Have We Friends Invented a Clergy in Trustees?
Our Religious Society of Friends is not a religion of practicalities. Ours is a religion of ideals over exigencies. It is a sink or swim experiment in love of God in each other which gave us the strength of will to oppose all aspects of slavery, to feed Germans after the great war, and barter with Hitler for Jewish lives during the dark days of nazism. It gave us the will and want to be tortured in jails rather than fight, and to send medical help to North Vietnam.
There is always a great danger in a small group "doing" for the many. It breeds dependence, not the independence which drove a capable and courage group of spiritual pioneers. It also breeds contempt of those led by the leaders. We have inherited a great tradition. It is for each of us, working together in love and faith to keep that tradition alive. If we have to do it through artificial means, the great experiment of our faith is lost and we should lay down this society. I am not about to do that yet.
However, there is a serious breach of faith and fortitude in our maintenance of Trustees as an institution which can make decisions without the direction of the Meeting. This is the only body in our Meeting with no oversight from the Meeting, and no answerability. Nominations are made at the same corporation meeting with a single reading and no prior publication so no objections can be made, unless there is some leaking of information to some in the Meeting.
My objection to the power of Trustees to act and decide does not come from a lack of trust any other Friend. The truth is that even the best of us, when given the power to act without the unity of the Meeting behind us, will, in what we perceive to be interest of the Meeting. This is a power given to Trustees, not by the Meeting, but by the State, a power whose truth we have never accepted in our history as being authority over that of God.
Trustees should have no power to make any discussion of any matter within the society of Friends without the oversight of the Meeting and without the clearly expressed unity of the Meeting. English Meetings have survived for three hundred and fifty years without the institution of Trustees. Though the state dictates that we must have trustees, to be a truly Quaker body, they must have no power not directed by the corporate body gathered in worship.
We are told by some Trustees, again and again, that they are made responsible by the state and therefore must act to preserve their own legal liability. This argument does not move me. We cannot force trustees to act, as they are part of the process of coming to unity. Most liability flows when they act, not when they do not.
If in fact, in order to maintain property, we need Trustees, then Quakerism does not work, and we should hire clergy and declare that we have become Protestant. I am not a Protestant. I am a Quaker, raised up in a Utopian faith, believing in the power of God and God's love to guide us in all our Meetings labor, large decisions as well as small.
Friends have risked life and liberty for our faith, we should be ready to risk property as well.