This week I have been contemplating the life of Mary Dyer, a Quaker woman who was executed by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Fortunately, Johann Winsser wrote a book on the topic and gave a very enlightening lecture on the subject at the rise of meeting this past Sunday.
Her crime? Not heresy and not blasphemy. Her crime was civil disobedience.
Here's how it went for her. She was a Quaker who felt she had the same right to freedom of religion that the Puritans enjoyed in the New World. The problem was she was not part of the club. You see, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a charter from the King of England. Essentially, a private club for Puritans who got to make the rules and -- yeah -- no Quakers allowed. They warned her once and banished her once and told her if she returned they'll hang her. And they did.
Puritans were the first Law and Order Types. Having another point of view disturbed the order they wished to impose. And civil disobedience was such a threat to that order that it had to be eliminated. But boy oh boy did they go too far. The backlash was swift and it wasn't too long before Charles II decreed an end to Puritan religious orthodoxy and opened the floodgates wide to other points of view in the fledgling colony.
Did everything go to Hell? No, far from it. There is a lesson there.
Which brings us to Jamal Khashoggi. He wrote about a more open Saudi society. And for that he was murdered and hacked to pieces by 14 thugs hired by the Crown Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia. It makes me think that we are back in 1660 again. And in some sense we are because the man sitting in the oval office has more interest in an arms deal worth 100 million dollars than upholding justice.
As I contemplated these strikingly similar situations and shared them with a friend she said to me: "...Mary Dyer was a brave, strong, forward-looking woman and her story demonstrates one of my problems with God...he didn't do anything to save her from hanging..."
The message that is coming through to me is loud and clear. Mary's story seems terrible, but her act of civil disobedience led to the downfall of Puritan rule in the Massachusetts Colony and an edict by the Crown to end the persecution of Quakers (and other religious groups)
If Quakers have a theology it would be to "proceed as the way opens." Mary felt deeply convicted by her faith. That she have religious freedom. She chose it, not God. She was asked to recant. She declined knowing full well that her refusal may end her life.
This of course brings us the notion of a merciful God. Why would a merciful God allow bad things to happen? The answer that I have come to understand is that we are not automatons. Humans have agency. We get to choose. To choose love over hate, good over evil, compassion over indifference, kindness over cruelty, courage over fear.
If God were to step in every time there was an injustice the human faculty of conscience would be blunted so badly it would cease to function.
If we look at the centuries between Dyer and Khashoggi , what Dr King called The Long Arc of Justice, Mary Dyer, Ghandi, Mandela, and King or any other person who walked a path of conscience -- their courage gives light to others. In fact, more may have been gained for the cause of justice by their death ... and they likely knew this on a spiritual level.
Queries on the lives of Mary Dyer and Jamal Khashoggi:
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