When the Danger is Us

For many of us, the act of walking into a meetinghouse or Friends church, sitting on the bench, pew, or chair and closing our eyes brings an immediate sense of serenity. We can forget our worries, our to-dos, our laundry and dishes piling up back home and settle into the sweet worship. Together, safe inside our beloved community, we can turn our attention to the prompting of the Spirit. There may be worries inside that sacred space—social concerns to hold and discern, the joys and sorrows of fellowship. But the worship space itself is safe, a refuge of Light to inspire, recharge, and reset ourselves.

This is not the experience of every visitor to a Quaker space. I’ve been in three situations in Quaker meetings where my kids have been in close contact with someone who I later learned was a serial child abuser. I’ve been at Quaker events where assaults against young adults happened, whispered but never publicly acknowledged to protect the privacy of the victim—and perhaps of the sponsoring organization. 

Two accounts in this issue come from yearly meetings that discovered that well-liked—even beloved—youth program workers had been assaulting teenagers at yearly meeting events. The responses of Friends were not always helpful (one even reinstated the abuser only to find out there had been more undisclosed victims). Multiple authors point out that their meetings had no policy in place and that the gathered body fiercely struggled to balance competing feelings of shock, fear, and denial with desires for mercy and justice.

If anything is unique about Friends’ responses, it is our desire to want to see the Light in all, to trust and forgive as we try to understand the roots of personal violence. While admirable qualities, they can sometimes leave us uniquely vulnerable to manipulation, an observation made by a few of this month’s authors. As a self-organized society that is sometimes suspicious of professionalism, we can be ill-equipped to look for, identify, and respond to these kinds of disclosures.

But we need not despair. There are plenty of resources out there. There are professionals who have studied the issue of abuse in religious communities, many of them members of our own community. There are also yearly meetings that have gone through the pain and heartbreak and developed policies that can act as models for all of us.

Needless to say, these are hard issues and they may be triggering. Emotions can run high just reading these articles. Please exercise all the self care you need. 

As we go to press we’re been staring at screens watching the initial salvos of Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine. We’re holding everyone in the region in our hearts, along with Russians of conscience who are speaking out despite considerable risk. On Facebook, “Quakers Of Kyiv, Ukraine” and “Friends House Moscow” are posting frequent updates and organizations like Friends Committee on National Legislation and American Friends Service Committee are issuing statements and resources to help. Let us pray and work to end all violence, interpersonal and international both. 

Friends Journal and Quakers in Pastoral Care and Counseling (QPCC) are co-sponsoring a Zoom panel at 1:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, March 23, to address some of the questions and concerns raised by this month’s issue. How do we recognize when the unthinkable happens; how do we heal? How can we be open and welcoming to all people; do clear boundaries and community expectations contribute to that? Is there a Quaker witness to protect the vulnerable in our community?

QPCC’s Bruce Heckman and our volunteer co-news editor, Windy Cooler, are joined by Friends Journal contributors Kody Hersh (“Sacred Responsibility“), Jade Rockwell (“Sheep Among Wolves“), and Melinda Wenner Bradley and Sita Diehl (“Friendship and Care“).

You can sign up here to be part of the audience for this conversation on Zoom.

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