"Many Friends appeared to be deeply bowed under the weight of the work, and manifested much firmness in their love to the cause of truth and universal righteousness on earth. And though none did openly justify the practice of slave-keeping in general, yet some appeared concerned lest the meeting should go into such measures as might give uneasiness to many brethren, alleging that if Friends patiently continued under the exercise of the Lord in his time might open a way for the deliverance of these people. Finding an engagement to speak, I said,
'My mind is often led to consider the purity of the Divine Being, and the justice of his judgments; and herein my soul is covered with awfulness. I cannot omit to hint of some cases where people have not been treated with the purity of justice, and the event hath been lamentable. Many slaves on this continent are oppressed, and their cries have reached the ears of the Most High. Such are the the purity and certainty of his judgments, that he cannot be partial in our favor. In infinite love and goodness he hath opened our understanding from one time to another concerning our duty towards this people, and it is not a time for delay. Should we now be sensible of what he requires of us, and through a respect to the private interest of some persons, or through a regard to some friendships which do not stand on immutable foundation, neglect to do our duty in firmness and constancy, still waiting for some extraordinary means to bring about their deliverance, God may by terrible things in righteousness answer us in this manner.'"
So answered John Woolman when Friends argued that though they did not agree with slave holding, they dared not distress Friends who profited by it, they dared not make slave holding Friends uneasy. There were biblical justifications for slavery. There were religious arguments to support it, yet John Woolman obeyed a Source beyond these texts and stood in the truth of uncompromising Love. Inconvenience, discomfort, fortune, custom, tradition, and even Scripture did not dissuade him. In a world that did not admit the full humanity of African slaves, Woolman humbly but firmly stood on the side of the Light that illuminates all souls.
In New York State where we have dual affiliation with both FUM and FGC, I do not think we have risen to the same level of obedience at which John Woolman excelled. We are smug in our belief that we would all have been abolitionists if we had lived in the days of slavery. We are so confident that when difficult issues arise, we are willing to make the hard choices. Very many of us believe in the equality of all persons and pay lip service to our faith in this principle. But, I ask you, do we maintain the absolute equality and human dignity of LBGT persons within our Society and in the world at large or have we compromised to maintain a shallow and tenuous "unity"? Why is now not the time for us to declare that all people, regardless of differences of biology and sexuality, shall be held in love and honor among us? Do our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters not call out for justice? Will we joyfully, unhesitatingly guarantee and preserve the fullness of their rights to them, to their families, and to their children?
Or are we afraid the cause of gay rights will cause offense? Are we afraid we will make some Friends uneasy? I tell you that as saddened as I am by thought that FGC and FUM may become estranged over this issue, I will not elevate one Friend's comfort over another Friend's equality. I cannot remain silent when one Friend's uneasiness and discomfort can overshadow another Friend's human rights. Our understanding is opened. Now let us be sensible of what is required of us.