; and the formulations of historical quietist Friends haven't seemed addressed to me all that much.

What's inside is the very same Whole Reality that's at work outside; and I do agree that that's what should be steering our efforts. I would add that thoughts and feelings about 'Testimonies' come from God Inside also, and likewise serve God's purposes....

Comment by Olivia on 2nd mo. 22, 2014 at 6:55pm


Hello all,

Randy, you wrote "I find that whole "touch not the unclean thing" thing quite an intriguing idea.  But I could see how we might misuse it as well.  Same with the word "Satan"."

Yes, by definition, it can be misused, used outside of the Spirit.

A few thoughts:

- Seeing the evil that presents itself can be deeply necessary and spiritually freeing,while not seeing ourselves or any person involved as evil.  It is frequently clarifying, allowing ones self to choose more Light, or just to finally see an aspect of Light in ourselves that we had no idea was that good and powerful when fully embraced and given room.

- Personally I have too much history of not seeing what I needed to see and not facing what I needed to face, AND have history of benefiting from someone else finally making me do that (someone who did this for years until I could get the message -- dolt that I am).  So I have become a big fan of "the community", US, naming these issues to one another, even if they are not received well.   In the spirit of "we're worth fighting for...."

- That said, both my points above are fraught with peril, if applied "externally".   If applied outside of the Spirit (or with what one might call a well-intentioned but imbalanced "Spirit" that is ignorant of pieces of the Whole Picture) we create ill-formed solutions and frequently would take other people out in the process (everything from ignorance of the lives affected by the policies we vote for, to genocides to rid the society of "the evil", or abuse of gay people after demonizing them). 


I like that about 'get the log out of your own eye' (emphasis on "leave the other person alone").  But the mercy of it too is --  when we are willing to see when the spirit within ourselves lacks enough light to see clearly by, we can give God access to change that.   THEN the community can be very instrumental!   Support and healing and resources are all around!


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