The conversation with John Woolman recommences

Last spring, two groups in my meeting began some conversations with each other and with John Woolman.  After reading a chapter and responding to it in our journals, Friends would meet periodically to discuss what we’d read, how we’d reacted and how we can change our lives to be more congruous with Quaker testimonies.  There’s some more info about it in an earlier post.

The other two Friends in my small group moved away last summer.  The second group is starting to meet again and I’m joining it.  We’re reading Chapter IV.

If John Woolman reads this, I hope he’ll respond.  If you’d like to answer for him, or respond out of your own experience, please do.


Thanks for providing us a sense of the strong concern you felt for Negroes in your time.  I am even more grateful for the timeless wisdom I see in this passage:

It appeared to me that through the prevailing of the spirit of this world the minds of many were brought to an inward desolation, and instead of the spirit of meekness, gentleness, Would you call this building great?and heavenly wisdom, which are the necessary companions of the true sheep of Christ, a spirit of fierceness and the love of dominion too generally prevailed. From small beginnings in error great buildings by degrees are raised, and from one age to another are more and more strengthened by the general concurrence of the people; and as men obtain reputation by their profession of the truth, their virtues are mentioned as arguments in favor of general error; and those of less note, to justify themselves, say, such and such good men did the like.

I know in my own life how, “from small beginnings in error great buildings by degrees are raised.”  I do many mistaken things out of custom.  Even easier to see are the confounded errors of the big organizations many of us work for or support.  Why do schools give letter grades?  Why do we pretend that repeatedly testing children will insure that they learn?  What good is it to put a monthly query in the meeting’s newsletter, but never mention it outside of that?

Despite the depth of your caring about the issue of slave trade, when the yearly meeting in Virginia temporized in adopting a query against it, you were able to first draw the compromise to their attention, and later say:

As some of their members have heretofore traded in negroes, as in other merchandise, this query being admitted will be one step further than they have hitherto gone, and I did not see it my duty to press for an alteration, but felt easy to leave it all to Him who alone is able to turn the hearts of the mighty, and make way for the spreading of truth on the earth, by means agreeable to his infinite wisdom.

May your persistent, patient example be helpful to all of us who work for change, within churches or the government.