One of the most difficult tasks for each of us is properly discerning the intellectual, internal development of another person. Opinions and criticisms that sound destructive at first listen may only be evidence of a weaker brother or sister. I recognize that the term “weaker” might first come across as condescending, as though it is some sort of value judgment about a person. In actuality, it is anything but.
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? So let's stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
Those of us who have reached a stage of greater maturity in education and opinion must take pains not to flaunt it. Age alone is often no indicator of maturity, but each of us has held beliefs in the past that we now see as less evolved. I don’t have to look very far back into the past to see evidence of my own.
Once we too were the weaker brother or sister, actively engaged in the process of learning and discerning our own identity and identities. That being said, weaker members are not exempt from their own responsibilities. They must be careful to not make up standards and rules of their own, and then insist they be followed. Some orthodoxy exists for a reason, often to make sure that we are in general sympathy as a collective body.
The new believers that are part of my faith community are a frequent challenge. Several of them are seekers, poking a cautious toe into the water first rather than jumping in headfirst. They can hardly be blamed for not understanding Quaker esoteria, or the way Friends use a particular process to resolve disputes and conduct business. Nor can they be faulted for not knowing the ins and the outs of the particular terminology that we’ve used for close to 400 years.
These Friends learn at their own pace and no one else’s. A fixer and organizer by nature, it frustrates me sometimes that new believers take such a slow, deliberate course. I fear that they will wander aimlessly forever. I see God before me, powerfully, and know the very same relationship is present for them if they will trust enough in that which they cannot observe with their five senses.
I want people to know God and to feel the presence of the Divine. I want them to have a transformative experience with organized religion, one much in the same vein as my very own. My impatience shows when people drag their feet or resist taking on the inner work that is integral for growth and maturity. My most formidable challenge is to make others feel that my ideas were theirs first. Unless a weaker brother or sister takes ownership himself or herself, my impact is blunted.
The reverse seems to be true among other activist groups. In feminist discourse, discussions about gender and sexuality showcase feminism’s own terminology, doctrine, and dogma. What I have noticed here is how eagerly new feminists adopt the nomenclature and remarkably consistent sense of righteous indignation. I can’t help but wish that the Quakers I encounter and work with adopted the same zeal. There are no half-measures here. Everyone is firmly committed to the cause with complete solidarity in sentiment, though opinions sometimes differ.
Among liberal activist groups, the crusading spirit once present elsewhere continues most successfully in a secular context. These groups would, however, be careful not to make the same mistakes of their religious brethren. Creating isolating and limiting hierarchies based on strict adherence to rules and structure may not be anyone’s intent, but it happens frequently. Whatever is deemed necessary to learn and adopt must not be conducted by rote memorization alone. It must be related back to the individual, because only then can anyone’s good work be truly seen in its proper context.
It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.
Enlightenment is not attained by winning more merit badges than your neighbor. Christianity once promised great freedom to its believers. It is this freedom that threatened the status quo, creating martyrs who died for their faith. When people treat their beliefs like a contest, then we neglect the weaker brother or sister. He or she may be finding a way towards a greater comprehension, by way of an unorthodox path. Those we might otherwise view as troublemakers or skeptics often want to believe.