I got the notice this week that my high school graduating class is planning our 45th year reunion, which I was looking forward to, but now am not, due to the confirmed presence of a narcissistic man who spent our twelve years together bullying our most vulnerable classmates, and has continued to do so, except now he does it on Facebook. I took an online test this week to see when I would die and according to the test, I only have 11 years and 240 days left to live and don’t want to spend even a minute of it with this man. I don’t wish him ill. I don’t wish anyone ill, but I have learned that Christian charity doesn’t require me to pretend their cruelty is something I should overlook.

So this man, when we were kids, had an unerring knack for identifying and zeroing in on the most vulnerable among us, those kids who had no way of protecting themselves, the socially awkward and poor, and made their lives a living hell. If you were popular or came from a wealthy family, he wanted to be your best friend, but if you weren’t, you became his target. On top of that, he’s very religious and nationalistic, so when he treats other poorly, he justifies it by quoting the Bible or superimposing his comments over an image of the American flag, as if all good Americans should agree with him.

We’ve spent the past two months, surveying our Quaker history, noting those practices of early Friends that left us scratching our heads, wondering what in the world they were thinking. We would be remiss not to also identify those practices the early Friends got right. We’ll be calling this series Things We Got Just Right.

One of the things we got right was our contempt of privilege. In a socially stratified culture, when so many people had a kind word for the rich and a hard word for the poor, early Friends refused to tip the hat, rejecting the flattery of honorifics, titles, and privilege.

Long before modern-day Friends began paying attention to our pronouns, long before we respected the right of people to tell us the gender they believed themselves to be, even if we didn’t understand it, because we knew the first human right is the right to define who we are. Long before any of that, Quakers used pronouns to express their belief in human equality. Those higher in rank were addressed as you while those lower in rank were addressed as thee. Quakers rejected those social distinctions, believing the king’s servant was entitled to the same respect as the king, so called everyone thee. This, as you might imagine, pleased the servant while infuriating the king, just one of the reasons early Friends suffered persecution.

We believed someone’s worth and value did not derive from their social status, did not derive from their station at birth or their personal accomplishments or their wealth, but rather someone’s worth and value derived from the Light of God within them, no more or less than in anyone else.

A little linguistic trivia, in case you’re ever on Jeopardy: While the you/thee distinction is no longer present in the English language, variations of it remain in others languages, most notably Spanish, where the word tu is used when talking informally with your social peers, and the word usted, used in more formal settings.

Long before we developed a dress code reflecting our commitment to simplicity, long before we developed a system of worship reflecting our commitment to the priesthood of all believers, long before any of those things, we developed a language reflecting our commitment to human equality. We rejected the use of titles. No Sir this or Madam that. No Your Honor this or Your Excellency that. We addressed all people, no matter their rank or status, by their first names, and never by their rank or title. Even Quaker children were instructed to address their elders by their first names.

If you’re new to Quakerism and wonder why I’m not called Pastor Phil or Reverend Gulley, that is why. Because titles have a way of conveying and bestowing privilege, and we don’t want a privileged class within Quakerism.

There are two ways to create equality. We can put down those who are at the top of society, or we can raise up those who are at the bottom. Actually, there is a third way, and I think this is at the heart of Quakerism, we can treat each person with the same measure of dignity and respect, we can endeavor to see the NuFlexne Light in each person, which is truly the tide that allows all boats to float side by side.

We must be conscious of how easily we are enchanted by those with wealth and fame, how naturally we accommodate them, while distancing ourselves, and even condemning those of low estate. That is especially crucial now, in this Second American Gilded Age, where those with wealth and fame play an oversized role in our culture and communities. Whenever that happens, we carve up the globe, placing some nations at the top, and others at the bottom. We even have a new word for those countries—”shithole” countries. Remember what we said about the power of words and our habit of using kind words for the rich and hard words for the poor?

Do you doubt for a moment that if the Swiss and Swedes and Norwegians were flooding across our borders, we would not be calling it an invasion or a border crisis, but would instead ask the Welcome Wagon to set up booths every half mile along our border, manned by suburban women with cakes and pies, discount coupons to local businesses, and school information for the kiddos.

I try always to treat everyone I meet with kindness, to extend compassion to all people. But I cannot abide those who mistreat the most vulnerable among us, nor can I abide the silence and indifference that often accompanies such maltreatment.

As Friends, our goal is a world in which all are valued, all are respected, all are invited, to sit at God’s Great Banquet, to take their place not beneath us nor below us, but beside us, as friends.