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How Much Diversity Can You Handle?

How Much Diversity Can We Handle?

Our culture puts a huge value on diversity. We have a whole laundry list of identity groups that we aim to see represented in our organizations, brands, churches, and movements. We track metrics like race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, national origin – and the list goes on.

This helps us feel good about ourselves. We like to think of ourselves as inclusive people. Open-minded. Compassionate. It makes us feel better to know that everyone has had a fair shot at participation, membership, success. Even if we don’t ultimately achieve diversity – whatever that means – at least we tried.

But could it be that this apparent concern with inclusion is actually a defense mechanism? What if all our high-minded, check-list diversity is just a veneer hiding a less savory reality? What if our professed commitment to diversity is just a front, obscuring a deep-seated tendency to judge, discriminate, and exclude those who are different from us?

There’s something not quite right with a society that is so obsessed with the fiction of color blindness and I Have A Dream romanticization of Martin Luther King, yet at the same time continues to turn a blind eye to the ongoing racial, ethnic, and class segregation of our neighborhoods, businesses, churches, and civic organizations.

In a culture that insists that any of us can rise to the top, it’s striking that income inequality and class stratification is the greatest we’ve seen in generations. Even more remarkable is the enduring strength of the myth of meritocracy – that those who are wealthy earned it, and that the swelling ranks of the poor are filled by those who just didn’t make the right choices to succeed.

There’s something off-kilter in a culture where the myths of diversity and meritocracy can stand side by side, unquestioned. We say we want diversity, but only a diversity of the very best.

But real diversity means embracing those who don’t meet your expectations. True inclusivity means giving to those who can’t repay you. It means choosing to share love, attention, jobs, and opportunity indiscriminately – without regard for merit.

Easier said than done, I know. Maybe it’s not even realistic. But if not, let’s at least be honest about it: We don’t want diversity; we want the homogeneity of those who know how to work the system. We want a diversity of insiders.

That may work in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street. That may drive the elite economy and make the trains run on time. But it’s not the vision that Jesus calls us into.

The kingdom of God is open to all, and that’s scary. When we choose to follow Jesus, we’re called into relationship with all sorts of people that we’d rather avoid. People who slow us down and frustrate our ambitions.

There’s nobody more inclusive than God. In Jesus, he throws the door wide open to everybody. Everybody. You ain’t never seen diversity like this.

Maybe this kind of radical inclusion isn’t for you. That’s totally fair. It’s way outside my comfort zone, for sure.

Just don’t turn around and pretend that you like diversity.

Related Posts:

Dear White Church: Repent!

What Happens When Radicals Fall in Love?

What Does the Bible Actually Say About LGBT Equality?

In my last post, I mentioned that in the mid-1990s the Friends of Jesus community in Wichita, Kansas produced a white paper on their biblical understanding of gay and lesbian Christians. A commenter asked whether a copy of this document is still available. It is!

The following is a statement prepared by the Friends of Jesus intentional community in 1994, after prayerful reflection and study around the question of God’s intention for LGBT people in the church.

gay christians

A Paper On Homosexuality and Christianity

Prepared by the Friends of Jesus Community for Dialog with our Christian Friends in September, 1994

“Come, let us reason together, says the Lord.” – Isaiah 1:18

Believing that the living Christ will continue to teach those who are eager to hear God’s truth, we Friends of Jesus Community members have been examining since 1991 our thinking and our feelings about homosexuality. The Holy Spirit has been speaking to us through friendships with gay and lesbian people and through information provided by recent scientific, historical, social, and biblical scholarship.

In 1991 we became aware that two women providing good leadership for one of our programs were a lesbian couple. This knowledge created a dilemma, because their ministry in our neighborhood was needed and they were (and are) our friends. Since the women did not feel able to take part in resolving the questions their continued leadership would raise, the Friends of Jesus Community reluctantly decided to lay down a valuable program rather than risk a destructive confrontation with Mid-America Yearly Meeting and with African-American churches in the neighborhood. When that decision was made we lacked clarity, as a group, about whether Christians can be non-celibate homosexuals.

The lesbian women were hurt by our decision, but a relationship was maintained. In the summer of 1993 the Friends of Jesus decided to do a careful study of this issue, beginning with Bible study, because other closeted homosexual Christians were confiding in some of us. Despite the difficulties of approaching matters of human sexuality, we have continued to study, pray, and discuss the issues involved. We have also worshipped with a Wichita congregation whose members are mostly homosexuals. Out of our experiences and study we have come to these understandings:

  • Sodom’s sin was probably inhospitality, not homosexuality. Even if Sodom’s men did threaten homosexual rape, the story has nothing to do with loving sexual relationships.
  • It is clear that male homosexual activity is condemned in Leviticus, but equally clear that followers of Jesus do not take most of the levitical laws literally.
  • Jesus addressed many issues, but according to the New Testament he never talked about homosexuality.
  • It seems likely that Paul’s references to homosexual behavior are about heterosexuals who choose it or about prostitution. No New Testament passage is primarily concerned with the question of homosexuality in general.
  • It is hard to see how faithful, loving homosexual relationships violate the teachings of Jesus or biblical principles.
  • It is a good idea to be suspicious when culturally powerful interpreters use scripture against the less powerful. The Bible has been misused to resist scientific discoveries, democracy, separation of church and state, the anti-slavery movement, women’s rights and ministry, labor laws, the civil rights movement, and the peace movement.
  • Celibacy is a calling for some Christians, both homosexual and heterosexual, but should not be demanded of all homosexuals.
  • We have experienced authentic Christian worship with homosexual brothers and sisters, and know that God uses gays and lesbians in Christian ministry.
  • Homosexual Christians today should be viewed in the same way the earliest Jewish Christians approached the issue of including “non-abstaining” gentile
  • Christians. In Acts 10 Peter is scandalized at the thought of gentile impurity, then changes his mind when he sees God’s Spirit poured out on them.
  • The Holy Spirit is not limited by sexual orientation. Heterosexual Christian churches are being called by God to move beyond condemnation of homosexuality and uneasy toleration of homosexual Christians.
  • Homosexual orientation is no more chosen than a heterosexual orientation is chosen. We have found little evidence that people who are exclusively homosexual can change or should try to change.
  • There is no “homosexual lifestyle” any more than there is a “heterosexual lifestyle.”
  • Homosexuals should not have to hide their orientation in order to be part of the body of Christ.
  • Heterosexism is in many ways like racism.
  • It is sinful to repeat slanderous stereotypes of homosexuals such as these: they are threats to our children; they recruit and seduce heterosexuals; they are promiscuous; they could change their orientation if only they would; they are people damaged by poor relationships with their parents; they have an agenda to destroy heterosexual family life.
  • Faithful, monogamous love is spiritually, physically, and socially healthy for homosexuals and heterosexuals. Mutual love, respect, and equality are the marks of non-exploitive relationships.
  • Lifelong covenanting is good for both heterosexuals and homosexuals and should be blessed by the church.

The Bible may not give us clear guidance about including homosexuals in the Christian community. But it does give clear guidance about including those who have received the Holy Spirit and join us in confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.

Are you Conservative enough to embrace Gay Christians?

Washington National Cathedral Holds Prayer Service For LGBT Families

Yeah, you read me right. If you want to be a real conservative, you might want to consider supporting LGBT equality in the church.

Let me explain.

In the debate around LGBT equality, almost everyone I know labels an affirming stance as progressive or liberal, while a non-affirming stance is considered conservative or traditional.

I beg to differ.

If conservative means adhering to the prejudices of recent centuries, then yes, excluding gay folks is a conservative move. If conservative is defined as clinging to a this is how we’ve always done it attitude towards life, then I agree, a non-affirming stance meets that definition.

But what if being conservative means conserving the heart of our faith? What if we define conservative as re-connecting with the Spirit that inspired the Bible in the first place? What if love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control were hallmarks of conservatism?

I’m here to say that embracing the spiritual equality of our LGBT brothers and sisters is a radically conservative position. To give love and encouragement to gay folks conserves the heart and soul of the gospel in the face of fear, proof-texting, and legalism.

If anything, those who deny the God-breathed lives and much-needed spiritual gifts of LGBT brethren are liberals. They’re liberal in disregarding the overwhelming witness of Scripture, which teaches us that God always finds a way to break down barriers between people. God favors those who are marginalized. God’s judgment comes, not on the poor and excluded, but on those who think they have it all figured out.

So, I’ll ask you again: Are you conservative enough to embrace gay Christians?

Related Posts:

Supreme Court Debates Same-Sex Marriage – Should We?

We’d Better Get Clear

How Much Unity Do We Need?

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.Marco Antonio de Dominis

Despite being followers of the Prince of Peace, Christians have a long track record of fighting with one another. We Quakers, despite our history as a peace church, have always found plenty of ways to rip each other a new… theological perspective. The history of the Quaker church is one of seemingly endless schisms, and while I’ve heard it said that other groups “multiply by division,” Friends have mostly lost strength, numbers and spiritual wholeness with each split.

In light of our contentious past, and present, I was very pleased to read a recent article by Steve Angell of Earlham School of Religion, in which he makes a plea for openness to the variety of scripturally-based views of the atonement. He points out that there are actually several, scripturally authentic views of how Jesus’ death on the cross brings about reconciliation between humanity and God, and between human beings themselves.

Different groups within the Christian community emphasize one view or another. For example, Evangelicals strongly embrace the satisfaction and penal substitution theories of the atonement – commonly summed up with, “Jesus died for our sins.” Liberal Christians generally focus on the moral influence theory, which holds that Jesus’ selfless martyrdom on the cross is meant to serve as an example for his followers to emulate. There’s also the ransom/Christus Victor theories, which date back to the early Church but which lately have been overshadowed by other, more popular atonement theories.

I really appreciate Angell’s exposition of these issues, because he understands that these theories are not simply some esoteric mumbo jumbo, but are in fact central to how we understand our faith as followers of Jesus. He is quite clear that Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is essential to how we become citizens of God’s new world (the Kingdom). The atonement is no throw-away doctrine that we can take or leave. Jesus’ execution on the cross and his resurrection from the dead are fundamental to our Christian faith. It is through Christ’s death that we are reconciled to God and brought out of darkness and death. We participate in his resurrection insofar as we embrace his willingness to suffer for love.

Understanding the deep importance of the atonement, Angell pleas for a generous orthodoxy that allows these varying biblical perspectives to co-exist within the same community. For so long, Quakers – and Christians in general – have been screaming at one another over just exactly how Jesus’ sacrifice “works,” when Jesus himself calls us to the profoundly practical work of healing the sick, casting out demons and announcing good news (not just theories, but real, practical good news!) to the poor.

There are certainly times when God calls us to stand firm on theological questions. I was glad to see that Angell did not suggest that orthodoxy is unimportant. Yet, he draws our attention to the fact that the truth is complex, multifaceted, rich with meaning and nuance. While we all seek to follow Jesus and become baptized into his Spirit, there are many ways of understanding how that relationship works!

The work of distinguishing between what is merely metaphor and what is bedrock truth is very difficult. There are members of the Quaker community, for example, who think that Jesus himself is essentially a metaphor – that when I as a Christian say “Jesus,” it is essentially the same thing as when a non-Christian says “God” or “Truth” or “Spirit.” How can we embrace different perspectives without going this far? Where is the distinction between our human metaphors and the real, tangible relationship that we are called to have with the person of Jesus Christ?

How can we make room for differences in metaphor while staying faithful to the basic truths that we have received – in Scripture, through tradition and in our own personal experience of God’s action? How much liberty is healthy, and how much unity is essential? And in all of these questions, how can we maintain a fundamental compassion and charity for one another that reflects the face of our Savior?

Can We Disagree?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… – 1 John 4:1
For me as a Quaker, summertime is Yearly Meeting time. For those who are unfamiliar with Friends organization, the Yearly Meeting is the closest thing that we have to a “denomination.” Gathering together annually for business and fellowship, Yearly Meetings are a collection of local congregations that are drawn together under the same faith and practice, committing themselves to mutual accountability and shared discernment.

The Yearly Meeting is for congregations what the local church is for the individual. The Yearly Meeting provides opportunity to be strengthened by the wisdom and perspective of a wider fellowship; the larger body is able to provide stability, support and, at times, loving correction to local Meetings that face difficulty. In the ideal, the Yearly Meeting is enriched and informed by the gifts, passion and discernment of the local Meeting, and the Yearly Meeting exercises loving care of the local Meeting.

Unfortunately, we frequently fail to live up to our ideals. In both the local church and the Yearly Meeting, Friends often lose the delicate balance between the understanding of the individual and the discernment of the wider body. Sometimes we err on the side of individual autonomy, refusing to involve ourselves in the struggles of our sister Meetings. On the other hand, we as Yearly Meetings can also slip into a paternalistic mindset, quenching the prophetic voice of our local communities with demands of conformity to the broader consensus.

Unlike many Christian groups, Friends do not make decisions by voting, but rather through a united sense of God’s will. Though this practice has many strengths, its weaknesses can be crippling. At worst, we may abuse our tradition, coming to believe that unity is something for us to impose, rather than a gift of the Holy Spirit. In our quest for outward unity, we sometimes risk silencing a genuine prophetic voice.

With division looming in Indiana Yearly Meeting and many other Yearly Meetings struggling with deep disagreements, how do we understand the role of dissent within our communities? Under what circumstances is it acceptable for an individual or a local church to be openly out of unity with majority understanding of the Yearly Meeting? To what extent are Friends with minority perspectives expected to keep their views quiet? When does conscience demand that dissenters resign their membership?
These questions are very alive for me as we in Ohio Yearly Meeting continue to wrestle with our understanding of human sexuality, including same-sex relationships. There are faithful Friends in our Yearly Meeting who sincerely believe that we who affirm our gay brothers and sisters should silence our witness – or leave the fellowship altogether. For these Friends, it is a question of corporate solidarity and integrity: If we are not in line with the majority view of the Yearly Meeting, why would we insist on raising our perspective within the body? Why not accept that we simply do not fit within Ohio Yearly Meeting and leave?
This makes me wonder: How much (and what kind of) conformity is necessary on the part of dissenting individuals and congregations? How do we gauge to what extent our disagreement represents a healthy, prophetic witness, and how can we tell when we have veered into un-loving, divisive activity? Though there are forms of dissent that tear down community, I have also observed that there is such a thing as healthy tension and faithful disagreement.

This is all so tricky, because there are certainly false teachings that can rip the church apart. There are many perspectives that, if accepted, would undermine our testimony as Friends. Yet, it is possible to become overly sensitive. If we allow fear to take over, we may stop trusting that God can work through our disagreements. It is important for us to have faith that the Holy Spirit is present with us now, ready to teach us “even greater things.”

As communities gathered in the Spirit of Jesus, how do we practice discernment together? How do we know which matters of faith and practice are essential, and which can be safely held in dynamic tension within our local and Yearly Meetings? How do we manage passionate disagreements within our community, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?

Gathering in the Spirit – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #42

Dear sisters and brothers,
I have been given many opportunities this month to travel in gospel service to a variety of communities, both among Friends and in the wider ecumenical Church. In all of my travels, I have joined with my brothers and sisters in asking hard questions: As followers of Jesus, how are we called to work for economic justice and the practical liberation of all people? As disciples of the enfleshed Word, how are we to understand our lives as sexual beings? As a people who have been transformed by the love and authority of the Lord Jesus, how do we lead lives that proclaim him – his joy, his power, his peace?

The lengthiest trip I took this month was to visit Friends in Pendleton, Indiana. Several months ago, I was contacted by the clerk of Whitewater Quarterly Meeting in Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, inviting me to speak at their gathering in April. I could speak about whatever God laid on my heart – though he mentioned that Friends would be very interested to hear about my experiences as a Quaker in the Occupy movement.

I felt clear to accept the invitation, traveling under a minute from Rockingham Monthly Meeting and Stillwater Quarterly Meeting (Ohio YM). During the afternoon session, I spoke out of the silence, and it was opened to me to speak about God’s call for us to emerge from our addiction to comfort and pride. I invited Friends to embrace the radical worldview of Christ’s Kingdom, which challenges us to engagement in a broken world. Grounding my sermon in Christ’s words to the Church in Laodicea, I felt moved to encourage those present to pursue the passionate commitment and humility that our faith demands. If we open ourselves to the transforming power of the Spirit, we can emerge from lukewarmth and fear, embracing the prophetic faith of Jesus.
The word I was given did encounter some resistance from some Friends present. Nevertheless, I was encouraged to see that others received the word with joy. Some were deeply moved by the message, feeling directly addressed by the Lord.
A couple of weeks later, I had another opportunity to speak, this time as part of a panel discussion at Virginia Theological Seminary, one of the premier Episcopal seminaries in North America. I was invited to speak alongside several weighty leaders in the Episcopal Church, including a retired bishop turned activist and the current rector of Trinity Wall Street – a very prominent parish in lower Manhattan. I was thankful for the opportunity to address an assembly of seminary students and professors, representing a significant portion of the present and future leadership in the Episcopal Church.

I was able to speak about my experience as a Christian occupier, working for economic justice in the name of Jesus Christ. I felt that the Spirit was present with us in the gathering, and it was opened to me to exhort those present – especially the seminary students – to dare to question the moral assumptions of the present culture, which relies more on laissez-faire capitalist philosophy than on the loving example of our crucified Savior. Though much of the Church has been seduced by these human philosophies, we were reminded that our authentic witness as followers of Jesus will seem like foolishness to the world.

The last major trip that I took this month was to a retreat held by Ohio Yearly Meeting on the subject of human sexuality. For almost two years now, Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting have been openly wrestling with our shared understanding of God’s intention for human sexuality, and what this means for us in practical terms as a fellowship. Last summer, the Yearly Meeting directed a committee (which I served on) to organize a gathering where Friends could hold these concerns in the Spirit together, sensing how God might be guiding us.

For my part, I was very nervous about this event. This is hard stuff for Friends to talk about, and at times I wondered whether anybody was even going to show up. To my surprise and joy, there were around fifty Friends who traveled from almost every Meeting in the Yearly Meeting to practice shared discernment. This in a Yearly Meeting with an active membership of maybe two hundred!

Even more important than the number of people present, the Holy Spirit was there with us. The whole gathering was grounded in worship, and we were able to largely avoid the caustic back-and-forth the so often characterizes conversation around sexuality. Speaking largely arose from a place of vocal ministry or intimate sharing of personal experience, rather than debate. I felt that we emerged from this gathering with a greater sense of love, trust and fellowship – praise God!
The biggest single insight that I perceived to emerge from our time together was this: We in Ohio Yearly Meeting have significant areas of unity in our understanding of human sexuality, though there are also major areas of disunity. There was a shared sense that we would do best to proceed in love, examining first those areas where we sensed unity, and gradually working our way into the harder areas, those subjects where there is serious disagreement. Our understandings of homosexuality are, as one Friend put it, “the deep end of the pool.” We know that there is a large range of opinions about the rightness of gay and lesbian relationships, and we will need to proceed tenderly – and deliberately – as we seek the Lord’s will in these matters.
I left the gathering with a sense of unity in the process of discernment that we are engaging in together. I felt that despite our serious disagreements on some subjects – particularly our understandings of gay and lesbian relationships – that everyone involved is acting in good faith and seeking the Lord’s will as best they know how. This goes a long way towards reconciliation between individuals, and eventual unity within the Body as a whole. If we can stay humble and grounded in the Spirit, I dare to hope that the Risen Lord will draw us together in one mind and the same love.

Back in DC, the work continues. Capitol Hill Friends continues to grow in spiritual depth, as well as in numbers and vitality. I give thanks for the amazing sisters and brothers whom God has sent to help ground this little church in the midst of the city. I continue to pray that the Lord will send more workers into the field of his harvest. My work in the wider community is moving ahead, and I continue to be active in foreclosure resistance with Occupy Our Homes. In all of this, I am learning how to practice self-care and not over-do it. I am finding that a life grounded in prayer and the study of Scripture is essential to the kind of public ministry that God is calling me to, among Friends and in the wider community.

We are now a third of the way through May, and it looks to be a beautiful summer. I am so thankful for the many blessings that God has poured out on me and my fellow workers here in DC. Thank you for your support and encouragement. Your prayers have real effects that are felt here. Never doubt it.

In Christ’s love,
Micah Bales

2011 in Review – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #38

Dear friends,
This has been a year of major transition and growth for me. Some of the change has been personal – such as my involvement in the Occupy movement, and Faith’s and my decision to purchase a house in DC. Other change has been more corporate, such as the increasing maturation of Capitol Hill Friends, and developments within Rockingham Meeting, Stillwater Quarterly Meeting, and Ohio Yearly Meeting as a whole. For me, 2011 was a year of reality checks. At many points, I have been brought low. I pray that these experiences will produce a lasting groundedness in me.
The big adventure this year was my summer travels to England, Kenya and Rwanda. The voyage began with a week-long layover in London, which allowed me to visit a number of British Friends connected with Ohio Yearly Meeting, as well as some others whom I knew through the 2010 Quaker Youth Pilgrimage. I believe that these opportunities were a blessing both for me and for those who welcomed me, and I was grateful for the chance to become better acquainted with the context of Friends in the UK.
Following this, I joined my colleagues from ESR on a tour through East Africa. We saw Nairobi, went on safari, and visited Friends in Kenya’s Western Provence. Then, we flew to Rwanda, where we were able to meet Friends from Rwanda Yearly Meeting. I was very impressed with the faith of African Quakers, and saw how Friends there hold many pieces of the radical Quaker faith that we in the United States often miss.
At the same time, I witnessed some of the effects that poverty and a history of colonialism have had on our African brothers and sisters. Above all, I was convicted of my own society’s ingratitude for the wealth and privilege that we possess. How do we as citizens of post-colonialist nations take responsibility for our luxury, which to a great extent has been purchased with the blood of non-European peoples? This is a question first and foremost for the Church, which claims faith in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed.
I brought these concerns back home to DC, realizing that our spiritual barrenness in the developed world is perhaps an even greater burden than the material poverty of those in the global south. Together with Friends at Capitol Hill Friends, I feel called to be a light in the darkness, an embodiment of Christ’s love in a culture that has largely turned away from him.
A big part of this calling has found expression through the continued development of Capitol Hill Friends. In February, we had a major shake up when two of our five core people felt the need – for a variety of reasons – to withdraw from the community. This was a major blow, which knocked the wind out of us for a little while. It forced the three remaining core people to get even more serious about the direction our group was headed in. It was at about this time that we made the decision to switch our worship time from the 2nd and 4th Wednesday evenings to Sunday nights.
Along with a new meeting time, we also began to gather much more regularly as a core group. Starting in the fall, the core group has been meeting once or twice a month for prayer, discernment, decision-making and mutual support. As the year went on, we became clear that Capitol Hill Friends is actually a little church, not just a worship opportunity. We recorded three members, and incorporated Capitol Hill Friends as a legal entity. In the fall, Lily Rockwell of Stillwater Monthly Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting) came and joined us as a sojourning member of our fellowship. She has been invaluable in helping to nurture the church, and we are very grateful for God having sent her to us.
At this point, Capitol Hill Friends has three regular members, one sojourning member, and approximately a dozen attenders. Our normal attendance on Sunday nights is about eight. While these are not huge numbers, we have experienced a remarkable shift from 2010, when Capitol Hill Friends was primarily a worship opportunity but had no real core or sense of identity. Now, Capitol Hill Friends is an independent church in the Quaker tradition, albeit a small one.
As such a tiny group, relationships with a wider fellowship of believers is crucial. We have found most support in our relationship with New City Friends, another new Quaker church in Detroit, Michigan. Late last year, we adopted a shared set of Advices and Queries with them, and each of our communities has been answering them on a monthly basis. Also, we met twice this year for joint retreats; the first taking place in Washington, DC in April, and the second occuring in Detroit, in November.
At our November meeting, Friends from New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends felt clear to continue to deepen our relationship as an extended fellowship. We agreed to make slight revisions to our Queries (to render them more straightforward to answer), and we were in unity to hold two joint retreats in 2012. The exact dates have not yet been set, but we plan to gather together in a central location in the spring and early fall. We hope that other Friends, worship groups and Meetings of like mind will join with us and explore what it means to live a faith of radical discipleship to Christ Jesus in the early 21st century.
There is, however, a sad subtext to these exciting developments. I feel very pleased with the growth in relationship between New City Friends, Capitol Hill Friends, and others Friends of like mind; and I believe that this new association has the potential to offer a vibrant alternative for Friends in North America. However, we had hoped that we would not be forced to go independent.
Both New City Friends and Capitol Hill Friends were turned away by pre-existing Friends bodies. Some Friends are uncomfortable with our uncompromising commitment to shared Christian faith. Others are put off by our clear affirmation of our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters. Despite our best attempts, there seems to be no existing body that has room for all of who we are. This has been a source of great sadness for us; however, we must be faithful to the witness of the Holy Spirit in our midst, even if our sister Yearly Meetings cannot embrace us.
Please pray for Capitol Hill Friends, New City Friends, and for the many Friends today that find nowhere to fit in within existing Yearly Meetings. Pray that God will strengthen us in our faith and in our fellowship, and that the Spirit will draw together other individuals and groups who are being called into this new thing that Christ is doing today.
Before I conclude, I cannot fail to mention the immense impact that the Occupy movement has had on me these last few months. I got involved early in this movement, because I felt the Lord’s hand on me, urging me forward. I was in New York during the second week of Occupy Wall Street, and I was one of the original organizers of Occupy DC. Now, I feel that the movement has reached a turning point. Phase one is over, and something new must emerge for us to continue to have an impact. I do not know what exactly this next phase will look like, but I am praying that it might have the effect of empowering ordinary working Americans to re-assert their rights and responsibilities as citizens, taking power back from the corporations and monied interests that have so undermined our democracy.
The experience of being and organizer for the Occupy movement has changed me. During college, I became totally disillusioned with activism, and since that time have not thought of myself in those terms. It was a great surprise when I sensed God calling me to participate in this movement. Much more so when I realized that God was leading me to be one of the main people to get things going in DC!
This movement has radicalized me. I can no longer sit on the sidelines while billionaires and their servants transform our democracy into a corporate state. I can no longer keep silent while the rich grow richer at the expense of the most vulnerable. I can no longer maintain neutrality while the middle class is obliterated. In recent months, I have been awakened to the radical implications of Jesus’ jubilee proclamation(1). I must stand with the poor and oppressed. I must witness to the damage being done to women and men – and to the whole of creation – to satisfy our greed and idolatry. I can no longer preach a spiritualized gospel, reduced to personal spiritual growth. God’s justice and salvation must be embodied among the poor, in our prisons, in the oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico, and in the halls of power.
Thank you for walking beside me in this journey. This year has been a wild ride, and I have no doubt that 2012 will be at least as full of surprises. Just before Faith and I left DC for the holidays, we bought our first house, located in Northeast DC. Please pray that we be blessed in our new home and that our affordable movers will not break any of our stuff; and for our life together as we deepen our commitment to our city, our church and our extended community of friends.
Your friend in Truth,
Micah Bales
1. See Luke 4:14-28