Over on beppeblog, occassional QR commenter Joe Guada talks about starting a Bible study group in his Friends meeting. It’s a great post, which really pulls together some of the issues of those of us trying to be both conservative and liberal in our Quakerism.
None of their concerns were a surprise to me; I’ve had many of the same myself. What did surprise me was how long it took members to finally approach me with their “concerns” (a Friendly euphemism for being in complete disagreement with another). They seemed to be taking the Bible too literally…
I doubt that I changed any minds during our lengthy, but respectful conversation. But, unlike what seems like the opinion of the majority of liberal Friends, where personal and corporate revelation is the sole arbiter of faith, I believe that individuals and groups need far more than that to keep us from deteriorating into a “least-common-denominator”, sentimental faith that tries to be all things to (most) everybody (as long as they agree with our politics). I believe that Friends have a rich history to draw from, which includes our present Faith & Practice (along with past F&P’s), the writings and testimony of previous generations, and (hold your breath) the Bible.
This past week I’ve been wondering whether the best description of my spiritual state is a “conservative liberal Friend,” i.e., someone in the “liberal” branch of Friends who holds “conservative” values (I mean these terms in their theological sense, as descriptive terms that refer to well-defined historical movements). I feel a kinship with Joe and with some of the people I met this year at the FGC Gathering. There is a small-scale “conservative liberal” movement going on and it seems like we should figure out a name for ourselves.
Back in the 1970s and 80s there was a group dubbed “neoconservative Quakers,” liberal Friends who moved to conservative yearly meetings (especially Ohio) and outdid the homegrown conservatives, adopting plain dress and gaining a reputation for being sticklers on conservative theology and practice.
But although I’ve picked up plain dress, I’m not a 1970s “neoconservative” Friend. First off, I’m not moving to Ohio (it’s a lovely state I’m sure, but roots trump ideology for me any day of the week). I’m not even seriously considering leaving Liberal Quakerism. For all the sometimes muddied-thinking, I’m proud of our branch. I’m proud that we’ve said yes to gay and lesbian Friends and I see it as our positive comeuppance that so much of our religious leadership now comes from the FLGBTQC community (so many of whose members are solid Christians driven out of other denominations). I see us as one of the most dynamic, forward-thinking branch of Friends. Besides, liberal Quakerism is my home. I’ve been given enough hints that I think my ministry is here too. Not that I’m not grateful for all the branches of Quakerism. I am graced with new Friends met through this blog from all the branches of American Quakerism and I’ve found that there are those seeking out to reclaim Quakerism in each of them. I have brothers and sisters throughout Quakerdom, blessed be! But my role, my home, and my ministry is to be a Conservative-leaning voice among Liberal Friends. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that I’m not alone. Something is afoot in liberal Quakerism.
So what might we call ourselves? Is “conservative liberal Friends” a useful term?