The One about Our Current Political Climate

From the dawn of Quakerism in 17th-century England, the members of this religious society have been known for speaking truth to power and working to end social injustice on matters ranging from slavery to gender inequality–long before their convictions would receive broad societal acceptance. It is not easy, however, to reconcile the Quakers’ insistence on dissent with the spiritual commitment to see the Light within all people.

Edward Burroughs has something to contribute to this conversation. Burroughs, among the first generation of Quakers, heard George Fox speak and immediately converted to the Religious Society of Friends. In 1662, Burroughs was arrested for holding a meeting, which was illegal under the terms of the Quaker Act. He was sent to Newgate Prison, London. An order for his release signed by Charles II was ignored by the local authorities, and Burroughs remained in Newgate until his death on February 14, 1663, aged 29.

In 1659, he wrote “To the Present Distracted and Broken Nation of England.” This was at the time of the English Civil War.

“Oh! Poor distressed Nation, and full of Troubles; How art thou broken and divided? How hath Divisions and Distractions compassed thee about, and entered into thy Bowels? And how are thy Inhabitants and thy People divided, even to hatred one against another? And how are they filled, as with Mischief, one towards another, even as it were thirsting for the Blood of one another?”

He goes on for some number of pages describing the political scene, the failure of leadership, the general level of corruption. And then he speaks to the divided nation about Quakers:

“And as for us, we hereby declare unto thee, We are not thy Enemies, we seek not thy hurt, nor do we desire Vengeance upon our Enemies, we seek not thy Destruction; but we desire thy Repentance, that thou mayst be healed: We have not the spirit of Mischief and Rebellion in our hearts towards thee, neither are we for one Party or another, nor do we side with one sort against another, neither do we joyn ourselves to this sort or the other, nor do we war against any carnal Weapons, neither shall we ever provoke the Nation against us, otherwise then by our Righteous and Holy Walking.”

This is great stuff. “Our Righteous and Holy Walking” echoes Fox’s famous quote: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Burroughs goes on to say: “For the establishing of Righteousness in the Earth have we laboured; and it cannot be charged upon us, That we have sided with one or another; for we have beheld all hitherto out of the Right Way, as we have said; but we truly seek the general Good of our Nation”.

And thus Burroughs has explained why we get out of bed in the morning, why we are actively involved in civil society, why we seek change. Quakers believe it is possible for the world to be more fair, more equitable, more, well, divine. And we believe each of us, all of us, have agency; the capacity and perhaps the obligation to do something about the “establishing of Righteousness in the Earth.”

Burroughs ends by saying, again about Quakers, “we well know what is wrong, and what would be right, even in way of Government; but the time appears not to be yet, when Innocence and Simplicity of Heart can be embraced.”

Woven throughout the Sandy Spring Friends School curriculum is QRA; Question, Reflection, Action. As we seek “to work for the general Good of the Nation,” we are all called to question what is wrong and what would be right, to reflect on what is wrong and what would be right, and to act on what would be wrong and what would be right.

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