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False Certainty and True Repentance

Published: July 21, 2023


At first, we did the usual things at annual sessions: we laughed, we hugged, we celebrated, we sang, we argued. (I am supposed to say that we "discerned." I'd rather say that we spoke forcefully or quietly, as was our wont, at meeting for business.)

Then we sat in stunned silence as Jim LaBelle (Iñupiaq) recounted his first days at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school at the age of seven. Few of us there will soon forget the telling. We Quakers cannot easily wash these marks of history off our hands; our ancestors in name, and for some of us in blood, had earlier discerned that dividing children from their families in boarding schools, as well as other atrocities, would be good for them.

It's no wonder that I have grown to dislike the phrase, "we discerned that..." and then you fill in the rest of the sentence with what the meeting for business decided.

In meetings we try to figure out together what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do. Sometimes we fail completely. That we as the Religious Society of Friends failed to discern the will of the Spirit in setting up Indian boarding schools across the nation is tragically obvious. Instead of true discernment we fell into false certainty.

That we can not now simply sit in meeting for business and discern our way out of harming others should be obvious as well.

I am not arguing against good Quaker process in making decisions. I am simply saying that we need to learn more. . .

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by Judy Maurer, Camas Friends Church (7/16/2023)