Letters - 17 March 2023
From Kinder ground to Historic injustice
I am feeling dismayed. It seems more and more Quakers are choosing to leave ‘kinder ground’ to embrace the more combative discourse that seems so prevalent elsewhere in society. Even in the Friend, some letters are published which take no note of the watchword at the head of each week’s correspondence column: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity (my italics).
Friends are entitled to their opinions and free to express them. There is nothing wrong with disagreement per se. But can we not express disagreement respectfully, without insinuating – or even saying outright – that Friends who think differently from ourselves must by definition be despicable people of bad faith and unworthy motives?
One recent letter, for instance, accused Quakers of dishonestly presenting themselves as a Christian organisation in order to derive ‘kudos’. The writer of the letter claimed to be concerned for truth – but what he said was far from the truth. He offered no evidence in support of his accusation, and I have seen none. On the contrary, if you look at our website and publications, there is plenty of evidence that Friends are completely open about our theological diversity. Can this individual not consider it at least possible that Quakers (and indeed other denominations) might set aside their theological differences purely because they want to work together for a better world?
I sense that most people these days are feeling battered by the stormy times we are going through, and there is more and more anger and hurt around. Quakers are suffering along with everyone else. But we are all Friends; if we cannot be kind, or at least charitable, to one another, where can we go to find mutual kindness and respect?
I would like to urge Friends to keep Advice 17 in mind and ‘avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language’, and not ‘allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue’. In fact, I’d like to ask anyone who writes a letter to the Friend to offer it as ministry, intended to help us all move forward into the Light, not to tear others down. Am I alone in this desire?
The Peace Testimony
Anne Macarthur (3 March) is right to remind us that ‘the situation in Ukraine is not simple’. But the complexities should not blind us to a simple truth. Russia invaded a country that has been independent since 1991, in defiance of international law. Some Friends tell me they are conflicted over the hostilities in Ukraine and feel their commitment to the Peace Testimony is tested.
The late archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality’.
Neutrality leads to appeasement. I’m on the side of the mouse.
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