I find it easy to accept the Quaker belief that the Bible tells us there is that of God in other people – at least I find it easy to accept on the surface. That’s because when I first think about it I hear “there is that of God in other people like me.” So yeah, sure, there is that of God in other white male Quakers. I’ll even concede white female Quakers. Quakers of all races. Even Quakers of all ages (though some of the YAFs (Young Adult Friends) are hard to take by an OAF (Old Adult Friend) like me). Heck, I even believe that about other Christians. Well, most other Christians. I’m not sure about some of those on the….
Most of the time I can sorta get my head around how that might be translated in a vague, goodwill sense like the old, politically incorrect phrase, “the brotherhood of man.” After all, it was long said of Quakers that we believed in the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighborhood of Germantown (Philadelphia, where many of us settled back in the day).
Actually, though, it’s a radical, life-changing concept. If, we really think about it, that is. If, as George says, we’re to answer that of God in everyone then … um… that means that there is that of God in everyone. Everyone. Every One.
It means God treasures us equally (even if my friend Katie does wear a t-shirt that says “Jesus Loves Everybody… but I’m His Favorite.”). We are all God’s favorites. It’s easy – on a good day – to see myself as one of God’s favorites. On a really good day I can see my family and friends as God’s favorites. On my rare best days I can feel a sense that all 7.157 billion of us on this planet are. Usually just a sense, though. I mean, seriously, God loves EVERYBODY as much as God loves me?? Yikes. If that’s true, I’d better start treating people better. From my family to that panhandler outside Reading Terminal.
Realizing that God loves us all equally is good for me. It begins to teach me humility. While I’ve often joked that I’m proud to be a humble Quaker, I struggle with ego. I need to heed the words of Paul, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” (Romans 12:3 (NIV))
This “that of God in everyone” was even more radical when Quakers first discovered it in Scripture. It was the seventeenth century after all.. What this spiritual concept meant in daily life and ministry was that they began seeing people differently and treating them differently. For one, women. At the time the Quakers came into being, there continued discussions about whether women even had souls. The Quakers affirmed that they did and what’s more they could preach and teach and travel in ministry away from their families every bit as much as any man could.
Of course, as I said, it was the seventeenth century and their views weren’t universally embraced – except that a woman had as much right to be imprisoned or hung for her faith as any man. Just watch the Mary Dyer segment on “Drunk History” if you don’t believe me (Danger: bad language in it!).
And the equality was, to be honesty, a different kind of equality than today. It was the almost four hundred years ago after all. It didn’t immediately usher in universal suffrage or equal rights. But it was a start – and way radical for its time. Samuel Johnson's opinion of a female Quaker preacher was, "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Besides treating women more equally, they also took Galatians 3:22 to heart – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) And so they trips around the world to call them to Light of Christ that was already in them. They traveled throughout the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, and more. In 1658 she felt led to visit the Ottoman Empire and share her faith with the Sultan Mehmed IV. In 1658!! Traveling on ship and then by foot, when she she reached the Sultan’s armed camp, she asked for audience with the Sultan, saying that she was an ambassador of ‘The Most High God’. She was granted an audience, testified to the “Universal Light,” and then, declining his offer of an armed escort, she made her way, alone, back to Constantinople and, eventually, England. There she wrote:
“Now returned into England ... have I borne my testimony for the Lord … there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless … Nevertheless, though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God.”
This belief is why Quaker kids (and adults sing)
There's a Light that was shining
when the world began,
And a Light that is shining in the heart of man:
There's a Light that is shining
in the Turk and the Jew,
And a Light that is shining, friend,
in me and in you
and why Quaker have been in the forefront of such things abolition of slavery, women’s rights and suffrage, equal rights, immigration reform, and much more. Not that we’ve gotten it right every time – we haven’t always practiced the equality we preached (see Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice by my friend Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel for a number of good bad examples). We still don’t get it right. Many Quaker meetings are exceedingly white and middle class. But many of us are trying to live up to the ideal. And knowing what should be done and not always doing it are part of the humble stumble. Even Paul recognized that:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. – excerpts Romans 7:15-19 (NIV)
One of the things to note about this passage, and the Quakers failings in equality (and other areas!), is that the failure is in the action – the carrying out of the conviction. The acting on the axiom. So we begin, despite failures, again and again to see that of God in others. All others. It means believing that all people have that of God in them -- white, black, yellow, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, deaf, sighted, blind, paraplegic, geniuses, Down’s syndrome, European, Asian, homeless woman, smart-mouthed teenager, bad driver, and on and on
But how do we live that out?