By Valerie Joy, Queensland Regional Meeting, FWCC/AWPS secretary.
The world has changed remarkably since the Fifth World Conference of Friends in 1991, both for good and for ill. The 6th World Conference to be held this year has as part of its theme Friends living the Kingdom of God, when we will unpack what this actually means. How can we bring the “Kingdom of God” into reality- to live the amazing gospel of Christ as was done by the early Quakers in the first decade of our Society from 1652-1662?
Luke 17: 21 neither shall they say, ‘Lo here!’ or, ‘lo there!’ for, behold, the Kingdom is within you. Gerry Guiton has renamed the Kingdom of God as “The Covenant of Love”, which he sees as an ongoing and non-violent revolution. It is within, among and for all people and we unveil it with God’s help. The Kingdom is where Love happens.
We are called to realize this.
Our politicians are letting us down badly. Not in my name are drones, cluster bombs, stealth bombers and other smart weaponry being used to keep us “safe”. For all our pre-occupation with safety, it appears that we are now less safe than before 9/11. The US is increasingly unpopular, meaning that we are all less safe.
Martin Luther King said, “The large power blocs of the world talk passionately of pursuing peace while burgeoning defence budgets bulge, enlarging already awesome armies, and devising even more devastating weapons.”
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programmes of social uplift is approaching spiritual death”.
So how can Friends realize “The Kingdom of God”?
What if all the trillions spent on war were spent on human rights, on development of poorer countries, relief of poverty, increase in education spending, hospitals, a free press and the practice of the rule of law?
In 1865, Lincoln spoke of the causes of the American Civil War- where the South wanted to perpetuate slavery and the North fought not to eradicate slavery, but to contain its expansion. Lincoln stated that both sides read the same Bible, and that each prayed to the same God for victory.
He referred to Matthew 18, where Jesus said unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven and the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. Also, whoever welcomes in my name one child such as this, welcomes me. What would Lincoln say today? I believe he would again quote Matthew 5:9 blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Reliance on military might is a far cry from Quaker traditions!
Slavery was eventually defeated through the efforts of relatively powerless people like Wilberforce and countless Quakers over decades. Lincoln came from a poor background and yet God used him mightily. In short God tends to do the unexpected and uses the most unlikely cast of characters.
Our situation today is that there are deep reservoirs of outraged young people around the world, and I believe we have an obligation to them to awake to the Kingdom, and to assist in its realization. Our politicians glorify war and it is a very strong individual who will speak out against it. But grounded within the Kingdom it is not just an individual that speaks out, but rather the prophetic voice, the one that we are all called to utter.
We can bring our influence to bear in supporting those who have a strong moral conscience.
The current Wall St non-violent demonstrations against greedy economic policies are confronting the powerful, and politicians and business people are being forced to listen to the prophetic voices of the ordinary people.
In Matthew chapter 11, John the Baptist preached on the coming of the Kingdom of God. Opposition to the political powers of that time led to his imprisonment and death. Herod who ordered his death seemed to get away with his murder. But God’s judgement comes upon all who commit atrocities. Look at the fall of Nazism and the fall of Stalinism. Look too at the apartheid regime of South Africa, and the peace that is coming in Rwanda and Burundi following terrible atrocities committed on their people.
God uses the humble and insignificant to bring about the Kingdom of God. The metaphors of Salt and Light, of the tiny mustard seed, the poor widow, and the shepherd, all point us to the way forward.
Jesus called twelve very humble people, who turned the world upside down.
So is our struggle to realize the Kingdom in vain? Sometimes with all the brutality around us, we wonder “Is God listening”? The Kingdom has nothing to do with military, political or economic power. God hears the cries of good people. We need to develop a greater confidence in the goodness and power of God.
Suffering for the sake of doing good is a recurring theme in the Bible. An example of this being if the will of God be so that you suffer for well doing, rather than for evil doing [1Peter, 3:17]. God is faithful. The suffering of post-civil war America has made it a stronger nation; post-apartheid South Africa is stronger as well.The Korean Quaker Ham Sok Hon developed a theology named Minjung theology, which is based on the suffering Christ, who suffers along with his people today.
Many of Jesus’ parables are about money and possessions. God cares very deeply about the stewardship of the good gifts given to individuals and nations. In thinking about stewardship, we must use what we have been given wisely and lovingly as told in Matt 25: 14-30 Take the talent from him who has 1 talent and give it to him who has ten.
The gulf grows daily between rich and poor and all of this destabilises humankind.
We have to be better stewards of our wealth.
The US budget commits 60% of its budget on defence and the military, but less than half of 1% on international aid. In Australia, every week, around $3.30 in taxes from each of us pays for our aid program—about the cost of a cup of coffee, or around 1% of our budget.
Denmark spends approximately 7% of its budget on development aid and for such a small nation it has done remarkable things in developing poorer nations.
I have no doubt that if there were changes in our priorities, not only would huge strides be made towards reducing the inequalities in the world but also the world would be made a safer place in future. Peace in our time would become a reality- the Kingdom of God will become realized.
Indeed Lincoln’s closing remarks in his second inaugural address are apposite:
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”
It will only be through charity, firmness in doing right, binding of international wounds or inequities and care for the destitute of the world, that a just and lasting world peace, and therefore freedom, may be achieved and the Kingdom of God will be amongst us.
Friends, we are just the group to help this to come about. We have looked at the stupidity of increasing our military budget even though the cost will almost certainly be – more suffering. An American peace activist Kathy Kelly said “One way to stop the next war is to continue to tell the truth about this one.” Let us unite as Quakers in finding The Kingdom of God in our hearts and on earth. One way to do this is to support the efforts by FWCC to discern new ways forward for Friends to bring about change and renewal in the wider world.
Gerry Guiton (2009) The Revolutionary Politics of the Kingdom of God (Covenant of Love), Quaker Studies.