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?


  1. Are you Orthodox Quaker? I'm from Brazil and I'm a Gurneyite Quaker.

  2. I'm pretty unorthodox, actually. I'm an unprogrammed Friend from California, but my wife is Evangelical and I love the Bible. Do you live in Brazil currently?

  3. It does seem to be true, "that our country is in a "kairos" moment..."

    However, I don't think the central danger are the people in the opposition (who seem to be part of the "Ocean of Darkness")
    our own responses:-( and our own fragmentation, lack of spiritual unity (not uniformity), etc.

    It was extremely disconcerting to see the obscene, the hateful, the superstitious, the demeaning, etc. exalted at the March:-(

    I realize that such a huge event won't be a combined witness of the "Lamb's War." There were far too many cases of obscenities, dehumanizing, demeaning by speakers:-(

    Instead, it behooves us as Friends
    to emphasize reconciliation, love of political, religious, and social "enemies" as did Martin Luther King, even toward the KKK and even individuals who attacked him!

  4. Daniel, I agree with you that some of the signs were obscene and angry, but given what Trump has done, these feelings are understandable. Fortunately, there was no violence, and no arrests. I commend the women for setting a good example in that regard. I fear we will see a lot of violence in the upcoming years of the Trump regime, as just happened in Berkeley. The Republicans are consolidating power in such a way that dissenting views are being utterly discounted. This will lead to an increasingly violent response from those who feel unheard. I agree that Friends need to be a voice of reason, compassion and reconciliation.

  5. Anthony, Thanks for responding.

    While there was no overt violence, when one of the speakers of the rally keeps shouting "Obscenity you! Obscenity you!.." etc. and others in the March expressed ideological hostility, Martin Luther King's counter view needs emphasis:
    Nonviolence means avoiding not only extermal physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit.
    You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."

    Hopefully, NWYM and NCYM, etc. can get past their own internal divisive breakups, and focus instead on "reason, compassion, and reconciliation" as you said.

  6. I'll be frank: I don't think "tone policing" the Women's March is the way to move forward on opposing this regime.

    I think Friends need to be more in tune with the tradition of "speaking Truth to power". At this point, I believe our concern for the people the regime has already harmed, and the direction it is taking in the future, should be the focus of our statements and actions. It is not, I believe, the moment for critiquing other protests for not adhering to absolute perfection in the way they express themselves.