And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. … –Micah 4:3-4 and 6:8
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One argument that runs the length of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament is that God desires humanity to live in ways that are quite different than those we generally see around us. This alternative originates in redirecting individual lives but quickly rises to much wider associations.
Nations seem to have no difficulty finding funds for armies and weapons, yet claim frugality when it comes to everyday issues like education or mental health care.
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The faithful community is crucial in shaping, expressing, and encouraging our spiritual concerns and testimonies. We test the validity of our leadings in the gathering of our Meeting. This is discipleship.
Consider the trials, for example, of Quakers living amid a slaveholding society in the South. Should they remain, as a witness against the practice? Or should they remove themselves altogether? In a thundering message at Bush River Quarterly Meeting, which represented all of the Friends in South Carolina and Georgia, an aging Zachariah Dicks, a widely respected minister visiting from Cane Creek Meeting in North Carolina, warned Friends that they must “come out of slavery” or face God’s wrath. Because of his labors, between 1800 and 1804 nearly five hundred Quaker families moved north to Ohio, emptying the Friends meetings in South Carolina and Georgia. So rapid was their removal, in fact, that the minute book from Santuck (old Cane Creek Meeting), near Carlisle, South Carolina, simply continued at Caesar’s Creek Meeting in southwestern Ohio. (In the 1850 Census, a third of the adults in Indiana are reported to have been born in North Carolina, an indication of Quaker stock and the powerful sweep of that flight from a slave society.) Yet those Friends who remained behind in North Carolina discovered their own witness, establishing manumission societies and, like Friend Levi Coffin of New Garden Meeting, the Underground Railroad. Hiram H. Hilty’s By Land and By Sea: Quakers Confront Slavery and Its Aftermath in North Carolina (North Carolina Friends Historical Society, 1993) details their testimony.
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We, too, live in a society that calls for a witness. Which will it be, swords or plowshares?
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Wherefore this was my frequent Supplication unto him, viz. O thou incomprehensible Majesty! who hast established thy Throne in the high and holy Heavens; yet dost thou graciously condescend to look down upon the Inhabitants of the Earth … (Elizabeth Bathurst, 1655?-1685)