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.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ron Bryan's observations

Ron Bryan, General Superintendant of Iowa Yearly Meeting(FUM), left the following message as a comment to my article "Back from Africa with a broken heart." I didn't want to leave it at the end of a long discussion where it would be easy to miss. With his permission I am posting it here as a guest article.

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.


Blogger MartinK said...

Dear Ron, thank you so much for this. As an editor of I try to highlight blog posts that I hope others will read and part of that process if finding a 50-word quote to accompany my recommendation. Let me just tell you I found that so hard with your post, as you say so many interesting things, things I hope Friends from across the theological spectrum will chew over (if you ever quit your day job you could become a blogger!)

Thanks too to Will T for highlighting this as its own post!

March 05, 2007 6:07 PM  
Blogger Laurie Kruczek said...

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.

That embrace is what holds me fast to Quakerism, and I pray to never let it go.

Thank you for posting this.

March 06, 2007 3:46 AM  
Blogger Zach A said...

I appreciate your caution about excessive “wordsmithing,” so I’ll try to be focused.

Basically, I see no problem with FUM wanting to define itself how it wants to define itself -- be it the purpose statement or the Richmond Declaration -- and not be dragged down by having as full participants people who don’t share that vision.

And it seems clear that my yearly meeting, New England, does not. Particular Friends and monthly meetings maybe, but that’s a very different thing. I suspect the same is true of the other dual affiliates.

So to me it seems best that such YMs withdraw, and such particular Friends and monthly meetings affiliate directly (or through ad-hoc regional associations). If those YMs want to continue to support particular FUM projects, as I believe we would, hopefully that would be possible on an individual basis. (Anyone know the facts here?)

That said, such a break-up will be much less painful if we see it primarily as about conflicting leadings and definitions, and try to limit our bashing of other Quaker branches. You seem to engage in a bit of this here, in suggesting that the only alternative to Biblical Christianity is self-indulgence (as if no non-Christian Friends live lives of sacrifice).

In a similar way it seems fruitless to argue about whose positions are more "Quaker." It’s a virtually unanswerable question, early Friends not having been perfectly clear on many things, notably scripture. Your impression of the influential Friends you mention may be correct, but it may also be misleading, and we could argue that point for another few centuries. But more importantly, it's an unimportant question, all things considered -- because the ultimately important question is how we (me, you, NEYM, FUM, etc.) are actually being led.

In friendship,
Zach Alexander

March 06, 2007 4:34 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Like Zack it bothers me that you have come back from this meeting after hearing the views of more liberal Friends who do not much like the Richmond Declaration and you seem to have no understanding of them. Your tone is very polite but the ways that you describe them are nothing short of caricature. Liberal Christians who reject treating the Bible as inerrant are not secularists who reject God and just want to please themselves. I almost said that this post makes me glad that North Carolina conservative is not affiliated with FUM. But actually I have met a number of very good people who I would be happy to associate with who are members of FUM. My problem is with the leadership of FUM.

March 07, 2007 12:21 PM  
Blogger quakerboy said...

Friend Richard speaks my mind.

I am a Quaker and someone who attempts to follow Jesus' teachings. My understanding is that Jesus said He would send His Spirit to lead us into all Truth. Nowhere does He say that he would send a book.

While I would agree with most of the Richmond Declaration, it should never be used as a test of faithfulness to God and God's church.


March 08, 2007 2:08 PM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Ron, thank you for your comments.

FUM does need to stand somewhere. While I am leery of too much reliance on formal statements of faith, since doctrine is inevitably at best statements about Truth which can not fully capture it, not the Truth itself (I still hold to the radical idea that Jesus is the Truth), it is quite understandable to me that circumstances pretty much dictated reaffirming the Declaration as the way to take a stand.

I think this comes about because of the dually affiliated YMs where the predominant view is quite different from FUM's historical stand. If they weren't part of FUM, I do not think that such a need to reaffirm what already was official FUM doctrine would have been felt.

Really, I think the African Friends and many North American FUM-only Friends would really prefer just to get on with fulfilling FUM's Purpose Statement. They are distracted by the Friends from the dual affiliation YMs harping on the gay/lesbian issue, not a big issue for FUM-only Friends except in reaction, and highlighting the widespread existence of faith understandings sharply at odds with traditional Orthodox Quaker ones among YMs that remain technically affiliated with FUM.

Short of something like a Pentecost experience, the differences will not be bridged in a few years or likely even decades. The phenomenon of the views of 5 YMs not counting in the unity speaks volumes. Yet I believe it is appropriate, as in fact those YMs do not stand in the unity of FUM. This experience highlights how inappropriate it is to have YMs in FUM who do not agree on its purpose.

March 09, 2007 10:16 AM  
Blogger quakerboy said...

Bill writes: "They are distracted by the Friends from the dual affiliation YMs harping on the gay/lesbian issue..."

The only problem I see in what you write is that Yearly Meetings, and I'm not talking about dual affiliated YM's, are divided on several issues with the core issue being the place of the Bible in Quaker theology.

For example, it is no secret that North Carolina YM (FUM)is going through a hard time right now discerning if the YM can even stay together. It is the "gay issue" that the YM is dealing with right now. But I suggest that the "gay issue" is a symptom of a deeper divide.

From an outsider's perspective (I am a Conservative Friend), it would seem that the issue is between progressive Meetings and those which still hold to the post-Gurney holiness understandings. Many FUM Meetings in North Carolina are served by hired ministers who either are not Quaker (by thier own admission) and those who were influenced by evangelical Bible colleges/seminaries.

So what is the solution? I'm not so sure at what point fellowship must be broken or how that would take place. But I do know that the Quarterly Meetings I have attended in NCYM (FUM) have lacked any resemblence to Quaker process. I've seen people be very disrespectful in these sessions...on both "sides".

My suggestion for all of us is to pray for our brothers and sisters in FUM. We might not know what the answer is, but God does. If we will open our hearts to God's leading, then perhaps all of this will be taken care of.

And one more thing, Bill. Don't forget that there are gay and lesbian Christians in FUM who would agree with the sentiment of the Richmond Declaration and are being hurt by all of this. And even though you didn't say it, I remind Friends being gay and Christian are not mutually exclusive.

Some of us are much more conservative than our "straight" Friends. So we are caught in the middle...evangelical Friends don't feel comfortable with us because we are gay, liberal Friends don't feel comfortable with us because we are Christian.

While we are often treated like "the crazy aunt in the attic", many of us just want to follow Jesus as best we can. While it may seem like people "harp" on this issue, for us, it is no different than what Woolman did to change the minds of Friends around the slavery issue. The important thing is that we do so as we walk in the Light of Christ.

Enough said...peace!


March 09, 2007 2:10 PM  
Blogger Zach A said...

As is probably clear from my last message, I largely agree with you about it being best for the dual affiliate YMs to leave.

But I don't think that circumstance itself necessitates FUM taking a stand on the Richmond Declaration. Merely requiring all FUM YMs to affirm the same purpose statement as FUM has would've been more than enough. Affirming such a detailed doctrinal confession, both the act and the content the act affirms, is a much bigger deal.

March 09, 2007 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I greatly appreciated Ron Bryan's efforts to explain his views and concerns and those of his faith community. What he had to say were things I was glad to hear. I rather regret that Ron did not meet with a gentler reception here.

March 11, 2007 6:45 AM  
Blogger Bill Samuel said...

Zach A writes, "I don't think that circumstance itself necessitates FUM taking a stand on the Richmond Declaration. Merely requiring all FUM YMs to affirm the same purpose statement as FUM has would've been more than enough."

I agree. As Johan Maurer has indicated, Friends get tied up in symbolic politics. That's a shame.

I would recommend that membership in FUM be on the basis of general agreement by the body as a while on FUM's purpose. Give until the next Triennial for YMs to decide whether or not they have unity on that.

March 14, 2007 8:24 PM  

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