Response to NYYM Anti-racism Statement
April 19, 2022 § 7 Comments
New York Yearly Meeting has begun a process of “becoming an anti-racist faith community”. To forward that goal, the yearly meeting has issued a Draft Statement on Becoming an Anti-Racist Faith Community”, to which they have invited responses. Here’s a link to NYYM’s statement.
This is one of several minutes of conscience, as I call them, that have come into my hands over the last few months, including another couple from NYYM and a similarly-purposed statement from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. I’ve been meaning to respond to them all, probably collectively, as they all share some qualities that concern me, mostly having to do with being mostly secular in tone, without the religious and moral message that is our unique gift to offer in the struggle for positive social change. This has been a ministry of mine for decades and a recurring theme in this blog.
However, I want to respond to this one directly, since a Friend from NYYM passed on to me what was either her own response to the statement or that of some community of Friends of color; I’m not clear which; the link came without any message. That response speaks to me with the same concerns I myself carry and prompted me to action.
So here’s my response. I confess that it’s a bit snarky at the end, and the Friends who wrote it deserve credit and respect for their intentions. I don’t know who wrote this statement, but I suspect that I know them and love them, and that they know me; I hope they still love me, if they ever did, after reading this; though I suspect they’re used to hearing this kind of thing from me, already.
Response to NYYM Antiracism Statement
Having read New York Yearly Meeting’s Draft Statement on Becoming an Anti-Racist Faith Community, I have both a critique and an alternative statement that tries to embody the elements of my critique. First, my critique. Then I have to go wash the dishes. I’ll be back.
Experience, not creed (paragraph 1). The Statement opens with a statement of beliefs. These credal propositions are, in fact, accurate representations of Quaker faith. But the real truth behind the propositions, and the impulse behind the Statement, is the last sentence in this first paragraph, though it’s weakly stated. I would start with that: that NYYM is being led by God into transformation as a community, not “to create a vision and experience”, but to follow a vision out of our experience of divine guidance.
Social science declaration (paragraph 2). Who cares? It’s true, but irrelevant that “race has no scientific or genetic basis”—I think it’s true; I know I’ve read that somewhere. But I don’t know the science myself. Are we sure? On what scientific facts does this statement rest? But never mind; it doesn’t matter. We would, I suspect—and I hope—we would be led into a new Truth even if there was a scientific basis for race.
Confessions (paragraphs 3, 4, and 5). Half-baked confessions, actually. All these acknowledgements are true and necessary. but nowhere does this statement ask for forgiveness. What’s a confession without asking for forgiveness—from those we’ve harmed, and from God, to the degree that the yearly meeting has experience of a God who forgives (which I suspect is somewhere between zero and ten degrees)?
Commitment (paragraphs 6, 7, and 8). This commitment is misplaced. Well, it’s not actually placed at all; it’s just a general statement of commitment. The goal of the commitment is admirable, but it’s all stated in terms of collective will, rather than collective faithfulness to the leading described in paragraph 1. Our commitment should be to follow the Spirit’s leading, wherever we may be led, not merely to “more fully align” ourselves with Spirit.
Prayer (paragraph 9). Finally. This is it, the core of the message, to ask for divine guidance, though I would unpack it. I would ask God for guidance, strength, creativity, healing, and forgiveness. And I would give thanks for the prophetic voices among us, especially of those Friends of Color who have themselves remained faithful in spite of the hurt they have endured.
Experience. In the writing of every sentence, I would ask myself, what is my experience and what is NYYM’s collective experience? Not what do I, and we, believe. If this anti-racist work is the yearly meeting’s leading of the Holy Spirit, then describe the experience of being led, the openings, the discernment, the ministry. I would express the whole thing as a direct calling to collective transformation and ministry by the Holy Spirit.
Audience. To whom are we speaking? Is the yearly meeting speaking just to itself with this statement? To its monthly meetings? Or to the wider society? The language should reflect the audience. If we’re speaking to the wider society, then no Quakerspeak of any kind. Just plain language without sectarian jargon.
God and the Bible. What we have to offer as the Religious Society of Friends is the direct experience of the spirit of the Christ, not the arguments that the secular social change movement has already given to the struggle. If our audience is the wider society, and if we can’t use biblical language, quote or allude to Bible passages, or use some “God” language”, then maybe we should forget about it. Refocus on our own navels and write a statement that’s just for in-house consumption.
On the other hand, if we are speaking to the wider society, then biblical and “God” “language” is both apt and truly powerful. Let’s start with our name: we call ourselves Friends because of John 15:15: “I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father”. Our “theology” of continuing revelation—that we have experienced God’s guidance directly—is embedded in our very name. And that’s just for starters. We could quote or allude to many more passages that would speak especially to the conservative Christians who make up the white Christian supremacist movement that currently embodies the demonic spirit of racism in this country in its political and activist manifestations.
Moreover, the condition of that divine guidance, and the result of that guidance, according to scripture, and our own experience, is love: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (verse 12).
What more do we need to say? We are commanded to love. And that love is not something we are supposed to feel, really; it’s something we are supposed to do. Racism is fear and hate, not love.
So that’s it. That’s our message. Love one another, as God has loved us—whatever you, our listeners, might mean by “God”. We’re not fussy about that, who you think God is or how you worship God. We just know it’s true, by direct inward experience as individuals, and collectively, as a faith community: we are commanded to love. So we’re going to try. God help us.
But, you say, the yearly meeting could never come to unity about this kind of God language, let alone mention of Christ. Okay, so then change your name. How about the Good-but-secular Society of Post-Christians?