"A Quaker's View" first appeared in 1990, as a column in the WHF newsletter. Articles from that column are now available online (though some have been lost).

Nothing here is meant to be the last word in Quaker Orthodoxy. It is, after all, "A Quaker's View."


Hello Friends and Friends of Friends! I am your host, Pendle Hill, and this is A Quaker's View. In this column, I'd like to take a Quaker's View of confrontation.

When it comes to confrontation, Friends have a pedigree that stretches back for more than 350 years. As a seeker, George Fox traveled across the land to confront religious authorities with his demand for authentic faith. After receiving his insight into God's direct presence, Fox traveled across the countryside once again. This time, he confronted entire congregations with the truth of what he had learned.

Fox had little patience for those who dwelt within the forms of Christianity, but whose lives did not reflect the vital presence of Christ's Spirit. Consider this passage from Fox's Journal: "And when I came there, all the people looked like fallow ground, and the priest, like a great lump of earth, stood in his pulpit above."

Fox doesn't exactly mean to insult people when he describes them as "fallow ground." He's not simply trying to hurt their feelings for the sake of being rude. He is trying to say, in plain language, that these people lack what is fruitful. There is no Life in them.

Fox was not one to keep his opinion to himself. Again and again, he confronted the people around him with a diagnosis of their condition.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, many people found George Fox offensive in the extreme. Those confronted often responded with hostility. Fox was routinely attacked, beaten and thrown into prison. On one occasion, Fox provoked a pious group of people to beat him with their Bibles.

A combative spirit was characteristic of the early Friends. These people were reviled and abused, and found a sense of confirmation in this very persecution. If the world was so offended by the Light of Christ, then it only proved the need for more confrontation.

Friends developed a commitment to "Speak the Truth to power." In effect, this statement describes a strategy, wherein the Truth is proclaimed at the very place where it is most likely to cause a stir. For the Friends, it meant proclaiming the Quaker message in a city like Boston -- where Friends were forbidden to enter on pain of death. Speaking the Truth to power is a way to subvert the status quo by directing attention to the falsehoods which undergird the present reality.

Greenpeace, the environmental group, consciously adopted this strategy from the Friends. When Greenpeace activists put themselves in the path of harpoon guns to bring attention to the practice of whaling, their behavior echoes the mindset of early Friends.

Of course, other radical activists follow this paradigm as well. Confrontation has power to change to world. It also has the power to alienate those who feel attacked.

In the 18th Century, Friends produced an activist of a different sort. John Woolman was an American Friend who devoted much of his life to the abolition of slavery. Rather than harangue those who held slaves with dramatic public protests, Woolman spoke with slave owners privately. Rather than confront slave holders with the failure of their moral compass, Woolman confessed his own inner struggles on the issue.

Rather than confront slave holders with what they should do, Woolman confronted them with what God had done in his own heart.

The genius of John Woolman was his ability to come alongside those whose lives were out of balance and walk beside them as a resource for change.

Here are some questions to consider:

1. Have you ever participated in a protest march or vigil? In what ways did your confrontation make an impact on those around you? In what ways did in impact you?

2. Have you ever been confronted about something? What was the experience like for you?

3. In what ways are interpersonal confrontations qualitatively different from large scale demonstrations?

4. To what extent is confrontation a necessary component of "holding one another accountable?" How can we "Speak the truth in love" so that our intent is clear?