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, March 17, 2007

Reflections on the conversation thus far

This has turned into quite the discussion. I have been letting the conversation here go on more or less without me. I have needed to take some time to reflect more on events that happened in Kenya and also some of the comments that have been posted here.


First of all I think that Ron Bryan has presented a bit of a straw man argument. He said, speaking about the Richmond Declaration, “Many have suggested we should change it or do away with it, so everyone can do as they see fit.” I suggest that there are other motivations at work. One is an understanding that the foundation of Quakerism is the direct experience of God and the direct, inward teaching of Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is not everyone doing what they see fit.


The reluctance of some yearly meetings to endorse the Richmond Declaration is not a new thing or just a reflection of the current trends among Friends. In New England it was the Guerneyite yearly meeting which did not endorse the Richmond Declaration in 1887. To the best of my understanding it never endorsed it from then until we reunited in 1945. The reservations were not necessarily about the content of the Richmond Declaration, but about the entire idea of trying to reduce Quakerism to a form of words. There were concerns that the Richmond Declaration would be used as a creed and as a way of enforcing doctrinal unity and forcing out people who disagreed with it. There certainly have been cases where such reservations have proved to have been justified.


Now I do not deny that there have been times that I have looked at the state of Quakerism and have found myself with the words from Isaiah and the music from Handel in my head, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” But note the key first word in that quote, all. The liberal flock of individual sheep wandering around without an obvious center may seem to fit that description. However it seems to me that the seemingly more cohesive Evangelical flock is heading off together in a direction away from the original understandings of Friends.


Because human beings have what appears to be an almost unlimited capacity for self-delusion, our leadings and teachings need to be tested against our current community and also our historical community, the cloud of witnesses. This historical community includes the written record of Friends who have preceded us and, of course the Bible. If there is one God and God leads us today as God led people in ages past, there should be a consistency between that record and our leadings today. When some meetings in Indiana Yearly Meeting started practicing water baptism and outward communion the response was to start a dialog on what it means to live sacramentally. Why can there not be a similar dialog across FUM on other issues where our understandings diverge?


The second place where I disagree with him, and this is a more fundamental difference, is this. He says, “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.” The problem I have with this is that it assumes that there is only one way to be a Biblical Christian. I base my Christianity on the Bible and my experience of God working in my life. But I have come to very different positions on some things than Ron has. There is a fundamental question that needs to be answered. If we are going to test our leadings against the Bible, what do we do when we have conflicting interpretations of what the Bible means. In a recent email my daughter said, “I'm still struggling with the idea of Very Religious people not understanding that loving everyone is a very Biblical idea, and that people who claim Jesus as their go-to guy can miss the boat on so many of his messages.” I will be the first to admit that I miss the boat myself on many things. I console myself sometimes that I appear to be in good company because all of the Twelve seemed to have missed the boat on numerous occasions. If loving everyone is a Biblical idea, can everyone include Friends we disagree with? “But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” (1 Cor. 8:12) Can we take the lesson from 1 Corinthians 8 about forbearance for members of the church whose understandings may be at different levels and apply it to the family of Friends? Again, this is an area in which we are all walking around with veritable lumber yards in our eyes.


At the same time I am pained by some Friends, even some from my own yearly meeting, who seem to me to be saying, “Let's withdraw from FUM. We don't want to have anything to do with those Evangelical Friends.” It was painful for me when I felt similar sentiments expressed about liberal Friends and their yearly meetings and it is painful to hear liberals saying similar things about Evangelicals. When I see comments to the effect of, “Maybe we should leave, most of us are not Christ centered anyway,” I am greatly saddened. First of all, the basic assertion is not knowable at this time. To my knowledge no one has done a study of the relative numbers of Friends in New England with various theological beliefs. More importantly, the quantitative approach belies our history as Friends. Traditionally, Quaker decisions are not made by a counting of votes. If there are significant reservations expressed, the good order of Friends would suggest that the decision should be held over. This did not happen in the decision to endorse the Richmond Declaration. This was one of the things that made this such a painful experience. It felt as if the concerns of the dual-affiliated meetings were of little importance and in fact that the dual-affiliated yearly meetings themselves were of little importance to the rest of FUM. Even if it were true that most Friends in New England are not Christ centered, it doesn't mean that we can dismiss so cavalierly those that are. It is precisely when we are in a majority that we need to be extra careful. The way we behave when we have power is critical. This is what the prophets said repeatedly. This is what Nathan told David. This is what Jesus meant when he said that as we do to the least of these his children, we do to Him.


I am concerned about what this latest round of divisiveness reveals about our current spiritual condition. It seems to me that we are letting our hearts become hard and our necks stiff. This is true across the theological spectrum. This is not a spiritual condition I find much support for in the Bible. I am also concerned about the long term effect on a number of Friends institutions. There are some who maintain that FUM would be better off if it were more focused theologically. The more evangelical yearly meetings would more than make up any lost income. This is possible but the current conditions of FUM as an organization is fragile enough that the loss of talent and income that major withdrawals would entail might be a sufficient short-term blow that FUM couldn't continue for the long term.


I am also concerned about what a withdrawal would do to the dual-affiliated yearly meetings. I fear that it might turn out to be divisive there as well. I have heard people talking about the option of the “amicable divorce.” I just caution people that an amicable divorce does not mean a pain free divorce. More than one messy divorce started out with the best of intentions of being amicable. As hard as it may be to stay together, we should not kid ourselves about how hard it would be to separate as well.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Hello, Will! I've been holding your reflections in my heart, trying to see them from all sides and, frankly, praying over them.

I'm disturbed by the sense of partisanship I've gotten from the discussion on your blog. It seems to be Ron Bryan and the controlling faction in FUM versus all the liberals, with both sides waving battle flags. How can we pull ourselves out of these ruts?

In the interests of charity, let me suggest that Ron Bryan probably didn't mean the sentence you object to as it was written. I think what he meant was likely a combination of, "Many have suggested we should change it or do away with it, so that they themselves can do as they see fit," with "If we should change it or do away with it, it'll be taken by many as a grant of permission for everyone to do as they see fit." It's easy to see how these two statements might have gotten concatenated as Ron struggled to express his concerns.

Also, you write of NEYM's reaction to the Richmond Declaration, "There were concerns that the Richmond Declaration would be used as a creed and as a way of enforcing doctrinal unity and forcing out people who disagreed with it. There certainly have been cases where such reservations have proved to have been justified." Permit me gently to observe once again that the Five Years Meeting rescinded its original statement that the Richmond Declaration was not a creed, way back in 1922, and that in 1975 FUM declared that this 1922 decision had never been negated. Thus none of us today have any real justification for acting surprised when FUM deploys the Declaration to uphold and enforce orthodoxy. It openly declared its readiness to do so eighty-five years ago, and openly reaffirmed it thirty-two years ago, and its culture hasn't fundamentally changed since then.

I entirely agree with your feeling that a divorce of dual-affiliated meetings from FUM could turn ugly. The potential for such ugliness is visible on both sides. How can we -- you and I -- help prevent the ugliness from happening?

March 19, 2007 8:04 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Marshall,
Thank you for your gentle correction. I am much more conversant on the history of Friends in their first 20 years than I am in the last 100. I suspect that I am going to be provided with a number of opportunities address this imbalance.

I wish I knew how to reduce the partisanship, not just here on my blog but in the Society of Friends. I expect to have opportunities to work on this here in New England in the run up to our yearly meeting sessions in August. I am trying to express my thoughts as clearly as I can while still remaining open to differing views and outlooks. Being human, I sometimes do better at this than others.

The other thing that I am doing is praying about this. I encourage everyone to pray for the future of the Society of Friends, not that any faction should prevail, but that we all be able to seek humbly together what God would have us do and how God's Kingdom might best be made manifest in our splintered Society.

Will T

March 19, 2007 10:44 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Will--

It was great to see you and spend some time with you and so many others this past First Day afternoon and evening. WoW.

As to this post, I find it rich, chewy, and thoughtful. I understand that you are continuing to process and live into the experience you had in Kenya, and I appreciate your response to what Marshall lifts up.

I find I am not given anything to say regarding this situation, as much as I am given some small charge to continue to hold you and so many others in prayer...

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

March 21, 2007 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Stewart said...

Dear Friends - In my humble opinion, it serves no useful purpose to debate Scripture. Scholars wiser than we have been doing this for centuries and are no closer to unity now than they were in the reign of Constantine.

Also, none of us has gone into this with an authentically open mind, myself included. We all were feeling that the Devine would lead the "others" on the FUM General Board to relent and ease off their positions. Not only did that not happen, but Orthodox Friends entrenched themselves and basically announced that they would be pleased if Liberal Friends would get off our soap box about gender equality, stop being a distracting influence, let them concentrate on raising funds and let them get on with the missionary work that is the purpose of FUM.

At this point, the reality is that we Liberal Friends of the five dually affiliated yearly meetings can either loving accept the fact that we are in the way and accept the invitation to disaffiliate or we can hang in there like a pesky thorn for the next 20 years or so until social mores from the East Coast filter westward.

The problem with staying affiliated is that Liberal Friends would have to live under the umbrella of and be affiliated with an orthodox dogmatic creed that flies in the face of the spiritual tradition we have been a part of since the 1600s. We unprogrammed Friends have no dogma and no creed. We use Queries to examine our lives as they relate to our Testimonies of Peace, Equality, Integrity, Simplicity and Community. And we read and interpret Scripture in this spirit. Affirmation of The Richmond Declaration essentially tells us that our faith has no validity and no place in FUM.

My prayer is that Friends will find "a third way".

Love in the Light,
Lisa Stewart
Palm Beach Monthly Meeting
Southeastern Yearly Meeting Repredentative to the FUM General Board

March 21, 2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Zach A said...

Will,
As someone who commented previously in favor of leaving FUM, your point is well taken that Friends should rarely make decisions simply on the basis of percentages and majorities. But that wasn’t the basis of my comments, speaking for myself.

The reason I lean towards leaving, at least at the YM level, is simply because I think we are dealing with two different kinds of religion here. Not Christ-centered vs. not-Christ-centered, but spiritual vs. Biblical, continuing revelation vs. authoritative revelation. In putting the Bible above the inspiration of the spirit (or what amounts to the same thing, using it as the final court of appeals for spiritual leadings), FUM and EFI Friends in an important way cease to the co-religionists of people whose religion is instead one of inwardness, personal experience, and the challenging of outward forms.

I worry that we sometimes blind ourselves to this fact by the historical accident that both kinds of religion happen to be descended from the same movement.

March 21, 2007 6:17 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Liz,
I was glad to see you and the other Friends who filled my house on Sunday. I found it refreshing to be dealing with issues of convergence rather than divergence for a while. I took some pictures intending to post them here but I had left my camera on some setting other than point and shoot and the pictures did not come out. :^(

Lisa,
There is a third way. It is the way of convergent Friends. It is the way of building personal relationships and getting to know each other's hearts so that we can begin to trust each other's spritual insights. It is a Biblically informed Quakerism rooted in the direct experience of the indwelling Christ. It is a Quakerism where lives are transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a Quakerism where people are consciously committed to living in the Kingdom of God here and now.

Zach,
I know you did not raise the question of majorities. Certainly there are times when liberal and evangelical Quakerism look like two entirely separate things. This is especially true if you are located towards either end of the spectrum. The vision that I describe above is more in the middle of that spectrum. To use another analogy, as long as liberal Friends and the evangelical end of FUM are orbiting around each other, there remains a center of gravity or center of rotation that holds the system together. As long as that center holds there is a place for the third way to grow. But once the orbiting bodies fly off in their own directins, the center is lost. And that is why I do not want to see more fragmentation among Friends.

Blessings to all,

Will

March 21, 2007 8:52 PM  
Blogger Zach A said...

Will,
I think I can appreciate that perspective. On the one hand, I've got my own criticisms of liberal Quakerism – I basically agree with Richard's comment here, for example.

And on the other hand there are things I appreciate about evangelical Friends, in my sketchy knowledge of them, like (a) having a tradition that is intellectually coherent enough that they can say "we believe ___" (b) the belief that they do have good news to share and don't have a problem with sharing it; and (c) the way that they seem to have retained the concept that religion should be transformative, regenerative, and challenging more than liberal Friends have.

But I don't see why we can't simply try directly to reform liberal Quakerism to include these things. Doing it in by counter-balancing one problematic tradition with another problematic tradition to me seems ill-advised, because we're as likely to be influenced by the negatives (for me, the idea that Quakerism should be exclusively Christian) as by the positives.

March 21, 2007 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Cathy H. said...

Hi, Friends,

I'm pretty new to the Quaker Blogosphere so please forgive me if I use improper etiquette. First a brief introduction: I'm 48, a life-long Quaker, a member of Clear Creek MM in Richmond, Indiana (Ohio Valley YM), and very active in FWCC. I've also attended several FUM General Board meetings, although not the recent one in Africa. I attended the FWCC workshop on Convergent Friends with Robin, Wess and others, and through that got the courage to add my voice to the electronic conversation.

I'd like to respond to Will's and Zach's latest comments.

Will, I agree very much with your description of the orbiting bodies around the center, and your desire for no new fragmentation. Over the past few years I have sensed among Friends a movement in towards the center, even before the word "Convergent Friends" was coined, and I rejoice in that movement. We don't all have to have the exact same beliefs, but the center is vitally important. I think the weight in the middle is growing and that God is at work among us in new and exciting ways.

Zach, having been primarily in the liberal branch of Friends all my life, I have mixed feelings about that tradition. I've come to a peaceful resolution of sorts, mostly by realizing that my own tradition is not monolithic. I used to be pretty judgmental about liberal Friends, but I'm trying to stop that and start treating everyone as individuals.

I wanted to respond to your suggestion that we try directly to reform the liberal branch. A decade ago I would have jumped on that bandwagon in a heartbeat. Now, however, I see things differently. I believe it is God's job, not mine, to change people's hearts and convince them of God's Truth. Arguing or debating with folks will not win them over. We can't change anything but ourselves. Only God can change others.

One thing I like about the Convergent Friends movement, at least as I am beginning to understand it, is that people share the truths they have learned without trying to convince others that their truths are, well, the Truth. We look to God for our personal guidance, and leave others in God's loving hands without judging or trying to change them. What is absolutely amazing is that more and more Friends are arriving at a similar place on their own, without someone else pushing them there. This is how I know that the Convergent Friends movement is a true movement of the Holy Spirit.

The second thing I like about Convergent Friends is that we are a group of Christian Quakers, without apology or qualification. Others are of course free to be non-Christian Quakers, but the center, as I understand it, is Christian. It's not about whether other Quakers "should" be Christian, but rather that those of us who are Christian are finding each other in the center. It's descriptive rather than prescriptive.

So, I hope I don't sound judgmental in my remarks! I do appreciate the opportunity to share with others in this important conversation.

Cathy Habschmidt

March 23, 2007 3:34 PM  
Blogger Zach A said...

Hi Cathy,
Thanks for your comments. I'm not aware of any Quaker blogosphere etiquette that you've violated :)

Let me clarify a little by what I meant by trying to "directly reform" the liberal branch, which was a punchy but misleading choice of phrase. I don't have much desire to try to impose any change on existing liberal Quaker meetings or institutions against their will, e.g. by "arguing or debating." I think the current state of things in most liberal circles does suit many of the people there, and I don't want to take anything away from them.

What I meant by "reform" was simply taking the initiative to create the kinds of communities we want, instead of complaining that we don't have them. This could mean starting a reading group, a worship group, even a new meeting, all things I'm considering.

I'm glad that, in your experience, Convergent Friends are unapologetically Christian but don't feel the need to Christianize (or Convergentize) other Friends who aren't.

But coming back to the broader conversation, to me its seems more consistent with that ethic to let liberal YMs leave FUM, and let whatever individuals or smaller groups that wish it seek FUM fellowship. Don't you agree?

March 23, 2007 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James Lamm jlamm2223443@yahoo.com

I am a somewhat new quaker (unprogrammed)
but also someone who has attended a
great deal of conservative churches
like those at FUM (although they do
not have the quaker name).
In my mind, a lot of the way unproggrammed
meetings think is akin to what David
said in Psalms where I believe he said
God had grown tired of animal sacrifices,
... but wanted a contrite heart. In
other words, long before Jesus and a
new covenent, he sensed God had a new
way of looking at sin. Likewise
Joshua "loved his enemies" by killing
every man woman and child of the
cities he conquered. What? That is
not love, but then again in the old
testiment love seems to be something
more confined to "within" Isreal
(as far as I can tell). It
is only with Jesus that God changes
the way we look at love to even
include our enemies. In Psalms, over
and over again David expresses anything
but love for his enemies but then
David is called a man after God's own
heart. How can this be so? Becuase
God is always revealing more to man.
Man's wisdom does not stay the same
within a man's lifetime nor does it stay
the same within the lifetime of
the species. Paul was clearly against
Gays much as old testimate people were
against eating some shellfish. Should
this be the last word? This seems to
be what divides FUM meetings. I offer
no solution just this observation.

March 25, 2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Labels divide! I am not going to discuss Scripture. More and more I am convinced that we need to concentrate on a shared experience and rather than trying to agree on what to name it.

I was at the General Board meetings in Africa and can tell you it was painful. Although I said initially I went with an open heart and an open mind, in retrospect I can tell you I did not. And neither did anyone else. We all were hopeing "the others" would move closer to "us". Nobody ever considered a "third way". We are all so comfortable with our own manner of worship and our theology because "it works for us". But because it works for us we have no right to insist that it must work for others. What the General Board has failed to acknowlege is that all paths have validity as long as they lead to a meaningful relationship with God. Nothing good ever came from insisting that only one spiritual path is The Truth.

Since before Jesus was born mankind has been slaughtering one another over organized religion and we continue to this day. I believe that Jesus came to teach us how we had it wrong and how every person has the capacity for a Divine experience. "The kingdom of God is within you"! What a concept! George Fox got it. And we Quakers got it for awhile. Now we're doing what man has been doing throughout recorded history -arguing Scripture and building walls. The Quakers,Episcopalians, Irish, Bosnians, Jews and Palestinians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, et al. It makes no sense. It has no logic, other than the desire to be in control.

Surely nobody thinks God wrote the Bible. The manuscripts discovered in the last 75 years tell us that the men who put togther the Bible at the behest of Constantine had an agenda and selected only those gospels that supported their purpose and they banned as heretical the gospels that disagreed with them. Daniel, Thomas, Mary, Judas, are the ones I know about.

The challenge before us today is to discern how we can follow the the teachings Jesus Christ and George Fox. Both bade us to see that of God in every man, to extend love and to withold judgment. "May you walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in every man."

Lisa Stewart

March 26, 2007 10:57 AM  
Blogger Johan Maurer said...

I confess I'd rather see Friends groups who are allergic to biblical unity simply leave FUM rather than insist that FUM Friends abandon insights and points of unity that are precious to them. On the other hand, it would be tragic if such departures were based on misinformation or very partial impressions or hasty judgments, or on the basis of comparing the best of one's local group with the worst of another.

Lisa, you say that it serves no useful purpose to debate Scripture; those debates don't lead to unity. In the sector of Quakerism I inhabit, we feel that debating Scripture DOES serve useful purposes; this is one of the things that persistently divides us from Friends who identify themselves as liberal. The word "debate" may or may not be used in a loaded way--when I say "debating" I mean discussing with passion, not meanly scoring points, and that may not be what you mean. But I also believe that discussions of Scripture may lead to significant unity. FUM Friends (I am referring to Friends in FUM-only yearly meetings, not overlapping or united yearly meetings) are by no means monolithic or uniformly "conservative" in any meaningful sense, but probably most of us have significant unity on important biblical insights. I don't think it is right to disregard this degree of unity.

I am sorry (truly sorry) that you have not witnessed a productive and uplifting debate about the Bible. That might partly be because those who have done the debating in your hearing have had mixed agendas. It may be because you've been exposed to FUM Friends at our worst, and not at our best. This is not a happy insight for me, if it's true.

May I gently disagree with a few other things you said? (Please "debate" if you think I'm wrong!)
You wrote, "Since before Jesus was born mankind has been slaughtering one another over organized religion and we continue to this day. I believe that Jesus came to teach us how we had it wrong and how every person has the capacity for a Divine experience. 'The kingdom of God is within you'! What a concept!" Jesus said some other things, too; his basic message was "repent and believe the Good News." Repentance is a crucial step in spiritual growth, in my opinion. (Taking repentance seriously would probably also reduce the amount of corrosive, mean-spirited misuse of the Bible!) He also said you must be spiritual reborn, which I take to mean (at least) a commitment to a complete reorientation from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

You go on to say, "George Fox got it. And we Quakers got it for awhile. Now we're doing what man has been doing throughout recorded history -arguing Scripture and building walls." Early Friends debated Scripture frequently--much of George Fox's doctrinal writings and Barclay's Apology are biblical arguments on behalf of central Friends insights.

You write, "Surely nobody thinks God wrote the Bible. The manuscripts discovered in the last 75 years tell us that the men who put togther the Bible at the behest of Constantine had an agenda and selected only those gospels that supported their purpose and they banned as heretical the gospels that disagreed with them. Daniel, Thomas, Mary, Judas, are the ones I know about." Most FUM Friends believe that God inspired the Bible, and some are quite literalistic in their understanding of the Scripture. I honor their reverence, even as I believe that literalism is spiritually risky and intellectually untenable. The process by which the Bible was ratified by the church was far more transparent and complicated, and far less conspiratorial, than you imply. I think there are very good reasons why the books that didn't make it into the consensus Bibles were left out--or, to put it another way, why the assemblers were led by the Holy Spirit to leave them out. Those unaccepted books tend to add irrelevant and legendary biographical details, imply that true spirituality is for an elite, and sometimes deny the goodness of creation. Most of those manuscripts have been available for far longer than 75 years, and the accounts of the debates around the formation of the Bible and major Christian doctrines were available at the time the debates were going on. Of course, most of that information was only available to the elites of the time, which was why the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and the Friends arguments against hierarchy, were so important.

"Arguing Scripture" is not the same as "building walls." Community develops around shared values and shared experiences; those who don't share a community's values probably should not feel entitled to require that community change to suit them. However, the community should welcome everyone who wants to honor or at least try out those values. If some Friends don't want to belong to a Quaker community that esteems the Scriptures, they are free to join or form another Quaker (or non-Quaker) community that is looser on this point. Assuming love and courtesy prevail, those two communities may be able to do a lot together, while continuing to discuss in an affectionate way why they advocate incompatible viewpoints about the Bible. However, I do want to protest when early Friends are cited as proof that Friends should not debate the Bible.

Lisa, I really hope that I haven't come across as relentlessly negative. I apologize for the behavior of those evangelical and FUM Friends who have valued polemics over love--I've probably done some of that myself. I have no doubt that Friends who are comfortable with the "liberal" label are sometimes right, and their evangelical counterparts are sometimes wrong, about very important issues.

March 27, 2007 11:05 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

It was good for me to see Johan Maurer's response here to Lisa Stewart. I've been feeling drawn to respond to Lisa myself, but have hesitated because there is so much involved.

Lisa writes that she did not go to the General Board meeting in Africa with an open mind. That is a praiseworthy confession. There's a need, though, when one realizes that one's mind has not been open, to make an effort to practice greater openness thenceforth. Is Lisa doing this?

Lisa writes that "what the General Board has failed to acknowledge is that all paths have validity as long as they lead to a meaningful relationship with God." But it should be no surprise that the General Board did not acknowledge this. Indeed, it would be unreasonable to expect that the General Board would acknowledge this. Why? Because one of the basic facts of Christian theology is that everyone has a meaningful relationship with God -- even the damned.

Those who sit in monastic cells and do nothing in the face of great evil still have a meaningful relationship with God, for all that they fail the test of Matthew 25:31-46. Even those who actively choose evil, like Judas, or like the Pharisees who helped encompass Christ's death, or like the Spanish Inquisition, still have, and experience, a meaningful relationship with God. But such meaningfulness does not make their paths valid. What makes a path valid is the practice of true obedience to the true Voice -- in other words, true discipleship. This is not just Biblical (Matthew 7:21, I John 3:18, James 1:22, etc.) -- it is plain sense.

To demand that the General Board acknowledge that all paths have validity so long as they lead to a meaningful relationship with God, is to demand that the General Board forsake Christ's call to discipleship. That is hardly a demand likely to further the cause of harmony between the liberal Quaker crowd and FUM. It would be more helpful to acknowledge that, even though the means the majority on the Board has chosen may be flawed, that majority is at least genuinely trying to inculcate true discipleship through its decisions.

Lisa declares that "nothing good ever came from insisting that only one spiritual path is The Truth." But it was Christ himself who taught that "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no person comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Is an assertion tantamount to saying that nothing good ever came from a particular teaching of Christ himself, really an appropriate thing for a representative from a liberal yearly meeting to the FUM General Board to make? Does not such a representative have certain ambassadorial responsibilities, including responsibilities to show understanding, tact, and respect, and thereby earn some respect in her turn?

Lisa writes, "Surely nobody thinks God wrote the Bible." Johan has already responded to this statement, but I'd like to add to Johan's remarks. A 2006 opinion poll, sponsored by two branches of the Pew Foundation and downloadable here, found that 35% of the American public believes the Bible is the actual word of God, to be taken literally. This 35% included one-third of the U.S.'s "progressive Christians". The authors of the survey report commented that "these numbers have remained largely unchanged since Pew began asking the question in 1996."

A 2006 opinion poll by the Gallup Organization found that 28% of American adults believed that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally.

Whether the true percentage is 28% or 35% is not the issue here. Whatever the percentage is, it is a very substantial, and visible, chunk, not only of the American populace, but of the human race in general, and of FUM in particular -- a chunk that has tried hard to get some basic respect for their right to their point of view from the rest of the world. To write as if these people didn't even exist, ill befits a person entrusted with ambassadorial responsibilities to an important body of such people.

Lisa asserts that "men ... put together the Bible at the behest of Constantine". Johan has spoken to this, too, but again I'd like to add some words of my own. For this is not only a quite belittling assertion regarding the most sacred text of Christendom, it is entirely at odds with the historical record. The Emperor Constantine had nothing to do with it; the creation of the canon was not a creature of secular politics (for all that religious politics were involved); and the development of the canonical Bible was a process that occupied centuries of thoughtful debate. These are easy facts to verify. One could see for example the on-line article at Wikipedia, which is one of the first things that will turn up in any Google search regarding the Biblical canon.

If, as Lisa says, "the challenge before us today is to discern how we can follow the the teachings [of] Jesus Christ and George Fox," then let us note not only that John 14:6 ("no person comes to the Father except through me") is one of the teachings of Jesus Christ, but also that George Fox was the principal author of the letter to the Governor and Assembly of Barbados (1671). In that letter, the leaders of the Quaker movement affirmed that Jesus "alone is our Redeemer and Saviour ... neither is there salvation in any other.... And as concerning the holy scriptures, we believe they were given forth by the holy spirit of God, through the holy men of God, who ... 'spoke as they were moved by the holy ghost'. We believe they are to be read, believed, and fulfilled ... and they are 'profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness....' We believe the holy scriptures are the words of God...." I quite agree with Lisa that the challenge before us is to live up to the teachings of Christ and Fox, but I would encourage her to remember that these, too, are to be numbered among the teachings in question.

March 28, 2007 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

This conversation has been very informative for me. (I am new to New England Yearly Meeting and was beginning to become more involved with my yearly meeting, North Carolina YM (Conservative), just before we moved. I have not been in a monthly meeting or yearly meeting that was affiliated with FUM before.) So this conversation has helped me begin to understand some of the issues and history that is relevant to the current tensions in FUM. I am grateful for all the posts to this conversation.

Several people have correctly articulated that there are fundamental differences between the liberal end of Quakerism and the more evangelical end of Quakerism. This is certainly true, but it is clear to me that there is a continuum of belief between these two ends of the spectrum. Many, many friends find themselves towards the middle of this continuum.

My membership is in Durham MM (NCYM-C). This meeting is a large, more liberal, more FGC-oriented meeting in many ways. We are dually affiliated with Piedmont Friends Fellowship (PFF) (which is part of FGC) and North Carolina Yearly Meeting – Conservative (NCYM-C). I think there are many ways that this dual affiliation has been extremely important to the life of this meeting.

For me personally, I have found the affiliation with NCYM-C very important. I have attended FGC and been very involved in PFF and found the Spirit present with these Friends. Some of those in Durham who have been essential nurturers and elders in my spiritual path identify more on a theological level with FGC.

And, yet, I find myself called to a more Christian spiritually. Attending NCYM-C sessions in the summertime has been extremely enriching for me. Because I am Christian, there is something essential to me about worshipping and seeking with others who feel that Christ is calling them to be disciples. There is something really important to me about answering queries in the traditional manner. The sense of our identity as a community is quite different, I believe, than the ideal of most liberal Quaker communities. I also think that this understanding of community in subtle ways informs and guides who Durham Friends Meeting is and how it understands itself.

If Durham FM were to withdraw its membership from NCYM-C, I think that I would have to reconsider my membership in this meeting. I love many, many people very, very much, but I would feel such a sense of loss in terms of the vision of who we are as Quakers. I am not trying to say that FGC is inferior to NCYM-C. It is just that the affiliation to NCYM-C is really important to how the meeting nurtures and guides me personally. If Durham FM withdrew from FGC, I am sure that many Friends would reconsider their membership as well. At this time there is no concern that either of these would happen.

My point here is to explain what I am beginning to understand about New England Yearly Meeting’s (NEYM) dual affiliation with FUM and FGC. Both of these affiliations nurture and feed and give vision to different individuals and monthly meetings within the yearly meeting. If FUM should fall apart or NEYM should withdraw (which I think is hard to imagine), many, many Friends in NEYM who are in the middle of this continuum would feel a real sense of loss.

I think this is why Will finds these discussions so painful. (Correct me if I am wrong, Will.) The Friends in the middle feel disregarded and not understood. They feel that while they have given huge parts of their lives to NEYM and to FUM, Friends at both ends of the spectrum aren’t even trying to understand them.

In Peace, Andrew

March 29, 2007 9:59 AM  
Anonymous Lisa Stewart said...

Oh, Johan, how nice to hear from you! I always appreciate and respect your input. I have been wanting to speak with you for a while now but lost your e-mail address as well as mailing. Can you contact me, please, at beachplumlisa@bellsouth.net. Thank you. Love, Lisa

March 29, 2007 12:15 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Andrew,
There are a number of things that I find painful about this discussion. Some have to do with feelings of not being heard of valued and those are related to process issues. What is by far harder is to see the ends of the Quaker spectrum holding on so tightly to a portion of the Quaker message and not realize that they only have a portion. At one end, Friends are clutching to the Biblical and Christian tradition and have lost sight of the radical inclusion of the outcast that Jesus taught and lived. On the other end, Friends have focused so hard on the value of the individual relationship with God that they have lost sight of the Christian and Biblical roots of Quakerism. There are many who focus on the testimonies as an end in themselves and not as the fruit of a transformed life.

What pains me is that people would rather hold onto their broken shards rather than try to heal what was broken and come to a Quakerism where the law is indeed written on our hearts and the knowledge of God covers the earth as the water covers the sea. And which understands and is nourished by the tradition where those words come from. A Quakerism which has recovered its prophetic voice because its members have experienced the transforming power of God in their lives and because it is strongly grounded in the prophetic tradition as well.

March 29, 2007 10:47 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

Hello, Will!

I've been holding your latest comment here in the Light, in my heart, a few days.

You write, "At one end, Friends are clutching to the Biblical and Christian tradition and have lost sight of the radical inclusion of the outcast that Jesus taught and lived." I don't think this is entirely fair to Friends on that end of the spectrum.

Christ included the outcast, but was wary of the Samaritan and the Roman, and excluded the hypocrite and the unreformed sinner altogether. His disciples, after his death, accepted Gentiles but only insofar as the Gentiles in question accepted an explicitly Christian path; and they continued to exclude hypocrites and unreformed sinners.

There is nothing in that formulation that would seem to require Friends "clutching to the Biblical and Christian tradition" to accept nonChristian or nontheist Friends, unrepentant sinners, or hypocrites, is there? And that, in the eyes of Friends on the rightward end of the spectrum, is a list of characteristics that would apply to most liberal Friends and even many Conservative Friends.

You write, "What pains me is that people would rather hold onto their broken shards rather than try to heal what was broken and come to a Quakerism where the law is indeed written on our hearts and the knowledge of God covers the earth as the water covers the sea." But again, in the eyes of Friends on the rightward end of the spectrum, such healing would not be genuine if Friends on the leftward end did not repent their sins and come to Jesus.

I certainly would prefer that FUM survive intact and healthy. But demanding that it remain intact on liberal terms which, to the rightward end of the spectrum, are profoundly antithetical to Christian discipleship, is tantamount to demanding that Friends on that rightward end cease being disciples themselves. Did Paul not say, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers"? (II Corinthians 6:14 -- and do read on to the end of the chapter!)

If it comes down to a choice between joining with liberals and joining with Christ in their minds, we had better believe that they will choose Christ. And if you and I want reconciliation, we need to be careful not to present either side with unacceptable demands.

April 01, 2007 2:01 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Marshall,
I am also asking the impossible of liberal Friends. I am asking that they give up their "allergy" to Christianity. I am asking that they engage seriously with the Christian and Biblical roots of Quakerism. Just as we might ask on one side if it is still Quakerism if you include water baptism and outward communion, we must also ask, is it still Quakerism if you exclude God and Christ?

As for hypocrites and unrepentant sinners, it seems to me that they are fairly evenly spread across the spectrum.

I am concerned that we are letting the extremes determine the discussion. There is a lot of Quakerism that falls between non-theistic Friends and the far end of the Evangelical spectrum. That is the area I am most interested in exploring. It is that middle ground that needs to be strengthened. With that in mind, it is probably time for me to return to my explorations of Barclay. But that is a task for another day.

Peace,
Will

April 04, 2007 8:23 AM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey said...

I agree that there are hypocrites and unrepentant sinners all across the spectrum; I never meant to suggest otherwise, and I apologize if I gave that impression.

In fact, I find myself guilty both of hypocrisy and of lack of genuine repentance on a more-or-less daily basis.

April 05, 2007 8:07 AM  
Blogger Will T said...

Marshall,
Apology accepted. On further reflection I regretted including that paragraph because the tone was off. I also understood you to be reporting on a view held by others. I think that James 1:19-20 should be inscribed on my computer monitor for me to see and ponder while I participate in any on-line discussion: "Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness."

Blessings,
Will

April 05, 2007 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Bill Samuel said...

We now have the first official response from one of the 5 dually affiliated YMs to the tension with FUM. At its just concluded YM sessions, Southeastern YM suspended its membership in FUM for 2 years. This automatically becomes termination at the end of that period unless in the meantime the YM decides on another course of action.

Is this the beginning of the end of dual affiliation?

April 09, 2007 9:24 PM  
Anonymous Lisa Stewart said...

Dear Friends: Last week on the 7th day of Fourth Month, close to midnight after three days of threshing, Southeastern YM came to unity with a minute that was a loving solution for both SEYM and FUM. The minute states that SEYM will suspend its membership in FUM for two years and, in the interim, seek to forge a new and loving relationship between our two bodies. If we are comfortable with where we are in two years time, the membership will be laid down, otherwise we will reactivate it.

Too many years of time and energy have gone by with no unity on our differing perspectives of theology and morality and those differences will not melt away any time soon. The most good for the greatest number of people happens when Quaker organizations work side by side for humanitarian purposes and don't feel that we must have a seat on one another's governing boards and hammer at one another with our Truths.

SEYM is now seeking a way forward to forge a different kind of relationship with FUM where we can extend love and withold judgment and still work together. What a concept!

Thankfully, Arthur Larrabbee spoke to us at our Gathering about Quaker clerking and leadership. I found that I was able to unite peacefully with our minute, even though I had such mixed feelings. Arthur said that, as leaders, we must place our personal feelings aside and think of what is best for the the body as a whole.

As Lisa, the person, I was heartbroken and tearfully sad about no longer working with the Friends in FUM whom I have come to know and love. I was so looking forward to seeing everyone at the retreat and listening to Tom Hamm.

However, this is not about me. It is about the well being of the body of SEYM and the well being of the body of FUM. Keeping that in mind, I was able to acknowlege my conflict and say it is okay not to be of one mind. I believe what we were led to do was an honorable and tender "Third Way allowing time for seasoning" that Quakers have sought since the 1600s. It allows us all to cease our bickering and get on with God's work as we are led. Our coming to unity was Spirit led, I have no doubt, and represents traditional Quakerism at its finest.

May we all continue to extend Love as we seek Way forward. Blessings and Peace to you my Friends, Lisa

April 13, 2007 2:39 PM  
Blogger URfriend, Dean Johnson said...

Is Christ the only way to God? [John 14:6]. This Quakerly topic came up on my blog as well.
URfriendly Reflections


The John 14 passage is Jesus comforting Peter concerning his coming thrice denial of the Christ,
John 13:38
.

Jesus comforts Peter by explaining that Christ is the way to God. Peter is included in the Christ who is the temple of God and the house with many mansions, that returns to the Father.

Access to the Father is provided in the Christ. Even if we deny him, and even "If we believe not, [yet] he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)

Access to God is found in this temple. Peter is included in the temple, and in the Christ. And so Christ is the way to the Father, not only for Peter, but also for all who are included. In
Ephesians 2:14-15
, Paul explains this more explicitly by stating that Jews and Gentiles or all humanity is included in this cosmic body of Christ [Ephesians 1:10, 4:6] that returns to the Father. This universal temple that has many mansions for all humanity is the house that God is building. Ephesians 2:19.

For every house is builded by some [man]; but he that built all things [is] God. Hebrews 3:4.

I suggest that Jesus' words are far more inclusive than is commonly understood.

Check it out if you like.

A Christ Centered Universalist Quaker Styled Believer,

URfriend, Dean Johnson

July 07, 2007 3:23 AM  

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