Among Friends February 2016

On Community, Safety, and Ways Opening and Closing

“I am here to grow with you,” says Maire Moriarty in this issue’s installment of our “Let’s Grow Together” interviews. Maire is talking about her approach to being a member of a Friends meeting community, about what keeps her coming back. Our editorial fellow, Trevor Johnson, caught up with Maire to photograph her for our cover during a young adult Friends gathering at Swarthmore (Pa.) Meeting in early January.

Maire speaks my mind. For me—and, I suspect, for a good many of our readers—following the Quaker way isn’t just about sitting in silence together and listening to the vocal ministry others deliver from time to time in meeting. It’s about committing as part of a community to continual self-examination in the light of what is new, what is true, and what is revealed as we follow George Fox’s counsel to “walk cheerfully over the world, answering to that of God in every one.”

While the peace testimony is as close as Friends come to a truth universally acknowledged, it’s fascinating to see how the witness Friends undertake in the world changes over time. One case in point is war tax resistance. Longtime readers may recall that one of my predecessors, editor-manager Vint Deming, resisted paying federal income taxes in the ’80s and early ’90s. After a protracted legal battle, the board of Friends Publishing Corporation reluctantly paid a levy to the IRS in 1992 to settle the matter. Our personnel policy now states that we resolve to respect and not to discriminate against employees who exercise a conscientious objection to paying taxes for war, but we have now drawn the line at allowing an employee to transfer risk or liability of his or her resistance to the organization. Other Quaker nonprofit organizations no doubt have similar policies. In his fascinating piece on page 12, David Gross charts the waxes and wanes of Quaker war tax resistance, drawing on an exhaustive body of research he has assembled online over more than a decade, thanks in part to the online archives of Friends Journal. Gross, a war tax resister himself, suggests that a rekindling of this ministry in Quaker circles could be a beacon and a magnet for newcomers.

It’s clear our ideals are often in conflict with our need for safety and our desire for comfort. Certainly that seems the case with war tax resistance today, if not with Friends as a group, at least in our organizations. The financial and legal consequences of resistance are a great risk, and the reward—righteousness—intangible. But there are those who have, and do, sacrifice material comfort for spiritual fulfillment. Could it be that as Friends explore possibilities beyond the rules the world gives us, we’ll find new definitions of safety and comfort? It’s worth watching and learning from those who are trying, even when—as in Seres Kyrie’s “Guns and Pepper Spray” (p. 10)—they struggle to wrest meaning from the conflict and contradictions inherent in personal witness.

This issue of Friends Journal is one of a few each year that we leave “open,” without a unifying theme. We are blessed with a strong group of articles that I hope will prompt reflection, insight, and perhaps a laugh. Thanks to all of our contributors, and thank you for reading.

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