By Annemarie Adsen
Love everyone, No exceptions – These words are often seen in the form of a bumper sticker on cars driven by Quakers. They serve as a lofty goal. Quakers strive to love people of color, women, homosexuals, the homeless, the incarcerated, immigrants, etc. We love all people suffering from oppression of any kind, but does this include everyone?
The equality testimony is unambiguous. It doesn’t say, there is that of God in the oppressed. It doesn’t say, there is that of God in people who seek to be inclusive. It doesn’t even say, that there is that of God in “nice” people. Our testimony states that there is that of God in everyone, just like the bumper sticker says.
If I accept our testimony as true, I must accept that there is that of God in a lot of people with whom I struggle. This includes; racists, xenophobes, misogynists, homophobes and people on the opposite side of our ever widening political divide.
We Quakers sanctimoniously proclaim that we love everyone. In practice, however, we often want nothing to do with people who think differently than we do. We speak disparagingly about “them.” We point fingers in their direction, indicating how judgmental and hateful they are. In short, we ourselves are doing exactly that of which we accuse them.
When I dismiss others, I am flagrantly disregarding our equality testimony, that I claim to hold so dear. I am contributing to the growing divisiveness in our society. Make no mistake, I struggle with “them.” My natural inclination is to side with the underdog. I recognize this in myself and try to temper it. Rather than cloistering myself in a liberal echo chamber, I try to listen respectfully to reasonable individuals with whom I disagree. This broadens my mind and my world view. When I listen only to myself, what am I capable of learning? And in what direction am I headed? History teaches us that those who believe that they are the sole keepers of God’s truth, can become dangerous. It is wise for me to maintain humility.
The tone of this missive may seem harsh. I am not casting aspersions. All people have blind spots and shortcomings. I have no issue with the imperfections of Quakers. It is the unwillingness to examine these that concerns me.
I love being the MFM Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee representative. Peoples of all faiths and beliefs come together to make positive changes in our community. I am certain that there is much that we member religions could argue about, if we chose to focus on our differences. By instead looking at that upon which we agree, we learn that there exists commonality. We all condemn hatred and violence. We all want to feel safe. We all want to provide our children with a bright future. Consensus on all issues isn’t necessary. Together we can make movement forward.
The first time that I met Pardeep Kaleka, the executive director of Interfaith, I felt a gentleness and serenity emanate from him. He has teamed up with a former white supremacist, Arno Michaelis, to do peacemaking work. I found the friendship of a former white supremacist and a man born in India to be unlikely. Their story was actually more remarkable than I had initially thought.
Arno Michaelis had once started a hate group. It was an adherent of this very group who murdered six people in the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, one of whom was Pardeep’s own father. Pardeep’s willingness to reach out lovingly to Arno brings me to tears. Pardeep may not use this language, but he has been able to find that of God in Arno. He is living out our Quaker equality testimony. If faced with a similar situation, I am not certain that I would be able or even willing to do the same. Pardeep, then, is likely a far better Quaker than I will ever be.
That doesn’t mean that I am incapable of taking baby steps forward. Recently I was in the virtual company of Quakers. Nasty jokes about “them”, were being spewed by an individual. I quietly observed the reaction of the other Quakers present. There were some chuckles.
I have since examined my own reaction. I stayed quiet. The same quiet that people engage in when they witness injustice or hear hateful speech. It is non response, of precisely this type, that allows these things to proliferate unchecked in our society. It is only through the writing of this article, that my inaction has been made clear to me. Though I have heard similar vitriolic language out of the mouths of Quakers in the past, I have never so much as thought of calling it out. After all; Quakers are my friends, I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, it isn’t me who is saying those things which I find objectionable. These are the same conscience easing excuses people put forward, when they fail to act, as they witness injustice.
We Quakers have our own brand of bigotry. I will no longer stand by in silence. And if you Friends, hear ugliness coming out of my mouth, I encourage you to challenge me. I am convinced that we can do better.
Being a Quaker isn’t easy. If it was, George Fox would have spent a lot less time in prison. The divisions in our society are great. Judging others does nothing to advance humanity, nor peace. Whenever I judge, I am only adding fuel to the fire. I am choosing to be part of the problem.
I want to be a peacemaker. I then have to start with a deep acceptance of the truth, we are all God’s kids. We are all loved equally by God. If I want to be part of the solution, it is God’s loving example that I am called to follow. Love everyone, No exceptions.