Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"For such a time as this...." Quakers in the Trump era

Esther 4:14Living Bible (TLB)

14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, God will deliver the Jews from some other source, but you and your relatives will die; what’s more, who can say but that God has brought you into the palace for just such a time as this?”
Image result for esther before the king
I thought of Queen Esther as I reflected and prayed about the role of Quakers during the Trump era.  Queen Esther was a remarkable woman, like those who took part in the recent Women's Marches. When her people were imperiled, she had the courage to stand up and speak truth to power. I hope that we Quakers will follow her example.

There is clearly a new energy, a new sense of purpose, in our Quaker Meeting since the election. Our Peace and Social Concerns Meeting is taking on new projects with increased enthusiasm. More than half the members of our Meeting took part in the Women's March, and several went to DC. Over 60 people showed up for the faith-based lobby training that I helped to organize at our Meeting--most of them non-Quakers, but drawn to us because of our reputation and because they wanted to make a difference. This was twice the number that I expected, but upon reflection I am not surprised. People are yearning to do something positive in response to the dark age of anger and fear that Trump is inaugurating. People are looking for guidance, for inspiration, from those who to have the experience and know-how to help them move forward into a life-giving, life-affirming future. 

This biblical passage reminds us that our country is in a "kairos" moment, a "time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action."  In the story of Esther, the kairos moment for her and her people was when Jews were threatened with genocide by an evil adviser to the King named Haman. Mordecai, one of the Jewish leaders, went to Esther, the Jewish wife of the King, and told her she must not be silent, she must intervene with the King to save her people. Mordecai tells her that if she keeps quiet, she as well as her people will die. He concludes with a memorable question: "Who can say but that God has brought you into the palace for just such a time as this?”

Esther's response shows both her courage and her intelligence, as Wiki's synopsis of her story makes cleaer:

Esther denouncing Haman before the King
Esther could not approach the king without being summoned, on pain of death, and the king had not summoned her for thirty days, implying that she may have fallen out of favor. Nevertheless, at the end of the three days, Esther dressed in her royal apparel and went before the king, who was pleased to see her. When the king asked her what her request was, she invited the king and Haman to come to a banquet she had prepared. At the banquet they accepted her invitation to dine with her again on the following day. Haman, carried away by the joy that this honour gave him, issued orders for the erection of a gallows on which he intended to hang the hated Mordecai.
But that night the king, being sleepless, ordered the chronicles of the nation to be read to him. Recalling that Mordecai had never been rewarded for his service in revealing the plot of the eunuchs, he asked Haman, the next day, to suggest a suitable reward for one "whom the king desired to honour". Thinking it was himself that the king had in mind, Haman suggested the use of the king's apparel and insignia. These the king ordered to be bestowed on Mordecai.
Only at the second dinner party, when the king was sufficiently beguiled by her charms, did Esther reveal for the first time her identity as a Jew, and accused Haman of the plot to destroy her and her people. The king ordered that Haman should be hanged on the gallows prepared for Mordecai, and, confiscating his property, bestowed it upon the intended victim.The king then appointed Mordecai as his prime minister, and issued a decree authorizing the Jews to defend themselves.

I believe that God has brought Quakers to "such a time as this" so that we can do our part to help save our country from an egotistical leader who, like Haman, will lead us to destruction.

Quakerism began in a kairos moment, a time when Christians throughout Europe were fighting over religion. During the hundred years following Martin Luther, between 4 and 20 million people were killed in religious wars. Around 180,000 in England died due to a bloody Civil War. Given that the population of England was only 5 million at this time, this death toll is staggering.

Early Quakers realized that war was not the answer. They refused to serve in the army. They refused to engage in armed rebellion, even though thousands of Quakers were imprisoned for their beliefs. They made it clear that they were a peace church and would fight only with spiritual weapons--love and truth. Peace has been the Quaker testimony and witness to the world for the past 350 years.

Flash forward to 1943 when the Friends Committee on Legislation, the oldest faith-based lobby group in DC, was founded. This was another kairos moment for Quakers, and the world. Millions were being killed, and some churches supported the war effort. Not the Quakers.  In response to the horrors of war, Quakers started a faith-based lobby to promote peace in our nation's Capitol.

Throughout the Cold War, FCNL and the Quakers have worked tirelessly to promote alternatives to war. After 9/11 I was more and more involved with FCNL and started going to annual Quaker lobby days.

I am convinced that faith-based lobbying is crucial to turning our country around. We need mass movements and people marching in the streets to get the attention of our leaders, but without lobbying our elected officials, we won't be able to change the laws or the structures that cause injustice and oppression. 

Martin Luther King set an excellent example. He led marches, he engaged in civil disobedience, and he demonstrated that the Civil Rights movement had broad-based support and moral authority. Then he met with elected officials and even the President himself. Following the example of biblical prophets, and Queen Esther, he spoke truth to power and pressured Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act and other bills that helped end racial discrimination. These efforts enfranchised blacks, increased their economic opportunities and ultimately culminated in the election of our first black president eight years ago.

The election of Trump threatens to undo much of the work that Martin Luther King and other progressives have accomplished during the 20th century. Quakers are positioned and equipped to play a significant role in making sure this doesn't happen. It is up to us to seize the kairos moment and use our God-given gifts to help save our nation and our planet. Who can say but that God brought our Quaker movement to America for a time such as this?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Faith-based lobbying: A Voice of Conscience in DC and in Pasadena


Since the election, people of faith from Pasadena and around the country have become more interested and active than ever before in efforts to make our voices heard in Washington, DC, through faith-based lobbying. People of all backgrounds and ages are taking part, including a mother with a 7-month-old baby.

Our first post-election faith-based lobby training in Pasadena took place on Saturday, January 28, at the Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meetinghouse, 520 E Orange Grove Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91104. Katie Breslin, a staff person for the the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) came from Washington, DC, to lead the training. Over 60 people took part and 45 signed up to be part of our Advocacy Team. We are forming a listserv and plan to meet on a monthly basis to plan our visits and strategies to influence our elected officials. If you'd like to be part of this team, contact me at interfaithquaker@aol.com.

FNCL, the oldest faith-based lobby in DC (founded by Quakers in 1942), has an impressive record. For the past few decades it has organized annual lobby days in Washington, DC, twice a year--one for young people and one mainly for older people--that attract hundreds of participants from around the country. FNCL deals with a wide range of issues including promoting peace and advocating for prison and immigration reform, and the environment. Lobby training is open to everyone, regardless of religious background (agnostics are also welcome!). You can find out more at fcnl.org.

What happens in DC over the next few months and years could have a tremendous impact on our city and state. Funds for HUD could be slashed, making it harder to provide affordable housing and help for the homeless. Funds for healthcare could be dramatically reduced if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Draconian immigration policies could have devastating consequences on our Latino neighbors. We need to let our elected officials know where we stand on these issues. 

That's why FCNL has launched "Advocacy Teams" across the country to help citizens to be more effective lobbyists. A San Gabriel Valley Advocacy Team is currently in the process of being expanded after making lobby visits for several years.

One of the things that I most appreciate about faith-based lobbying is that it's not simply about advancing a cause, it's also about building long-term relationships with our elected officials, and each other. A young woman named Elizabeth Malone who made her first lobby visit to the office of Judy Chu wrote that she was very nervous at first, but felt encouraged because she "was listened to." She writes:

 " Two aides met with us and listened and encouraged us. We were there sharing our personal stories of working with the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, wanting to bring further attention to the Sentencing Reforms and Correction Act and the Recidivism Risk and Reductions Act....I look forward to doing more of this in the future. It felt so pro-active and easy at the same time. I shared from my heart and was listened to! I write this to encourage those like me who care a lot but may feel intimidated by the political process."

We are forming a team committed to meeting with elected officials on a regular basis, several times a year, to let them know our concerns. As Quakers, we believe that there is "that of God"--divine goodness--in everyone and we try to reach out to that divine spark in  those we lobby, including those with disagree with. 

We have been particularly successful in reaching out to conservative Republicans. Thanks in part to visits from young people sponsored by FCNL, Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican from New York state, was moved to sponsor a resolution acknowledging that climate change is real, human-caused, and needs to be addressed.

This resolution states that members of the House will work to “create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.”

This climate change resolution — supported by 10 other Republicans — is noteworthy in the House, where a majority of members, including Speaker John Boehner, routinely question whether it is occurring. 

FCNL also played an important role in helping to pass the Iran treaty, which faced fierce opposition but moved forward because of widespread support from people of faith and conscience.

This fall I helped organize two lobby visits in the LA area--one at the office of Representative Judy Chu, and one at the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein.  We focused on Mandatory Sentencing Reform, bills that have bipartisan support. 
The lobbyists from Pasadena who went to Rep Judy Chu's office ranged in age from 67 years (that would be me) to 7 months. Sarah Eggers, a family therapist who works with the families of those in prison, cares deeply about the negative impact that incarceration has on family life. The fact that a mother with a 7-month-old baby came to lobby about sentencing reform made a deep impression on Judy Chu's staff.  They listened and took notes as we shared our stories about our experiences with prison inmates and why we felt that mandatory sentences need to be reduced. 

Another memorable visit involved a team of teenagers from Pasadena's Peace and Justice Academy who spoke out on behalf of the refugee children crossing the border. It is never too early to teach young people about how democracy works!

"We need to hear more from people of faith," a staff person from Senator Feinstein's office told us recently when we made a visit. "We seldom hear from religious people like you." 

That's the message we frequently hear from our elected officials and their staff. Most elected officials want to do the right thing, but they are under tremendous pressure from lobbyists hired to advance the interests of billionaires and corporations. We need to let our elected officials know that their constituents deeply care about moral concerns, such as peace, justice, the environment, health care and helping the poor and vulnerable. 

At the office of Judy Chu: Gavin Kelly, Sarah Eggers (with her baby Theo), Elizabeth Malone,Allie, Anthony and  Judy Chu's aides Elizabeth Andalon and Anna Iskikirian

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Martin Luther King Day event sponsored by the oldest association of black pastors in Pasadena

 Jill  will be speaking at this Martin Luther King Day event, along with Representative Judy Chu and others. This is a great opportunity to honor one of America's great prophets and to connect with the African American community. 

She and I hope to see you this Sunday afternoon at 3:30 pm to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King. As a member of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, the oldest association of African American Pastors in the Greater Pasadena area, I urge you join our celebration tomorrow. At this time, it is essential that we join hands across racial, economic and political divides to celebrate and honor the life of Martin Luther King. We will begin the celebration at 3:30pm at the 2283 N. Fair Oaks in Altadena. Please see the attached flier, with two on a sheet, once cut, fit into a church bullion. Can you join us?  
This Sunday, January 15, 3:30 PM
At Metropolitan Baptist Church, 2283 N. Fair Oaks Ave.
(Sponsored by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance)
Featured Speaker: Assemblyman CHRIS HOLDEN
Introduced by Mayor Terry Tornek
martin luther king jr, civil rights, civil rights leader, black history, nobel peace prize, nobel peace prize winner, 1964

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Open Letter to Franklin Graham: Is Donald Trump's leadership consistent with biblical standards?

Franklin Graham is an ardent supporter of Donald Trump who will be giving the message at Trump’s inauguration.  During a recent Trump rally Graham told the crowd that God (not the Russians) intervened in the recent election in order to get Trump elected. As Mark Price writes in the Charlotte Observer (12/19/16)”

Evangelist Franklin Graham doesn’t believe it was the Russians who intervened in this year’s controversial presidential election.
It was God, he declared during President-elect Donald Trump’s final public rally before the Electoral College vote Monday.
“I don't have any scientific information. I don't have a stack of emails to read to you,” Graham told the crowd in Mobile, Ala., according to the Washington Examiner. “But I have an opinion: I believe it was God. God showed up. He answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land who had been praying for this country.” Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article121721213.html#storylink=cpy

Graham’s apparent certainty that God answered the prayers of those who voted for Trump prompted me to ask some serious theological questions: How do we know God’s will? With help from my wife, who is an Evangelical Christian, I wrote this open letter to Franklin Graham to invite a dialogue about the role of prayer in political life, and also what constitutes truly biblical leaders/advisors.

Dear Franklin Graham,

According to an article in the Washington Examiner, you told a crowd at a Trump rally that God “showed  up” and answered the prayers of those who voted for Trump. This troubled us.
Like you, my wife and I both fervently believe that God answers prayers. We know the power of prayer from personal experience. We also feel it is important for Christians to speak out for justice and peace, as the Bible commands.
We are writing this because we want to open up a dialogue with you and other Christians who have different theological and political beliefs. I am a Quaker peace activist and my wife Jill is an Evangelical Christian missionary. She and I don’t agree on everything, but we are committed to our marriage and that means we are committed to listening and learning from each other. This is something that we feel our deeply divided nation needs to do right now: to be open-hearted and open-minded while holding to a deep trust in the God of the Bible.
You affirmed your belief that God “answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land who had been praying for this country.”
Yet, how do we know whether what we pray for is God’s will, and why God has responded to our prayers in a certain way?
The Bible teaches us that God sometimes gives us what we pray for even when what we pray for is destructive and un-Godly. For example, when the Israelites prayed for a king, the prophet Samuel warned them that this was not what God intended for God’s people, and it would lead to terrible consequences (1 Samuel 9: 10-22). But the Israelites insisted on being like other nations, and they paid a huge price. After a number of bad kings, they were conquered by the Babylonians, sent into exile, and never had a kingdom again.
During the early years of our nation, many Christians supported slavery. They worked and prayed for candidates who were pro-slavery, and they mostly won. All of the Presidents before Lincoln were slaveholders. Does that mean that God answered the prayers of slave holders but not the prayers of abolitionists? Or does this mean that God gave us free will to make un-Godly choices. In this case, Americans paid a heavy price for believing, or pretending to believe, that slavery was consistent with God’s will. We had a bloody Civil War that almost destroyed our nation, with repercussions to this present day.
There is an old saying: “Be careful what you pray for. Your prayer might be answered.”
Many Christians prayed for the election of Trump, but is he the kind of leader that God ascribes to in the Bible. Could Trump be like the Presidents who supported slavery and led us on a path to destruction?
Trump is a billionaire who favors the rich and powerful. We know from the Bible that God listens to the cries of the poor—this is what every prophet preached. The Bible also gives us clear criteria for what a godly leader will do, and how he or she will behave. He or she will

·            Be concerned with ending poverty since his was the goal of early Christians (Act 4).
·            Be humble and seek God’s guidance. Trump said at the Republican Convention that he alone can fix our problems. Traditionally, Presidential candidates have been more humble and asked for help from God and the American people (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/trump-rnc-speech-alone-fix-it/492557).
·            Be a peacemaker, help to unify the country, and encourage diplomatic solutions to conflicts. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverb 16:17).
·            Be slow to anger. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit takes the city” (Proverbs 16:32).
·            Surround him or herself with righteous advisors. “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right” (Proverb 16:13).
·            Be fair and just. “Better a little with righteousness than great revenue with injustice” (Proverbs 16:18).  Trump boasts of his wealth, but was he always just in acquiring it? Many are concerned about his defrauding students at his now defunct Trump University and the many who have sued him for failure to fulfill contracts. There are also many concerns about his conflicts of interests as he enters the Presidency.
·            Seek to end war since Jesus was the Prince of Peace and blesses peacemakers (Matt 5:9).
·            Bring free healing to all who need it since Jesus healed Romans, Samaritans, and other non-Jews and never asked for payment (Matt 10:8).
·            Show compassion for the immigrant, the marginalized. In Hebrews 13 Paul tells us to treat the stranger as if they are angels in disguise. Leviticus 19 tells us to treat foreigners as if they are native born.
·            Bring freedom to the captive—i.e. a reduction in the prison population (Matt 4:19).
·            Offer comfort to the oppressed (Matt 4:19). Trump doesn’t support raising the minimum wage; he has also said that American workers are paid too much.
·            Make not only people, but the natural world rejoice (Psalm 98:8). To use contemporary terms, he will be “good for the environment.”
·            Be a moral example, unlike King Herod Antipas who divorced his first wife and married his half-brother’s wife and was condemned by John the Baptist for his gross immorality (Matt 14:1-19).
·            Honor women, as Jesus did throughout his ministry.

Living up to these biblical standards is a lofty goal, which few political figures fully attain, but Christians can and should evaluate their leaders based on biblical criteria like these.
Using these criteria, how would you rank Donald Trump as a Christian leader? In what ways does he show compassion for the poor, the marginalized, the foreigner? What plan does he have to provide affordable health care to everyone? How does he seek to end war and violence? How does he show concern for God’s creation? Is his personal behavior a model of Christian holiness and righteousness? Can you recommend to kids in your Sunday school class that they act like President Trump?
To us, it seems that Trump has not demonstrated the qualities of a biblical leader. We are deeply disturbed not only by what he promises to do, but by the implications of his cabinet choices. Like many in our nation, we are fearful about a Trump administration, especially how it will affect the poor, the foreigners, and God’s creation.
For example, he has chosen Steven Mnuchin as his secretary of the treasury, a Wall Street banker who ran Indymac. This bank was known as a “foreclosure machine” and was responsible for foreclosing on 36,000 low-income families, including many elderly people on reverse mortgages. As a housing justice advocate, my wife Jill Shook has had personal experience with low-income folks who lost their homes thanks to Steve Mnuchin’s bank. A longtime member of the Christian Community Development Association, Jill has circulated a petition calling for Mnuchin not to be confirmed by the Senate.
Jill mentions Mnuchin in her book Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models. This book features Rose Gudiel who stood up to IndyMac when they tried to foreclose on her home. Courageous people, including the religious community, began an around-the-clock vigil preventing the sheriff from evicting her. Others protested at the home of Mnuchin, then president of IndyMac, who lives in a 26 million dollar mansion in Bel Air. Only then did the bank decide to renegotiate her loan.
We do not feel that Mnuchin has heard or taken to heart the cries of the poor. We do not feel he will support financial policies that will benefit them.
We are also concerned about the appointment of climate change denier Steve Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, which he has sued on several occasions. Pruitt has received significant financial support from oil companies and advocated on their behalf for many years. We take the threat of global warming seriously and have reduced the carbon footprint by over 90% through solar panels and other means, including a driving a Chevy Volt, an electric hybrid car that gets nearly 80 miles to the gallon. We take to heart our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation and are fearful for the future of our children and grandchildren if the Trump administration does not take seriously what the vast majority of scientists say about the threat of climate disruption caused by fossil fuels.
We are also deeply disturbed that Trump has chosen Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to head the secretary of defense. EXXON has had a history of deceit regarding climate disruption. Tillerson negotiated a 500-billion dollar oil deal with Putin that was blocked by Obama. Because of this deal, Tillerson was awarded the “Russian Order of Friendship” by Putin. Tillerson has put the profits of Exxon ahead of the future of our planet. Lee Wasserman, executive director of the Rockefeller Family Trust (Rockefeller was founder of Standard Oil, which morphed into Exxon), wrote an article denouncing Tillerson as secretary of state since he put “Exxon First, Earth Second.” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wasserman-rex-tillerson-exxonmobil-20170103-story.html)
We are also concerned about how Trump is approaching foreign policy. We know from the Bible that when God’s people chose an un-godly leaders, God often allowed foreign powers to undermine them. The prophets frequently warned the kings of Israel not to compromise with foreign rulers. For example, early in Isaiah's ministry, he warned King Ahaz against the dangers involved in an alliance with Assyria. We see many examples in which Israel put its faith in foreign alliances rather than in God, and these alliances did not end well.
We favor the United States having friendly relations with all nations, including Russia. During the 1980s, I was involved with a Quaker project that reached out in friendship to the Russians through a Soviet-American joint book project. During this period I was deeply impressed with how Reagan reached out to Gorbechev and helped to end the Cold War. Reagan seemed motivated by a sincere desire for peace and reconciliation while at the same time being realistic (“Trust but verify” was his motto). At the Reykjavík Summit he laid the groundwork for a deal with the Russians that led to a significant reduction in the nuclear arsenals of the US and USSR.
 Trump’s motives for reaching out to Putin do not seem clear. We are concerned that Trump has become so entangled in a dubious relationship with Putin it could lead to bad consequences. We already see evidence that the Russians have interfered in the election process—for the first time in our history—to help Trump get elected. This is not just our opinion, it is the view of the CIA, FBI and even some Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain. It is deeply disturbing that Trump does not seem to be taking this foreign interference seriously. If Trump acts, or is seen, as Putin’s puppet, it does not bode well for the future of America, or of the world.
Even though we did not vote for Trump, we are holding him and our other leaders in prayer. We pray that their hearts and minds are opened to God’s wisdom and love so that they will become godly leaders, showing concern for justice and peace, for the poor and marginalized, and for God’s precious and beautiful creation.
God calls us not only to pray for our leaders, but also to expose them when they fail to do what Scripture commands.  Micah condemned “chiefs of the house of Israel….who eat the flesh of my people” and “build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong” (Mic 3:9Mic 3:3Mic 3:10). Isaiah denounced “the elders and princes of my people,” who profit from injustice and have “the spoil of the poor is in [their] houses” (Isa 3:14). He spoke against those who extend their land holdings at the expense of others (Isa 5:8).
Like the prophets of old, Jill and I will speak out for the poor and denounce those in power when they enact oppressive laws. We will praise our leaders when justice and peace prevail.
We trust that you like us want what is best for our nation, consistent with God’s will and intention, as expressed in Scripture.  When our new President follows biblical teachings and treats foreigners like the native born (Lev 19:24), helps the poor, reduces the prison population, provides free health care for all who need it,  we will work with him and support him. As followers of Jesus, we hope all Americans can work together to make our country not only great but good.
We trust that you like us want what is good and pleasing to God—to preach good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to captives, comfort to the oppressed, and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, when debts are forgiven and poverty is ended among God’s people (Luke 4:18-22).
When you give the message at the Inauguration, we hope it will help unite Americans around this good news. Psalm 146 reminds us to put our faith in the God of justice and compassion, not in worldly leaders. This is a message we feel needs to be taken seriously right now by our nation and the world.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Fall of Babylon (Revelation 18): Why it’s important to Friends and relevant for today

[Topic of Orange Grove Meeting Bible Study: January 15, 2017, at 9 am.] 

The Book of Revelation is one of the most complex books of the Bible, coming at the very end and describing the “last days” of the world. Its title is derived from the first word of the text, written in koine (common) Greek: apokalypsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation.” This book was so important to early Friends that they named Philadelphia after one of the cities mentioned in the Book of Revelation. (Philadelphia, which means “brotherly love,” was “steadfast in faith, kept God's word and endured patiently” (3:10)).
The Book of Revelation was written during the time of the Emperor Domitian who enacted the second great persecution of the Christians in AD 81 (ten years after the destruction of Jerusalem). A man of inordinate cruelty, Domitian “commanded all the lineage of David be put to death.  Among the numerous martyrs that suffered during this persecution was Simeon, bishop of Jerusalem, who was crucified; and St. John, who was boiled in oil [but somehow survived and supposedly preached from the boiling pot] and afterward was banished to Patmos [where he wrote the Book of Revelation]. Flavia, the daughter of a Roman senator, was likewise banished to Pontus; and a law was made, "That no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion." 
The book of Revelation was written in highly symbolic language as a critique of Rome and also offered consolation to persecuted Christians, assuring them that Rome would fall and a new Jerusalem would descend from heaven and usher in God’s rule on earth.  It consists of letters to various churches as well as prophecies about the future. It foresees a great spiritual battle, in which God’s enemies would be vanquished and those chosen by God would be saved. Early Quakers called this the Lamb’s war, since Christ is symbolized by a lamb in the Book of Revelation. One of the enemies of Christ is a figure called “the Whore of Babylon.”
Babylon had come to symbolize for the Jews and early Christians everything that was contrary to God’s will—empire, hierarchy, idolatry, injustice, oppression, greed, materialism, consumerism, and violence. The Book of Revelation shows that the power of the Lamb—the power of non-violence—is greater than the power of Babylon. The Lamb doesn’t use conventional weapons; he uses the  “sharp sword” of God’s word that comes out of his mouth and slays his enemies with the power of Truth. (See Rev 19:15  Hebrews 4:12).
The fall of Babylon described in Chapter 18 occurs right after a great spiritual battle in which Satan, symbolized by a dragon, is defeated by the Lamb.
The Book of Revelation was extremely important to early Friends who saw themselves as living in the “last days” when genuine Christians (i.e. Quakers) were persecuted by false Christians much as they were in the times of Domitian. Quakers suffered imprisonment and some were killed for practicing their religion. Quakers renounced violence (the way of Babylon) because they believed they were fighting a “Lamb’s war” using spiritual weapons (truth and love). In their declaration of 1660, when King Charles is restored to the throne, Quakers wrote:  “All bloody principles and practices, we…do utterly deny, with all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.
Modern Friends still find truth and wisdom in the Book of Revelation because it challenges the empire and a world order based on violence, greed, and inequality.
Recommended works by Quaker authors:
·         Doug Gwyn, The Apocalypse of the Word. (1986)

·         William Durland, The Apocalyptic Witness: A Radical Calling for Our Own Times (1988)

The British publication The Friend also recently published a pamphlet called “Quakers and the Apocalypse.” Here are some excerpts:
At one level, [the Book of Revelation] is about its time and place: circa 80 C.E. in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. It is about the persecution of early Christians by Rome, and can be seen as a cherished tract for hard times. However, at another level, it is as much about empire as it was about Rome, which is never mentioned by name. Instead, the Apocalypse speaks of “Babylon”, the first destroyer of Jerusalem; Rome had become the second shortly before the Apocalypse took its final written form.  Using the term “Babylon” was not a code—it is much too thin a veil on meaning to be code. It is an echo or evocation. The Apocalypse is an echo chamber of images and scripture; it alludes to the Old Testament in nearly every verse. The echoes give its images and symbols a time-transcending resonance.
Of all the books in the Bible, the Apocalypse is our [i.e. Quaker] book. It is the cry of a small, marginal group of believers who have held on to their faith even though it meant being out of step with Babylon. This faithful band had come through hard times. In the 1650s, the wars of the Reformation had decimated Europe, leaving it politically unstable and spiritually wounded. Now the outlook is scarcely better, only it is now the scientists who prophesy our doom as the carbon fuels that we have nearly used up have overheated our planet and changed its climate. Still we go on consuming, and borrowing so much to buy it all that our overheated financial system implodes. Babylon the Great is very nearly fallen, but meanwhile, thriving as ever….

George Fox‘s great discovery was that Christ was right here, inwardly present in the here and now, although people mostly take no notice. Indeed, the entire Apocalypse is happening right under our noses, God, dragon; Lamb, antichrist; the New Jerusalem; it is all happening, all the time, but we do not notice any more than a fish notices that he is in water.
            To understand the Book of Revelation we also need to understand that it has a “happy ending.”  It announces a time when God’s Kingdom is coming down to earth.
              “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:1).
             For Quakers this heavenly city was not simply a future event, it is also happening here and now for those who turn to Christ are dwelling in it.  Isaac Penington wrote: “For Zion is not now literal, or after the flesh…but Zion is the holy hill of God in Spirit, upon which the heavenly Jerusalem was built, which is revealed, come down, and coming down from heaven, and many of the heavenly citizens dwell there already, and more are coming thither to dwell”
              For Quakers, this is our task: to let God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, to let the new Jerusalem become not just a vision but a reality.  

Revelation 18: Living Bible (TLB)
18 After all this I saw another angel come down from heaven with great authority, and the earth grew bright with his splendor.
He gave a mighty shout, “Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen; she has become a den of demons, a haunt of devils and every kind of evil spirit.[a] For all the nations have drunk the fatal wine of her intense immorality. The rulers of earth have enjoyed themselves with her,[b] and businessmen throughout the world have grown rich from all her luxurious living.”
Then I heard another voice calling from heaven, “Come away from her, my people; do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God is ready to judge her for her crimes. Do to her as she has done to you, and more—give double penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed many a cup of woe for others—give twice as much to her. She has lived in luxury and pleasure—match it now with torments and with sorrows. She boasts, ‘I am queen upon my throne. I am no helpless widow. I will not experience sorrow.’ Therefore the sorrows of death and mourning and famine shall overtake her in a single day, and she shall be utterly consumed by fire; for mighty is the Lord who judges her.”
And the world leaders who took part in her immoral acts and enjoyed her favors will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. 10 They will stand far off, trembling with fear and crying out, “Alas, Babylon, that mighty city! In one moment her judgment fell.”
11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. 12 She was their biggest customer for gold and silver, precious stones, pearls, finest linens, purple silks, and scarlet; and every kind of perfumed wood, and ivory goods, and most expensive wooden carvings, and brass, and iron, and marble; 13 and spices, and perfumes, and incense, ointment, and frankincense, wine, olive oil, and fine flour; wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, and slaves—and even the souls of men.
14 “All the fancy things you loved so much are gone,” they cry. “The dainty luxuries and splendor that you prized so much will never be yours again. They are gone forever.”
15 And so the merchants who have become wealthy by selling her these things shall stand at a distance, fearing danger to themselves, weeping and crying, 16 “Alas, that great city, so beautiful—like a woman clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens, decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls! 17 In one moment, all the wealth of the city is gone!”
And all the shipowners and captains of the merchant ships and crews will stand a long way off, 18 crying as they watch the smoke ascend, and saying, “Where in all the world is there another city such as this?” 19 And they will throw dust on their heads in their sorrow and say, “Alas, alas, for that great city! She made us all rich from her great wealth. And now in a single hour all is gone. . . . ”
20 But you, O heaven, rejoice over her fate; and you, O children of God and the prophets and the apostles! For at last God has given judgment against her for you.
21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder shaped like a millstone and threw it into the ocean and shouted, “Babylon, that great city, shall be thrown away as I have thrown away this stone, and she shall disappear forever. 22 Never again will the sound of music be there—no more pianos, saxophones, and trumpets.[c] No industry of any kind will ever again exist there, and there will be no more milling of the grain. 23 Dark, dark will be her nights; not even a lamp in a window will ever be seen again. No more joyous wedding bells and happy voices of the bridegrooms and the brides. Her businessmen were known around the world, and she deceived all nations with her sorceries. 24 And she was responsible for the blood of all the martyred prophets and the saints.”
a.        Revelation 18:2 every kind of evil spirit, literally, “every foul and hateful bird.”
b.        Revelation 18:3 have enjoyed themselves with her, literally, “have committed fornication with her.”
c.        Revelation 18:22 no more pianos, saxophones, and trumpets, literally, “harpers, pipers, and trumpeters.”

How would you paraphrase in your own words this description of the fall of a great commercial center called Babylon? Who will mourn its downfall? How were Christians supposed to act during the fall of this evil empire?
                   What do you find challenging and/or encouraging about this chapter?
                   What meaning does it have for your life?
                   What application or meaning do you feel it has for today’s world?