Revelation and Revolution: Answering the Call to Radical Faithfulness
Reviewed by Harvey Gillman
This Pendle Hill pamphlet was based on a talk and speaks clearly with a prophetic voice. The title says it all. The Quaker movement began as a response to a call, a call from that of God within, articulated also in the very lives of women and men who were moved to turn their world upside down to bring about the divine commonwealth. This pamphlet is itself a call to faithfulness.
As a young man, Chase associated the Quaker way with nonviolent revolution. The essence of Quaker faithfulness was that we “strive first for the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). His Christianity and his social activism were and are part of the same reality. His fervor here made me realize how much Quakers are social Protestants, no longer simply trying to go back beyond the accretions of doctrine to the worship of the early church, but protestors against social systems that betray the vision of Jesus for a compassionate and inclusive social order. This leads Chase to call for transformed nonconformists, people who are creatively maladjusted to unjust societies.
In a text rich with particular instances of calls for justice and campaigns for social improvement, Chase is not afraid of stressing the Christian basis of his vision and also the fact that the challenges facing Friends and (other) Christians are still great and troubling. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the prophets striding across these pages, and Chase points out how inwardly confronted King was in his own campaigns for racial equality. Part of King’s greatness was that there was in him a certain timidity. He quotes King: “I was almost overcome, obsessed by a feeling of inadequacy.” King recognized his inadequacy and “turned to God in prayer.” Quakers throughout history have begun with a recognition of their inadequacy, but have followed a leading which gives them strength to go on—a strength not simply derived from the human will to do good.
It is this realization that enables us to go forward. Toward the end of the pamphlet, Chase addresses a question that has arisen often among Friends and elsewhere: do we have to be transformed before we can transform the world? Many of us have met self-righteous revolutionaries and angry pacifists whose work, through a certain lack of self-awareness, does not enhance the holy experiment. But if we wait until we are perfect to create a perfect world, we will never get anywhere. I suspect that in trying to change the world we are changed ourselves. The inner and the outer are mutually dependent. Prayer, self-examination, and mutual support are the tools which help us in this process. Chase ends the pamphlet with a call for us to “rejoin the Lamb’s War.”
I would suggest that readers approach this pamphlet prayerfully.