Imagine this Scenario
The following was published in the Racial, Social and Economic Justice publication, the Freedom and Justice Crier, Summer 2007.
Was race a factor here for “peaceful” Quakers? You decide.
Imagine this scenario.
It is a beautiful June day. You have just come out of a Meeting for Worship feeling centered in the spirit. A gentle breeze is blowing as smiles and gentle laughter greet one another; time for a cup of coffee. The sun feels warm against your skin as you emerge from the pleasantly cool interior. All is well.
An argument erupts. “You owe me an apology” “No, you owe me an apology” Voices raise and feet stamp. One leaves, the other goes in for refreshment. You expect people to reconcile, with compassion and sensitivity Ministry and Counsel to listen to each person. You expect a commitment to help the individuals and the Meeting as a whole find a place of spiritual comfort, tolerance, and acceptance. But here sides are taken, heels dug in. What made this situation so different?
The door is physically barred to the person’s re-entry and she is told it’s time for her to leave. She pushes through, now furious. You vehemently say to everyone “detach, disengage” as with another Friend you take the person outside again. The sun is no longer shinning. The three of you walk past the Meeting House and then police cars; sirens blaring come racing onto the Meeting property. You are horrified and shocked. How could this happen? Still counseling de-escalation you are perceived as part of the problem. What made this situation so different?
Next Sunday feels cold and overcast. People from neighboring Meetings join the clerk and those on one side of the difficulty to stand arm in arm in the Meeting House doorway to prevent this person from entering for worship. A group of you and other Friends meet on the lawn. You are across the rocky driveway; like an impassable river, a divide that cannot be traversed. To what is God calling us is a message that comes strongly on your heart. You enter the Meeting House and it grows until you speak it.
You worship with the people blocking the door again the message asks to be spoken: “To what is God calling us here?” You are verbally attacked by the clerk of Ministry and Counsel. What made this situation so different? How could this happen?
As a member of the committee, you attend a Ministry and Counsel meeting. At last, you think, a rational spiritual approach, an example of Quaker listening. What you hear is “to meet with her would be to feed her need for attention”, “looking for the best in people is not possible when someone has severe mental issues”, “We must be concerned for the Meetings safety”, (no clinical diagnosis or evaluation has been conducted to justify this position) “the clerk has the right to say who can worship with Friends or be on Quaker property and who can’t”, “we are hurting too much to love”. What made this situation so different? How could this happen? To what is God calling us?
Next Sunday and for the following two, there are still three Meetings for worship: one inside, one blocking the door, and one on the lawn. This day the sun is brutally hot. You are concerned that the people with such white skin in the doorway will get seriously burned. What made this situation so different? How could this happen? To what is God calling us?
Another Ministry and Counsel meeting “I am too angry to pray” “We must keep Quakerism under control and away from disruptive people” “she and her supporters must accept discipline”. They dictate the terms that she must accept in order to be allowed to return. No trespass orders are discussed against her and you. There is discussion about disowning you as a Friend. You are told you can’t speak to anyone about this, as it would be betraying Ministry and Counsel confidentiality. A minute is approved by the committee and passed at Business Meeting stating that you, her and her elderly Quaker mother “are not in unity with the meeting, have not been for some time, and Monthly meeting’s life together and mission are suffering from their inappropriate and disruptive behavior.” This means as members, you and her elderly Quaker mother are disowned. Later you plus 6 others, several who had nothing to do this the incident except a connection to you, including your 90 year old father a life long Friend, are read out of meeting thereby officially taking away your membership.
What made this situation so different? The person in question is an outspoken and sometimes appropriately angry woman of color. Both of you are not afraid to talk about racism both in society and among Friends. A simple argument, it can happen anywhere with anyone yet with such different results.
How could this happen? We did not go quietly. If Friends are going to have the courage to look at how racism could manifest itself in a Meeting, we must be more than open and receptive,;we must be painfully honest.
To what is God calling us?
Biblically the most frequent commandment is not “Thou shalt love the Lord”. It is “al tirah,” “Be not afraid.” It is not that there is nothing to worry about, instead God says “anochi mglat”. I am your shield. Every time there is danger or destiny in the Bible, Creator steps in with this message. Oh Holy One when I reached for you, you reached for my hand and spoke to me. Now I understand. Courage is more powerful than fear.
Epilogue: Out of the trauma something incredibly beautiful is emerging, a new Friends Meeting that focuses on the positive. Embracing the future, we are creating a special place to begin this journey of healing and reconciliation between the races and all that keeps us separated from each other and the Divine.