Religious Liberty? A New Quaker Idea, or an Old One?
Old enough to be foundational, not just for Friends, but (should be) for all for Christianity. (And NEW enough to be sending concerned people into the streets — in Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, many other states, and to the steps of Congress & the Supreme Court.) Let’s hear the ringing endorsement it received from The Original Quaker:
He was reading aloud a passage from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1).
But Jesus did more than that. He identified it as his mission; he finished by saying, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Today, there are voices that want to turn “religious liberty” on its head; as if Jesus’ message was liberty for captors; and liberty for oppressors; and definitely bad news for the poor. These voices claim their “liberty” should compel the state to preserve public space or approval for such dubious ventures as:
— demeaning treatment of persons or groups who are marginalized and stigmatized;
— propagating false and injurious slurs to create fear and panic, especially for political purposes;
— propping up systems of unearned advantage and power;
— denying access to justice for those who have been mistreated — even to deprive them of the ability to earn more for their honest labor.
Is that what Quakers in England suffered and lobbied for, through almost thirty years of persecution in England? Is it what Lucretia Mott and the Grimke sisters agitated for? Is it what Bayard Rustin went to jail to uphold?
Is that really the Original Quaker’s message, and what brought him to an ignominious fate?
When Jesus taught, he often used stories, or parables. Many of these include themes of liberation, or denouncing oppressors
Let’s recall a few of these, in observance of final passage of the Toleration Act, May 24, 1689, in England, which made Quakerism and many other dissenting groups legal:
In one, a poor widow takes on a crooked judge, single-handed: Luke 16:19-31
In another, an indifferent rich man and a beggar change places: Luke 18:1-8
And Jesus describes a Last Judgment which is not about doctrine, ritual purity or church membership. In it he declares: “What you did for the least of these, you did it for me”: Matthew 25:40
There are more. Then after he’s gone, among his early followers, terms for “liberty” frequently recur:
James 2:12: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.”
Galatians 5:13: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”
2 Cor 3:17: “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Today is AUTHENTIC Religious Liberty Day.
Remember. Celebrate. Keep it Real.
This year, the American struggle for authentic religious liberty (rather than repackaged religious favoritism & theocracy) has heated up considerably. Friends are part of this struggle, like it or not.
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