Social Justice: George Fox and the Quakers...

I'm writing a paper on George Fox and the formation of Quakerism.  I found this quotation describing the early Pennsylvania Quaker community, and had to share:

Ideals of social justice can seldom be fully achieved without the exercise of political power.  Hence the pursuit of freedom involves a struggle for power which sacrifices the principle of love.  (Mennonite Quarterly Review, 1936)
This actually poses a problem for my own ideals regarding social justice, which I think is worth fighting for.  But here's my conviction: the only thing Christians can do with power is give it away.  That doesn't mean some of us are necessarily ever entirely powerless.  There's power I have inherent to my identity in this society.  So that means my responsibility is to constantly share and extend my power to others - pour it out, as in kenosis (which I discussed a bit last week) and take up love.  That's my workaround.

The problem the Quakers ran into, as the Christian Church on the whole did in the first millennium (and then more so in the second millennium), is that once they had attained power, they held onto it.  This is hard not to do.  Especially when the fresh memories of oppression and marginalization are forefront in our minds.  Constantinian Christians: we can decry them for being co-opted by the Roman Empire all we want, but they had seen generations of their family, friends and faith communities abused and slaughtered.  Suddenly they were given safety.  Hard to ask anyone to do differently, but it does have consequences over the long term.

So for myself, already holding power, I pray I learn how to share it - claiming love for my own modus operandi, and passing the power (as we "pass the peace," perhaps?) praying the Holy Spirit leads that "passing" onward and downward, that we my all lay down power and take up love.

2 comments:

Anthony said...

What does it mean to give power away? Did Jesus give His power away? Was He ever completely powerless? A Good Friday question. What about the "legions of angels?" How can we share the inherent power that we derive from our society? If it is inherent in that way is it shareable? Without turning our back on the society? Or must we turn our back on the society?

Just asking. I am most interested in the issue you raise but I don't really grasp your resolution. My own leaning is toward powerlessness, but you express caveats. Thank you for profound Good Friday meditation topic from all Americans' Quaker heritage. Anthony

Peter said...

I would say that dying involves giving up power ;) Jesus also lived a life as a social outcast, and rejected the power he could have taken as an insurgent - a zealot leading another uprising. As Christians, I think the very heart of taking up one's cross involves laying down one's power - particularly power over oneself.

I don't think I understand the praxis of my own resolution, so I'm afraid I'm right there with you, Anthony.

Whether or not to turn our backs on society: that's the Anabaptist question, isn't it? And I don't think I can personally accept an all-or-nothing answer. But I absolutely think American Christians are too integrated - too co-opted - by the principalities and powers of American Empire (whether or not that involves politics, economics sucks us all in).

The inherent power I have - socially inherited by normative culture - gives me a voice to stand as a Roman Citizen before the Roman Senate (so to speak).

That power I have is to be heard without dominant culture assuming I'm speaking as "an angry feminist" or "an angry black man" or a "gay activist" or a "latino Marxist."

Those who hold power tend to invalidate the oppressed by marginalizing their vantage and upholding the myth of objectivity.

Tough questions Anthony! I need more on your question about Legions of Angels.

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