Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Social Order (Friendly Corrosion)

Quakerism: a view from the back benches continued

Copyright 1966 The Back Benches

Social Order (Friendly Corrosion)

The thing which should be said about the concept of a social order is that we are for it - we believe in a system of expectations which ties people together sufficiently well so that they can concentrate on the important things.

But the concept of social order, unfortunately, is generally not the same as the reality. We understand St. Paul’s words to mean that God blesses the idea of ordering human affairs - not that specific orders characterized by slavery, exploitation, and other evils are blessed. Indeed, it seems clear that all societies which ever have existed badly needed changing, and some needed (and need) revolution.

There is a tension, then, between the need for and legitimacy of order (and an authority representing that order), and the need to change that order. Where such a tension exists, we clearly need the guidance of the Light, and a characteristic of Quaker civil disobedience has been this sober leaning on the Light. Indeed, Friends generally obey constitutional authority except when it is clearly invading our rights as children of God, or when we are challenging it for the sake of our brothers.

What this means, of course, is that conflict is built into our relationship to society, and that it is a misplaced emphasis to equate the peace testimony with “harmony.” The excitement generated in Quaker circles by the concept of nonviolence is partly a result of its being a set of techniques which make it possible to work for peace and justice, and to face honestly the creative possibilities in conflict both within and outside the Society of Friends. (See the chapter entitled “Conflict and Controversy” for a fuller exposition of the possibilities which conflict and controversy afford within a Meeting.)

Someone always pays a price for social change. There is no change which does not hurt or inconvenience some in the short run. Yet Friends are among the privileged groups in this country and as unwilling as most to share in paying the price of social change. (“I am moving to the suburbs to get to the better schools - let someone else bear the burden of integrating with the deprived groups.” “If we stay in this changing neighborhood, our house may be broken into. Let someone else take that risk.”) We suggest that the task of discipleship requires that we take on our own privileged shoulders a part of the load from those who are, judging from crime and infant mortality statistics, floundering under its brutal heaviness.

The social order does, of course, involve politics. To help support a Quaker case worker while supporting a government which multiplies (by sins of omission as well as commission) the number of needy cases reveals a pathetic short-sightedness, a lack of political understanding which has long been our weakness. The approaching revolution of cybernation (automatic machines plus computers) may call for a new testimony about the social order based on searching study. It may test whether a dynamic Society of Friends really has what it takes to survive the twentieth century.

(to be continued)


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