One of the most remarkable periods in world history came in mid-1600s Britain, an outbreak that included the execution of the monarch by commoners (rather than a rival for the throne) amid a host of social, economic, and political upheaval. For an overview of the ferment, you can read Christopher Hill’s The World Turned Upside Down or Antonia Fraser’s Cromwell, Our Chief Among Men.

My primary interest, of course, focuses on the rise of the Quaker movement out of the waves of conflict – with the rise of a two-party political system and a loyal opposition as a byproduct of a pacifist faith. I also see parallels with much of the counterculture experience I’ve known from the hippie era on, where some have remained faithful but many others have flaked away.

The waves of English radicals can be fascinating, from the New Model Army and Levelers, Diggers, and True Levelers on through the Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchists, and others, but for Quakers, the Ranters presented a special cross to bear.

Like Quakers, the Ranters espoused personal experience of ecstatic faith, and the two movements were often confused with each other by the wider public. Unlike the discipline and discipleship among Quakers, though, Ranters had no qualms about sexual promiscuity or any other limitations (it was all God’s will, in their eyes, no matter any hurt to others), at least until persecution hit and they readily recanted. Not so the Quakers, who insisted on eternal Truth. God doesn’t change.

So here we are. What are our deepest values? Where do we stand firm, and where do we yield and bend? What is principle and what is opportunistic? How far out is our vision, and how much a matter of short-term maneuvers?

Where are we – each of us – truly accountable?

Anyone else feeling uncomfortable?


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