The New Lamb’s War—The Language and Worldview of Quaker Prophetic Witness
June 21, 2014 § 10 Comments
The words we Friends use to describe our prophetic witness ministry—testimony and witness—are judicial terms. They come from a time when Friends believed the world to be under God’s judgment, when we believed ourselves to be witnesses for the prosecution, testifying with our words to the character of God’s judgment, presenting our testimony as God’s righteous indictment of a world fallen out of the Life, and testifying with our lives to the way God wanted humans to walk over the world toward its restoration in Christ.
In this prophetic worldview, Friends saw themselves as answering a call from the same divine Spirit that had inspired the prophets of Scripture. Their answer to that call was the same as Isaiah’s: Here am I, Lord. Send me; send me! And the message was much the same, as well. The word of the Lord in the mouth of the prophet is one of chastisement. It warns of judgment. It predicts downfall. It calls for repentance. It promises salvation from judgment upon repentance.
However, early Quaker prophecy was much clearer about what was wrong with the world and why the judgment would fall than about what the sentence would look like and when it would come. The certainty lay in the prophets’ hearts; the details were in the hands of God.
Today, Liberal Friends do not generally share this worldview. Our God—when we have one—is not primarily and essentially a lawgiver and judge. We are not comfortable with the idea of divine judgment, especially in its classic biblical presentation as destruction and suffering, both utter and eternal. We’re not even sure about the character of the soul, but we are not inclined to define it as the identity we bear before the judgment throne.
And the world mirrors our own lack of belief. Most of the sinful world does not take this God or his threats seriously, either. The Exxon executives who loudly proclaimed at first that they would not rest until the Valdez spill had been completely remediated and then quietly changed their minds later do not fear Jehovah or hellfire for their sins of ecocide. Who is this God? Where is he? He simply is not present in any meaningful way, which puts the doubt to any claim for either his omnipresence or his omnipotence. And his hellfire? Can it compare with their Bhopal or Chernobyl or Nagasaki? Invoking this God’s judgment would not even have turned aside George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who actually believe in him. The traditional prophetic voice and worldview that early Friends shared with their world has no standing anymore.
We Liberal Quakers have an altogether different approach to the threat implied in prophetic witness and we need a new rationale for why that threat matters.
Many Liberal Friends are inclined to think like Hindus or Buddhists in this regard, to see the consequences of evil action in terms of the law of karma: you will reap what you sow.
This law is not the writ of a sentient and purposeful, let alone a jealous, divine being, but an aspect of creation, an inherent law of nature, more like gravity or even more aptly, like Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you seek power, it will corrupt you. If you spew hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, you will drown your own cities. If you repress your people, you will face social unrest.
But in effect, the threat of natural consequences is no more effective than that of final judgment at the Endtime or of hell awaiting the sinner in the afterlife. We just are not hard-wired to act upon distant or deferred threats. We are hard-wired to act upon immediate danger. Clamoring about all the horrible things that will happen if greenhouse gases surpass the threshold of 400 parts per million (we’ve already surpassed the original threshold of 350 ppm) just doesn’t shake the soul of very many people and certainly not of our political and corporate elites.
To be meaningful and effective today, Quaker witness must present a real and present danger to the evildoers of the world. Yet the threat must represent a Third Way—not the violence of the oppressor or the violence of the resister, but the emergence of the Truth, meaning a presentation of a truth that is not merely inconvenient but that makes you squirm under its Light, a truth that burns away the shadows, the lies and denials, the fears and the greed that are driving us toward eco-Armaggedon .
We have some models for the Third Way. The first was taught by Jesus the insurrectionist; a second is the Lamb’s War of early Friends. In the next post, I want to explore the Third Way of Jesus. In subsequent posts, the Lamb’s War.