Peace Through Equality: Lucretia Mott, Paul and MLK (Galatians 3:26-29)

This was the message I gave this morning based on Galatians 3:26-29.

First we discussed some of these queries:

  1. What do you think the connections between peace and equality are in the passages above?
  2. In what ways have I experienced inequality in my own life or around me?
  3. What inequalities stir us most? What disturbs us? Whom do we care about?
  4. In what ways might we respond to inequality and work for peace in Southwest Washington?

Lucretia Mott

Quakers are convicted by the power of Gospel love for all people. Part of this is contained in our statement “there is that of God in everyone.” For a people who truly believe that there is something of God in all people, slavery is an impossibility, gender inequality is an aberration of the goodness of creation, classism crushes the most vulnerable among us and violence destroys another being who was made in the image of God.  When we subject others to this kind of inequality, we work against a deeply held conviction. But when we are moved to respond to inequality, when we are disturbed enough to take a stand and to take on the work of peace then we enter into a story that has been going on for centuries. (We can respond).

One of our heroes was the Quaker abolitionist and women’s right champion Lucretia Mott. Mott lived in the 19th century when there was, like today, a lot of social unrest (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880). Mott believed that all men, and women, were created equal, and not just the white folks who owned land either, but everyone, slave and free. Mott was in her day a contemporary re-enactment of Galatians 3:26-29.  She was a traveling minister, sheltered slaves in her home, raised six children, often preached in black parishes and founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery society.

Mott’s interest in women’s rights was what started everything for her. While in school she discovered that male teachers were paid 3x as much as her female teachers and she rightly so was disturbed by this inequality. This led to a lifetime of service to women’s rights movements and anti-slavery work. She, and many other women who felt the same, refused to purchase cloth and cane sugar and other slavery produced goods which was one of the earliest ways for women to express their political views even though they had no official political voice.

But also know she suffered great persecution too. One of the things she used to say was: “If our principles are right, why should we be cowards?”

Women were not often permitted to speak publicly, but Mott took the podium anyway, preaching and speaking until her message was heard. She was often dismissed and called “promiscuous” for daring to speak to a mixed-gender audience no matter the message; and while she was delivering a speech in Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia, an angry mob set fire to the building and burned it to the ground. They marched on to attack the Motts’ home, but a sympathetic friend protected the couple.

“We too often bind ourselves by authorities rather than by the truth,” Mott said. I believe we also bind ourselves by our own level of comfort, pressure from our peers and fear for our own well being above all else. (Link)

For Mott, the work of peace was born out of a disturbance for the inequality in 19th century America. And she was fearless to address the most pressing of human rights issues in her time. She showed us that the Quaker peace testimony is active, it has feet and it works for equality. I think sometimes the peace testimony is taken to mean non-confrontational, and afraid to make people feel uncomfortable. Mott showed us differently.

While Mott, and others like Martin Luther King Jr worked for true equality there is still work to be done. There are still many inequalities in our world and even here in Clark County.

A World of Extreme Inequality

In our world we might say we are surrounded by spheres of inequality. Inequality doesn’t just exist in one form, inequality has many faces as it is in a way the shadow-side of God’s good creation. If in the beginning, the world was created good, it was also created equal. As rebellion entered the world, so did a world of inequality and oppression. And this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, nor is it isn’t how God intends for us to leave it.

The church has been called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and bring about peace in the world, and by that I think we are called to bring about justice and equality. I believe that the closer our hearts move towards the heart of Christ, the more disturbed we should become at the injustices in the world. And that unsettledness, coupled with the insight and guidance of Jesus’ teachings and the Spirit of God, should propel us into action.

And there is much to be done. Some of the spheres I can think of are inequalities in:

  • Education
  • Work
  • Health-care
  • Wealth
  • Housing
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Food
  • Legal System

Just the other day a friend of mine who lives here in Vancouver shared about some of the struggle he and his family have been facing as of late. His adopted son is mentally ill because he was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. There have been times in his life when he did fairly well but as of late he’s been in another downward spiral. Recently, he found himself homeless out in the Yakima valley somewhere unable to reach his parents and let them know where he was. One evening while he was sleeping in a box, he accidentally caught himself on fire while trying to keep warm. This could have ended worse than it did, but through these events he’s now going on trial and may end up in jail.

It was moving to hear his father share about the struggle to find help for his son. At one point he said, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I hope they put my son in jail. It’s the only place he can get the real help he needs. It’s the only place he can be safe. We reflected on the lack of strong support system both here in Clark County and in the country for our mentally ill. The Health-care debate aside, we have many in our country who are unwell and have no place to turn for the care they need.

The Tucson Shooter

We saw further evidence of this on the national stage in the form of the Tuscon shooting spectacle. While some of our news and politicians want to make it sound like this was simply one lone crazed individual, I am suspicious of the interpretation of these events by the doctors of spin. We as a society rarely want to own up to the problem of as our own and just like Adam, we’d rather put the blame on the lone-crazed individual. Well, in a short period of time we learned that the shooter has dealt with mental illness but again, in a society of inequality, where corporate greed does trickle down to the rest of us, only in the form of lack of services, he went undiagnosed, and uncared for. If we can spend upwards of 1 trillion dollars on our defense budget in a year, surely we can find ways to care for the sick among us. I don’t care if you call it a matter of national safety or an act of compassion, I think it needs to be done.

The fact that we as a society are unwilling to face the music about the disabled and mentally ill among us and do better to offer care for them should disturb us as a church. We know that each person is a child of God, and each person deserves to be loved and cared for. We know that in the eyes of Christ all are equal.

Other Places of Inequality

And there are other spheres of inequality too:

  • Housing and services for the poor in our town.
  • And it’s one thing to collect blankets, but it’s another to personally get involved in the issues. We know from history, that our public leaders are not quick to advocate for the poorest among us and that if someone is going to stand up for people, it will be those of us who still have a voice and can project our voices loud enough to be heard.
  • Gender inequality is still an issue in both the church, work place and the home.
  • There is still rampant inequalities around race issues. One serious one is the inequality in our legal system. In this month’s issue of Sojourners (a magazine I cannot recommend to you enough to subscribe too) Michelle Alexander reports that “a human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch.” “There are more African-American adults under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.” (LINK) The incarceration rate of African-Americans in our society is again not just a matter of a few lone, crazed individuals, it is a systemic societal issue. We cannot be like our ancestor Adam and point the blame elsewhere. It’s not all Eve’s fault here. We cannot celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. while still benefiting from a system that protects our (as in white) interests unequally.

And so I am convinced that working through inequality, paying attention to human rights, becoming aware of, naming, and seeking to correct inequalities where we can has always been the work and responsibility of the church (even if we haven’t always been on the right side of this issue). This is as much peace work as as is anything and I believe we as Christ-centered Friends are called to this work because of our commitment to following Jesus.

New Humanity

Two thousand years ago there was another Christian activist known only to us as “Paul of Tarsus.” Paul believed that through Jesus’ ministry and the cross there was a radical equality of all persons – no matter how diverse we might at first seem on the surface. Paul as one of the church’s earliest theologians had a dream too. That the church would be a diverse community, in the worlds of MLK — a beloved community — who embraced one another in spite of ethnic, gender, or class difference.

We can see this in his the letter to the church in Galatia, where Paul argues that those who are “in Christ” have become a new humanity, one that moves back before the divisions of inequality seen in Genesis chapter 3. This new humanity, the new creation, is rooted in a spiritual and existential reality, grounded in the reconciling work of Jesus and his cross.

Paul says:

“…For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:26–29)

“All of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Now Paul isn’t encouraging a kind of modern day “Colorblindness” — I think of Stephen Colbert, who when he has on African-American guests always pretends to not see that they are black, stating he’s color blind. No, colorblindness isn’t possible nor is it desirable. Ignoring something never makes it go away. The new humanity rooted in Jesus’ resurrection embraces the ethnic, class and gender differences while bridging these differences through a mutual connection with God’s Spirit in Christ. (We have discussed this in Acts 2 before).

Paul wrote this letter because there was a similar kind of inequality that we see in our day happening in the early church in Galatia. A debate had a risen about the new people entering the church – should they be like their Jewish-Christian brothers and be circumcised (in keeping with the Old Testament law?), observe sabbath and practice the separation of meals and clean and unclean (Judaizers). The question is one around membership and what kinds of things we want people to do before they can count as one of us. And can women be considered full members, should slaves be admitted into the church? What about those Greeks?!

There were of course, just as in our day, more restrictive and less restrictive groups around the question. That we have people debating on the left and the right should only surprise us in as much as we have still not yet, after two-thousand plus years, learned how to work together better. The Judaizers, the more restrictive group, thought new Christians should adhere to these three areas or rules, while others thought being a monotheist and adhering to Jewish morals was enough. Paul enters this debate and shows a radical openness to new believers: “no, they do not need to get circumcised, and no they do not observe the Hebrew laws (Torah) to be a Christian. Faith and the unity with others in the church is a gift granted by God’s Spirit through Jesus Christ, not something enacted through legalism.”

In our passage for today, Paul shows that there is a radical equality that moves across differences. Paul lays the groundwork for an entirely new social relationship grounded not in ethnicity, a super-race, homogeneous class structure, or other dominating possibilities, instead he grounds this “new humanity” in Christ and it is our status of being “in Christ” that over arches all differences that desperate us.

If you are here with us, if you are in Christ, then you are one of us. You are a part of the new humanity.

“All of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

But while on one hand this may seem like warm and fuzzy-theology, maybe even “liberal” to the gatekeepers in every age, it is also a deeply challenging reality to participate in. This multi-ethnic, multi-class, gender inclusive, socially equal community of people, rooted in Jesus Christ, challenges the many inequalities of society both in Paul’s time as well as our own.

“Yet at the same time it is the message which the church by its very existence as a mutli-ethnic community “proclaims to the principalities and powers (3:10).” (Yoder – Body Politics, 29)

In other words, by our very practice of equality within the church – black/white, male/female, rich/poor, etc. we proclaim to the powers of our society that there is another politic that is rooted in the truth of Gospel love. This is what it has meant to be “in Christ” since the time of Paul (And before).

MLK Day March

Injustice and inequality disturb me too, but I am in a long process of growing and becoming more aware of these issues, and learning how to properly respond. I find when I am able to engage at this deeper level I feel like I am more alive, more a part of God’s work in the world, and less just someone paying lip-service to following Jesus.

This last Monday the Daniels clan drove up to Olympia and marched on the capitol to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to try and draw awareness to some of the economic injustices many of our working poor now face during this time of budget cuts. The elderly, children, poor and the disabled are always the first ones to be cut from the budget. So we went up with a group of people to give voice to those who are voiceless.

This hasn’t always been this way for me. I haven’t always paid attention to injustices outside myself and have myself been on a journey of transformation in this area. In HS, food giveaways, Alliance Homeless Shelters, urban ministry, day labor centers, time on Skid Row, to moving to Camas and the people we’ve encountered over the last year and a half while doing ministry here. These were all steps for me.

But my experience was that this is doing something. This is taking another step towards being, as Oscar Romero says, “a builder of a great affirmation.”

During the rally I walked beside a woman in the wheel chair. She said this was the furtherst she’d ever gone in her chair, she’d never pushed herself all the way to the capitol before. She shouted that her doctor would be proud of her. She was telling this to a woman who was heping push her up the hill. The woman in the chair said, she would tell the doctor she had helped, but getting help is a good thing. Something had moved this woman to join this march, to do something she’d never done. It was clearly a physical struggle to get this woman there, way more than it was for me. Yet, she was moved to take a stand.

[We are all invited to be transformed, the insight of peace transforms us. I believe that the Holy Spirit of God continues to open us up and constantly tries to make us aware of the suffering in the world not because God delights in suffering, but because he has called the church to bring about justice and peace in a world with extreme inequalities.]

Like this woman we can be transformed, our hearts can be called into something deeper to the point where we are compelled to practice love in some radical ways.

  1. So how will we respond to the injustices that disturb us?
  2. Are we open to being disturbed? Are we open to having our heart changed around a situation or question? What inequalities and injustices can we respond to with where we are at in our own lives? What will transform our hearts like the women in the wheelchair?

Peace is what should compels us to work for equality thus extending the arm of peacemaking far beyond debating whether or not we should be at war. Paul, Mott and King both give us examples of this kind of peacemaking.

Open Worship / Communion

Quakers practice communion through what we call silent or open worship. By taking a time to be silent we invite God’s Spirit to come and engage us, move us, answer us, and spur us on to obedience to that still small voice. Because we believe that all have access to God, our communion is one of true equality. All are welcome at this feasting table. As we sit in silence, if you feel that God’s Spirit prompts you to share something with the group, and you’re pretty sure it’s not a message just for you, then we invite you, whoever you are, to stand and offer that brief message to all of us out of faithfulness to God. Be sure to give time in between messages so that we have a chance to prayerfully reflect on what was said.