This project — writing a Faith & Practice book — is a work in progress. Whenever a significant update is made to a published installment, the revision date will be posted at the top of the installment as well as in the Table of Contents. Following are “Social Justice” and “Mercy and Generosity,” the 12th and 13th parts of “The Life of the Spirit.”
12. Social Justice
Let all those fines that belong to lords of manors be given to the poor people, for lords have enough. … Let all the poor people, blind and lame, and cripples be provided for in the nation, that there may not be a beggar in England nor England’s dominions .… And so let all great gifts given to great men be given to the poor [instead]. Let the receiver deny it, and the giver return it to the poor; for the rich may give to the rich, but the poor cannot give it him again, so mind Christ’s doctrine. (George Fox, 1659)
From the beginning of the Quaker movement, Friends have had a strong concern for social justice. That concern, arising from Friends’ inner life in divine love, has manifested itself in many ways. Friends have been in the forefront of movements toward justice in areas such as gender, race, mental health, education, labor, economics, and peace. Such efforts continue today. Contemporary Quakers are particularly active in work for racial, sexual, and ecological justice.
Our commitment to justice entails a willingness to be searched, judged, and guided continuously by the light of Christ within. Friends recognize that promoting justice means, first of all, living justly, allowing our own way of life to be shaped by the needs of other beings as seen in the light — which includes, among many other things, helping to preserve the ecosystem by living simply and working for responsible social policies. As William Penn said of the first Quakers,
They were changed [people] themselves before they went about to change others. Their hearts were ripped open as well as their garments changed, and they knew the power and work of God upon them. This was seen by the great alteration it made, and their stricter course of life, and more godly conversation, that immediately followed upon it.
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13. Mercy and Generosity
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? … Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and that you bring the poor that are cast out into your house? When you see the naked, that you cover them, and that you hide not yourself from your own kind? Then shall your light break forth as the morning, and your healing shall spring forth speedily; and your righteousness shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rearward guard. (Isaiah 58:8)
Care of the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the sorrowful is a fundamental expression of that Spirit of love to which Quakers surrender ourselves. Friends are moved to care not only for those who are members of our communities but also for the stranger: “universal love” excludes none in need, even enemies. When we deny ourselves pleasure, comfort, and security in order to share our resources with those in need, we express the Christ-spirit in the world. Sometimes even contravening cultural norms, as when it moves us to avoid unnecessary travel out of concern for the environment or to act in other unconventional ways, agapē leads us to “let your light shine” (Mat 5:16).
Dear friends,—Something was upon me to write unto you, that [those] among Friends who marry and provide great dinners, that instead thereof, it will be of a good savour on such occasions that they … give something to the poor that be widows and fatherless and such like, to make them a feast or to refresh them. And this, I look upon, would be a very good savour, to feast the poor that cannot feast you again …. (George Fox, 1690)
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