The new double issue of Quaker Theology is titled “Quakers & Resistance.” It considers highlights (and some lowlights) of Quaker resistance to oppression, both inside and outside the Society of Friends.
For example, it recalls what happened to Lucretia Mott when she showed up in Richmond, Indiana in 1847, at the time when Indiana Yearly Meeting was gathering. She had traveled by stagecoach from Philadelphia, a bone-rattling journey which took many days. She had barely stepped down from the coach when she was confronted by a committee of elders, who told her to “Go home!”
What did Lucretia do then? You can find out more here.
Not that Philadelphia had been free of troubles.
This issue also hears directly from Friend Benjamin Lay, who was actually carried out of meetings by constables, called by powerful Philadelphia elders who didn’t want to hear any more of his sermons denouncing slaveholding, which was widely practiced among affluent Quakers. Lucky for the constables, Lay was barely four feet tall, and nonviolent. But not quiet.
Even Quaker artists worked to resist war fever in England during World War One. (Yes, there were some Quaker artists by then.) One was Joseph Southall, who produced drawings for a radical antiwar pamphlet, called “The Ghosts of the Slain.”
Southall didn’t have to worry about meeting elders, though. Instead, government censorship of what were deemed unpatriotic publications was a very real threat. How did he get around it? Find out here. And this is a hint:
But resistance isn’t only a western Quaker thing. Half a world away from England, in Korea, Friend Ham Sok Hon’s “spiritual journey,” which included demands for basic human rights, took him into prisons run first by the Imperial Japanese, then by the North Korean Communists, and then by South Korean dictators. It also left him religiously homeless, til he found the small Meeting in Seoul.
Why is he now hailed as the “Korean Gandhi”? We’ve got the beginnings of an answer.
And have you ever heard of the “Questing Beast?” Friend Chel Avery reports that “
The Questing Beast is a minor character from the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Think about the peace testimony as I describe her to you.
She had the head of a serpent, the body of a lizard, the haunches of a lion, and the feet of a deer. And wherever she went, she made a noise in her belly like thirtycouple of hounds questing.
The Peace Testimony?? What? No, wait! Chel can explain; better check it out. (I mean —“thirty couple of hounds questing”?? –it could apply to some committee meetings I’ve been through . . .)
And speaking of Quaker women on a quest, Marion Anderson (not the famous Black opera singer, but a Quaker from Michigan) followed her quest to end the Vietnam War right into the heart of the Pentagon one day in 1970:
I entered the Pentagon. “Where are the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting?” I asked the first officer I saw.
“They are in the E Ring, but I don’t know the room number,” he responded, pointing.
I walked on, carrying my . . . box of copies of We Have Not Shaken Hands With The Troops; We Have Led Them.
As I continued down the corridors past one guard after another, I kept asking where the Joint Chiefs were meeting. Of course, I had no picture ID around my neck like everyone else in this area, but the box of literature I was carrying probably obscured this fact.
The people I asked kept getting higher in rank . . . . Finally a general gave me the precise number of the room where the Joint Chiefs’ meeting was taking place.
I walked by a bored Black guard, past a blond secretary, and a general sitting in an anteroom at his desk, and then there I was, in the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. . . .
And then what happened? Find out here.
To learn about resistance, of course, Friends don’t need to dwell exclusively among Quakers. We also consider two such “testimonies.” One is by Larry Derfner, who grew up in California, then moved to Israel. An outspoken eft-liberal, he has spoken out against the Occupation there for years, even as the political climate there has gotten steadily more repressive. In a striking memoir, No Country for Jewish Liberals, he wonders aloud:
“So how do I live with this – being a liberal, a believer in equality, in a country that is not only far less liberal and equitable than the one I left, but that is decisively illiberal and inequitable, that’s running the world’s last colonial military dictatorship, and, worst of all, that offers slim hope of ever changing?
How? His answer is here:.
And then an equally eloquent but very different testimony comes from Clare Hanrahan in her memoir, The Half Life of A Free Radical.
Clare grew up Catholic in segregated Memphis, lost two brothers to the Vietnam War, and now continues her witness, which included six months in a federal pen after nonviolent civil disobedience, from Asheville NC.
These are only eight of twenty-one wide-ranging and mind-stretching articles and essays in this new double issue. It’s meant to begin making the long and rich heritage of Quaker resistance more accessible in today’s tumultuous and, many feel, desperate worldly situation.
Yes that’s theology. (And by the way, it does this without a single mention of — well, The One That Everyone Talks About all the time these days.)