Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Back from Africa with a broken heart

I arrived back from Kenya on Tuesday evening. That night we had our first significant snowfall of the year here in the Boston area. Except it wasn't just snow, it was ice and rain and sleet and a couple of things like grapple (little ice balls) that I had never heard of before. It was very heavy stuff to shovel. I was glad for our neighborhood snowblower. Wednesday night the weather turned cold. It was 11 degrees in the morning and what had been plowed into the end of our driveway during the night had turned into something resembling rock. So another hour of wrestling with the snowblower to clean it up so we could get to work, and to clean up the driveway of our elderly neighbor. So much for a gentle re-entry.


It was wonderful to go back to Africa after 36 years. I couldn't believe how much Nairobi had changed. In 1970 there were maybe 3 high rise buildings. The New Stanley Hotel, the Intercontinental and maybe one more. Now the entire downtown was high rises. We got in on Saturday night, attended the service at the Friends International Center on Ngong Road and then went right to the airport for our flight to Kisumu where the FUM Africa office is. Monday and Tuesday we visited the hospitals at Lugulu and Kaimosi, spending the night at the Bishop Stam Conference Center in Kakamega, which was where the Board Meetings were to be held on the weekend. We also got a chance to visit the Kakamega orphanage started by Dorothy Selebwa and sponsored by USFW (United Society of Friends Women). On Wednesday and Thursday we traveled into Uganda and visited 4 schools. There are stories to be told about all of these visits. I also have a lot of pictures but they are still in the camera.


Friday was devoted to working on a strategic plan for FUM and Saturday was the General Board meeting itself. I look at what I wrote before I left about Friends learning about reconciliation among themselves. That is not what happened. On Sunday at Ngong Road and again during the opening devotions of the General Board meeting itself, we were treated to sermons denouncing homosexuality as evil. On Friday I was in the group looking at how FUM can deal with its identity issues. In October we had felt God working among us and there had been a sense of tenderness toward each other, even when we disagreed significantly. This spirit was not present in February. Led by the Superintendents of Iowa, Indiana and Western Yearly Meetings and supported by the representatives of the African yearly meetings, there was a clear sentiment expressed that even looking at these issues was keeping them from doing the work of FUM. In the morning we did some work on discussing our plans for an identity retreat before the June General Board Meeting. In the afternoon we discussed how to address the issues of our theology, Christology, and the source of our authority. We made no progress in finding common ground and at the end, the only recommendation was that the General Board reaffirm the Richmond Declaration as a statement of faith of FUM. Christopher Sammonds, General Secretary of New York Yearly Meeting, was the co-clerk of this session and he felt it was the sense of that meeting, even though he could not unite with it.


On Saturday, the proposal to affirm the Richmond Declaration came to the General Board. Every representative present from the dual-affiliated yearly meetings spoke against the proposal. Everyone else who spoke was in favor of it and the presiding clerk, Brent McKinney of North Carolina said that the recommendation was approved. All of the representatives of the dual-affiliated yearly meetings were recorded as standing aside. This did not feel like a sense of the meeting, it felt like a vote. It felt as though the yearly meetings with dual affiliations were being told that their understandings and opinions did not matter to FUM. For me it was the most painful experience I have ever had among Friends. I do not know how New England Yearly Meeting or any of the other dual-affiliated yearly meetings will react to this. I do not know what this means for the future of FUM. I do know that it is not a step towards finding unity among Friends. This action makes it clear that there are Friends who care more for theological purity than they do for unity. Meanwhile my heart grieves for the Society of Friends.

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31 Comments:

Blogger MartinK said...

Hi Will, thank you ever so much for sharing this with us all and I'm sorry to hear it was so painful. Although I'm not a part of Friends United Meeting by either formal affiliation or strong theological temperament, I've seen up close the kind of pain felt by Friends in the current divisions.

I hope other bloggers there will share their experiences there. This seems like a good medium to share the heart of what happens in situations like these. Merely getting the results of decisions made doesn't paint a clear enough picture. Whatever the future of FUM it's good to have personal stories anchor the high-mindednes on both sides. Thanks again,
Your Friend Martin the Quaker Ranter

February 17, 2007 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

My heart grieves with yours, dear friend.

Some of your readers may not be familiar with the Richmond Declaration, or may not even know what it is. It might be good to let them know they can read it on line at the FUM web site, here.

Now, about "Friends who care more for theological purity than they do for unity": For fairness's sake, it might be good to recall that the basis of decision-making in Quaker gatherings is unity with the will of God, not just unity with one another. So to some degree, unity in our Quaker sense is not really separable from purity.

-- On the other hand, many of us would rightly point out that the Richmond Declaration is not all that pure, given its underlying contentiousness. For contentiousness is itself an impurity.

I'm glad you went to Kenya, glad you sought to serve, and glad you returned and shared your report with us.

February 18, 2007 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Tesik said...

Dear Will,

Thank you for your honest heart, and for sharing the story. These are indeed times that try men and women's souls!

I hear in this the struggle of history -- as our sense of what it is to be human, what is right, and what has its source in the Light evolves, not often at the speed at which people evolve, but in the ponderous, wandering way of history.

Friends will move forward, and will do so in large part because of the commitment of all concerned.

take care of yourself,

Tesi

February 18, 2007 9:18 AM  
Blogger Laurie Kruczek said...

Hello,

Glad to hear you are back, but sorry it was a rough experience for you. I am appreciative of what you shared here. The divisions amongst Quakers is for me, the hardest issue to deal with. So sad and painful.

Hope to read more about this and pray that we can all come into Quaker unity thru love and not as a splintered faith.

February 18, 2007 4:05 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Thank you all for your kind words and support. And thank you Marshall for providing the link to the Richmond Declaration. At some point while I was writing the post I had intended to provide that but I had forgotten by the time I was done.

Marshall, your point about our decision-making process being based on unity with God and not unity with those present in the room is well taken. But in this particular case I do not think that the decision was in unity with either God or the people in the room. That is part of what made the experience so painful.

I do not think that any of the schisms among Friends reflected the will of God. In fact what reading I have done about them it seems that they are all characterized by extremely poor Quaker process. I do not know what the outcome will be. I continue to pray and to hope that Friends can find a way to resolve our differences. How authentic is our peace testimony to the world if we cannot establish peace among Friends?

Will T

February 18, 2007 9:32 PM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Here are some of the ways "liberal" Friends sometimes come across to "orthodox" FUM Friends in the perennial discussions of FUM's supposed inadequacies. (Sorry for resorting to labels; there are no truly monolithic "sides" in these conversations.) I contribute these reflections in the service of a more rounded conversation.

1. Many of these discussions arise in the context of the united or confederated yearly meetings in the USA and Canada, whose compositions mostly date back to the mid-20th-century reunion of previous Hicksite/Orthodox or Hicksite/Orthodox/Conservative splits. New England Yearly Meeting was one of the earliest of them. These reunions were accepted by Friends United Meeting, then called the Five Years Meeting of Friends (and the 5YM Uniform Discipline abandoned) despite the clear warnings from some FUM leaders of the dangers to FUM stability and faithfulness. Keith Sarver of (then) California Yearly Meeting was one of those who voiced these concerns. I believe he was prophetic.

I think there's evidence that, in the euphoria of some of these reunions, deep theological incompatibilities were swept under the rug, but, of course, not eliminated. The tacit agreement in some of these yearly meetings not to irritate each other with theological issues is unraveling; as the Orthodox (FUM) component in most of these yearly meetings weakens, the arena of conflict shifts to relations with FUM. In fact, some conflicts that are not resolved within yearly meetings begin to be fought in the context of FUM--gay marriage being one of them. It's safer to make FUM the heavy.

2. Along with theological incompatibilities, cultural factors cause miscommunication and misunderstandings. Several times I have seen well-meaning urban liberal Friends, intent on being in dialogue with recently-rural or small-town Orthodox and evangelical Friends, get right into the faces of their discussion partners, challenging them in what, to the liberals, seems simply an exercise in mutual understanding. To those whose faces they're in, however, it comes across as condescending and intrusive. Related, but even more complex, hazards abound in discussions between white North Americans, for example, and black Kenyans. Will may have seen the Kenyan leaders apparently act as an amen chorus to North Americans, but I have seen Kenyan Quaker leaders dress North American non-liberal FUM leaders up one side and down the other for liberalism and laxity.

3. It often appears, fairly or unfairly, that liberals have little or no long-term interest in the survival of FUM as FUM. Perhaps some liberals would like FUM to be sort of the country partner of Friends General Conference--with cute pastors and exotic international flavors (love that Ramallah Friends School!) but no awkward prophetic standing-apart and standing-for-something.

This perception arises in part because FUM's purpose statement has never, as far as I know, been wholeheartedly endorsed by any of the united or confederated yearly meetings. (The purpose statement: "FUM commits itself, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.") So we're treated to the constant spectacle of people who are not even in unity with FUM's basic purpose telling FUM how wrong or defective it is, and hardly ever demonstrating wholehearted support or affection for FUM.

4. For a variety of cultural as well as theological reasons, FUM people are deeply conflicted about homosexuality and gay marriage. That conflict will not end tomorrow, and the principled opposition to treating homosexuality with parity will not end tomorrow. (I'm not now talking about homophobia, which does exist.) How are culturally conservative and holiness-oriented people who don't even believe it is proper to talk too much about sex of any kind in public, and who are barely keeping their heads above water in our sex-drenched culture, supposed to react when almost the only thing that their critics on the liberal side want to talk about is homosexuality? This is where it truly hurts that liberals don't talk with equal passion about the strength of the FUM purpose statement or the urgency of evangelism. The liberals, in their own home communities, might have a rich and nuanced spiritual experience in which discussions of alternative sexualities take their place in the larger spectrum of concerns, but none of that is made available in the rhetorical attacks on FUM that have become a staple of inter-Quaker mudslinging since 1988, and certainly were part of the waves of anger that periodically swept into my mail during my years at FUM. In talking with one Friend at the FUM Triennial in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2005, I suddenly had the insight that at least some of these critics would not mind seeing FUM completely destroyed, as long as their point of view prevailed.

5. I was not at the meeting Will attended, so I cannot comment on the quality of the clerking--although Brent McKinney is a skilled and courteous clerk who has many Friends' confidence precisely because he has no record of authoritarian clerking or abuse of power. More generally, liberal Friends would prefer to "trust the Friends process" when the process gives a result they agree with. (So do Orthodox Friends--it's human nature.) However, when a trustworthy process, such as the deep and tender consideration of the FUM sexual ethics policy against sex outside traditionally-defined marriage, results in a decision that liberals do not like, there is no acceptance of the result.

6. Liberals were among those who passionately opposed the realignment movement of the 1990's (briefly summarized here). However, realignment is apparently back, and ironically it is being driven by liberals pressuring their yearly meetings to leave FUM or discontinue funding for all but pet projects. I think that those liberals would prefer to see FUM change than to see the relationship end, but the change must be at the cost of FUM's orthodoxy, not at the cost of their yearly meetings' heterodoxy.

(It is also true that, on the right wing, individual meetings are leaving FUM-only yearly meetings in a slow exodus, out of dissatisfaction with being yoked through FUM with nonbelievers.)

I desperately do not want to see realignment, because the cross-fertilization within the larger FUM has proven so rich over and over again, producing warm and humane leaders, missionaries, social prophets, and local Friends in meeting after meeting. However, I would rather see an honestly-conducted, warm, courteous realignment than to see FUM treated like crap generation after generation by those who have nominal membership but no commitment to its future. [Will: I do not see you as doing this!]

7. I'm glad that Marshall Massey provided the link to the Richmond Declaration of Faith. I think it is an amazing and deeply Quaker document that arose from a previous era of conflict among Friends. I hope that those Friends who have been told over and over what a pathetic excuse of a creed that document is would actually read it meditatively and savor the nuances that reveal its inclusive "both-and" nature.

I am sorry for taking up so much space, and hope at least some of it is useful. To the extent that these perceptions are wrong, I hope that simply revealing and airing them will lead to a quality of discussion that might heal the discord.

Johan

PS: I may crosspost this at my own weblog.

February 19, 2007 2:04 AM  
Blogger jvmaurer said...

PS: I left out part of the FUM purpose statement: FUM commits itself to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved, and obeyed as Teacher and Lord."

February 19, 2007 3:27 AM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Will, friend, I quite agree that all the separations were characterized by extremely poor Quaker process. This is true not only of separations within Quakerism, but of separations elsewhere in the Christian world from the birth of gnosticism down to the present day.

Indeed, based on what we've seen of history, I think we can make a prediction. We can predict that, whenever there are cultural forces tending to tear a Christian community into two camps with differing understandings of the gospel, any leader or firebrand within that community who perceives the issue as a matter of resisting a defilement or a takeover, will happily disregard communitarian values, and Christ's own call to reconciliation too, in order to prevent the defilement or takeover from gaining the upper hand.

We can also predict that there will be such leaders and firebrands on both sides of any major cultural split.

That, in my own estimation, explains what happened in the Hicksite/Orthodox split, the Wilburite/Gurneyite split, the Iowa Yearly Meeting separations ... the late twentieth-century Nebraska Yearly Meeting separations, the uproars in Western Yearly Meeting over same-sex marriages and universalist theology.... Why should we be surprised to see that it is also happening in the current FUM arena?

This isn't to excuse such behavior. It is merely to say that what's going on right now smacks strongly of cultural near-inevitability. To prevent it continuing, one would need the leaders and firebrands on both sides to rise above the temptations of the controversy. Or one would need the local churches and meetings on both sides of the present firing line to say to the leaders and firebrands, "Thanks very much for leading us, thanks very much for speaking for us, but we're not going to follow you into this quarrel even one more step." Alas, I don't see either of those things happening any time soon.

I agree with nearly all of what Johan says. I especially like his point about liberals finding it easier to make FUM the heavy. I don't think the current pressure for realignment is coming only from liberals, however. What I saw in my walk across the Midwest last summer is that there is also some pressure for realignment coming from evangelicals in places like Iowa (FUM) and Western YM.

And I must say, I also disagree with Johan's estimation of the Richmond Declaration. Far from being "both-and", I find the Richmond Declaration one-sided (and historically rather unQuakerly) in its embrace of the idea of Biblical infallibility. Historians tell us that the Richmond Declaration was a divisive document when it was written, divisive to the point that FUM's constituent yearly meetings declined to adopt it as a doctrinal statement. Reading it with an unjaundiced eye, I find it equally divisive today. For all its flaws, I am quite happy to see it being used as a starting point for Christian education within FUM; but I'm saddened to see it being waved as a partisan flag in a quarrel.

February 19, 2007 8:55 AM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Marshall! I don't believe that the Richmond Declaration of Faith argues for infallibility, at least not in the modern politicized sense of that term. The first part of its statement is basic Barclay (Apology, Proposition 3, Section VI). The last sentences are an inoculation against rigid literalism in favor of Spirit-led interpretation: "The great Inspirer of Scripture is ever its true Interpreter. He performs this office in condescending love, not by superseding our understandings, but by renewing and enlightening them. Where Christ presides, idle speculation is hushed; His doctrine is learned in the doing of His will, and all knowledge ripens into a deeper and richer experience of His truth and love."

February 19, 2007 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Will Jennings said...

Will,

Thanks for your faithfulness, and I'm sorry that your work was so difficult.

I want to report an outpouring of hope for reconciliation this past weekend in New Jersey, where over a hundred young adults from FUM, FGC, united, EFI, Conservative, and unaffiliated YMs gathered, drawn from across the U.S. and Canada. With quickness and clarity, the message came to us that each of our branches is broken and incomplete in some ways, that personal and working relationships across our divides can work to heal that brokenness, that we have a responsibility to do that healing, and that way is open for it. This call had unexpected power, and co-opted most everything else we thought we might work on.

This is muddy, bloody water we wade into, and we know that, and we aren't close to clarity about what all of the next steps are (though some tangible projects are in motion), or about what this call means in regard to the umbrella organizations. But the spiritual road to wherever we're going is well-lit: we need love, blunt honesty, simple process, patience, continued engagement, and above all surrender to God and one another.

I hope it's heartening to you that there are 103 more Friends preparing in earnest to love one another and have our hearts broken and love one another again.

February 19, 2007 1:28 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Johan,
Thank you for your perspective on the situation and for the link to more information on the realignment controversy. I see very strong parallels here, including people hijacking the process for their own ends and short-circuiting the discussions. Why else would you ask for adoption of a statement of faith before having the retreat designed to explore these very issues of identity?

Will Jennings,
I am glad to hear your report of the Young Adult Friends gathering. In the past it has been the Young Adult Friends (or Young Friends as they were known then) that were the driving force behind the reunification of Philadelphia, New York and, I think, New England Yearly Meetings. I share your vision that each of the groups among Friends has only a piece of the Quaker message and that the power of that message can only be recovered by bringing the pieces back together. This is part of why the actions of the FUM board was so painful to me.

I know that we cannot mess things up so much that God cannot lead us out, but I wish that we would not insist on testing this proposition so thoroughly.

As they say in Africa,
God is good, all the time.

Will T

February 19, 2007 4:51 PM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Will T., thanks for your gracious spirit. I will try to take your question, "Why else would you ask for adoption of a statement of faith before having the retreat designed to explore these very issues of identity?" at face value.

Before Friends United Meeting adopted the purpose statement, there were a series of attempts to reaffirm the Christian identity of Friends. Believe it or not, there was a time when the FUM Triennial sessions seemed reluctant even to confirm that it was a Christian organization, though that was clearly the identity of all those whose involvement with FUM predated the united yearly meetings. So, for example, back in 1987, the hundredth anniversary of the Richmond Declaration, liberal Friends blocked (or, more accurately, were perceived my many of us present as blocking) not only the reaffirmation of the Declaration of Faith but even a simpler declaration that we were Christian! As one of my best friends in Canadian YM said to me, she was embarrassed to be a liberal. An informal group of us proposed a "2:00 minute," drafted at 2 a.m., which proved useful for patching things up, but the aftermath of that debacle was the realignment controversy.

I beg of liberals not to put us through that again. The Richmond Declaration of Faith is not a substitute for your own prayer and thinking, and never was intended to be; but it is a foundational document for FUM, and deserves the status of being taken seriously. Liberal Friends who have allergic reactions to that document should consider whether they really identify heart and soul with FUM, or are essentially General Conference Friends, and are not in the historical stream of Quaker faith and spirituality represented by the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Attempts to change FUM to take away all the things that irritate liberals will result in realignment.

On the other hand, if there is anyone from the Orthodox (FUM-only or evangelical) camp reading this, I have a warning for you, too: Do not expect a degree of faithfulness and tolerance from liberals that you are not willing to extend yourself! Back in the late 1980's, I know that some "anti-liberal" Friends valued the Richmond Declaration more as a club to beat liberals with than as a genuine statement of Friends discipleship. Why did I never hear you quoting the Richmond Declaration's uncompromising support of the peace testimony? Why did you not stand up for the equality of men and women in the exercise of spiritual gifts, as urged by the Declaration? And the Declaration of Faith is clear that the use of rituals is over, but some who banged the Declaration drum 20 years ago have gone ahead and adopted baptism and communion, which was an innovation the Declaration was originally written in part to head off.

Thanks, Will, for your patience with my long posts! All will be well. Even if organizational realignment does happen, there's nothing to prevent any of us from subverting old and new divisions with friendship and spiritual unity.

Johan

February 19, 2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Johan, friend, the Richmond Declaration's view of the Bible is a matter not just of what the Declaration explicitly says (its content), but also of the way it goes about its business (its process).

In terms of content, the Declaration identifies the Bible as an authority from which "there can be no appeal ... to any other authority whatsoever". This stands in sharp contrast to, e.g., the first Friends' act of setting aside the Gospel practice of water baptism because their inward understanding showed them that water baptism was not Christ's true intent. The early Friends were not merely letting the Spirit "interpret" the passages involved, as the Declaration allows; they were letting the Spirit contradict the plain literal purport of the Bible passages recording what Christ said to the apostles and what the apostles subsequently did.

It was the historic shift from the general Protestant practice of making the Bible an authority from which "there can be no appeal", to the early Quaker practice of treating the Spirit as a higher authority still, that opened the door to the Christian abolition of slavery despite Paul's decision in his letter to Philemon.

But I would say that it was the historic shift in the Five Years Meeting world, back from treating the Spirit as a higher authority still, to treating the Bible as an authority from which "there can be no appeal", that has paved the way for the reinstitution of water baptism in some modern pastoral Friends' churches.

In terms of process, the Declaration as a whole is a mass of statements of "we believe thus and so, and here is the Bible text to prove it". This approach is fully consistent with the Declaration's statement that the Bible is the final authority for Friends. There can be no question but that the authors of the Declaration practiced what they preached!

But this sort of proof-texting was not the original basis of the Quaker faith. Proof-texting began among Friends, not as the way they formulated their religion, but rather as a measure for replying to the objections of outside critics. Thus Barclay's great work, which you have appealed to, is entitled an Apology precisely because it is an answer to such outward critics, using the critics' own way of arguing to respond to them more effectively.

A proof-text-grounded defense of Quakerism is certainly not innately wrong, and there are times when it is exactly what is needed. But it is not a mode of thinking that generates real understanding of Quakerism. That is (I think) why arguments for the Quaker position on water baptism, insofar as they rest primarily on proof texts, have never convinced many outsiders.

For the real justification of the emphatic Quaker rejection of water baptism rests not on proof texts but on a direct recognition of what Christ was doing in his historical ministry -- a recognition that a listener can only partake of and unite with if he looks upward from the dead words of proof texts to the living Christ before him. All that Penington, Whitehead, Barclay, Clarkson, and Gurney could do, using proof texts, was to show that the Quaker rejection of water baptism was not absolutely contradicted by the Bible; they could not actually show why the rejection of water baptism should be felt as a divine imperative.

The Richmond Declaration is written in language that could serve as an apology similar to Barclay's. But as its formal title ("Declaration of Faith") and its history both show, it was not composed as an apology but as something much more exalted: the Five Years Meeting's equivalent of a Protestant denomination's "Confession of Faith". It thus ranks with the Schleitheim Confession of the Anabaptists, the Augsburg Confession of the Lutherans, the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians, the Articles of Religion of the Methodists, and the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church in Germany.

Such confessions are authoritative statements of official doctrines in their faith communities; they are formulated (as one reference text points out) "to exclude erroneous beliefs", and stand only one step shy of having the authority of creeds. (Creeds have such authority that anyone disagreeing with them is regarded as cast out from the whole Christian Church; confessions of faith only have enough authority that those disagreeing with a particular confession are liable to be systematically marginalized by the particular faith community that has adopted it.)

Indeed, it may be significant here that FUM has at least twice declined to declare that the Richmond Declaration is not a creed -- once in 1922, under the leadership of Rufus Jones, and a second time in 1975. We may also note that at least some members of FUM have used the Richmond Declaration in efforts to marginalize other, more liberal members of the organization. You yourself admit that, I believe, in your comments about what was happening in FUM in the 1980s.

So the Declaration's statement that "there can be no appeal" from Scripture is something I think Friends should sit up and take notice of. It closes off an appeal to conscience in cases where the apparently plain meaning of scripture seems contradicted by the Voice in the conscience, as in the cases of slaveholding and water baptism. And it closes off the appeal to conscience with the force of a denominational confession.

It is true that Barclay's Proposition III §6 states something very similar -- "that whatsoever any do, pretending to the Spirit, which is contrary to the Scriptures, be accounted and reckoned a delusion of the devil." But Barclay's Apology never had the status of an official denominational confession. And anyway, the Gurneyite Friends themselves accepted that this assertion of Barclay's was not strictly true when they held slaveholding to be sufficient grounds for disownment, contrary to Paul's evident tolerance of Christian slaveholding in his letters to Ephesians, Colossians, Timothy and Philemon.

So this is the basis of my dislike of the Richmond Declaration. I apologize for going on at such length about it! And of course, I do respect your right to a differing opinion. But I really would prefer that the Declaration not be used as a partisan banner in fresh battles. I am mindful that there may be other cases ahead of us, similar to slavery, where too exalted a regard for the written Bible could do more harm than good.

February 20, 2007 11:58 AM  
Blogger steve w. angell said...

I too am sad to hear Will T.'s account of the FUM Board Meeting in Kenya this past weekend, and even more sad to meditate upon how issues relating to same sex couples are dividing religious communions throughout Christendom. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that the same issue arose in the Anglican Communion in neighboring Tanzania, with the final statement of that Communion issuing an ultimatum to the US (Episcopal) Church to comply with the policies of the worldwide Church, or that its relationships with the Worldwide church must remain "damaged at best." What I do know is that the fault line which causes such great pain for Quakers worldwide is not our fault line alone.

I do not think that our current divisions are relatable in any easy way to our past divisions, nor do I think that if reunions had not happened, that FUM would not be facing the issues of acceptance of same sex couples or the issue of its continuing relationship with the Declaration of Faith. There are many within historic FUM meetings in dual-affiliated yearly meetings and elsewhere who have come to a deep sense of spiritual unity on affirming the marriage of same-sex couples. And there are also many meetings who have spiritual unity in affirming a traditional Friends' understanding of marriage and the family that seems to preclude same sex marriage. Now we, all of us Quakers, need humbly to seek God's will together, however long that takes, remembering, as Barclay affirmed, that the Spirit of God has always been the primary guide for those in our religious communion.

Friends, let's not drag our old divisions out of the closet. That will not help. Let's pray deeply and with great humility for God to show us a way to strengthen our unity and to strengthen and clarify our witness (testimony) in these very troubled times.

February 20, 2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

Marshall, hello again. I have some disagreements with interpretations of yours that seem to me to be uncharitable to FUM, but there's a deeper level on which I absolutely agree with you, especially concerning the primacy of the Holy Spirit over the written word. Elsewhere I've written about my feelings about biblical literalism and the heresy of "inerrancy," so I won't repeat those points here.

First, a slight correction (slight because you may not have intended my interpretation)--the Richmond Declaration of Faith was not the official statement of any organization; it predated the Five Years Meeting by fifteen years. The discussions around the formation of the Five Years Meeting were fascinating--Friends were being very careful not to allow an unquakerly centralization of authority.

Second, a mild observation: in my experience, people's reactions to the Richmond Declaration of Faith tend to reflect the prejudices they bring to the Document. For example, I see nothing wrong with an assembly of weighty Friends from both sides of the Atlantic, worshipping together and attempting to hammer out a restatement of core beliefs and philosophies in a time of divisive controversies. I don't know whether the actual atmosphere was sufficiently "spiritual" to satisfy critics who demand an unworldly purity, but given the diplomatic dilemmas they faced (all of which have contemporary analogues), I think they did a pretty good job. The document's value to FUM is to preserve the hard-won fruits of an earnest attempt to balance biblical rootedness (an important value to traditional FUM Friends, whether or not Friends outside that stream think it should be!) and the specifics of Quaker spirituality and discipleship, including the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

On the other hand, if someone approaches the Declaration with the attitude that all such exercises seem vain or contrived or "exalted," then 1887's attempt will not get a kind hearing. My plea is not to condemn the Declaration with the charge of "creed, creed" but to recognize the value of a historical anchor that correctly inventories the core community's values and discernments without pre-empting the constant requirement to continue praying and discerning.

Let me gently suggest that it's a bit unfair to criticize the Declaration's statement on Scripture as unquakerly, and then when it's pointed out that it drew heavily on Barclay, change the criteria and say, well, Barclay wasn't writing officially, and, besides, used slightly different words. Barclay did not believe that a valid leading would diverge from the Bible; how is that so radically different from saying that "there is no appeal" from the Scripture, beyond one's taste in rhetoric? If the Declaration writers had been required to distinguish the primacy of the Holy Spirit from the primacy of the Bible, who's to say they wouldn't have followed Barclay in this matter also? In fact, the last three sentences of the Declaration's section on Scripture make it clear that the Bible is to be read and interpreted through the lens of the Spirit.

With any document that declares normative standards, we have a choice of whether to use it to encourage, educate, suggest, and open up dialogues, or to use it legalistically and in a one-upping spirit. I believe that, when the Richmond Declaration of Faith is used to build ourselves up--and generations of FUM and EFI Friends have used it that way--it is genuinely useful. After all, it exalts the Bible itself, which says, "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Corinthians 3:6)

February 21, 2007 11:24 AM  
Blogger Ron B said...

This is Ron Bryan, Superintendent for Iowa Yearly Meeting. I was in the meeting with Will and spend the same hours in discussion with the "identity group". As far as the painful part for you Will it was difficult for all of us, I would guess. I began to feel over two years ago that this meeting was important and needed to take place. When we approved being "global partners" it became necessary that the North American's hear the views of the Africans. There are more of them than there is of us. I suspected quite strongly that if we listened to the voices of the 15 yearly meetings in Africa we would move in the direction that we took. This meant taking on the form of some type of affirmation that we are an orthodox Quaker group and are unashamed of having the Bible as an authoritative resource. I am quite convinced it was authoritative for George Fox and mustn’t be discarded as outdated or wrong because it is just words of men even now.
I want to say that in defense of Will's words it was never an easy meeting or taken lightly by all who took part in the deliberations.

I am still quite fatigued and will likely weigh in on this blog again once I have recouped more of my abilities for thinking.

February 21, 2007 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Johan!

I greatly appreciate your efforts at gentleness.

I'm aware that the Declaration preceded the Five Years Meeting. But from what I've read, it was indeed intended to be a corporate Confession of Faith for that faith community, even though that faith community had not yet united itself. In fact, instead of uniting the whole of the community for which its authors hoped to speak, it helped drive London and Philadelphia away. But in that sense, it helped define the bounds of the faith community that became the Five Years Meeting. And certainly, as the Five Years Meeting drew together, the Richmond Declaration became its document. (Would you say I've misunderstood the history here?)

I see nothing wrong with the process by which the Declaration was created. I do not denounce it as a "creed", because I've looked up the definitions of "creed" in theological dictionaries, and the Declaration does not qualify. As I've said, what it is, is a denominational Confession of Faith. I don't think it's wrong for a denomination to have normative standards.

You "gently suggest that it's a bit unfair to criticize the Declaration's statement on Scripture as unquakerly, and then when it's pointed out that it drew heavily on Barclay, change the criteria and say, well, Barclay wasn't writing officially, and, besides, used slightly different words." I don't think I changed the criteria. Barclay's words themselves, in Prop. III §6, contradicted much that had been said and written by leading Friends of the preceding generation, including most notably the brilliant Samuel Fisher in his Rusticus Ad Academicos, but also James Nayler, Richard Hubberthorne, Edward Burrough, and even Isaac Penington. My description of the statement in the Declaration was that it was "rather unquakerly", a phrase I intended to be gentler than a flat "unquakerly"; and I described it thus because I felt it was rather unquakerly both of the Declaration and for that matter of Barclay to set up a normative standard that excluded the positions of such elders in the faith.

Barclay got the matter much more right in other places in his Apology, including the much-quoted opening of Prop. III, where he wrote that "...because they [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet, because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit...." Had the authors of the Richmond Declaration focused on this passage, rather than on that sentence in §6, I believe they would have been much more in line with the general historic thrust of Quaker thinking -- and in that case I doubt they would have written the statement that I objected to.

Finally, as to your comment that some of my statements are "uncharitable to FUM". I do not think FUM is above criticism. I have very recently been publicly critical of FGC, and you have read some of my criticism, and you did not object that what I said there was "uncharitable". I have also been publicly critical both of the "Beanite" strand of Quakerism and of modern Conservatism. In none of these cases was my criticism basically unfriendly, and neither is my criticism of FUM unfriendly; but I think that FUM, like those other Quaker communities, should be open to criticism from those Friends, such as myself, who love them all and want them all to succeed.

I hope the actual character of my attitude toward FUM may be judged by the fact that last year, when I was invited to deliver a keynote address to Baltimore YM, I prepared by a journey across the Midwest in which I met with FUM congregations all along the way, and with the office staff at FUM North American Ministries, and listened quietly and humbly to their guidance. And I felt myself taught by them; and what they said greatly enriched what I in turn said and did at Baltimore YM.

February 22, 2007 8:19 AM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Will,

Thanks for this report and for being faithful. I have since read other things related to these sessions, because of a support committee on which I serve, though I would hardly say I am up on the details of the experience. Neither can I say I have read thoroughly all the comments that are posted here (my time is limited, after all).

Still, I read with care and interest the comment from the superintendent for Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM). I find myself troubled by these words:

When we approved being "global partners" it became necessary that the North American's hear the views of the Africans. There are more of them than there is of us. I suspected quite strongly that if we listened to the voices of the 15 yearly meetings in Africa we would move in the direction that we took.

What troubles me is that if it was indeed necessary to "hear the views" of one another, then why was there a push for action? Were there absolutely no allies among the African Friends, who either could speak publicly or could approach American Friends privately? Was there ever a suggestion that Friends simply "hear" one another and agree to take no action...?

But I suppose those are naive questions and it will be a long time before American Friends and African Friends of FUM meet again to conduct business, huh?

I will continue to sit with this report and await to hear or read more as time goes by. Do you know if there are plans to write anything for Friends Journal, for example?

Also, here's a shout-out to Johan Maurer: your name came up (in positive contexts) here and there during the recent Midwinter Gathering of Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) when we met in North Carolina. And during our meetings there, where Liberal Friends outnumbered Conservative and FUM Friends combined, I would say we found common ground in our struggle and in our yearning to be faithful to what God's Love commands us to do.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

February 22, 2007 10:32 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I feel mostly inadequate to comment in this weighty stream, but I want to express my gratitude for the open sharing of opinions, impressions, historical interpretation and gentle expression of true disagreements. When Quaker blogs offer this forum, in real time, not in monthly or quarterly letters to the editor, nor in private conversation only open to a privileged few, this makes it worth my time to read through all the comments, to parse the hair-splitting arguments about Barclay, and sit with the genuine emotions that have been expressed and that arise in me.

I sit far outside the boundaries of FUM, geographically and historically, but perhaps not so far theologically. I'm quite inspired by the FUM purpose statement actually. I will have to take more time to feel I understand the Richmond Declaration of Faith.

I think the most important line for me in these comments is from Will Jennings, "This is muddy, bloody water we wade into, and we know that, and we aren't close to clarity about what all of the next steps are (though some tangible projects are in motion), or about what this call means in regard to the umbrella organizations. But the spiritual road to wherever we're going is well-lit: we need love, blunt honesty, simple process, patience, continued engagement, and above all surrender to God and one another."

Thanks for opening this, Will T. I look forward to meeting you next month, and to bringing this new level of understanding with me to the FWCC meeting in Providence.

February 23, 2007 11:56 AM  
Anonymous thom said...

Friends, Sarcasm is not gracious. Condescension does not reflect lovingly on God. Our conflicts with each other threaten to distract us from attention to God’s work. Let us recommit ourselves not to winning a debate, but to God’s peace and will. I pray this for us all.

February 24, 2007 3:03 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Friend Thom,
God has much work for us to do. Some of it is in the world and some of it is in our hearts. Our confilcts and differences, if attended to with an open and loving heart, can become opportunities for growth in directions we might not otherwise have seen. Those we disagree with sometimes reflect back to us parts of ourselves that we would rather not see. When we deal openly with our differences and allow God into the process, we are given opportunities of great grace. I do not think that God is done with the Society of Friends just yet. I also do not think that God's ultimate plan includes us splintering and fragmenting even more than we have already. That is why it is important for us to hold each other in love and prayer, even when we disagree. So I ask again for prayers for FUM and for the Society of Friends and for those with whom we disagree. I don't know what will happen next but I do believe in a God who works miracles.

God is good, all the time.

Will T

February 24, 2007 9:12 PM  
Blogger Ron B said...

Observations from my recent visit to Kenya and the General Board Meeting. By Ron Bryan

The Richmond Declaration of Faith along with Fox’s letter to Barbados as compiled in 1887 have served as the guiding expression for who FUM (Five Years Meeting originally) was and is since the beginning, even though some who have chosen to participate in FUM have not ratified it or agreed with it. Many have suggested we should change it or do away with it, so everyone can do as they see fit. This sounds an awful lot like Judges 21:23, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. NASB. I believe the Declaration draws heavily upon scripture as proof and quotes Fox to verify who Quakers are. It is still necessary, in my opinion, to have a guiding statement that puts us as a Religious Institution squarely in the camp of Biblical Christians.

For me the African’s voices, particularly the two statements as shared during our group meeting, stood out above all others, (1) “You came to us 100 years ago and told us about the Bible and Jesus Christ using the Declaration of Faith as a guiding document, we believed, and now you want to take it away from us.” (2) “While we sit here and squabble my people are perishing”. Yes, there was a clear sense that the 15 African Yearly Meetings intended for us to make some statement of who we are. They are convinced that Friends are Christians who use the Bible as authority. Also, no one denied the importance of the Holy Spirit in living and understanding our faith.

Convincement, a term some Friends identify with, comes from being convicted and converted, and then the transformation process moves into full swing. John 15:5-8 and Matthew 18:3 Evangelicals have always concluded that only by the Holy Spirit are we able to fully understand and appreciate scripture, and that the revealed Word is not altered by our wishes or demands. It is one of the purposes of the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, to teach us about Jesus Christ and His truth. And it was and is this same Spirit that spoke to our forefathers and foremothers dating back to the Apostles and the first century. The whole of the Bible, even with all its honest and provocative accounts, stands ably by itself as a historical text, which demonstrates how God has chosen to reveal Himself to humanity.

When I read of the personal awakenings of early Friends, I see similarities of their (convincement) experiences. George Fox, Isaac Pennington, John Woolman, Joseph John Gurney, and Thomas Kelly to name a few, all knew Christ experientially and were transformed into believers and followers of Christ. Their lives and their witness became bolder and clearer. And in reading these conversion experiences I find no evidence that they denied the truth of Scripture or the Holy Spirit as Light. The Scriptures remain, even though doubters and scoffers disappear and decay such as Voltaire and Nietzsche.

In our modern society we seem to want to rely upon our personal mastery of words, “In fact, the popular sayings attract only because people are haunted by the idea from the intellectual heights that life is, in reality, absurd. Thus the only acceptable relief is to be cute or clever. In homes and on public buildings of the past, words of serious and unselfconscious exhortation, invocation, and blessing were hung or carved in stone and wood. But that world has passed. Now the law is ‘Be cute or die.’ The only sincerity bearable is clever insincerity. That is what the clothing and greeting card graffiti really scream out. The particular ‘message’ doesn’t matter.

And yet we have to act. The rocket of our life is off the pad. Action is forever. We are becoming who we will be-forever. Absurdity and cuteness are fine to chuckle over and perhaps to muse upon. But they are no place to live. They provide no shelter or direction for being human.” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p 10 and 11.

So we play with words and peoples minds, and yes even their souls. To many the time is now, that we must take our stand with whom we have been and who we are. To talk about God being love without also including the many other attributes of His nature, such as mercy, grace, judgment, sometimes even anger, to name a few, is to portray an incomplete picture. To base our faith upon the latest sociological survey or the pursuit of personal happiness without regard for the proven words of the Bible is ultimately folly. Many have attempted it before and have fallen prey to the seductiveness of self indulgence. The condition of our world and we humans that are alive in it today, speak loudly to the depths of our natural separation from God. Yet, He has chosen us as humans who are created in His image and those who will respond to His voice, to be transformed, to replace our hearts of stone with new life— life that embraces all of God’s love, not just the parts we prefer.

A friend of mine recently commented, “I wonder how disappointed humanity will be when we finally accept that God’s purpose is more than just meeting our demands.”

As I post this blog, which is only the second time in my life, I realize that my attempt at words is woefully inadequate, yet, I feel compelled to make this statement. I am painfully aware of the wordsmithing that friends love to exercise at great length, and because of that I have been reluctant to enter into many a foray. However, now is the time that I feel lead to respectfully add my comments.

February 28, 2007 5:38 PM  
Anonymous Betsy Cazden (NEYM) said...

Hello friends, those I know and those I don't. A few observations:

Johan, (hello!) whatever your reading of whether the RD argues for infallibility, it has been cited at recent General Board meetings for exactly that. (I think the word used was "inerrancy," and I'm not sophisticated enough to know if that's the same as "infallibility.") I would assume that is precisely why there has been a move now to reaffirm the Declaration. So for practical purposes, this reaffirmation will be used and cited as putting FUM on record that the Bible, as interpreted by Friends on the more fundamentalist end of the FUM spectrum, is the absolute authority on all matters (especially sexual morality). Period, end of conversation. (Ron Bryant, I hope you'll correct me if I'm mistaken, since it was members of your YM who have been the most outspoken on this.)

I also must say that spending my time reading 18th century meeting minutes about slavery, it seems to me it is always true that prophetic voices are seen as interrupting or distracting the meeting from its perceived-of main business. There were Friends disowned for being too "warm" in their advocacy of abolition, and Friends who argued, with good support, that Scripture supports slavery as a system and instructs slaves to be quiet and submissive and not try to change anything. I do not know how the present debate will look 150 or 250 years from now, assuming enough humans survive global warming to be interested in the present "culture wars." A bit of humility and uncertainty on all sides would probably serve us well, and I have said so quite often towards the "warmer" voices within NEYM.

2. I have always understood that in 1887 the big concern was to marginalize or wall out not the liberals, but rather Ohio (Damascus) which was practicing water baptism. So, a question for Will T: was there any conversation at the Board meeting about the impact of this on, for example, Indiana YM, which now (as I understand it) allows water baptism?

3. There is no question that there are many Friends in the dually affiliated meetings that can't see any reason to be part of FUM. However, there are many others who deeply value its work, recognize the deeply Christian basis of its life and work, and want it to continue that way, and want us to be able to work within it -- but whose understanding of "Christian" includes an openness to changing views on homosexuality. Here in New England we have Friends (many from unprogrammed meetings) actively engaged in Ramallah, Africa, and Cuba. We do not want to lose that link. But there is such anguish about supporting (financially and otherwise) an organization in which some significant percentage of our members are unwelcome.

4. New England never adopted the Declaration, even the Gurneyite YM in 1902, so it's not just the dual affiliation and FGC folks who have had a stop about what looked like a creedal statement. (We did not join FGC until 1959.) NEYM does not belong to the Council of Churches equivalent in Connecticut because it requires a creedal affirmation for membership. Regardless of the content of the Declaration, any requirement of a particular, um, creed, is going to irritate a lot of people.

5. Will T. or Ron B. or others, what are the practical implications of the General Board action? Is it just internal, so the clerk can keep issues off the agenda? or is there to be a letter to all YMs saying "affirm the Declaration or stay home"? Or the intermediate step, proposed at an earlier meeting, of "please make sure all your representatives to the General Board have affirmed the Declaration"?

It seems odd to me to have a major policy decision taken by the Board rather than the Triennial (and a Board meeting that may not have included a full complement of US-based reps due to the time and expense). It feels just as odd as in 1991, when the 1990 Triennial came to clarity and unity (we thought), and within six months we got ambushed (or so it felt) by the Realignment proposal.

I frankly am at a loss on this. Given this action, once Friends around NEYM become aware of it, I cannot imagine that NEYM will be clear to continue to be in process and conversation (as those active in FUM have been advocating), to allow FUM time to seek clarity, etc. and to stall off demands that we immediately cut off funding. I gather that the General Board either doesn't understand how hard it will be to keep the dually affiliated Yearly Meetings within FUM, or doesn't care if they all leave. It will be very painful within NEYM, in a way that Johan and others don't seem to grasp in the sweeping statements about "liberal Friends." I clerked NEYM through the realignment conversation, and it was about as difficult as anything I've ever had to do, but we seemed to come out in a clear place. And now we will have to go back and reopen all that.

sadly, Betsy

March 05, 2007 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Bill Samuel said...

Hi. I write as someone who was on the General Board and Executive Committee of FUM at the time of the great realignment controversy. But note I have not had a lot of involvement in FUM in recent years, and don't know details of events of recent years.

I was an anomaly when I was on the Board because I was from a dual-affiliated YM (Baltimore) but was much more in unity with the FUM-only Friends than my own YM (which did not reappoint me). [I resigned from Friends 2 years ago and am now a member of an "emerging" church - see On Resigning from Friends Meeting]

I am in almost total accord with what Johan has written. While there certainly have been some (and still are) positive fruits from dual affiliation, on the whole I consider it a failed experiment.

It is very telling that the dual-affiliated YMs lined up against the position of all the FUM-only YMs at the Kenya meeting. The differences between the FGC and the FUM approach are too broad to be viable to be together in the same, broad-based, decision-making faith community. All the dual-affiliated YMs are now predominantly FGC-oriented, and while there are passionate FUM-oriented Friends in them, they represent a dissonant element in the organization.

At the time of the realignment controversy, I started out vigorously opposed to realignment. I then did some traveling, including to the one YM which had formally recommended realignment, and a lot of consideration. I came out quite sympathetic.

I think dialogue between Friends such as those who predominant in the 5 dual-affiliated YMs with the FUM-only YMs should continue, but I think it would be far better for it to continue outside the organizational confines of FUM. I believe those YMs should withdraw for the integrity of those YMs and FUM.

It isn't just about, or even mainly about, the gay and lesbian issue. That's just the flashpoint and the obsession of liberal Friends (and tends to result in the hijacking of FUM's agenda). It is fundamentally about the place of Jesus Christ in the FUM faith community. None of the dual-affiliated YMs could possibly approve FUM's purpose statement. They do not share a purpose. Therefore they do not belong together in the same organization. Dialogue within the FUM organization must be on the basis of FUM's purpose.

And I think it is telling that this Board meeting was in Kenya. Kenyan Friends have long been patient with the arguments among the North American Friends, and it is time to liberate them from that burden.

I have little fondness for formal statements of faith like the Richmond Declaration. They are by nature static and rigid, and tend to limit the free flowing of the Spirit of Christ. But I continue to disagree with Marshall Massey about what the RDF says about the Bible, although I am aware that the legalists among Friends want it to say what Marshall insists it says.

March 06, 2007 2:52 PM  
Anonymous John Brock, Wellesley Monthly Meeting, NEYM said...

This is a very sad read.

Not only because of the events in Africa but because of the nature of the debate. The posters, and I know none of them other than Will, seem very well read, gentle in their treatment of each other, well informed, and certain about the meaning of the text. It is outside of my experience as a Quaker that a discussion would lean so heavily on textual authority and ignore so much the source of the text being read. Perhaps that is a comment on my experience. I don’t know.

There seems to be a shared assumption that the text (Scriptural or RD) has meaning by itself and that we are neither involved nor responsible in any way in its reading. While that understanding remains, this will continue as a debate based on positions already taken and will not represent in any way a search of the unity of the Spirit.

That is troubling.

March 06, 2007 3:48 PM  
Blogger Allan Kohrman said...

I am a long time member of New England Yearly Meeting and am quite familiar with the relationship of our yearly meting with FUM.

New England Yearly Meeting (Gurneyite) was a founding member of Five Years Meeting. Rufus Jones of NEYM was perhaps its leading member. Eli and Sybil Jones of NEYM founded the Ramallah Friends School, which was under the care of NEYM before it was taken in by Five Years Meeting.

These historical connections are strong and are not to be discarded lightly. But I have come to feel that it is time for our yearly meeting to leave FUM. We are now a primarliy liberal yearly meeting. Most of us are not Christ-centered; some of us (including me) are not Christian. Most of us have no sympathy with a declaration of faith, whether or not it is a creed. Most of us certainly cannot accept the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Many FUM stalwarts are, frankly, sick and tired of us.

So let's allow FUM to be FUM. Let the matter arise at sessions this summer, and let us seek clarity on this issue. I, for one, would leave FUM with great sadness. But, if our decision is spirit-led, let us depart.

March 07, 2007 8:38 PM  
Blogger steve w. angell said...

In regard to the statement in the Richmond Declaration of Faith that "there can be no appeal" from the Scriptures "to any other authority whatsoever," we might note that most of the section on the Declaration of Faith was not written afresh for the Declaration in 1887, but was derived with only minor changes in wording from an 1836 minute of London Yearly Meeting, responding to differences of opinion in that Yearly Meeting between Quietists and Evangelicals over the place of the Bible.

The 1836 minute, strongly urged by Joseph John Gurney, modified a critical statement from Barclay's Apology (Section III.vi) in which Barclay stated that Quakers "look upon" the Scriptures "as the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians." This is somewhat different language than the language of "no appeal" that was used in the 1836 minute, but in effect, Gurney wanted to use Barclay's statement if he could discard the term "outward." Of course, discarding the term "outward" altered Barclay's meaning, by implying that there could never be an appeal from Scripture to the Holy Spirit, an implication that Barclay seemed careful to avoid.

Thus, Quaker historians such as Elbert Russell (HISTORY OF QUAKERISM, P. 347)have tended to see the language of 1836, enshrined in the Richmond Declaration a half century later, as a "new" doctrine for Friends.

March 08, 2007 3:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reply to Marshall Massey, and i quote his comment: "The early Friends were not merely letting the Spirit "interpret" the passages involved, as the Declaration allows; they were letting the Spirit contradict the plain literal purport of the Bible passages recording what Christ said to the apostles and what the apostles subsequently did."

The Spirit of God will not contradict the Scriptures in the more accurate Holy Bible translations. And, the basic Gospel Truths are repeated many times using different words, so that true Christians will understand what they must believe in order to begin to be saved even if the translations are not as accurate as they should be. There are only significant contradictions when those who read the Scriptures do not have the one and only Holy Spirit baptism they must have to understand the Scriptures. Without the one and only Holy Spirit baptism, the Scriptures remain the letter that kills.

Jesus Christ never, never, never sent anyone to baptize with physical water after John the Baptist went to prison, ever, but physical water baptisms were ordered by the apostles 3 times in Ac 8; Ac 10-11. After Ac 11, the mature true Christians never used physical water baptisms again. Peter, horrified that he had opposed God, never did it again but almost no one has learned from his mistake which, at the time-- during the transition from Judaism to Christianity, was understandable.

People, who do not have God's Holy Spirit, tend to put the word "water" where it does not belong when they are reading the Scriptures. And people, who do not have God's Holy Spirit, have no idea what the Scriptures teach about spiritual Living Water. They also ignore what took place at Cana, where the water was changed into wine. Until people understand that Jesus Christ revealed His true Gospel and baptism in Jn 2:-11, the Scriptures will not make sense to them. They will remain in the delusion warned about in Scriptures such as 2Th 2 and 1Pe 2 but there will be no excuses.

Jesus Christ told us all to seek first God's Kingdom and God's Righteousness. The first true Christian Quakers knew what that meant and they willingly suffered persecutions for what was revealed to them. Until that is done today, there will never be unity through the one and only baptism that we must have to be born again, to be born of God, anne robare / canawedding at aol dot com

June 05, 2007 1:21 AM  
Blogger DANJELLIS said...

I find out the more I learn, the less I know.... The quiet time in Quaker meeting is a safe place for me. A time to reflect, look to G_d, to pray and be in the Light. It has been my experience that religious discussions about our beliefs so many time end up in division. It we as Quakers cannot get along with each other, how can we reach out to others. It always amazes me the commandment, "Thou shalt not judge." can be worked over to be used as a discernment process. "Love one another" breaks down barriers. I need not be ashamed of being a Christian Quaker. I also welcome anyone to come to meeting just as they are. We should all be welcomed and loved....

August 19, 2007 2:41 PM  
Anonymous free ps3 said...

Thanks for the nice post!

September 18, 2007 8:16 PM  
Anonymous Adam Segal-Isaacson said...

I wonder what "Christian" means. It seems fairly clear (to me) that early Quakers did not limit the grace of God to those who professed belief that the man Jesus, who died c. 30 AD, was God (or that he was differently God than you or I). It seems to me that the term "Christian" is used as a code word often for "those who hold more conservative social views" but I'm not at all sure that the two phrases describe identical groups.

Quakers, from the start, believed in continuing revelation. It was, and is, possible for God to talk to each of us directly, and to reveal to us things not previously revealed. This means that past revelations might be reinterpreted or changed, much as Jesus, who is called Christ, reinterpreted the previous Mosaic law. Hence, Quakers tend to avoid doctrinal statements, as future revelation from God may change our understanding. This is part of what the controversy about the Richmond Declaration has been from the time of its writing.

Continuing revelation is dangerous. It upsets social standards and understandings. The potential for craziness is high (cf James Nayler). But we should remember that the early Quakers were radical in their rejection of much of the social standards of their day. This is not to say that rejection of standards is a sign of revelation; it isn't. But it is to say that the upsetting of standards is not necessarily a sign of going against God. As Quakers we should always be wary of "this is so because it has been so."

George Fox preached the equality of all men and women at a time when this was most certainly not a standard view, despite the official "Christian" testimony that men were equal before God. John Woolman preached against slavery in the US at a time when slavery was a recognized norm, as it had been in various cultures, including Biblical culture, for centuries.

We, "liberals" and "conservatives" both, tend to recognize these and other "radical" Quakers as embodying our principles. But we forget how much they offended the morals of the society they lived in (for Woolman that would include many of the Quakers he preached to).

Our faith as Quakers is radical. We attempt to discern what God's message is for us today, recognizing that it is sometimes different, as the world is different, than what it was in the past. We change. (Obvious examples would include the fact that we no longer "thee" and "thou" as those words have lost the meaning they had for first-generation Quakers, because the language has changed over time; or the fact that we no longer have separate Men's and Women's Meetings; or that we no longer wear plain dress.) Does this mean that we have abandoned our faith, reliance, and witness for God? No. It means that change has occurred, and that our message has changed along with it.

How does change happen? Through interaction with those who differ from us. The fact that we disagree on issues such as homosexuality doesn't mean that one side is wrong, or we should have schism, or that some have abandoned principles. It means we haven't found unity yet. The only way to reach unity is to continue the discussion, trying to discern what God is telling us.

It may take a long time.

July 15, 2008 3:40 PM  

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