Writing these blog posts can be difficult. It can be hard to discern what to write. To listen to the silence is a spiritual practice. And I most often write about spiritual matters, which are difficult to put into words.
Then publish what is written on the Internet for anyone in the world to read. That was intimidating at first. But after a while, you find you don’t usually get much response, positive or negative.
Perhaps the most difficult is writing things likely to upset or hurt people you care about. But I try to discern/speak/write the truth as I understand it to the best of my ability.
Religious and faith groups that have existed for a long time have often done things and/or held beliefs that resulted in injustice. For example, there is the doctrine of a “just war.” Of the Christian Crusades. Or the Doctrine of Discovery (1452) that specifically sanctioned and promoted the conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian territories and peoples.
These and many other injustices occurred because White Christians had significant political influence. And were involved in the theft of land from and subjugation of many Indigenous peoples. These injustices persist because White supremacy and oppression continue.
It is common to be most critical of those we look to be examples of our beliefs. I was raised in Quaker communities, where there is great emphasis on living our lives consistent with our beliefs. I’ve been led to see most White Quakers are failing to achieve that.
One way Quakers work for justice is to refuse to participate in organizations that are involved in unjust work. That sometimes involves boycotting products or services from such companies. Or refusing to invest in or work for such organizations.
It is much more difficult to divorce oneself from systems of injustice we live in. For example, it is difficult to live without a car in today’s sprawling cities and towns, or in rural areas. These assaults on Mother Earth are environmental injustice. I refused to have a car because of this. That began in 1970. Yet, in all the time since, I was unable to convince other Quakers to give up their cars. This was a source of ongoing tension with Quakers. It is haunting to know that if our society had embraced mass transit systems instead of the car culture, we would not be dealing with environmental devastation that will only worsen, probably to the point of extinction.
For over three years I’ve been part of a Mutual Aid community, where I’ve been learning more about these injustices, and an alternative to White supremacy and capitalism. I’ve been sharing what I’ve been learning with my Quaker communities, but similar to the car situation, I’m making little progress in convincing Quakers to embrace Mutual Aid. (See: Quakers and Mutual Aid)
Spending time in marginalized communities has given me different perspectives on White supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism. I am now struggling because these new perspectives convince me those systems of oppression must be abolished.
When working for change, the choices are:
- Incremental changes to existing systems, or
- Replacing unjust systems
Incremental changes to unjust systems perpetuate the injustices.
But replacing unjust systems takes time. The concept of Dual Power refers to transitioning from an unjust system to a just one. My Mutual Aid community is building just alternatives to capitalism.
I just wrote Social and Economic Justice which was critical of Quakers today. “The capitalist economic system only works if you have money. It’s so frustrating to me that I can’t make my White friends, Quaker friends see how incredibly unjust this is. They don’t see a problem with capitalism because they have a source of income.”
I call capitalism Economic Slavery.
As mentioned, Quakers have a practice of refusing to be associated with unjust organizations and systems. So what do I do when Quakers are part of the unjust systems of capitalism and White supremacy?
Spending time in marginalized communities shows me the depth of the consequences of White supremacy and capitalism. Seeing the families coming to our Mutual Aid food giveaway is heartbreaking. Making me viscerally aware of the failure of capitalism and the need for Mutual Aid.
My friend Jed Walsh recently shared this with me:
For me, there’s a lot of grief around thinking about moving away from Quakerism, as Quakers have really significantly shaped the person I try to be and the ways I want to be part of social movements. But my fear/pessimism right now has been telling me for some time that Quakers as a whole can’t let go of our collective attachments to white supremacy and capitalism. I’m tired of being in the margins of a Quakerism that’s clinging to the status quo, and hoping to find other places to practice faith and spirituality where I can feel more aligned with others.Jed Walsh
I, too, am tired of being in the margins of a Quakerism that’s clinging to the status quo. I’m exhausted from fifty years of work against environmental devastation, which included Quakers and their cars.
From my years in oppressed communities, I understand how people in these communities view White people. I know they see no distinction between White Quakers and other White people. I feel the unspoken questions of my Mutual Aid friends. Wondering, now that I’ve seen the injustices of capitalism and White supremacy, am I going to do anything more than help give away food? Because Mutual Aid is about abolishing unjust systems and replacing them by building Beloved communities.
I have talked with some Mutual Aid friends about Quakers and spirituality. I plan to continue to look for opportunities to explore spirituality with them.
There is an urgency to make changes now because White supremacy and capitalism continue their oppression today.
I am in a spiritual dual power mode (defined above), remaining with Friends until I might be led to a different spiritual community. I hope, instead, Quakers might seek how we can replace systems of capitalism and White superiority.
And I’ve been exploring what Spiritual Mutual Aid might look like. https://quakersandreligioussocialism.com/mutual-aid/
Seeking a People
I used to call myself a Quaker. I never joined a meeting, and honestly, I had suspicions from the beginning that it just wasn’t going to work. But I was desperate for people, and I really wanted the Quakerism I’d read about.
I couldn’t find it, though, and now I’m not sure it exists.
In the meantime, I’ve been talking, and writing, and a number of Friends say my critical observations about Quaker institutions and culture are illegitimate, either because of my lack of membership or because of my newness. I don’t have a right to point out classism and white supremacy, they say.
It’s been hard finding my place and voice in the Religious Society of Friends. And honestly, I’ve given up. I don’t see the point.
When I read what early Friends wrote, I’m drawn to their vision. Friends lived out of step with the world. Their yielding to Christ demanded deep listening, joy in suffering for the truth, abandonment to the movement of Love. They declared the end of days and rejected the idolatry of nationalism. They were living into a new Society of Friends.
George Fox wrote about the Kingdom of God breaking into this world – and it came from within – this was the gospel I knew, the gospel I needed. Quakers were holy fools, apocalyptic evangelists, soldiers of prophecy. They were about liberation and creating the age-to-come. That was the Spirit I knew. This was the church I longed for.
Then I found Quakers. They weren’t exactly what I’d read about, and it was kind of confusing. But I decided to stick around for a while. After all, maybe God could use existing Quaker institutions to renew the Society of Friends. I believed and hoped that some of these institutions might lead Friends of all branches into convergence, and then that the Spirit might dissolve our dependence on institutions. I thought that as we yielded to the Spirit, she would return us to that apostolic and anarchic ecclesiology of early Friends.
What I’ve found, instead, is that Friends have converged on a shared history and a handful of practices.
But if the Society of Friends is to ever again carry the anointing of early Quakers, if it is to ever embody the vision of Margaret Fell, going “hand in hand in the unity and fellowship of this eternal Spirit,” it must do more than embrace a convoluted historical connection and some shared practices.
If we are converging on history and practice, we are missing the point. If we are depending on institutions to create a new society or usher in the Kingdom, then we are deceived. These will not bring the radically egalitarian and Spirit-filled communities that God fostered among early Friends. These are forms, and Friends must follow the Spirit.
I’ve met others who need a Spirit-led Society. We share this vision, and we share the disappointment of being drowned out in meeting by classism, ageism, and racism. Some of us wonder if Quakerism isn’t all that different from the rest of liberal religion. From what we’ve seen, it isn’t apocalyptic. It isn’t radical. It doesn’t sound like Fox or look like Jesus. It works at incremental transformation while simultaneously shushing those who need the system overthrown.
I’ve moved on.
But even as I’ve stopped attending meeting – even as institutional Quakerism has, for the most part, become irrelevant to me – I cannot deny that I am a Friend. Quaker conceptions of Christ’s gospel have led me closer to Jesus and it’s integral to what I believe and how I live. At the end of the day, though, if tables aren’t being turned, if people aren’t being healed and set free, if the prophets aren’t marching naked, I’ll have to follow Jesus elsewhere.
I hear early Friend Sarah Blackborow’s words ringing in my heart: “Christ is trying to make a dwelling place within you but he is left rejected and homeless.”
Jesus is still seeking his people, people who see the Spirit of God in the suffering and offer refuge. I’m seeking those people, too.
2 thoughts on “Spiritual Transition”
I am looking forward to looking further into your website and willing to learn more. I hear you. I agree. Thank you.