Among Friends: On Privilege, Conflict, and Moving Forward

“I’m staying out of it.” Who among us has seen a difficult conflict and not thought or said just that?

All people are fundamentally equal, having each been granted and blessed with a measure of Light and the ability to connect with that of God within us and that of God within each other. And yet, in our world, power and privilege are most unequally distributed.

It’s impossible to speak productively about conflict without dealing with the power dynamics that underlie every conflict. For someone with all the privileges of the status quo, like me, that examination can be uncomfortable. A white-skinned, college-educated, professional, middle-class man like me quite regularly has the privilege of “staying out of it.” But most people in the world don’t—especially not women, those living with less material wealth, and people of color. Examining the power dynamics in most conflicts will reveal that when those with power and privilege remain on the sidelines, we perpetuate the status quo. We may find the Spirit in silent worship, but Quakers can wield silence and stillness as skillfully as a soldier might his weapon. That doesn’t mean we should.

As we put the finishing touches on this issue on the theme of “Conflict and Controversy,” my Friends Journal colleagues and I find it difficult to ignore the chorus of voices in our culture now speaking up against harassment by men in positions of power. While the stories we feature may not touch on this phenomenon directly, we hope reading them will be useful background as all of us navigate this world where, thankfully, many voices are speaking out with boldness and courage, voices which have been long silenced or ignored. A reckoning is underway, and with it comes the opportunity to hold difficult conversations and create a culture that is more just. What action will stir in us?

We must not imagine and engage in a sort of “Quaker exceptionalism.” Just because we’re Friends doesn’t make us immune to becoming, harboring, enabling, abetting, or turning a blind eye to abusers and harassers. We have every responsibility to be vigilant and valiant in naming and bringing into the Light, and into discussion, the conflicts we know are there. It is only in the Light and in the openness of dialogue and shared emotional labor that we can hope to progress toward being the seekers and “publishers” of truth that Friends have long styled ourselves to be. As the Friends who wrote “Challenging Conflicts in Our Meeting” found, tools and resources exist within our community to help us move forward, to process and resolve difficult dilemmas. We don’t have to be perfect, and we demonstrably won’t be perfect as we as imperfect human beings work through knotty human conflicts. But we do have to be willing to change and willing to place love for our neighbors at the center of all that we do, in order to be who we wish to be as a spiritual community. Let’s not “stay out of it.”


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