It’s been an interesting week in the American church. The preacher and writer John MacArthur, who has spent much of his life telling people how much he knows about the Bible, was asked to say in a few words what he thought of the Bible teacher Beth Moore, and he responded by saying “Go home.” The audience, mostly white and male, applauded. Apparently, the key to winning over your audience is appealing to their vilest instincts.
MacArthur said no place in Scripture affirmed women as preachers or leaders in the church, though it was women who first encountered the risen Jesus and ran to tell the men the news of the resurrection, which makes women the first preachers. The Apostle Paul and the author of Luke/Acts wrote that Phoebe, Euodia, and Syntyche were deacons, and that Mary (the mother of John Mark), and Lydia were overseers of house churches. But John MacArthur apparently didn’t know that. His criticism of Moore was especially curious, coming on the heels of her denunciation of white supremacy, and her plea for pastors everywhere to denounce racism.
While certain elements of Beth Moore’s theology and methodology don’t resonate with me, they don’t have to. She isn’t required to either convince or please me. But I am utterly certain God uses Beth Moore to reach people I could never reach.
For John MacArthur to tell her to “go home” is not only sexist and arrogant, it violates the essence of John’s gospel we Quakers hold dear. “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. John himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9)
Today I want to talk about the true light that enlightens everyone. This light enlightens everyone. Everyone. There’s no except here. No one is left out. No group, no race, no gender, no religion, no nation, no one. This light is present even in the atheist, because the light of God is never conditional. It does not stand or fall on the basis of our recognition or acceptance. While it might be true the Light of God is more evident in some than others, it is present in all, forming the essence not only of our common humanity, but of our shared divinity. The true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. No exceptions.
This is the foundation of Quaker theology, that of God in all people, the True Light in everyone. Early Friends believed our task, our human calling, was to cultivate and nurture this Light Within. They called it “minding the Light.” The word “minding” works on several levels. When I first became a Quaker and saw that phrase “minding the Light” I thought it meant obeying the Light, as one might mind their parents or teachers or bosses. God was to be obeyed. God was our boss. There are many people, in fact perhaps the majority of people, who understand God this way. God is high and we are low. God is the master and we are the servants. To be clear, there are passages and stories in the Bible that support this understanding. You should know that I no longer find that understanding of God helpful or true, though you are welcome to believe it if you find it helpful and true.
There is another interpretation of the word “minding” that is a real possibility, that resonates with me, and this is minding as attending to or caring for. I remember once Joan and I were at her mother’s house and wanted to go out to eat by ourselves and Ruby said, “You go on ahead, I’ll mind the children.” She didn’t mean she’d obey the children and do what they said. She meant she would attend to and care for our children.
When early Friends spoke about minding the Light, it was in this sense they meant it. The Light of God was in them, and it was their task, their responsibility, to nurture it, to attend to it, to care for it. Lest it grow dim. Because while it is true the Light of God cannot be taken from us, while it is true the Light of God does not stand or fall on the basis of our recognition or acceptance, it must be nevertheless be nurtured and tended to, as one might blow on an ember to bring it to full life.
Sometimes the Light of God feels dim within us. We feel hatred toward others, we anger easily, and are prone to a kind of pessimism, depression, and anxiety that seem to defy medication or therapy. We realize it is not only difficult to sense God’s Light within ourselves, it is especially difficult to see it in others. It occurs to us we have not nurtured the Light within us, that this divine ember has grown dim, and must now be fanned back into life.
Sometimes the Light dimmed because of something we did or failed to do, and sometimes others have caused it to darken. I saw a picture the other day of a candle flickering in the dark. The text read, “I was wandering all alone in a dark forest, with only the light of a single light to guide me, and along came a theologian and blew it out.” Some people, instead of blowing the ember back into life, have a way of blowing it out altogether. I think that’s exactly what John MacArthur was doing with women in ministry this week, and I believe it was born out of his belief that the True Light exists in some, but not in others.
Mind the Light, friends, and never forget it is God’s Light. It’s in you, but it’s not your Light. God placed it there. It is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to this world. So mind the Light. Attend to it. Pay careful attention to what brings that Light into fullness, what makes it glow, and wake up each morning and do just that.