CONCERNING THE POWER OF THE STATE
Early Friends were thrown into prison by the thousands. With craftsmen robbed of their tools and farmers deprived of their lands, many Friends were driven into poverty. Quakers received their harshest treatment in Puritan New England. There, Friends were actually hanged for their beliefs. Kings and governors, magistrates and members of parliament all used civil authority to punish the Quakers for their religious beliefs. In his 14th Proposition, Robert Barclay argues that government has no right to meddle in the affairs of conscience.
By controlling an army or police force, political rulers have outward power. And their proper jurisdiction is outward. In other words, they have authority to punish people for their outward actions -- not for their inward opinions, beliefs or feelings. In fact, outward power is unable to enforce matters of conscience. One cannot force another person to change her mind through (what Barclay calls), "knocks and blows, and such like things." Although these attacks may destroy the body, they will never "inform the soul."
Barclay concedes that outward power might intimidate people into outward conformity. However, the threat of force does not change the way people truly think. Although Barclay does not mention his 17th Century contemporary, we may wonder: Did Galileo really stop believing that the earth was in orbit around the sun -- simply because the threat of death forced him to say otherwise?
Outward force has no legitimate connection to the world of faith. On this point, Jesus was very clear: the kingdom of God is "not of this world." Those who undertake Crusades or Inquisitions in the name of Christ have exchanged the power of God for the power of a sword.
Barclay contends that the power of faith is a power unknown to this world. The power of God is the power to persuade. The power of God is the power to attract people to the truth -- so that their hearts melt within them and they are transformed into a new creation. As revealed in Christ, God lures us towards truth through a process of inward conviction. God does not kill or torture to expose us to the truth. Rather, as revealed in Christ, God opens our eyes by submitting to death. Rather than use force against us, God opens our eyes to the horrors of violent coercion by showing us its consequence on the cross.
Barclay concludes this chapter by using the Friends themselves as an example of God's power. The early Quakers endured the abuse of their neighbors, but they did not stop meeting or speaking their truth. Barclay says: "When armed men have come to dissolve them, it was impossible for them to do it, unless they had killed every one... when the malice of their opposers stirred them to take shovels, and throw the rubbish upon them, there they stood unmoved, being willing, if the Lord should so permit, to have been there buried alive, witnessing for him... The patience of the sufferers, using no resistance, nor bringing any weapons to defend themselves, nor seeking any ways revenge upon such occasions, did secretly smite the hearts of the persecutors, and made their chariot wheels go heavily." In this way, Barclay contends, Friends have displayed the true power of God. To respond violently to violence may leave all your enemies dead. But it will do nothing to change people's hearts.
This heritage is a somber one for Friends. Hearing the courage of our fore-bearers, we may wonder if we have resources equal to theirs.
Here are some questions to consider:
1. Barclay suggests that true power is the power to reach people's hearts (not the power to break their bones). Do you agree with this?
2. Are there certain situations where "sacrificial power" is unfeasible (raising children, at work, etc.)?
3. Barclay's distinction between outward power and inward power may give us pause as we consider modern crusaders (especially those who claim to speak for Christ). There are some who would eagerly use political power to enforce a matter of conscience. If Barclay is right, then what are we to make of these people? What are some different ways of engaging the world over a matter of conscience?
Continue to Proposition Fifteen (pt. 1)