Letter at Length, Jan. 13

A Quaker perspective

This election year, more than most, has been stressful and intense. And coming together now as Americans may well be challenging regardless of how we feel about the outcome. Just as many others faced with such challenges, Quakers turn to our faith for guidance. We ask what our tradition teaches about respectful, rightful living with people who have different values, beliefs, opinions, and needs. And we ask what tools that tradition provides that will help us to create bridges across the issues that divide us so that we may find common ground in love and respect.

Quakers believe that there is something of God in everyone; some private, personal essence that is part of a larger divinity. This is a core belief; it is one of the rocks we stand on. Closely aligned with this is our belief that everyone holds a part of the truth and no one has it all. This, in turn, informs and guides the way we make decisions.

We make decisions by consensus. In this process we look for the best, most perfect truth we can find. We must hear, consider and incorporate each person’s part of the truth in order to reach our goal. No decision is made until everyone is on board; in consensus there are no winners or losers.

Accordingly, we place great value on dissenting opinion and we respect and honor those with whom we disagree.

This is very different from what’s been going on the last few years in public discourse.

Now, decision by consensus is usually effective only in organizations like ours that have a history and culture of working that way. However, we offer for your consideration two things that may be constructively “lifted out” of Quaker practice: the belief that everyone holds part of the truth and the practice of respect for dissenting opinion.

These things are not complex, they are really very simple, and they can be used effectively by people of goodwill regardless of their faith.

We ask that you consider how honoring dissenting views and listening to everyone’s truth might assist you in constructively dealing with the issues that confront us all at this time. We address things of this kind through the silent worship, another cornerstone of Friends’ practice, each Sunday morning.

Steve Radcliffe, for the South Mountain Friends Meeting


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