Much of my work and writing last year has been related to Mutual Aid. This has solidified my conclusions that our hope now is to continue and expand Mutual Aid projects across the county and world.
The greatest driver to build mutual aid groups is we will soon have no choice. It is increasingly clear our political system has failed us. Capitalism has failed us. Our healthcare industry is failing despite the valiant efforts of front-line health workers. And most of all, environmental chaos will rapidly worsen.
It has seemed our faith bodies are failing us, too. Where is the church in helping us through these increasingly trying times?
For example, I’ve worked my entire adult life to convince Quakers to stop owning personal automobiles. And failed to do so. I’m aware this could be related to mistakes I’ve made in communicating.
I’ve been discouraged, but not surprised, at the lack of response I’ve been getting when trying to convince people of the evils and failure of capitalism. (See Evils of Capitalism). But I know it will require spiritual guidance to help us through the coming times. I still have faith the Inner Light will show us the way.
I am intrigued by the idea of Religious Socialism that my friend Fran Quigley told me about. Fran is director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law and has published the book Religious Socialism: Faith in Action for a Better World.
In the following Lucy Duncan writes “What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?”
Ty Kiatathikom writes about Religious Socialism. And there is information about an eight-week course, “Re-Envisioning Community Safety. Exploring Policing and Alternatives”.
Early Friends understood the Inner Light not only as a beacon shining from each person’s soul but also as a searchlight exposing the knots and blocked or wounded places in ourselves, the spaces requiring reckoning and real repair. I would argue that these stories of White Quaker complicity (which do not in any way diminish the stories of individual and collective Quaker courage) implicate us in the harms of slavery and incarceration in deep ways. They implicate us as perpetrators but also as wounded ourselves.
As Wendell Berry so eloquently put it, we carry the mirror image of the harm we’ve caused in our souls. This “hidden wound” is ever present and disrupts our ability to be fully intact, fully grounded, and human. We render ourselves in some ways obscure to our own history and to a full knowing of who we are.
I tell the stories of early White Quaker relationships to slavery because slavery was never really abolished. If we can reckon with the full truth of our connection to slavery and its afterlives, perhaps we can begin the healing necessary to fulfill the promise of the Religious Society of Friends of Truth.
We as White Quakers like to think of ourselves as ahead or better than dominant culture, but we have been complicit in a system and mindset that are ubiquitous. Claiming the full truth of our history and committing to repair the harms done are deeply spiritual acts of healing our own wounds of disconnection. I would argue it is the pathway upon which we can, perhaps for the first time, discover and invigorate our faith with its full promise.
What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021
Where do religious socialists fit into that struggle?
Every religion teaches the power of redemption. In every faith, there are stories about human beings redeeming and being redeemed. Siddhartha Gautama renounces his status as a prince to live and die as an ascetic, and in doing so, escapes from the cycle of life and death entirely. The Abrahamic religions call on their adherents to answer for their misdeeds by doing virtuous acts and asking forgiveness from God. Universally, our faiths extol the importance of understanding that our actions in this life define us and carry us on over to the next, and that no person is ever beyond redemption for their vilest act.
We can take advantage of skills that we cultivate within our faith spaces—such as mindfulness, active listening and servant leadership—to build multi-faith, multi-tendency, and multi-generational coalitions for systemic change. Relationship-building is a foundational step in birthing a revolutionary culture, and abolitionist culture is no different. As religious socialists, we have the potential—and therefore the responsibility—to nourish the culture that connects us within and without prison walls.
One example of religiously informed abolitionist organizing is Abolition Apostles, a national jail and prison ministry based in New Orleans. Serving thousands of incarcerated people across the country, Abolition Apostles connects them with pen pals, material support, and advocacy for their parole and re-entry.
We cannot claim to live in a moral society until we have achieved the permanent abolition of the prison-industrial complex. The words echo in religious and socialist texts: Hebrews 13.3: Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison with them; the Dhammapada: Whoever, being pure, forbears with punishment, bondage, and abuse, having the strength of endurance, having an army of strengths, that one I say is a brahmin; Eugene Debs: While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.WHILE THERE IS A SOUL IN PRISON: REMEMBERING ATTICA, COMMITTING TO ABOLITION by Ty Kiatathikom, religioussocialism.org
From October through December 2021, I led a course for Friends from Multnomah Friends Meeting and West Hills Friends Church (both in Portland, OR) based on the Mennonite Church, USA curriculum about police abolition. https://www.mennoniteusa.org/abolition-curriculum-intro/
This Portland Quaker gathering was sponsored by Multnomah’s Peace and Social Concerns Committee and Friends for Racial Justice.
After spending nine weeks exploring these issues and obtaining feedback from course participants, I feel led to widen the discussion to a broader community. I am hoping that additional Friends will join me for an exploration of this topic – and that Friends will forward this opportunity to friends who are not Quakers who may be interested.
Below is the course announcement. Unfortunately, the timing of the course (6:30 – 8:30 pm PST) only works for West Coast, or possibly Mountain Time people.
Please get in touch if you have questions, suggestions, or are interested in participating.
Kepper Petzing (they)