Response to NYYM Anti-racism Statement

April 19, 2022 § 7 Comments

Introduction

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.

Critique

Message—the matter

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.

Language—the manner

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?

§ 7 Responses to Response to NYYM Anti-racism Statement

  • davidhfinke says:

    Beloved Friends writing here whom I’ve been getting to know, and those reading here whom I’ve probably not met:

    I read Steve’s prophetic analysis and critique, and Don’s inspired response, with a mixture of sadness and hope. I heartily resonate with what Marcelle and John have said here.

    The watered-down and faction-riven nature of our religious society can burden my soul to the point of despair and immobilization. And yet it is quite clear that that is not the state that God wills for me nor will leave me in. The Light shows buds of growth, emerging from the tangled and sometimes stinking earth, as I encounter those who are creatively impatient with the secularization, guilt-ridden self-doubt, and blandness especially of that branch of our family self-styled as “liberal.”

    Starting several decades ago in my home of Illinois Yearly Meeting, I saw energetic — and indeed loving — Young Friends calling and leading us to Faithfulness, and in some measures we corporately responded. A number of them have gone on to formal organizational leadership, which I’m glad we’ve encouraged. And there are others who are simply a quiet but restorative presence among us, points of growth against our ossification.

    I will continue to look to Friends in the weekly company that have been drawn together online by Steve’s ministry of teaching, as we pray for and elder each other, sharing concerns and joys, and pointing invariably to Our Source rather than any earthly, scholarly wisdom. The matter of race relations, while pushing to the fore along with the rest of our culture (for good or ill) will be addressed not by sloganeering but by opening ourselves in humility and being teachable in the way modeled by Don’s message. There are others as well, particularly as I discover them in NYYM which I’ve never attended, but who give me encouragement, against the darkness. Sadness may linger, but we are never without Hope, from the One who gives and demonstrates Resurrection.

    God never abandons God’s people without a prophet… and we’re hearing from and learning from a number of them.

    Praise our Creator, our Living Lord, from Whom all blessings flow! Amen. —DHF

  • Don Badgley says:

    In my vision of a right ordered Yearly Meeting I came up with this alternative to the grotesque statement they proposed:

    We, The New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) are led to acknowledge and to confront the tragic reality of racism in the world around us and, also in our faith community, both historically and at present. Regardless of our good intentions, the facts of racism, “white supremacy” and white privilege continue to influence our behaviors and impede us from achieving the beloved community to which we aspire. This reality causes wounds and remains an affliction that encumbers our effectiveness in sharing Divine Truth with one another and with the wider world.

    We are also certain that accusation, judgement, and worldly solutions are not paths to the healing and forgiveness we seek and may serve to separate us from the Living Presence that Guides us in our search for Truth. We live in the certainty that when we are led by The Spirit of Christ we are led into unity and Love. We know that this Source is the Living Root of our Faith Community and the only path to reconciliation, justice, healing and spiritual unity.

    We surely know that racism is a sad fact of our humanity and a grim symptom of separation from The Divine Light. Racism and its manifestations are real and evil, and all Friends, indeed all people, are victims of that evil. We also know that there is no evil that the Living Spirit cannot overcome.

    Let us share that simple Truth with everyone. Let us acknowledge our failures, acknowledge the wounds we cause and the wounds we suffer and then to trust to the Divine Source to heal us; all of us. May we ever demonstrate that we are one family and that, “as Quakers, we place our faith in the living Spirit.”

  • Yes, it’s a good place to start: “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.” “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.” “if we are speaking to the wider society, then biblical and “God” “language” is both apt and truly powerful.”

    As members of the Religious Society of Friends, we are called to speak of our experience of how God/Spirit/Christ/the Light leads us to live, and to evoke that experience in others. We will not do using merely secular language and secular reasons.

    Thank you.

  • Steve, thank you! But after reading your comments, I can’t bear to read the original document you commented on. I think it might break my heart. Friends’ witness against racism deserves better
    The Quaker movement originally grew out of shared experiences of guidance by the living Christ, experienced inwardly. If today’s Quakers can’t agree to own and obey Christ — not the words of the New Testament, as Joseph John Gurney prescribed when he repudiated the original Quakers’ understandings, but the Everlasting Gospel received from Christ Jesus by George Fox and the first Friends — then I’m not surprised that what comes out of their discernment process shows signs of confusion and lacks persuasive force.
    You write: “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?”
    But do I want to draw persons of color to a Good-but-secular Society of Post-Christians, and welcome them into an umbrella-group, and not draw them to their Savior, and welcome them into His covenanted people?

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