Forum, September 2022

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Quaker deathways

First, as a physician, a Friend, and someone who has worked with a fair number of people who were dying, I very much like what Carl Magruder is saying about the processes of suffering and dying (“On Quaker Deathways,” QuakerSpeak.com July).

Further, I do a great deal of work online with traumatized people, asylum seekers, refugees, and war victims in various parts of the world. Carl’s point at the beginning of the video about walking in without any preconceived ideas, and “simply”—it is not at all simple—listening to the people is the essence of good therapy. I don’t know how many times people have said to me something like, “You’re the first person who has listened to me.” Listening, empathizing, and being there is essential. This is the essence of our spiritual relationship to other people and to G-d.

Charles David Tauber
Vukovar, Croatia

As a retired healthcare chaplain in the UK, I would like to endorse all that is said in this video. Thank you, Carl, for all that you are doing. May we all seek a holy death. May we strive to allow others to die well, and may we all know how much we are loved and valued by God.

Alan West
Eastbourne, UK

As a person who had a diagnosis that took a nasty turn last November, I appreciate what Carl Magruder has observed and learned. I just finished my third chemo regimen, which only has a 50 percent response rate. The first two regimens worked but somewhat ineffectively. I have had to consider dying sooner than I expected.

He is correct about being a witness and a listener. I have found that adages can make me angry. The words more typically used, such as “battle” or “fight,” don’t resonate with me. What does resonate is that I am on a spiritual path and that I can look at what is in front me, discern Spirit’s will as best I can, and move forward. I can cultivate gratitude for small things, and I can belly laugh—not only at puns and well-designed comedic monologues, but at simple things that amuse me. I fully live simultaneously as I acknowledge death. I can’t find words that adequately describe holding both of these in my hands at the same time. Someone to listen and witness when I need to gnash my teeth and pull out my imaginary hair (or belly laugh, or take a sharp inhale when something beautiful is seen, or cry out of the fullness and grief)—that’s what I need the most.

Deborah Dougherty
Terrytown, N.Y.

Debate about the peace testimony and our language around it

Adria Gulizia’s “Do Friends Still Need the Peace Testimony?” (FJ Aug.) is well-laid-out and worthy of discussion throughout our Society. One result of identifying the Light with the individual conscience, as many do in our Liberal meetings (I cannot speak for other branches), is that decision making comes down to consensus rather than being the sense of the meeting. This can only lead to fragmentation, since every individual has his or her own idea of what’s right, and consensus represents what a given group of Friends can tolerate at a given point in time. The decision will no longer have the power to hold us to supporting it, since it doesn’t carry the same validity as does a decision reached when Friends are unified that we have been given the right answer to our question. A decision by consensus may leave us with resignation or acceptance, but a Spirit-led movement gives us joy and gratitude, even when we know it will lead to more hard work and sacrifice in the future.

Margaret N. Katranides
St. Louis, Mo.

Thank you for this profound statement of a real dilemma in contemporary Liberal Quakerism. I hope many Friends will share and ponder it. I am increasingly asking myself, after my membership of over 40 years, what is the point of the Religious Society of Friends? How does it differ from many well-meaning humanitarian and humanistic organizations? Just throwing in the words “spiritual” and even “religious,” as we often do, may simply be a formalistic bow in the direction of tradition. The early Quaker revelation was that together through worship we turn inwards to discern the Divine Will, the better to live It out in the world around us. Community, worship, discernment, commitment, all expressed in the way we live our lives, seems to me to be at the heart of the Quaker revelation. The way we live our lives is our testimony to truth. Are we creating the divine commonwealth by living it in the here and now?

Harvey Gillman
Rye, UK

Thank you, Ms. Gulizia, for this profound and important message for all Quakers. Would that it could be read aloud at every meetinghouse and its issues discussed in depth. Every monthly meeting should ask the question: Are we really a Religious Society of Friends anymore?

George Powell
Carmel Valley, Calif.

Right on, Ms. Gulizia. I have urged my meeting to read and ponder your terrific article. On a recent First Day, I noticed a member of our meeting sporting a veteran’s cap from his days in the army during worship. I think many people in my meeting believe the peace testimony to be optional.

Dena Davis
Bethlehem, Pa.

All wars are wrong: those of the past, present, and future. I condemn the United States, its government, and its corporations that are the biggest arms merchants and war profiteers that the world has ever seen. All wars are our fault for being taxpayers who pay for these destructive actions. There is no justice in war, and war is never just. You are obfuscating your responsibility to end all armed conflicts if you do defend this doctrine. The peace testimony speaks for itself without exception. Christ said turn the other check, and Jesus meant it! Hold your hand out to your adversary even if they slap it away. There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.

James Stockwell
Burnsville, N.C.

I attended a Liberal Friends high school in the 1990s, and consider myself one of those Liberal Friends raised believing the Light is separate from Christian theology. However, I do not feel any connection to the article’s description of Liberal Friends’ perspective. We are not agnostic: the historical evolution of Light away from Christ-centered Christianity was an American path tied to a movement to expand the “higher power” to include Native American spiritual common ground. In this perspective, Christ is an example (like Ghandi, Buddha, or Mother Theresa) of a Spirit-led life, and the Bible is the source of this role model. We don’t disbelieve; we just consider it one of many examples. 

Belief in a higher power (Light, Holy Spirit, Great Spirit, God or Goddess, or Gai) is essential to Quaker belief. Otherwise, what small, still voice would we be waiting to hear? In this Liberal interpretation, the peace testimony is a necessary natural development that occurs if you practice the fine art of acknowledging “that of God (Light/Spirit) within each person” because deliberate violence is impossible if you see their Inner Light. Since you cannot in good conscience hit someone in front of you while seeing their Light, it would be hypocritical to endorse war on a larger, less personal scale. 

Sascha Horowitz
Las Vegas, Nev.

I was very interested to read Adria Gulizia’s article and found myself nodding my head and listening deeply to what she had to say. I stopped reading and listening when she began using exclusive language for God. It was in part this sort of language that drove me out of mainstream religion over 30 years ago when my husband and I were raising our two children: girls.

As those of us in the pews dutifully recited the creeds and praised “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” I was struck with the realization that the little boy sitting next to our daughters was being led to believe that he was closer to God than they were. After all, if God is a man and Jesus was “His” son, how could he think otherwise?

Exclusive language places men above women and is used to justify male domination. And yet, we as Friends profess to believe in equality. I have felt hurt when hearing these words from mainstream churches. Now when I hear them from Friends, the hurt goes deeper.

Diana Day
Blairsville, Ga.

War is obsolete. It doesn’t get us what we want. Wars kill many more civilians than soldiers, destroy homes and economies, and displace people. Governments are preparing for future wars. What? Those wars envision destroying populations with diseases or chemicals. They use computers to smash infrastructure, and rob distant citizens. War has become indistinguishable from criminal activity.

How do we start teaching children that peacemakers are more glamorous than soldiers? How do we create peace academies that are as rigorous and as influential as military academies? How do we export negotiation technology to developing nations instead of bribing them with weapons? War is not weather. It is something that we humans make. Can we change those habits? Hell, we have changed the weather, and we are trying hard to change it back.

Does God want us to stop wars? Jesus said God wants us to love one another. Why? Jesus was a pragmatist: because it works better.

Christopher King
Ojai, Calif.

The personal struggles behind our stories of peace

The August issue went far to restore my love of Friends Journal. The assemblage of articles and the art behind the poetry are a joy. (I don’t get most poetry, but that’s a story for another day.) I left Martin Kelley’s “Among Friends” for last. I was with him until I read this sentence: “In World War II, most eligible North American Friends served in the military.” What!

My decade of working in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection (1988-1998), formerly titled Jane Addams Peace Association, informed me of the depth and breadth of absolutism and non-combat service by Friends, Brethren, and Mennonite men in Civilian Public Service (CPS). The Historic Peace Churches included vast numbers of conscientious objectors who went through hell and red tape to live as Spirit directed them. This, too, needs to be noted. Their families did without while supplying them with care packages during their years of service in all manner of work. CPS was de facto slavery. Work was not compensated, though shelter was provided in the camps.

CPS endeavors ranged from digging ditches to eradicating hookworm in the U.S. South; smoke jumping firefighting in the Pacific Northwest; and compassionate care in mental hospitals, including Philadelphia, Pa. The care of mentally ill patients was transformed. It’s worth noting that Jews, Catholics, and mainline Protestant denomination men also attained conscientious objector status and worked in the camps.

Kate O’Donnell
Vinalhaven, Maine

The author responds: At just over 500 words, my “Among Friends” column was not meant to be (nor could it be) a comprehensive overview of 350 years of Friends attitudes toward peace, but instead a corrective to a collective memory that sometimes overemphasizes our historic fealty to peace.

In April, Friends Journal ran an opinion Viewpoint by Bryan Garman that referred to the experience of Robert L. Smith, a lifelong Friend, Quaker educator, and author who nevertheless fought with the U.S. Army in the European battlefields of World War II. Some Friends were upset that we would run a viewpoint telling his story, yet Smith’s experience was the norm among U.S. draft-age Quaker men in the 1940s.

Yes, as Friend Kate rightly says, the sacrifices of World War II conscientious objectors are inspiring, but their experiences were the exception.

My intent in all this is to show that the peace testimony is not something we can take for granted. Every generation has wrestled with it, and so must ours. As Friends, we know that statements of creeds aren’t good motivators. Appeals to the authority of history ring hollow, especially when that history minimizes the personal struggles of conscience that tore at the souls of Friends past.

Martin Kelley
FJ Senior Editor

Conscience and the Inner Light 

David Hadley Finke’s “The Spirit of Christ and Our Historic Peace Testimony” (FJ Apr. online) asserts that the first Quakers knew their stance immediately, which implies that there was no need for discernment. I can say without hesitation or need for elaboration that a war of aggression is wrong. But we’re discussing the defense of people who are being bombed; shot; and beaten into submission, systematically. The spirit raised in me by these acts is not about revenge or punishment; it’s about stopping the aggression. Could it be about compassion? I’ve always thought that the essence of Jesus’s example is love of neighbor. 

Does absolute pacifism fulfill the love of neighbor in all circumstances, every time? If I were in the position of Ukrainians, I don’t think I could comprehend what Light of Christ it was that would compel others to refrain from intervening.

Kathryn Price
Ham Lake, Minn.

For early Friends, the peace testimony arose in the passion of a heart that had awakened to the Light Within. It sprang from an inward experience—an exalted feeling—of the Light of Christ. As George Fox declared in Darby jail (1652 [see correction]), to live in this blessed state is to be “dead” to wars and fighting. One does not adhere to the peace testimony as a judgment of the mind, subject to rational consideration, pro and con; rather, it arises from a transformed spiritual life. To use words favored by Fox: one does not manifest the peace testimony by simply “professing” it; one must “possess it” or—more accurately—be possessed by it.

Early Friends accepted these words in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “If you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:4). They understood this passage to authorize the use of the sword in two circumstances: (1) to deter domestic evil-doers, and (2) to defend against foreign invasion. Fox declared that because of the heightened spiritual state of Friends, they were above the use of the sword; but for those who had not yet attained that state, coercive power was necessary. Leading Friends were consistent over time on this point. Taking them at their word, early Friends would affirm the right of the people of Ukraine to use “the sword” in self-defense.

Steve Smith
Claremont, Calif.


Correction: Steve Smith’s letter in print and online originally listed the wrong date for the Fox declaration in Darby jail. The online article has been corrected to 1652.

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