Hey who am I to decide anything

Over on Non­the­ist Friends web­site, there’s an arti­cle look­ing back at ten years of FGC Gath­er­ing work­shops on their con­cern. There was also a post some­where on the blo­gos­phere (sor­ry I don’t remem­ber where) by a Pagan Friend excit­ed that this year’s Gath­er­ing would have a work­shop focused on their concerns.

It’s kind of inter­est­ing to look at the process by which new the­olo­gies are being added into Lib­er­al Quak­erism at an ever-increasing rate.

  • Mem­ber­ship of indi­vid­u­als in meet­ings. There are hun­dreds of meet­ings in lib­er­al Quak­erism that range all over the the­o­log­i­cal map. Add to that the wide­spread agree­ment that the­o­log­i­cal uni­ty with the meet­ing is not required and just about any­one believ­ing any­thing could be admit­ted some­where (or “grand­fa­thered in” as a birthright member).
  • A work­shop at the Friends Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence Gath­er­ing and espe­cial­ly a reg­u­lar work­shop at suc­ces­sive Gath­er­ings. Yet as the very informed com­ments on a post a few years ago showed, the­ol­o­gy is not some­thing the plan­ning work­shop com­mit­tee is allowed to look at and at least one pro­po­nent of a new the­ol­o­gy has got­ten them­selves on the decid­ing com­mit­tee. The Gath­er­ing is essen­tial­ly built on the non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al Chau­taqua mod­el and FGC is per­fect­ly hap­py to spon­sor work­shops that are in appar­ent con­flict with its own mis­sion statement.
  • An arti­cle pub­lished in Friends Jour­nal. When the the Quak­er Sweat Lodge was strug­gling to claim legit­i­ma­cy it all but changed its name to the “Quak­er Sweat Lodge as fea­tured in the Feb­ru­ary 2002 Friends Jour­nal.” It’s a good magazine’s job to pub­lish arti­cles that make peo­ple think and a smart mag­a­zine will know that arti­cles that pro­voke a lit­tle con­tro­ver­sy is good for cir­cu­la­tion. I very much doubt the edi­to­r­i­al team at the Jour­nal con­sid­ers its agree­ment to pub­lish to be an inoc­u­la­tion against critique.
  • A web­site and list­serv. Fif­teen dol­lars at GoDad​dy​.com and you’ve got the web address of your dreams. Yahoo Group is free.

There are prob­a­bly oth­er mech­a­nisms of legit­i­ma­cy. My point is not to give com­pre­hen­sive guide­lines to would-be cam­paign­ers. I sim­ply want to note that none of the actors in these deci­sions is con­scious­ly think­ing “hey, I think I’ll expand the def­i­n­i­tion of lib­er­al Quak­er the­ol­o­gy today.” In fact I expect they’re most­ly pass­ing the buck, think­ing “hey, who am I to decide any­thing like that.”

None of these decision-making process­es are meant to serve as tools to dis­miss oppo­si­tion. The orga­ni­za­tions involved are not hand­ing out Impri­maturs and would be quite hor­ri­fied if they real­ized their agree­ments were being seen that way. Amy Clark, a com­menter on my last post, on this summer’s reunion and camp for the once-young mem­bers of Young Friends North Amer­i­ca, had a very inter­est­ing comment:

I agree that YFNA has become FGC: those pre­vi­ous­ly involved in YFNA have tak­en lead­er­ship with FGC … with both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive results. Well … now we have a chance to look at the lega­cy we are cre­at­ing: do we like it?

I have the feel­ing that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of lib­er­al Quak­er lead­er­ship doesn’t quite believe it’s lead­ing lib­er­al Quak­erism. By “lead­er­ship” I don’t mean the small skim of the pro­fes­sion­al Quak­er bureau­cra­cy (whose mem­bers can get _too_ self-inflated on the lead­er­ship issue) but the com­mit­tees, clerks and vol­un­teers that get most of the work done from the local to nation­al lev­els. We are the inher­i­tors of a proud and some­times fool­ish tra­di­tion and our actions are shap­ing its future but I don’t think we real­ly know that. I have no clever solu­tion to the issues I’ve out­lined here but I think becom­ing con­scious that we’re cre­at­ing our own lega­cy is an impor­tant first step.

  • Wowl, Mar­tin, if I’m not very much mis­tak­en, I’m among those you’re tak­ing aim at here – quite true, Quak­er Pagan Reflec­tions did take out a GoDad­dy URL, and I have par­tic­i­pat­ed in dis­cus­sions on the Yahoo Group for Quak­er Pagans. Is that so very dreadful?
    I seem to have offend­ed you – or am I read­ing into your post a sar­cas­tic tone you did not intend?
    Mar­tin, may I ten­ta­tive­ly sug­gest – and request that you per­haps be open to sit­ting with, at least momen­tar­i­ly, a pos­si­bil­i­ty. Could it _possibly, even the­o­ret­i­cal­ly, be the case that, rather than that folks like are me “seek­ing legit­i­ma­cy” among Friends, or Friends who are com­fort­able with us are some­how abdi­cat­ing their lead­er­ship of lib­er­al quak­erism, we are instead fol­low­ing gen­uine leadings?
    I, for one, had an extreme­ly care­ful dis­cern­ment process around my appli­ca­tion for mem­ber­ship in my local meet­ing. This was not impor­tant to me for any sense of “legit­i­ma­cy” – I’m old enough not to feel a lot of need for such a thing – but because it was impor­tant to me that I test my lead­ings with great care, not only for my own clar­i­ty, but because I pas­sion­ate­ly did not want in any way to injure the gath­ered com­mu­ni­ty that I find at my meet­ing for wor­ship. If my non-Christian pres­ence were to dam­age that, I would be appalled. Con­trary to what you might think, I have no desire what­so­ev­er to under­mine the Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy of the men and women sit­ting next to me on the bench at meet­ing for wor­ship. I may not under­stand it, but I do under­stand this: when they deep­en in their abil­i­ty to hear the voice of God, I ben­e­fit also – my wor­ship deep­ens with theirs.
    Fur­ther­more, I think that there is enough of mys­tery and para­dox in all gen­uine spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence that the fact that the Friend on the bench beside me may not under­stand my beliefs is per­haps even use­ful. In truth, do any of us hold God’s social secu­ri­ty num­ber? How­ev­er sil­ly or wrong­head­ed my out­look and beliefs may seem to anoth­er, the fact that I am able to be part of a gath­ered meet­ing and a covenant com­mu­ni­ty – inex­plic­a­bly, per­haps – may say some­thing pos­i­tive, about God, about Quak­ers, or both.
    Per­haps – just per­haps, mind you – the direc­tion that lib­er­al Friends are mov­ing (and I do think that we are mov­ing) has been picked out by some­thing greater than human beings. (Isn’t that the idea of ongo­ing rev­e­la­tion? That sur­pris­es may come up, and that the best of human wis­dom may not be enough to pre­dict where God may want us to move?)
    I hope I don’t sound pompous. I also hope I don’t sound defen­sive – I am try­ing not to be. I enjoy your blog, and nor­mal­ly find your chal­lenges use­ful. (Though I’m per­haps a bit bet­ter read and ground­ed in Quak­erism than you give me cred­it for, I do appre­ci­ate your tips on where to look for more infor­ma­tion and education.)
    How­ev­er, I’m start­ing to feel a bit dis­re­spect­ed, Friend! And since, to my knowl­edge, all I’ve done to dis­re­spect _you_ is to exist and be truth­ful, I’m unhap­py about that…
    Have I mis­un­der­stood you?

  • Alice M.

    Hi Mar­tin
    I think you’re hit on some­thing I encounter as well, in com­mit­tees in Britain Year­ly Meet­ing. Some­how — per­haps it’s because I depend on God so fierce­ly and believe that the old Quak­er way has some real strong wis­dom on liv­ing that out — I’m real­ly will­ing to ques­tion the way we do things togeth­er cor­po­rate­ly. I feel like pret­ty often I’m nudged towards some­thing which all about being cut back to the Vine. The Liv­ing Pow­er that I orga­nize my life around is the Vine, and I want to live as a branch of it — I want my ser­vice in Quak­ers to be all about being a branch of it. But some of the stuff hap­pen­ing with­in the cor­po­rate work of Quak­ers has a kind of dead feel to it: being done because it was set up thir­ty or fifty years ago rather than because there’s a direct imper­a­tive right now.
    I think it’s because I have con­fi­dence that the lov­ing and cre­ative pow­er will show the way — maybe con­fi­dence that my prayer and study and wor­ship equip me to hear God’s prompt­ings for me? — I’m will­ing to say if I don’t think there’s a prompt­ing from God for us to do a par­tic­u­lar thing. I’m will­ing to start lay­ing down a work pro­gram set up fifty or thir­ty or fif­teen years ago if I can’t catch hold of any liv­ing Chris­t­ian imper­a­tive for us to be doing that. Recent­ly I was read­ing Barclay’s Apol­o­gy and my read­ing is he’s real­ly hot on us not doing what we’re not called to, in his con­dem­na­tions of pre-organized work­ship and so on. I’m try­ing to lead my life based on fol­low­ing Jesus’s exam­ple and I believe we shouldn’t do what God is not call­ing us to. It seems to me that in con­trast a fair few Friends on the com­mit­tees don’t have active spir­i­tu­al lives and don’t share my con­fi­dence in God’s lead­ings. That seems to leave them unwill­ing to change things — and the net result is what you’re point­ing out I think — an increas­ing dis­tance between what we do as a large organ­i­sa­tion togeth­er, and our roots in Christ.
    I have a need to fol­low the liv­ing cre­ative pow­er I’m com­ing to know, and I’m not real­ly inter­est­ed in any oth­er basis for us being togeth­er. The way I under­stand it right now our dis­ci­ple­ship demands us to hold to only what is essen­tial — and that’s the lov­ing cre­ative pow­er itself. The minute we start cling­ing to any­thing oth­er than the life and pow­er which redeems us, we’re adding to the prob­lems in the world, we’ve got con­fused and we’ve dumped the spir­i­tu­al trea­sure by the road­side and wan­dered off to play in the traffic.
    But I guess God is so real and liv­ing to me, I find it hard to work out what peo­ple who call them­selves non­the­ists are about, so per­haps I am fail­ing to see some impor­tant part of the picture.

  • @Cat:
    I didn’t at all mean to offend and I meant noth­ing per­son­al – I had no idea you used Godad­dy, Yahoo Groups, etc., these are just ser­vices lots of peo­ple use. And this post isn’t try­ing to fig­ure out whether a par­tic­u­lar inno­va­tion should be brought into the Quak­er main­stream so much as it is a look at how that’s been hap­pen­ing with­out much con­scious­ness of the process.
    I very much appre­ci­ate that your work is a lead­ing. God’s hand may well be at work in all of this. Our under­stand­ing of what it means to be a Quak­er has always been in flux and there’s always been dis­agree­ment on the cur­rent bound­aries of our faith. This dis­cus­sion and push-pull is nat­ur­al and healthy and is the cor­ner­stone of lib­er­al Quakerism.
    My con­cern is that our speeded-up world and com­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture is com­bin­ing with the anti-leadership cul­ture that came into Friends in the 1970s in a way that’s not good process or right­ly ordered. It cur­rent­ly seems to be tak­ing about a decade for a new intro­duc­tion to go from wacky fringe to an untouch­able part of the lib­er­al Quak­er the­o­log­i­cal quilt and the change is hap­pen­ing in such a way that 99% of Friends nev­er take part in the dis­cern­ment process.
    We’re chang­ing so quick­ly that even a rather bland affir­ma­tive def­i­n­i­tion of Quak­erism from a few years ago might now be deemed offen­sive. Those of us who are rather con­ven­tion­al Lib­er­al Friends sound like hard­core Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends (my state­ments two para­graphs ago kick me out of any seri­ous Con­ser­v­a­tive realm). Thomas Kelly’s “A Tes­ta­ment of Devo­tion” is on my desk, a beau­ti­ful mas­ter­piece of acces­si­ble lib­er­al Quak­erism from the 1940s that is nonethe­less too defin­i­tive­ly cer­tain of God and Chris­tian­i­ty to real­ly serve any meet­ing today – try min­is­ter­ing like Kel­ly and see how long you last in most meet­ings. Kel­ly was a part of the mid-century Haver­ford crowd (Jones, Steere, etc.) that more or less pro­vid­ed the “DNA” of lib­er­al Quak­erism. Do those who think main­stream fig­ures like Kel­ly were more-or-less right have to leave and start their own meetings?
    And where will we be ten and twen­ty and thir­ty years from now? Will the bound­aries then be unrec­og­niz­able to us now? There are few inno­va­tions that couldn’t work through the sys­tem giv­en a few pop­u­lar advocates.
    So again: no, I wasn’t pick­ing on you, rather on a process that I don’t think is serv­ing any of us well. My read of Quak­er his­to­ry sug­gests that con­flict erupts when changes come on too quick­ly with­out wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion, a sit­u­a­tion I think we’ve entered.
    Sure, one part of the prob­lem is that some large per­cent­age of Friends don’t real­ly believe in the real pres­ence of God in our prayer life and decision-making process. I’m not talk­ing about prin­ci­pled non-believers or agnos­tics like the non-theists but rather those Friends who might think it a nice idea but who are too ratio­nal­is­tic to actu­al­ly think it happens.
    I’ve known plen­ty of com­mit­tees that should be laid down (or com­mit­tee roles that have ful­filled their lead­ing and should be dropped) that peo­ple keep going out of a sense that they’re sup­posed to keep slog­ging through. It makes for rather unin­spired work.
    To be fair, one use­ful per­son­al query goes “do I feel any­thing block­ing my doing this,” a sort of neg­a­tive check-off that doesn’t require active God voice but is a poll in itself. Some­times this is an okay way to proceed.

  • Bar­bara Smith

    “We are the inher­i­tors of a proud and some­times fool­ish tra­di­tion…” What a great line. I’ve been think­ing of becom­ing an Angli­can. I cant wait to expe­ri­ence their fool­ish­ness. I do like some ‘high’ church, but dont know about a steady diet of it. Also, I’ll have to check out the peo­ple that come out to the ‘show’ (and it is an impres­sive mass). I’m afraid if I attend too often, that the pas­tors will think I take it seri­ous­ly and want to make me one of them. Oh, what’s a girl to do? I do take it seri­ous­ly, but do I real­ly want to say, “I’m an Epis­co­palian?” What is that?

  • Mar­tin,
    This post and your response to the com­ments are amaz­ing! I am sad that you part­ed ways with FGC as a paid employ­ee, but you have been freed to speak your mind.
    What you write is prophet­ic. Keep it up, Friend! We con­ser­v­a­tive Friends need to hear what you write just as much as lib­er­al Friends.
    Thanks brother!

  • @Barb: not an Angli­can, noooo! Maybe we should have you over for din­ner if we can find a time when our crazy work sched­ules line up – I’m lucky to see Julie for an hour a day. I say that in part because Julie can go on for _hours_ about Angli­cans… PS: thanks!, a more effu­sive thanks on the way.
    @Craig: I was think­ing about this the oth­er day. There is actu­al­ly an FGC com­mit­tee that’s charged with defin­ing what it means to be an FGC Friend: the “Advance­ment & Out­reach committee”:www.fgcquaker.org/ao, for whom I was paid staff per­son for my last year there (the _advancement_ part of the name is short­hand for “advanc­ing the prin­ci­ples of Quak­erism”). Whether A&O is broad­ly rec­og­nized in its role as speak­ing for FGC is an open ques­tion – both with­in and with­out the orga­ni­za­tion – but it’s telling that the blo­gos­phere fre­quent­ly cites the work­shop com­mit­tee and rarely the A&O com­mit­tee. Is FGC who it says it is (A&O) or what it does (work­shop selection)?
    FGC doesn’t try to play ref­er­ee (it’s strength and weak­ness as I’ve writ­ten before). It’s not a denom­i­na­tion­al body but a free asso­ci­a­tion. By its found­ing log­ic, it’s entire­ly appro­pri­ate that it might spon­sor some­thing that a major­i­ty of its mem­bers think is inap­pro­pri­ate. It’s nat­ur­al but wrong to then think this is a stamp of approval. FGC has the “big tent” approach of an asso­ci­a­tion and it’s to be expect­ed that some mem­bers will dis­agree with oth­er mem­bers. Respect for each oth­er and the sin­cer­i­ty of one another’s seek­ing is essen­tial but respect for our approach­es is not (which is why “I like non-theists but have strong con­cerns about non-theism”:http://​www​.quak​er​ran​ter​.org/​w​h​a​t​s​_​g​o​d​_​g​o​t​_​t​o​_​d​o​_​g​o​t​_​t​o​_​d​o​_​w​i​t​h​_​i​t​.​php). There’s great free­dom and joy in FGC’s approach but it is essen­tial­ly cen­trifu­gal. The social norms and insti­tu­tions that might hold togeth­er a cen­ter have been large­ly dis­man­tled, which is the con­cern I’m try­ing to raise here.
    ps: as many know “LizOpp”:http://​the​goodraisedup​.blogspot​.com/ was on this year’s work­shop selec­tion com­mit­tee and I’m sure she brought her typ­i­cal thought­ful­ness and care to the process. This isn’t at all about her, it’s about our ten­den­cy to give the work­shop committee’s choic­es more mean­ing than they’re meant to hold.

  • Mar­tin — I think you hit the nail on the head with this sen­tence: “There’s great free­dom and joy in FGC’s approach but it is essen­tial­ly centrifugal.”
    The strength of the lib­er­al form of Quak­erism has to be a strong cen­ter that holds the parts togeth­er in a bal­anced whole; the stronger it is, the more diver­si­ty it can tol­er­ate — and ben­e­fit from — at the edges.
    My con­cern, and I yours too if I’m read­ing you right, is that rad­i­cal tol­er­a­tion and “inclu­sive­ness” is too weak an orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple and cen­tral force to hold the whole togeth­er over time and space and through hard times. Open-minded tol­er­a­tion of indi­vid­ual lead­ings is cer­tain­ly not the prin­ci­ple that held Friends togeth­er dur­ing the times of its most overt per­se­cu­tion in the 17th Cen­tu­ry, which was also the time of its great­est growth and power.
    FGC both strength­ens and coun­ter­acts the cen­trifu­gal force in two ways that are either con­tra­dic­to­ry or com­ple­men­tary. First, it oper­ates on the edges to keep the diverse par­ties talk­ing with each oth­er and com­ing to the fam­i­ly reunion each year. By bring­ing us togeth­er, FGC reminds us (as you put it) that we love our non­the­ist friends while hold­ing grave con­cerns about non­the­ism and keeps us in at least super­fi­cial fel­low­ship with each other.
    In ten­sion with this func­tion, how­ev­er, FGC also tries to revive, redis­cov­er, or reartic­u­late, the bind­ing, uni­fy­ing cen­ter through its reli­gious edu­ca­tion, book­store, A&O, and oth­er min­istries. On bal­ance, I think it has been more suc­cess­ful with the for­mer than the lat­ter, but I appre­ci­ate the extent to which it rec­og­nizes the need to do both.

  • I have gone back and forth about sub­mit­ting a com­ment, and now I see Mar­tin has brought my name up.
    First of all — and I’m stat­ing the obvi­ous here — the blo­gos­phere isn’t a forum for com­mit­tees to share their lead­ings and ideas. I don’t think we’d want “just any­body” from FGC’s Advance­ment & Out­reach Com­mit­tee (or any oth­er com­mit­tee) to jump into the world of blogs unless they had a clear lead­ing, nudge, prompt, etc.
    Sec­ond­ly — and again obvi­ous, per­haps — my pres­ence in the Quak­er­sphere isn’t because I want­ed to talk about Gath­er­ing workshops.
    Where I dif­fer from you, Mar­tin, is that I don’t think that it’s “telling” that there are cer­tain voic­es on the ‘net that are miss­ing from the con­ver­sa­tion, and we need to be care­ful to help one anoth­er call out our assump­tions. Among Friends, we each have gifts, hur­dles, and lead­ings — but not all lead­ings lead to the inter­net. It’s just that one of mine did, and I hap­pen to be serv­ing on the Gath­er­ing Com­mit­tee and its Work­shop Sub­com­mit­tee, which is why those top­ics some­times sur­face on The Good Raised Up and in my com­ments sprin­kled here and there.
    I know I have more to say, but I don’t feel clear to say it – about Gath­er­ing, about the­o­log­i­cal diver­si­ty, etc. So I am doing what I can to stay patient and come under the exer­cise of the Spirit…
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  • Hi Mar­tin,
    I think I agree with your basic point that peo­ple should rec­og­nize that their actions as an indi­vid­ual Friend affect the big­ger pic­ture. But I’m not sure how much it would change things if more peo­ple did this; per­haps you can give an exam­ple of how it might?
    And I also am not sure that “none” of the peo­ple on the the­o­log­i­cal mar­gins who are chang­ing things (like non­the­ists) are think­ing “hey, I think I’ll expand the def­i­n­i­tion of lib­er­al Quak­er the­ol­o­gy today.” Speak­ing for myself, I don’t think in pre­cise­ly those words, but I am well aware that my being a vocal non­the­ist Quak­er will to some degree affect the course of Quakerism.
    Last­ly, I’ll just point out, in case you missed it or in case oth­ers want to fol­low this trail of the con­ver­sa­tion, that I tried to answer your hypo­thet­i­cal ques­tion (should lib­er­al Friends who want Quak­erism to be Chris­t­ian start new meet­ings?) on my last blog post.
    Warm regards,

  • @Paul: thanks for check­ing in. I won­der if it might be equal­ly dan­ger­ous for either the cen­ter or mar­gins to get the upper-hand in the bal­ance of a wor­ship community’s life. It’s legal­ism vs. ranter­ism, tra­di­tion vs. con­tin­u­ing rev­e­la­tion. I’m think­ing we need to strike a bet­ter bal­ance than we’re now doing.
    @LizOpp: I think you mis­con­strued the direc­tion when I wrote “it’s telling that the blo­gos­phere fre­quent­ly cites the work­shop com­mit­tee and rarely the A&O committee.”
    I’m not say­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers should all start blog­ging (egads!), rather that when blog­gers talk about Friends Gen­er­al Conference’s nor­ma­tive val­ues they’re usu­al­ly ref­er­enc­ing work­shop diver­si­ty and not FGC’s quasi-official state­ments about itself.

  • Hi Mar­tin,
    Very thought­ful and provocative.
    1. I think the cen­ter of Quak­er the­ol­o­gy is the month­ly meet­ing, not the year­ly meet­ing or orga­ni­za­tions like FGC. Thus, I think the answer to the ques­tion “What is a Quak­er?” (I refuse to use the words “lib­er­al” or “con­ser­v­a­tive” attached to “Quak­er” — my eccen­tric­i­ty) can only be mean­ing­ful­ly answered with­in the con­text of month­ly meet­ings and their clear­ness com­mit­tees. There­fore, I feel it is right­ly ordered that dif­fer­ent month­ly meet­ings will have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics, depend­ing on the con­gre­ga­tions that wor­ship in them and the deci­sions they are led to. So one meet­ing can be peo­pled most­ly by pagans and non-theists and anoth­er with Jone­sian Chris­t­ian mys­tics and nei­ther is out of line. God is sim­ply speak­ing through each com­mu­ni­ty uniquely.
    2. A great deal of the anx­i­ety around these issues could be eased if we could become more com­fort­able with author­i­ty and its per­son­al man­i­fes­ta­tion through Elders in our meet­ings. That’s right — Elders in our meet­ings, remem­ber those? These are peo­ple the meet­ing has been led to iden­ti­fy as hav­ing author­i­ty to guide and nur­ture. These are the peo­ple who make up “the cen­ter” around which the rest of us eccentrics and non-conformists can revolve. And yes, these are the peo­ple who can teach us — with­in the cul­ture of each month­ly meet­ing — what the cor­po­rate expec­ta­tions are answer­ing the ques­tion “What is a Quaker?”
    Who wants to be raised with­out a Mom or Dad? Not me. But we have been orphaned from our Quak­er “Moms” and “Dads”; orphaned from their love and from their dis­ci­pline. So I share Martin’s con­cern. But I believe the answer lies in the small­er, more inti­mate com­mu­ni­ties which are meant to sus­tain us. And it lies in an offi­cial recog­ni­tion of the min­istry of lov­ing author­i­ty through a des­ig­nat­ed com­mit­tee or coun­cil of elders.

  • In par­tial response to friend Ben­jamin Lloyd –
    His­tor­i­cal­ly, the “cen­ter of Quak­er the­ol­o­gy” has not been the month­ly meet­ing but the year­ly meet­ing. The year­ly meet­ing defines its the­o­log­i­cal posi­tion through some­thing called its book of dis­ci­pline, or book of faith and prac­tice (dif­fer­ent year­ly meet­ings use dif­fer­ent names for it) and also through any con­fes­sions of faith that it may choose to sub­scribe to. Month­ly meet­ings that depart too far from the year­ly meeting’s posi­tion can be expelled from the year­ly meet­ing. And this has hap­pened on occa­sion, even in the last twen­ty years.
    In my per­son­al view, elders are not a reli­able solu­tion. Sup­pose you are a Christo­pho­bic mem­ber of a meet­ing with emphat­i­cal­ly Chris­t­ian elders. Or a Chris­t­ian mem­ber of a meet­ing whose des­ig­nat­ed elders care enor­mous­ly about lib­er­al polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness but not much at all about basic Chris­t­ian char­i­ty. In either case, your alien­ation may be wors­ened if you turn to the elders for help.
    As Psalm 146 puts it, “Put not your faith in princes.…”

  • Mar­tin,
    Thank you very much for clar­i­fy­ing where your com­ments were (and were not) com­ing from. Let me apol­o­gize up front for being over­ly sen­si­tive to your remarks in your orig­i­nal post.
    Thank you, too, for pro­vid­ing back links to ear­li­er posts, both in your respons­es and your orig­i­nal post. I had read many of them pre­vi­ous­ly, but not read them deeply enough, I think.
    I know that you are mak­ing more points than this, but a red thread that runs through your blog seems to me to be, not so much that lib­er­al Friends are too diverse, as that the diver­si­ty is not necce­sar­i­ly a result of any very Spirit-filled process. (How am I doing? Am I clos­er to under­stand­ing you this time through?) And that Friends are at times wad­ing into some very _shallow_ spir­i­tu­al waters, sim­ply because they are less threat­en­ing to a diver­si­ty that is not always the result of depth or care­ful dis­cern­ment on any lev­el – indi­vid­ual _or_ corporate.
    I was par­tic­u­lar­ly tak­en with the word­ing you used in your back-linked post, What’s God Got To Do Got To Do With It, where you wrote, “God is the cen­ter of our faith and our work: wor­ship is about lis­ten­ing to God’s call; busi­ness meet­ing is about dis­cern­ing God’s instruc­tions. This has to be understood…”
    Even though I am very hes­i­tant to use the word “God,” I find myself in agree­ment with you. There is a Spring that feeds meet­ing for wor­ship, and it’s not the pres­ence of nice lib­er­als all around me, or the tra­di­tion of activism, or even – though my meet­ing is very inclu­sive – the inclu­siv­i­ty. I’m quite clear that that mys­te­ri­ous Spring _is_ what you, and many oth­ers, call God…or even, more fright­en­ing­ly, “Jesus.” Ack! The dread­ed J word! (this last said in a self-mocking tone, if that’s not clear… )
    But it absolute­ly does need to be under­stood… here is the point of ori­gin, here is the his­to­ry. Yep. God… and that Jesus char­ac­ter. And who ever said that liv­ing reli­gion should _not_ be fright­en­ing? Despite my own sense that Pagan­ism, at least as I prac­tice it, is not at vari­ance with Quak­er prac­tice, I would nev­er want to mis­com­mu­ni­cate to oth­er Pagans that Quak­ers are the “new UUs” – a com­fy place where Pagans will not be dis­tressed by lan­guage that will offend us. Whether or not you are cor­rect when you wrote that deep­en­ing Quak­er spir­i­tu­al life “means delv­ing ever deep­er into our past and engag­ing with it. We can’t do that with­out fre­quent­ly turn­ing to the Bible,” it is com­plete­ly clear to me that depth for at least some of us does depend on both study of the Bible and reflec­tion about and the embrace of the Quak­ers’ par­tic­u­lar take on Chris­tian­i­ty. Chris­tian­i­ty _is_ the native tongue of Quak­ers, and Quak­er his­to­ry _is_ impor­tant to under­stand­ing Quak­er depth and prac­tice… And, giv­en the nature of Quak­er prac­tice as _corporate_ spir­i­tu­al life, cut­ting any mem­ber of my meet­ing off from that his­to­ry, from those roots, or deny­ing them the words that most eas­i­ly con­vey the min­istry that springs from those roots, dam­ages the life of the whole meet­ing – Chris­t­ian or non-Christian, the­ist or non­the­ist… every­one who _is_ fed, how­ev­er they name it, by that Spring.
    That will inevitably involve some dis­com­fort to folks who, like me, are uncom­fort­able with the lan­guage. How­ev­er, it is my respon­si­bil­i­ty to “lis­ten where the words come from,” and try to real­ly _hear_ even mes­sages that are couched in lan­guage that I find scary, to find what­ev­er is Spirit-filled around me.
    Again, who­ev­er said reli­gious life should not be scary?
    I think that, like most peo­ple, I’m most sen­si­tive to my own trou­bles, so I’m more aware of times that I am afraid to speak, lest I be judged for my own language.
    So the fact that Chris­tians in Quak­er meet­ings are actu­al­ly, and not just in the­o­ry, hav­ing to labor with those who want to eject Jesus (or at least ref­er­ences to him) from the Soci­ety of Friends is one that I have a hard time tak­ing in… but, clear­ly it is the case. Eliz­a­beth, of Quak­ing Har­lot, wrote that those in her meet­ing who rou­tine­ly “stand up and rebuke any min­istry that is giv­en about Christ” caused her pain. And it’s upset­ting to me as well. It’s upset­ting to me not mere­ly because I’d like Quak­ers to be “nice” to each oth­er, and “tol­er­ant,” but because I can­not con­vince myself that such min­istry could pos­si­bly be Spirit-led. What, after 350 years of being able to com­mu­ni­cate with Quak­ers in Chris­t­ian lan­guage, the Spir­it sud­den­ly became aller­gic to it? Strains creduli­ty, that does.
    More to the point, min­istry that does not spring from Spir­it dam­ages the whole rea­son to wor­ship togeth­er. I mean, what’s the point of being Quak­er if we’re not drink­ing togeth­er from that aston­ish­ing Spring? Might as well go be UUs then – I think they’ve got bet­ter music and com­fi­er pews, anyway.
    I think we agree, that lib­er­al Quak­ers ought not become “safe” for a sec­u­lar diver­si­ty that has left the world of the direct expe­ri­ence of God behind, sim­ply because we couldn’t agree on any ter­mi­nol­o­gy that wouldn’t offend some­one, somehow.
    Maybe this is why I do not feel par­tic­u­lar­ly drawn to the FGC work­shop you allud­ed to, “A Neigh­bor­hood of Pagan Friends.” Do I fear that it will be polite and inclu­sive, but not very spir­i­tu­al­ly deep or chal­leng­ing? I know that is the rea­son why I recent­ly made the deci­sion to remove all the essays I had writ­ten in my first year as a Quak­er on what I then thought about the inter­ac­tion of Quak­er and Pagan ways. They were just not sea­soned enough to have any last­ing val­ue, so I took them all down.
    I think what I be try­ing to trace out is an idea that the pri­ma­ry divi­sion is not between Chris­t­ian Quak­ers and “new the­olo­gies” Quak­ers, but between spirit-filled and sec­u­lar­ly ori­ent­ed Quak­ers. How­ev­er, giv­en the impor­tance of sea­son­ing and cor­po­rate dis­cern­ment in learn­ing how to stay cen­tered in expe­ri­en­tial spir­i­tu­al life, it prob­a­bly _is_ the case that new­er addi­tions to the Quak­er fam­i­ly tree, like any new grafts onto an old­er root­stock, will take time to become well-established – and may not “take” if there is real incom­pat­i­b­li­ty. Some of us new­com­ers (and maybe some of the knee-jerk reac­tion against our pres­ence amid lib­er­al Friends?) prob­a­bly are mak­ing it eas­i­er to see Friends as a more sec­u­lar, “nice” organization.
    Was this your point? Have I under­stood you more clear­ly? In any case, you did pro­voke me to think more deeply, for which I thank you.