Query #10

Are we concerned that man's increasing power over nature should not be used irresponsible but with reverence for life and with a sense of the splendor of God's continuing creation?
I'm concerned with the way that modern agriculture affects the earth and I don't feel I'm doing enough to counteract it, either with my power as a consumer or in any other way. I do feel the need to discuss environmentally sound agriculture with people when it comes up, hopefully in a way that allows for further though on all ends.

I feel pretty good about the transportational choices I make. Between car-sharing, public transportation and a whole lot of walking, I feel as though my regular transportation choices are very good for minimizing pollution.

I'm concerned about how to be more expressive of my support for green political causes. I do pay close attention to the issues and vote accordingly, but I'm not sure that I'm making any sort of an impact. But the query isn't asking what I'm doing or what kind of an impact I'm making on our collective human stewardship of the planet. It's just asking if I'm concerned about it. So the simple answer is yes.

Elizabeth Bathurst

P.S. You might want to check out this previous post about the queries.


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

"...The query isn't asking what I'm doing or what kind of an impact I'm making on our collective human stewardship of the planet. It's just asking if I'm concerned about it."

A telling observation, and quite consistent with what I've seen elsewhere. A majority of Friends are not ready to do anything significant about environmental matters, and act as if merely saying they're concerned is sufficient.

GMC said...

In regards to Marshall; A person has to start somewhere and a concern seems like a good a place to start. We do not always live with the knowlege of the far reaching effects of our decisions and life choices, it is the responsibility of those that do to bring it to the attention of others in as loving way as possible.

Elizabeth Bathurst said...

I believe that what the query is asking is simply: are you concerned about what humanity is doing to the planet we have been given stewardship over. There is an assumption that one will consider the way one is behaving with regard to the way one is thinking. The difference for me is that the query isn't asking what sort of an impact I'm having, only that I'm making an effort consisent with my concern.

I express my concern over the environment in small everyday ways, but I do not have a leading to attempt anything that would lead to "significant" change. I'm not going to charge off and try to accomplish great things in the Lord's name without His permission. I find that this is far more of a problem for today's Friends. They call their personal concerns leadings and try to make other Friends run along with them in grand schemes that simply aren't spirit led, often worth-while, but not spirit-led.
The Society of Friends has always been an agent of social change, but that is a reflection of our Faith. The change is good, but it's not the point. Being faithful to continuing revelation is the point.

RichardM said...

Sounds like a "West Grove" answer.

I think most of us realize that actually having an impact on the environmental crises we are creating globally will require some collective action. So actions by individuals aren't likely to stop global warming etc. The query asks if we are really concerned. If we are concerned we will do little personal things and we will be on the look out for signs that the world is ready for some collective action. I recall going to the Greenville Town Commons alone as a one man peace vigil during one of our recent wars--I think it was the first Gulf War. What good did that do? From an objective worldly point of view none at all. I also recall stiffening when I heard someone talk about peace and conclude with "even if all you can do is pray..." I reacted negatively to that particular message since it seemed to assume that things like prayer or individual acts of integrity don't count for much and that political action in the worldly sense counts for more. That is a worldly point of view which assumes that the physical world is what is real and the spiritual world is just a figment of our imagination. I thought at the time and still think that that is getting it exactly backwards. If anything is going to save this world for real it is those personal actions of invisible faithfulness. These acts have spiritual power and if there is ever effective collective political action to save the environment it will be because these seemingly pointless acts of spiritual integrity made them possible.

Now this was of course a long-winded pompous answer exactly the opposite of a "West Grove" response, but so be it.

Marshall Massey said...

Well, GMC, Elizabeth, and RichardM, I took a few days to let your responses settle out, before attempting this reply. Let us hope that the effect of the wait is more light and less heat.

Dear Elizabeth, you contradict yourself. In your initial posting you pointed out that the query "isn't asking what I'm doing; it's just asking if I'm concerned". After I then affirmed the truth of this observation, you then reversed yourself and said that the query is asking "that I'm making an effort consistent with my concern." Your former statement was exactly accurate; but this latter is not. The voice in your heart and conscience (and in mine!) doubtless asks that we be making an effort consistent with our concern, but the query itself does not ask that.

And I heartily agree with you, Elizabeth, that "being faithful to continuing revelation is the point", but, in my humble opinion, faithfulness is not faithfulness if it is expressed only in concern without action. I think that is the point of Christ's criticism of the poor steward who only hid his talent in the ground to protect it, instead of risking it in action in the world. (Matthew 25:14-30) Christ was saying: real application of our talents is mandatory.

And that takes me to GMC's response. "Not knowing the far reaching consequences of our decisions and acts" is not an excuse Christ permits us in the parable of the talents. Please go read it and see for yourself! God has given each of us abilities to use in addressing the needs of the world, and if we know there are needs, we have corresponding obligations to apply those abilities instead of just hiding them.

The environmental crisis has been prominently in the news pretty much continuously since the 1960s, when Stewart Udall and Rachel Carson elevated it to prominence. I came to your yearly meeting, GMC (presuming that, as a Wisconsinite, you belong to Northern Yearly Meeting), and gave a keynote address about it -- very lovingly, Friend -- in 1991. But Francis Hole was speaking about it within your yearly meeting -- and with a lovingkindness that put my own to shame -- long, long, before I ever came.

There are people in your yearly meeting who've been investing their talents in environmental solutions since before I came, too. If you ask around, Friend, your fellow worshipers will tell you about them! But given the magnitude of the issues, that does not excuse the number of us Friends who've continued to sit on our hands. It is time, and past time, to put our God-given talents to work!

Richard, friend, I have no quarrel with anything you say, except to add that the environmental issues are certainly not the types of issues regarding which, "all we can do is pray"!

I outlined some specific big projects that I think it's time we Friends started tackling as a team, as a Society working together, in my address to Baltimore Yearly meeting last summer. And I've posted a list of those projects on my blog site here. We can do those things; and if we do them, we can have a big impact on everyone around us.

Elizabeth, if you're concerned about Friends who have grand projects that aren't Spirit-led, then let me invite you to consider the parable of the talents, and the parable of the good Samaritan, and the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), and hold these proposals I've offered in the Light, and ask Christ in your prayers: if such things as these are within our capacity (as they manifestly are, provided we have His blessing), then why would He not want us to do them, for the sake of all suffering beings? -- And if he gives you an answer along the lines of, this is why not, please share it with the rest of us!

James Naylor said...


I think if you look at the essence of what all of the comments for this post are saying, we are all concerned that too many people spend their time saying this or that is a concern but rarely act on such convictions. In my humble opinion the Society of Friends spends much effort to remind many of its former glories without continuing to live up to its history. However, their are individuals who are living their lives in ways that are mindful of how the spirit is working through them.

However, there are always those who refuse to let aspects of the worldly drop, these people do their work out of ego. They have not given themselves over to be vessels of the Lord though they talk of doing things in the Lord's name. I do not think that Elizabeth was speaking of anyone specifically when making comments along these lines. But she does live her life as an example, not just empty words. Elizabeth no longer owns a car, she utilizes public transportation and walks to get where she needs to go. I think that if more of us could do such things we would begin to see positive environmental changes. I know that she recycles very seriously. Despite coming from the south were that is still a forgein concept...I once brought a friend from Florida to Minnesota and he was amazed at all the different types of recycling containers at a wayside rest in Wisconsin.

I think in all complex issues where collective action is needed but it seems that a life lived by example is the best start we need to remember Thomas Kelley. "Begin where you are. We will all stumple from time to time, but begin again where you are." Ok, so that is a horrible paraphrase, but you get the point.

RichardM said...


The Society of Friends is very small. We are remarkably united about our concerns. When someone brings up a new concern--like speaking out against our government's embracing torture as a deliberate tool--you will find Friends nodding in agreement that this is something we should care about. We tend to lose that unity when it comes to concrete proposals to act. And when this happens the Friend with the concern often feels frustrated or hurt that the Society did not unite on the course of action which they propose. Sometimes it must seem to them as if those other Friends are not as concerned as they say they are.

But lack of concern is not the only, or even the most plausible explanation of why Friends do not unite to support every proposed action about important causes. The failure to unite is most often due to a realistic understanding of how thin the Society's resources are stretched already. To put money into buying ads on television or even just hiring an additional lobbyist or two would cost a lot of money relative to existing budgets. To put it starkly, more money for the environment would mean less money for peace activism, or less money for Friends schools, or less money of social justice issues or less money for something. When this realization hits home Friends then ask: can't you just reach a little deeper and give a little more? And usually we do. But this cycle gets repeated over and over and Friends who reached deeper last year and the year before and the year before that start to wonder if they can reach deeper yet again this year.

It is at this point that Friends begin to appreciate the need for real deep discernment of what we as a Society and as individuals are called to do because we realize plainly that it cannot be the case that we are called to do everything. The humble recognition of our own smallness in the face of a deeply damaged world is not weakness or complacency.

Elizabeth Bathurst said...


I apologize for the delay. This is a matter that touches my heart and it is quite hard for me to condense my thoughts into comment length.

I do not find my statements to be condradictory at all, although definately unclear. The query is literally asking if I am concerned. I understand the queries, as I have seen them used in my YM, to also address if our actions are consistent with our concerns. The preface to the section on the queries asks:

"Although the Queries may often be answered with a simple affirmative or negative, it is vital to ask corollary questions such as "why", "how", or "when." A qualified answer arising from introspection is more meaningful and constructive than an uncritical "yes" or "no"."

Part of that qualified answer arising from introspection means exploring whether or not ones actions are consistent with ones beliefs.

Where I fear the confusion is happening is that I have be unclear in my use of the word "concern". I find there to be a big difference between the things that I am intellectually concerned about and the things that I have been given spiritual concern about. I am intellectually concerned about the environment: I therefore recycle, use a car sharing service and public transportation, keep my house minimally heated and cooled, eat a strictly vegetarian diet that focuses on organic and locally grown foods, etc.

All of the parables that you cited have always implied to me that we should do the best with what we have been given. For me that includes an appropriate prioritization of doing what we think is good and doing what we have been asked to do. I believe we should do as much of what we feel is good AFTER we meet the needs of the Spirit.

My father made a valid point about the communal resources of the Society. This also applies to individuals. As individuals we must not overtax our own (financial or otherwise) resources on projects of our own choosing and leave ourselves unable perform the tasks the Spirit gives us. I am of the opinion that obedience is the most important thing.

It's very easy for us to be mistaken about what is good. I believe that President Bush actually does believe he is doing the Lord's work in fighting this war. I believe he is wrong, but only the Spirit knows for sure. I think that slowing down climate change as best we can is a good idea, but I am not going to throw myself into the heavy work of saving the Earth without getting the okay from my Main Man. I think it is an arrogant proposition to assume that we know for sure what God wants. After all the foolishness of God is wiser than Man (1st Corinthians 1:25).

As for asking Christ in my prayers about your propositions:
I dislike attempting to pry information or favors out of the Lord. I am mindful to remain open to His guidance, which I receive with some frequency. I have never been called to environmental causes, as much interest as I have in them.

With Love,
Elizabeth Bathurst

Marshall Massey said...

Friend Richard, while the Society of Friends is small, its 200,000 members are not so few as to make every Friends community's perceptions intelligible to every other Friends community.

You say that "we are remarkably united about our concerns", but there are three concerns in particular in which we are not united at all. One is the concern that the testimonies of mainstream Protestant Christianity be honored and upheld in our religion, and that concern separates the evangelical Friends from the unprogrammed liberals, almost to the point where they cannot speak to one another. The second is the concern for the equal rights of gays and lesbians, which divides many middle-of-the-road Quaker communities in profound bitterness. And the third is the concern for the natural world.

I documented the views of Friends on the environment in my earthwitness journal as I walked across the Midwest this past summer. And I summarized what I learned of our dividedness in the fourth part of my talk to Baltimore Yearly Meeting this past August, "Friends Caught in the Culture Wars".

You go on to say that "lack of concern is not the only, or even the most plausible explanation of why Friends do not unite to support every proposed action about important causes." But I never said that lack of concern is the reason! If you will kindly go back to my first comment on this page, you will see that what I said was that "a majority of Friends are not ready to do anything significant about environmental matters, and act as if merely saying they're concerned is sufficient." Saying one is concerned, and being unready to go further, is quite different from not being concerned at all.

You write, "The failure to unite is most often due to a realistic understanding of how thin the Society's resources are stretched already. To put money into buying ads on television or even just hiring an additional lobbyist or two would cost a lot of money relative to existing budgets. To put it starkly, more money for the environment would mean less money for peace activism, or less money for Friends schools, or less money of social justice issues or less money for something." That objection is already addressed with loving care in the portion of my talk to Baltimore Yearly Meeting that I referred you to above: "Friends Caught in the Culture Wars". For brevity's sake, rather than repeat what I said in this comment, I'll simply encourage you to go read it.

Friend Elizabeth, I am going to leave your last reply unresponded to, except to point, once again, to the counter-example of the good Samaritan.

Marshall Massey said...

Thinking about it further as I showered and got ready for work, I realized I was probably too short and harsh in my last comment here.

May I apologize?

Richard, the example I gave in the part of my talk that I referred you to -- the huge amount of money we Friends raise each year for the good work of AFSC -- is mostly money raised from non-Friends: they give it because we set the good example. There is very little limit to the amount that can be raised this way: the whole world will give to a group it respects, on issues where it feels the group is setting a good example.

Moreover, we have a lot of money of our own saved up. We are a fairly well-heeled denomination.

I would also suggest to you, Richard, that arguments that "doing something for the environment will detract from our work for peace" are very much undercut by the fact that environmental degradation is a well-known cause of war. The war in El Salvador (caused in great part by a combination of overpopulation with rapidly degrading tropical farm soils) and the war in Iraq (fought in great part for control of the world's diminishing oil supplies) are very current examples.

Elizabeth, I appreciate your clarification about your meeting's queries. Truly. I should have said so in my previous comment.

But as to the rest of what you say -- well, the good Samaritan did not stop to ask whether his own spiritual needs had been met before dropping everything to help the wounded traveler. Nor did he say, "I won't help until I've prayed and gotten approval from my Main Man." Yet Christ approved what he did. And Christ also made it fairly plain that the widow was taxing her personal resources in giving her widow's mite, and yet Christ praised her for it.

I would humbly submit that true charity is not demonstrated by giving only what we have first calculated that we do not need, nor in giving only what we have first hesitated and prayed over and waited to feel some special release to give. True charity does not distance itself from the need in either way.

RichardM said...


I don't agree that we could raise huge amounts of money for environmental work in addition to the money we are currently raising. Non-Quakers give to AFSC partly because of Friends' good reputation but also because they are in sympathy with our testimony of peaceful service. I don't think there are lots of people who would just cough up money for environmental causes if only Friends would tell them to.

I agree that there is disunity among Friends worldwide over how much of traditional Christianity we can affirm. You are correct about that. I also agree that we are not in unity yet about homosexuality but I am confident we are moving in that direction and that unity will be attained on that matter during my lifetime. You have met more Friends who have expressed skepticism about environmental degradation than I have. In fact, I don't think I've ever met a Friend who is not concerned about it. What I do not see unity about is what action Friends should take on the environment. Friends have all sorts of different individual leadings about the environment but as yet there is no corporate leading.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Richard, I quite agree that non-Friends would not give huge amounts of money to a Quaker environmental effort, just because Friends told them to.

If you were to go back and re-read my earlier comment, you would see that I wrote, "the whole world will give to a group it respects, on issues where it feels the group is setting a good example." So my position was and is that the good example needs to come first. I never said that just telling the world to give is enough.

When we Friends speak of a "testimony" we have held up, we are speaking about a good example we have set. Our "testimony of peaceful service", which you refer to, is a good example we have set. Our environmental testimony can be as meaningful vis-à-vis environmental matters as our peace testimony is vis-à-vis feeding children orphaned by war. We simply have to set a good example.

That is what Christ called his followers to, and what He, as the Spirit, is still calling us to: setting a good example of what needs to be done.

RichardM said...


I think Friends do set a good example when it comes to the environment. They drive small fuel-efficient cars or walk, many are vegetarians, donate to environmental causes, vote green, and generally live much more simply than other Americans of similar education and income.

Marshall Massey said...

I agree that many liberal Friends set a good example in such regards, Richard. Having seen more of other branches of Quakerism, though, I will say that this sort of example-setting is not as true of Friends in general.

Nor am I terribly impressed by a claim that Friends live more simply than other Americans of similar education and income. Americans in the well-educated, middle-income brackets live rather less simply than 95% of the rest of the world, so what you are saying here merely amounts to saying that Friends are not in the bottom five per cent. Christ called on us in the Sermon on the Mount to be better than the Pharisees, and I rather think that merely not being in the bottom five per cent wasn't what he had in mind.

Finally, friend, I was talking about setting the sort of good example that would lead to non-Friends underwriting the larger projects I proposed. I don't think that non-Friends will underwrite an effort to care for victims of global warming throughout the world, or an effort to create safe habitat for wildlife throughout communities where many Friends live, simply because some liberal Friends well-advantaged enough to own Priuses, or to afford homes close to where they work, do so. It will have to be both a more relevant example, and a more heroic example, than that, to do the trick. Wouldn't you agree?

RichardM said...


I agree that the example set should not be some mere token. The simplicity should effect one's whole life not just one aspect of it. But heroism isn't approprite here. It's not like making the choice of going to jail rather than serve in the army. What is needed is a kind of quiet faithfulness that doesn't draw attention to itself but provides a solid basis from which to speak.

Your talk of "the bottom five per cent" seems off to me. It almost sounds as if you think there was some clear correlation between poverty and spirituality, but this is certainly not the case. I hope you don't mean that.

Marshall Massey said...

Richard, I don't think the question should be, what did I mean? The question should be, what did Christ mean? I disagreed with you about that in my comment to your essay "Quaker Camels", and I am happy to let the points I made there, speak for me here.

RichardM said...


I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree about this.

Marshall Massey said...

Your quarrel is not with me, Richard.