[This is taken from Thomas Clarkson's A Portraiture of Quakerism.]
Disowning—foundation of the right of disowning—disowning no slight punishment—wherein the hardship or suffering consists.
I shall conclude the discipline of the Quakers by making a few remarks on the subject of disowning.
The Quakers conceive they have a right to excommunicate or disown; because persons, entering into any society, have a right to make their own reasonable rules of membership, and so early as the year 1663, this practice had been adopted by George Fox, and those who were in religious union with him. Those, who are born in the society, are bound of course, to abide by these rules, while they continue to be the rules of the general will, or to leave it. Those who come into it by convincement, are bound to follow them, or not to sue for admission into membership. This right of disowning, which arises from the reasonableness of the thing, the Quakers consider to have been pointed out and established by the author of the Christian religion, who determined that if a disorderly person, after having received repeated admonitions, should still continue disorderly, he should be considered as an alien by the church.
The observations, which I shall make on the subject of disowning, will be wholly confined to it as it must operate as a source of suffering to those, who are sentenced to undergo it. People are apt to say, “where is the hardship of being disowned? a man, though disowned by the Quakers, may still go to their meetings for worship, or he may worship if he chooses, with other dissenters, or with those of the church of England, for the doors of all places of worship are open to those, who desire to enter them.” I shall state therefore in what this hardship consists, and I should have done it sooner, but that I could never have made it so well understood as after an explanation had been given of the discipline of the Quakers, or as in the present place.
There is no doubt that a person, who is disowned, will be differently affected by different considerations. Something will depend upon the circumstance, whether he considers himself as disowned for a moral or a political offence. Something, again, whether he has been in the habit of attending the meetings for discipline, and what estimation he may put upon these.
But whether he has been regular or not in these attendances, it is certain that he has a power and a consequence, while he remains in his own society, which he loses when he leaves it, or when he becomes a member of the world. The reader will have already observed, that in no society is a man, if I may use the expression, so much of a man, as in that of the Quakers, or in no society is there such an equality of rank and privileges. A Quaker is called, as we have seen, to the exercise of important and honorable functions.
He sits in his monthly meeting, as it were in council, with the rest of the members. He sees all equal but he sees none superior, to himself. He may give his advice on any question. He may propose new matter. He may argue and reply. In the quarterly meetings he is called to the exercise of the same privileges, but on a larger scale. And at the yearly meeting he may, if he pleases, unite in his own person the offices of council, judge, and legislator. But when he leaves the society, and goes out into the world, he has no such station or power. He sees there every body equal to himself in privileges, and thousands above him. It is in this loss of his former consequence that he must feel a punishment in having been disowned. For he can never be to his own feelings what he was before. It is almost impossible that he should not feel a diminution of his dignity and importance as a man.
Neither can he restore himself to these privileges by going to a distant part of the kingdom and residing among Quakers there, on a supposition that his disownment may be concealed. For a Quaker, going to a new abode among Quakers, must carry with him a certificate of his conduct from the last monthly meeting which he left, or he cannot be received as a member.
But besides losing these privileges, which confer consequence upon him, he looses others of another kind. He cannot marry in the society. His affirmation will be no longer taken instead of his oath. If a poor man, he is no longer exempt from the militia, if drawn by submitting to three months imprisonment; nor is he entitled to that comfortable maintenance, in case of necessity, which the society provide for their own poor.
To these considerations it may not perhaps be superfluous to add, that if he continues to mix with the members of his own society, he will occasionally find circumstances arising, which will remind him of his former state: and if he transfers his friendship to others, he will feel awkward and uneasy, and out of his element, till he has made his temper, his opinions, and his manners, harmonize with those of his new associates of the world.
Original text by Thomas Clarkson, edited and revised by William Mackis - this text © 2005. Please note: all applicable material on this website is protected by law and may not be copied without express written permission.
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