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 GoDaddy.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.