Mike Huber on Authority, Conflict, and Love in Quaker Contexts

I am busting at the seams wanting to share this message from Mike Huber, the pastor of West Hills Friends in Portland, Oregon, who preached a really important and timely message on Quaker conflict with authority and love. I am a regular listener of their Sunday morning podcast (iTunes), but this has to be one of the most powerful messages I have heard on this topic. It’s worth listening to multiple times as I have done myself.

Here are some key excerpts that I have transcribed myself from the audio, please forgive any errors in that process.

Quakers Challenging Outward Authority

This is what it feels like being a Quaker to us when we get to use our inward authority to challenge some outward authority. We love it! We want to challenge the outward authority of earthly powers…you know who I am talking about. We feel like Quakers when we confront polluters, corporate criminals, and bullies of every kind. We want to take them down. Not using violence but using the power of our inward authority, we want to confront them and we want to shatter their sense of complacency in their own authority by revealing on a deeper authority that undermines the very things that they are saying. We love this as Quakers. This is the script we want to follow.

And it is a pretty good script. We’ve done some pretty good things with it.

But the danger is because we love this script so much we can decide to use it on one another.

Conflict as a Tactic that Disempowers

There will be a point in a business meeting where we fall into the narrative of what it means to be Quaker is to challenge the authority of someone who is claiming authority for themselves and undermine that with some inward authority that is going to break everything open and God juice is just going to leak over everything and it is going to be amazing.

But it doesn’t actually go that way and what winds up happening is people often feel very disempowered by the process because they think they have accepted responsibility for something and they do the work and they show up and all of a sudden everything is back to square one and every decision can be renegotiated.

It becomes painful for people to do this and people stop taking on leadership because they have had this experience and they decide I don’t want to do that anymore.

Love as an Essential Part of Quaker Process

Part of what is missing is a commitment to love one another and to see that as, even more than our Quaker pattern of challenging one another, seeing this idea as something even more essential.

We often think that what the business meeting is about is figuring out who’s got what right…, which one of us has what part of this the whole thing correct, and how do we confront one another with the piece of truth we have until there’s a big enough piece of truth or we all just get exhausted enough that we agree and things move forward based on that platform.

That’s not the best process.

That’s not the kind of Quaker business meeting we walk away from we think this is why I want to be a Quaker.

The business meetings we walk away from thinking this is why I want to be a Quaker is when we actually remind ourselves that the only way that I can have the most complete picture of the truth is if I listen for the truth that someone else is bringing.

And so it’s not about confronting, it’s about listening in love. Because listening for how God is speaking in the words of someone with whom you disagree, that requires an act of love. That’s the only way you can do it. The only way you can say, “I don’t like your conclusion, that’s not where I want things to go, but I’m going to trust you enough, I’m gonna trust God enough to believe that there’s something that is God’s Spirit at work within you. And that’s part of why you got to where you got to and I’m gonna trust that enough to keep drawing you back to that place and keep asking you, “How is God’s Spirit at work within you?”

That process of listening and calling each other back to how is God at work in you, what is the activity of God in your heart that’s leading you in the direction that you are going: that work is one hundred percent the work of love.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.