Sunday, May 22, 2005

Advices 12, 13 & 14 of the Elders at Balby

12.- That the necessities of the poor, widows and fatherless, may be truly supplied, and that such as are able to work, and do not, may be admonished: and if, after admonition, they refuse to work, then let them not eat. And that the children of such as are in necessity, be put to honest employment; that none be idle in the Lord's vineyard.

Comment: This advice recalls Advice No. 5, already discussed, in which it is advised that Friends make and properly administer collections "for the poor (that are so indeed)". Here, however, the qualification only hinted at with that phrase "that are so indeed" is made more explicit. The elders evidently wanted Friends to make sure that they cared for those who were truly poor, but not to enable (as we might phrase it today) any one whose poverty sprang from a simple refusal to work. Much of the language here (as in all these advices) comes directly from the Bible, including "let them not eat". We have to wonder how this advice was actually applied. Was tender love or "tough love" predominant? Who made the determination of whether a given poor person was unable to work or simply didn't want to? Was it understood that work should be fairly compensated and not under oppressive conditions? There are loopholes here that could be exploited for hard-hearted abuse. That wouldn't be a problem, however, if the advices were read "in the spirit" as their famous postscript urges, rather than in the letter.

13.-That care be taken, that as any are called before outward powers of the nation, that in the light, obedience to the Lord be given.

Comment: This seems to mean "obey God rather than men", but the meaning is not made explicit. I noticed that this advice was recently quoted in a document published by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. FCNL assumed that being called before the "outward powers of the nation" meant being pressed into military service. Sounds likely, but I would like the opinion of an historian. Remember that these advices pre-date the declaration to King Charles against wars and fightings with outward weapons.

14.-That if any be called to serve the commonwealth in any public service, which is for the public wealth and good, that with cheerfulness it be undertaken, and in faithfulness discharged: and that therein patterns and examples, in the thing that is righteous, you may be, to those that be without.


Comment: I just received a jury summons. Is that a case in point?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Advices 10 & 11 From the Elders at Balby

I now return to the continuing series on the advices contained in what was effectively the first book of discipline (nowadays known as Faith and Practice) in the Religious Society of Friends - a letter containing 20 "advices" to Friends from some elders who met in Balby, England, in 1656. You can view this document in its entirety at this website

I've already commented on Advices 1 - 9 from that letter in earlier posts. Now we proceed to Advices 10 and 11.

10.-That servants be obedient to them that are their masters in the flesh, in things that are good, in singleness of heart as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ; doing the will of God from the heart; with good-will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men; knowing whatsoever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And that masters give to their servants that which is just and equal; forbearing threatening, knowing that their Master is also in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.

11.- That care be taken that none who are servants depart from their masters, but as they both do see in the light: or any master to put away his servant, but by the like consent of the servant: and if any master or servant in their wills do otherwise it is to be judged by Friends in the light.


Comment: I am handicapped here in that I know very little about the social and economic life of England in 1656. In view of Friends later testimony against slavery both of these advices may seem rather suprising since they seem not to question that there can be "masters" and "servants" in the church and that the latter owe the former their "obedience". What can we make of these advices? Is there anything in them that speaks to our condition today?

First, it should be observed that the word "servants" in this passage does not necessarily mean "slaves" though it would include slaves as well as others. It is my impression (I would welcome documentation from a more competent historian) that many Friends were employed as personal household servants, were indentured servants working off debts, or were apprentices to craftsmen. Any of these might have been referred to as "servants". Those to whom they were indentured or apprenticed were called "masters". In some cases these servants were Friends though their masters were not, because they had been convinced independently. In other cases both servants and "masters" in the same household became Friends at the same time (the most famous example being that of the Fell household in which both Margaret and her servants were convinced by the testimony of George Fox). In still others, Friends who were looking for placement as apprentices or servants preferred to be placed with other Friends. The Journal of John Richardson was from a slightly later period (the 18th century rather than the 17th), but it illustrates this phenomenon. Richardson became apprenticed to a Friend after being disowned by hiw own stepfather. I do not believe that many Friends (if any) were slaves in 1656. Very few would have been slave-holders either at that period, especially in England, though slave-holding was not yet seen clearly as against God's will.

With all this in mind I think it's useful to think about how this advice could be applied to the relationship in our lives most like that of master-servant in 17th century England - namely the relationship of employer to employee or supervisor to staff-member. The first advice could then be paraphrased as


That workers comply with their supervisors in things that are good, in singleness of heart as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as workers for Christ; doing the will of God from the heart; with good-will doing service, as to the Lord and not to men; knowing whatever good thing anyone does, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be worker or boss. And that supervisors give to their employees that which is just and equal; forbearing threatening, knowing that their Master is also in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.


How does this advice, as paraphrased, speak to us? One thing that strikes me is that the servant/employee is not instructed to do whatever she or he is told, but to obey "in things that are good", which in many jobs is a significant qualification. One could even say that there is a subversive tendency in this part of the advice, since it implicitly requires each of us to make an independent judgement of which are the "things that are good" when our bosses give us orders. Second, the servant is not to do these good things only for show or to please the master / employer / supervisor but to do them as if for Christ. On the one hand, this advice if followed would probably make the employee a better employee from the boss's point of view. But even if the boss were not truly concerned with a job well done but only, for example, meeting certain production quotas, the employee who followed this advice would be zealous to do a truly good job anyway. It seems to me that this is good spiritual advice, and not just a convenient rule from the point of view of those in power.

Speaking of the "subversive tendency" in these advices: surely the advice to masters that they "give to their servants that which is just and equal, forbearing threatening..." would be such a tendency. The phrase "just and equal" is not defined. Presumably the elders thought that there was some way for a master craftsman to be just and equal in dealing with an apprentice, or a householder with a household servant. But how could this possibly have been applied once some Friends started to have slaves? The seeds of John Woolman's quiet radicalism may have been planted right there in 1656 by the elders at Balby.

Advice number 11 is harder for me to accept, even if modernized and contextualized. I understand that I may have an obligation to "give notice" when I decide to change jobs, but surely not to wait until my employer agrees that it's ok for me to leave. The idea that my employer would have to ask my permission before firing me seems more reasonable, but that is no doubt my class bias. ;-)

While there is a surprising mutuality in the wording of the advice (neither master nor servant is to sever the master/servant relationship without the other's consent) it still seems highly inconsistent with our modern (and praiseworthy) ideals of freedom. One wonders why the advice was felt necessary. One wonders, too, whether the elders themselves were people who had been masters in their lifetimes or servants? Or were there some of both? I know that there were some prominent Quakers whose station in life was far from exalted, but I don't know whether they were among the elders at Balby.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

hmmmm!

A New York Times Article by Damien Cave today said, in part:
Responding to reports about widespread abuses of the rules for recruitment, Army officials said yesterday that they would suspend all recruiting on May 20 and use the day to retrain its personnel in military ethics and the laws that govern what can and cannot be done to enlist an applicant. ...
Douglas Smith, a spokesman for the recruiting command at its headquarters in Fort Knox, Ky, ... said the Army would re-introduce recruiters to legal recruiting practices and the rules that prohibit them from lying to applicants or hiding information from the military that could make them ineligible to serve. He said the focus of the day would also be on reminding recruiters to take advantage of counseling services that might alleviate stress brought on by long workdays and the repeated rejection of their appeals by prospects.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Advices 8 and 9 of the Elders at Balby

8.-That a record be kept in every meeting of the births of children of such who are members of that meeting, and of the burials of the dead who die in the Lord as they depart out of the body; which be done after the manner of the holy men of God, recorded in the Scriptures of truth; and not after the customs of the heathen; that know not God.


Comment: This advice seems to speak for itself and to be pretty non-controversial. I do wonder what "customs of the heathen" are being warned against. It seems hard to imagine a "heathen" method of record-keeping. Perhaps this refers to customary ways of conducting funerals or celebrating birthdays rather than to the record keeping itself?

9.-That husbands and wives dwell together according to knowledge, as being heirs together of the grace of life; that children obey their parents in the Lord; and that parents provoke not their children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and fear of God, walking before them as good examples, in gravity and godliness; providing things honest in the sight of God and man.


Comment: Reading this advice in full is more edifying than reading the summary of it that occurs in the current version of New York Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice (which in turn is quoted from a history of Quakerism by Chrarles Braithwaite). The summary says simply
Advice to husbands and wives, as in I Peter iii:7. Advice to parents and children, as in Ephesians vi:1-4
It's interesting and encouraging that the Friends selected from the available New Testament material those passages on family life that emphasize mutuality and respect rather than heirarchy and submission. Husbands and wives "dwell together according to knowledge" and are "heirs together of the grace of life". And although children are to obey their parents, the parents also have duties to their children: to avoid provoking them to wrath, and to set an example for them.

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Freedom Friends

I will continue my series on the elders at Balby as soon as I can squeeze out some more time.

Meanwhile, I saw a fascinating website for the first time today. Some of my readers may already know about it, but I discovered it only by following the links around the Quaker Webring maintained by Kirk Wattles (see the Quaker Webring logo now at the bottom of my blog).

The site I found is for something called "Freedom Friends Church", an independent Quaker Meeting in Salem Oregon that says it is "Passionately Christ-Centered, Passionately Quaker, and Passionately Inclusive". Naturally they say some things I disagree with, and I'm sorry to see they have a pastor (though they also say all members are ministers), but it does a better job than anything I've seen for a long time in bringing together a lot of the things I am looking for in Quakerism and Christianity. Check them out at Freedom Friends Church.

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