Make Quakerism Militant Again

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Martin Luther King, Jr. argued that nonviolence “is an imperative to action.” That’s why King’s Poor People’s Campaign was envisioned as a “new and unsettling force.” It was to be disruptive. It was intended to make the issue of poverty impossible to avoid. King was assassinated before seeing that campaign unfold, but his words proved true again and again and again. Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, disruptive action created results. Protests – riots even – made people pay attention.

But the work remains unfinished. And being a liberal, progressive Christian just isn’t enough. Especially if you’re comfortable in the tension between Empire and Kingdom. You cannot serve two masters. If you’ve chosen the Kingdom, you must refuse and resist Empire. If you’ve chosen Christ, you must refuse and resist Caesar.

Early Friends knew this. They broke laws. Caused public disruption. They ran toward trouble and defied the “justice” of the unjust. Refused to pay taxes and tithes, criticized Empire, and made enemies. They were fined, beaten, and jailed. And they grew.

I don’t want to romanticize the past, what Friends used to be, but there is a militant strain in the thinking, speaking, and acting of early Friends. Somehow, this bent toward a do-something faith faded.

Quakerism is designed for disruption. Actively stirring up trouble, causing a scene, shedding Light on oppression. Following Christ calls us to be outlaws, to defy the powers of this world. To simultaneously break into and out of the state and extend the Kingdom. We are called to create and live into a new society.

I know many who are hungry for a prophetic movement that undoes the powers of this world, and they aren’t finding this movement in the Church. Some have found prophetic action more possible in non-Christian anarchist and anti-fascist (Antifa) organizing than in their faith communities. Even in more progressive Christians circles, direct action often doesn’t go much farther than picket signs and petitions. This is a shame.

Because it’s not enough. It’s time for prophetic action. It’s time to create the world we want to live in. The Kingdom of God calls not for reform, but for insurrection. If we intend to be a transformative Religious Society, we must take seriously the call to the Kingdom. We must face into the ways in which we are complicit with empire and the powers of this world. We must be willing to lose what little we have in order that the oppressed might be ushered into God’s Kingdom.

Love wins, but love does not always look friendly. As Che Guevara put it, “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” And your love for others will lead you to act. We are fighting actual systems, not just ideas.

It’s time to turn over tables.

9 thoughts on “Make Quakerism Militant Again

  1. As a liberal “Hicksite” Quaker, I find this deeply troubling. This borders on a call to violence, which disrespects the Light of Christ within every person. I fully agree that Friends are called to action, not passivity. But action for social justice must come from a place of love and respect. Che Guevara, by the way, was a warrior with lots of blood on his hands. As the AFSC slogan says, War is not the answer.

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      • BCZ says:

        It’s more the time, I think. It’s very possible that Hye Sung just used prose that raised these connotations, comparing possible newcomers attracted by this messageveitg the anarchist groups often associated with violent protest, ‘even riots’, ‘turn over tables’.

        Raising chaos is a potentially deadly act. It is violent.

        What I find telling us how hard it is to even find a good vocabulary for civil disobedience, passive resistance, and other tools beyond ‘demonstrations and petitions’ without raising these connotations.

        It’s a problem.

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  2. Building the church as a community of faith and faithfulness is the most revolutionary thing we can do! American Friends have allowed their meetings to decline and lose their “Divine edge.” In many cases, the Pentecostals are (in their own way) more revolutionary than Friends, especially among the disprivileged in our society. Meanwhile, Friends comfort themselves with their petitions, picket signs and bumper stickers!

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    • BCZ says:

      I was just talking about this at my meeting today. Growing our meetings is an essential component for becoming a force for change.

      Doubling our action while keeping our membership constant will be less effective than doing the same amount and doubling our membership

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  3. “The Kingdom of God calls not for reform, but for insurrection.” – Yes! Could not have said it better. The only question is, what are we called to do, specifically, to disrupt this system? I think the answer might be different for each of us.

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  4. Mark Watson says:

    I wonder how much this has to do with the changing demographics of liberal religion in the Global North? I think Dandelion said the average Quaker joining meeting is in her forties. That’s pretty old, I’d think, compared to early Friends. And of course many meetings have mostly senior citizens as active members. I’d imagine early Friends were much, much younger–a population more likely to be radical, more motivated and better able to build a better world?

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