Is it Convergent to talk about Convergence?

Warn­ing: insid­er Quak­er con­ver­sa­tion to fol­low.

Over on her blog Robin M has a great post look­ing at the Con­ver­gent Friend con­ver­sa­tion now. It’s kind of State of the Con­ver­gent Friends report. It’s very good and well worth a read and makes me won­der again where exact­ly I stand.

Even though I was around at the ges­ta­tion and birth of the term, and even though it orig­i­nal­ly referred to a small group of blog­gers who I all love, I go back and forth between using and refus­ing to use the label. I don’t feel the need to always be explic­it­ly “con­ver­gent.” Some­times I can just embody the spir­it of it, which as a renew­al move­ment is real­ly just the same old spir­it of Quak­erism, which as its own renew­al move­ment is the same old spir­it of Chris­tian­i­ty, with is just that spir­it which ani­mates the world. 

See: it’s too easy to throw up terms as a defense shield or as a way of boost­ing our­selves. I know I’m prone to this trap. I’ll say “I’m doing this as a [Con­ver­gent Friend/Quaker/Christian]” as if that explains any­thing, as if care­ful lis­ten­ing to the Holy Spir­it isn’t all the author­i­ty that any of us needs.

I think a cen­tral part of the con­ver­gent expe­ri­ence is step­ping out­side of the insti­tu­tion­al box­es and walk­ing into the dis­com­fort zone of our brand of Friends – ask­ing the thorny ques­tions and point­ing out the incon­ve­nient ele­phants. If “Con­ver­gent Friend” ever set­tles down into a set def­i­n­i­tion and annu­al rit­u­als (like a Gath­er­ing inter­est group?), we’ll see our own brier patch­es take root along those incon­ve­nient path­ways.

I’ve noticed Friends with bright ideas brand and sell them­selves, and have won­dered to myself how freely the gospel spir­it is mov­ing after ten years of Gath­er­ing work­shops and Pen­dle Hill work­shops. I’m not so much purist that I don’t under­stand that some­times those of us led to the min­istry have to push through doubts and present things we’ve promised to present even if we’re not in the best mood (pray­ing that we find that groove). But I’ve also sat through com­mit­tee meet­ings that felt like the Bill Mur­ray movie Ground­hog Day, where I look around and real­ize the same peo­ple have been sit­ting in the same room hav­ing the same con­ver­sa­tion for twen­ty years, and every­one is just so tired and the feel­ing is they’re all read­ing a script and would want to be any­where but where they are.

A friend­ly amend­ment to Con­ver­gent

Just the last thing is that for me if our work isn’t ulti­mate­ly root­ed in shar­ing the good news then it’s self-indulgent. I don’t want to cre­ate a lit­tle oasis or hip­py com­pound of hap­py peo­ple. Friends aren’t going to go to heav­en in our politically-correct smug­ness while the rest of the world is dying off. It’s all of us or none of us. If we’re not active­ly evan­ge­liz­ing <lib­er­al trans­la­tion: shar­ing the spir­i­tu­al insights and gifts we’ve been giv­en />, then we are part of the prob­lem. “Con­ver­gence” is Quak­er lin­go. When we say it we’re turn­ing our back to the world to talk amongst our­selves: a use­ful exer­cise occas­sion­al­ly but not our main work. 

I’ve been read­ing a lot of seek­er blogs where Quak­ers are men­tioned and I’m struck by how so many of the words we rou­tine­ly use in our blogs and self-statements are total­ly alien to oth­ers.

It may be too late to throw a switch on the quickly-gathering-steam train that is the “Con­ver­gent Friends” express. But here’s my friend­ly amend­ment: Con­ver­gent Friends need to be ready to get out of the Quak­er con­fer­ence cen­ters and need to be ready to put aside the Quak­er arcana we’ve accu­mu­lat­ed over the years. If all we’re doing is sit­ting around talk­ing to room­fulls of Quak­ers in our hopeless-inaccessible lin­go then we’re fool­ing our­selves that any real renew­al is hap­pen­ing.

Frankly, I have no idea what this would look like. I’m as clue­less and scared by the pos­si­bil­i­ties as most of y’all. I just know we need to do it. Even if I had all the trav­el mon­ey and time in the world (I have nei­ther), I don’t know if I’d have enough moti­va­tion to get to the next Bar­nesville / Greens­boro / Rich­mond / New­berg / wher­ev­er con­fer­ence (I just real­ized I’m rein­forc­ing my last Quak­er post!). I love meet­ing oth­er Friends and I soooo miss see­ing oth­er Friends in my cur­rent rel­a­tive iso­la­tion. But. But. I wish I had a bet­ter end­ing to this post. I guess I’ll just throw it out to the com­ments: what are we being called to do to send this work into the world?

  • I’ll say it out loud: I’m real­ly hop­ing way will open for you to come to Cal­i­for­nia in Feb­ru­ary.

    • Mar­tin Kel­ley

      Hi Cath: I don’t see how you could expect any­thing that’s a mix of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends and Emer­gent Church to be any­thing but explic­it­ly Chris­t­ian.
      For lib­er­al Quak­ers the ele­phant in the mid­dle of the room that we need to call out is the cen­tral­i­ty of the liv­ing, risen Jesus to our faith. That will make some peo­ple uncom­fort­able and cause some to ques­tion their iden­ti­ty among Friends. Renew­al move­ments don’t make for very good band­wag­ons I’m afraid.
      I’m not par­tic­u­lar­ly look­ing for anoth­er label to divide Friends. What I want is a soci­ety of un-hypenated Quak­ers (aka Quaker-Quakers). That can and should include a wide diver­si­ty of back­ground and dif­fer­ent emphases on faith and prac­tice but the group should have more in com­mon than not.

  • Anony­mous

    Mar­tin – Your post spoke to me in so many ways! Thank you for the thoughts and sug­ges­tions. I’ve been won­der­ing, myself, if there could be a place for peo­ple like me (non-Christian Friend) in the “Con­ver­gent” renew­al, and haven’t yet felt there would be.
    To be fair, some­times names take on a life of their own. I think it’s human nature to seek handy ways of say­ing long thoughts in short ways. But I hope we are not wed­ded to the word “Con­ver­gent” as yet anoth­er adjec­tive to put in front of the word Quak­er (or Friend).
    And also, changes do tend to gath­er steam after one or two (or a small group) start feel­ing the poten­tial. What I hope folks will be wary of is sim­ply jump­ing on the train, assum­ing that some­one else will do all the think­ing and defin­ing.
    I love the Con­ver­gent con­ver­sa­tion for hav­ing put some life into the idea of renew­al – an idea that I hear peo­ple men­tion and then not men­tion again, or nev­er men­tion at all. At least now, peo­ple have some impulse to think about it, even if they are not so sure they want spe­cif­ic def­i­n­i­tions just yet.
    If “Con­ver­gent Friend” becomes yet anoth­er branch of the Quak­er tree in the US, then I’m not inter­est­ed. But if the dis­cus­sions and insights lead us to new ways of relat­ing to one anoth­er, new ways of bridg­ing the divides already in place, and new ways of wel­com­ing in those who may be fol­low­ing a Spir­it who says “Band­wag­ons are not for thee” then we have the begin­nings of some­thing that will enhance us all as a greater body.
    For over a year now, I have felt that there is a new day com­ing for Friends. I don’t know what it will look like, but I think the Cov­er­gent con­ver­sa­tion will play a part in shap­ing it. I wouldn’t like to see this one aspect of a greater con­ver­sa­tion over­shad­ow oth­er ways of envi­sion­ing the future, but it is good that peo­ple have the urge to start the ball rolling and then stick with that par­tic­u­lar ball until oth­ers can get their balls in play.
    cath

  • Anony­mous

    Mar­tin – I agree with you that a mix of Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends and the Emer­gent Church is prob­a­bly going to be Chris­t­ian. But Friends (even those who believe that Jesus rose from the dead) have resist­ed mak­ing state­ments of creed for a long time.
    I respect and gain great strength from the min­istry of Jesus and try to let that be a guide for my life, but I part ways when it comes to things like the atone­ment and the res­ur­rec­tion, etc. So I find it hard to call myself a Chris­t­ian when there are so many stan­dard­ized belief points that the world at large feels defines a Chris­t­ian.
    I do, how­ev­er, believe in God and God-in-Spirit.
    It seems to me that any renew­al of the RSOF that elim­i­nates peo­ple and nar­rows the belief set is not a real­ly a renew­al at all – it’s a re-definition of what the entire reli­gion is about. And it seems to ignore the work­ings of the Spir­it, which isn’t bound by the lim­i­ta­tions of humankind.
    I came into the Quak­er faith as a Chris­t­ian by all stan­dard def­i­n­i­tions, and through many deep rev­e­la­tions have come to see that this is not my spir­i­tu­al truth. I believe there are oth­ers like me who have moved away from cer­tain aspects of Chris­tian­i­ty (while hold­ing onto oth­ers) using the prac­tices and tra­di­tions of the Quak­er faith, most espe­cial­ly a reliance on nur­tur­ing the inner guide and lis­ten­ing for lead­ings and prompt­ings of God’s Spir­it.
    If we are fol­low­ing those lead­ings in good faith, it would be hurt­ful to close the door on us.
    cath

  • Hey, Mar­tin–
    As always, a thought­ful and insight­ful (incite­ful?) post. …This year at the “annu­al” inter­est group at FGC’s sum­mer Gath­er­ing, I made it a point to say that while a num­ber of Friends see me as a Con­ver­gent Friend, it’s not a label I use to describe myself. I also added that I don’t iden­ti­fy as a Chris­t­ian but I labor over the Christ-centered nature of our faith.
    It also wasn’t lost on me that there still are Friends com­ing to these events, want­i­ng to under­stand what the heck is going on, can they be a part of it, etc. etc. A cou­ple of Friends made it a point to approach me after the inter­est group and told me how alone they had been feel­ing and/or how unsure they were of how to get their meet­ing to start look­ing at some of the top­ics that the online con­ver­sa­tion has been address­ing.
    So why do I par­tic­i­pate in this con­ver­sa­tion? Because there is Life in it for me. Because I grow into a more com­plete under­stand­ing of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends, across the schisms. Because I start­ed a blog not to be part of an “in” crowd, but to add my voice to the dis­cus­sion that was brew­ing about how to deep­en the spir­i­tu­al nature of our meet­ings with­out (1) blow­ing off the han­dle or (2) dis­ap­pear­ing entire­ly.
    Do I wres­tle with Jesus at the cen­ter of our Quak­er tra­di­tion? Yes. Do I see fruits of the love and faith­ful­ness that a num­ber of us have engaged in, since this whole Con­ver­gent con­ver­sa­tion got start­ed? Yes. Do I think the word “Con­ver­gence” should be put on hia­tus for awhile? I don’t know. Let me sit with that…
    Thanks for mak­ing me think… and for not (1) blow­ing off the han­dle or (2) dis­ap­pear­ing entire­ly.
    Bless­ings,
    Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

  • Mar­tin Kel­ley

    I’m not at all inter­est­ed in an argu­ment with you. If you want to write about your beliefs on your blog, that’s fine, but don’t start fill­ing my com­ments up. You dis­agree. Great: not­ed. Now please move on, thanks.

  • Cathy Hab­schmidt

    Hi, Mar­tin,
    I don’t think we’ve ever con­versed, but I real­ly appre­ci­ate your work with quak​erquak​er​.org as well as your own blog. Thanks.
    Thanks also for this post. I, too, have been strug­gling with dis­cus­sions about Con­ver­gent Friends. I like this point you made:
    If all we’re doing is sit­ting around talk­ing to room­fulls of Quak­ers in our hopeless-inaccessible lin­go then we’re fool­ing our­selves that any real renew­al is hap­pen­ing.
    When I first heard about Con­ver­gent Friends (in Robin’s arti­cle in Friends Jour­nal) I was beside myself with joy. I had been feel­ing for some time the move­ment of the Spir­it towards a renew­al among Friends, and here was con­fir­ma­tion that I was not alone. Oth­ers were being blown in a sim­i­lar direc­tion, and from many dif­fer­ent places. Praise God! was my imme­di­ate reac­tion.
    But our paths have not been made to cross just so we can sit back and mar­vel that our paths are cross­ing! We are called to live more authen­tic lives of faith and there­by help to bring about the King­dom of God right here and now. We have been brought togeth­er to kick each of us out of our com­fort zones and open us up to the pres­ence of the Liv­ing Christ among us. We need each oth­er for spir­i­tu­al growth and encour­age­ment. We don’t need each oth­er for debat­ing what we should be called or who should be con­sid­ered “in” or “not in.”
    Thanks for open­ing up this con­ver­sa­tion in a way that encour­ages me. I am 100% aligned with the (Lib­er­al Christian/Conservative Quaker/Progressive Evan­gel­i­cal) renew­al that is upon us. I’m just find­ing no life in con­tin­u­ing to dis­cuss “Con­ver­gent Friends” as if that should be our com­mon goal. It is a con­ve­nient label so we can find each oth­er, but then the label needs to be set aside so we can do the impor­tant task set before us: work­ing for the King­dom of God.
    Cathy Hab­schmidt
    Ohio Val­ley YM
    Rich­mond, Indi­ana

  • I know of at least 4 wor­ship­ping groups which call them­selves Emer­gent Quak­er, 3 pas­toral and 1 non-pastoral. Most of them don’t seem much tied into the Con­ver­gent Friends con­ver­sa­tion. Are there any which call them­selves Con­ver­gent Friends?
    Con­ver­gent Friends gets a lot of atten­tion because it is very pub­lic being based in blogs. But on the ground the Emer­gent Quak­er move­ment seems much stronger. I guess one dif­fer­ence is that the Emer­gent Quak­er move­ment doesn’t tend to feel much of a con­nec­tion to Con­ser­v­a­tive Friends, while the CF con­ver­sa­tion some­times does. And Emer­gent Quak­ers are def­i­nite­ly inter­est­ed in shar­ing the Good News.
    There is actu­al­ly con­sid­er­able inter­est among pas­toral Friends in learn­ing from the Emerg­ing Church move­ment. But most of them do not seem inter­est­ed in Con­ver­gent Friends, and some of them are down­right sus­pi­cious of it, main­ly because ele­ments of it seem to shy away from a focus on Jesus Christ.
    Will “Con­ver­gent Friends” fade from the scene with­out leav­ing much of a notice­able impact? I think that’s a real pos­si­bil­i­ty.

  • Mar­tin, great thoughts and I com­plete­ly agree with you on your main point/amendment. To be entire­ly evan­gel­i­cal there’s a sense in which the great com­mis­sion needs to be behind this. That sense of “go” (or mis­sion as shar­ing the good news) is to be the fun­da­men­tal start­ing point for all the church not just this lit­tle group. While you call it an Amend­ment, I do want to sug­gest that this has been an impor­tant part of this entire thing for at least some of us. The very rea­son why I per­son­al­ly got inter­est­ed in this is because of the point you make, and I know you, robin and oth­ers have been on the same page the whole time. Regard­less, it’s a good cor­rec­tive and reminder.
    Bill — I’m a bit sur­prised by your com­ment. It’s weird to me that you want to draw some kind of line between “emerg­ing Quak­er con­gre­ga­tions” and the con­ver­gent Friends. For one, there’s no more than 10 con­gre­ga­tions we could right­ly call emerg­ing (so far as I know) and it’s a pret­ty ear­ly phe­nom­e­na. I know of peo­ple who con­sid­er them­selves con­ver­gent friends with­in at least some of these groups.
    Plus, there’s hun­dreds of con­ver­gent friends, enough to say it’s a strong gath­er­ing of Quak­ers rep­re­sent­ing all the branch­es of Friends. I just did a work­shop at wood­brooke for FAHE on the sub­ject and there were pro­fes­sors and fac­ul­ty there from Fox, Earl­ham, Haver­ford, Swarth­more and Guil­ford, all say­ing they have stu­dents who are inter­est­ed in con­ver­gent friends and want to know more. That’s why they came to the work­shop. Lots of pas­toral Friends present, so I guess I’m mak­ing a bit of an apolo­getic and say­ing there’s more real­ly excit­ing things hap­pen­ing than you may real­ize.
    In my mind, from the very begin­ning of this entire con­ver­sa­tion and the shape it now has, has always been about the emerg­ing church and Quak­erism. That is what con­ver­gent friends start­ed as — a group of Friends (pas­toral and unpro­grammed) say­ing, “hey there’s some­thing to this!” Yes, we also stress the impor­tance of con­ser­v­a­tive friends (that part where they seek to be faith­ful too and con­serve the live­ly parts of our tra­di­tion) but this stress­ing gets played out in the con­text of post­mod­ernism. In my recent blog post I dis­cussed the impor­tance of hold­ing “mis­sion” and “tra­di­tion” togeth­er — here I would switch out the word “mis­sion” for “emerg­ing” or that sense of being con­tex­tu­al and organ­ic and say this needs to be played out in the con­text of a faith­ful and liv­ing tra­di­tion. This ten­sion is some­thing that is essen­tial in my view. If you have one with­out the oth­er then we’re not doing some­thing right. A lot (most in the US) of emerg­ing church­es are non-denominational, multi-traditional church­es and this is a left­over of the indi­vid­u­al­ism of moder­ni­ty. I am tru­ly inter­est­ed in what it means to be an authen­ti­cal­ly Chris­t­ian Quak­er with­in our cur­rent cul­tur­al con­text.
    It’s also the case that just because a group or meet­ing calls itself “emerg­ing” doesn’t mean it is. Because the “is” is much more dif­fi­cult to get at, and there’s no mod­el or par­a­digm from which to import in, and if there were it’d hard­ly be emerg­ing. My sense is that there’s a lot of meet­ings that don’t call them­selves emerg­ing who may be even more than those who do us the term. Just about every emerg­ing church of the hun­dred sur­veyed in the Bol­ger and Gibbs text (2005) does not use that term with­in their name, or even as self-descriptors. So, I think the work needs to be done first on what it even means and looks like to have an “emerg­ing quak­er meet­ing” before we appeal to those who have a recog­ni­tion of the term as our author­i­ty on the mat­ter.
    If any­thing I see the con­ver­gent friends and emerg­ing meet­ings being two-sides of the same coin, and for some of us (who are con­ver­gent and in one of these meet­ings it may not even be sep­a­rate sides!). Con­ver­gent Friends applaud these kinds of inno­v­a­tive meet­ings, we’re excit­ed about them and hope to be a resource for them (It’s not the only thing we’re con­cern­ing our­selves with, but I think it’s fair to say we’re all excit­ed it’s hap­pen­ing). The Lord knows we’ve cov­ered a lot of lit­er­a­ture on the sub­ject! But fur­ther, what we’re doing is try­ing to open up the cracks in the insti­tu­tion­al walls, the cobb-webby meet­ings, and the dis­pas­sion­ate Friends in our tra­di­tion to help peo­ple dream and have imag­i­na­tion about what our faith and prac­tices can look like in the 21st cen­tu­ry. So for me, it’s hard to imag­ine how there real­ly could be one with­out the oth­er.
    I feel like we have seen, or at least I have (I don’t want to speak for oth­ers), a notice­able impact already. If con­ver­gent friends dropped off the face of the plan­et tomor­row I will feel like it would have been all worth it, and I feel like it will have left enough of an impres­sion to hope­ful­ly keep the sparks fly­ing. No rea­son to write it off from where I’m sit­ting.
    On the oth­er hand, and fol­low­ing Martin’s cue, let’s not take either of these terms “con­ver­gent” or “emer­gent” to seri­ous­ly. They’ll both be out, and who real­ly cares? The king­dom of God is what mat­ters, that’s what remains, not terms or lit­tle groups, or what-have-you. These are help­ful now, because we believe their a response to the stir­rings of the king­dom, but if we think it will be the same in 10 – 15 years then we’re already revert­ing back to a Chris­ten­dom mod­el of church.

  • david

    I have to agree with Bill about whether it is a last­ing “move­ment”.
    I think con­ver­gent is basi­cal­ly a term for revi­tal­iza­tion of FGC-based meet­ings using added help­ings of some things that those meet­ings put on the side of the road many years ago.
    I also agree with Wess on two points, first that emer­gent may also not be a last­ing “move­ment,” just also a phi­los­o­phy that helps reguide com­mu­ni­ties. And sec­ond that there are a lot of peo­ple with­in exist­ing com­mu­ni­ties that iden­ti­fy as conservative-leaning. Rather than being ostra­cized for those lean­ings (or should I say lead­ings?), which might have been the norm 15 – 20 years ago, I think we are see­ing, in the last five years, some signs of catal­y­sis around exact­ly these Friends and their leanings/leadings. This I per­son­al­ly know from NYYM and SAYMA.
    It’s way too soon to start gaug­ing the impor­tance of new­ly seed­ed com­mu­ni­ties. If any con­ver­gent megachurch­es spring up, though, I will be hap­py to eat my words. The real val­ue, so far, of “con­ver­gent” is in some recon­nect­ing to God and Jesus with­in FGC-land which is going on.

  • Hi Mar­tin,
    I was think­ing about the ques­tion at the end of your post and the con­ver­sa­tion about con­ver­gence at Free­dom Friends Church (or, real­ly, lack of a con­ver­sa­tion) and it turned into a post instead of a com­ment:
    http://​quest​forad​e​qua​cy​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​0​8​/​0​7​/​i​n​-​g​o​d​s​-​h​a​n​d​s​.​h​tml
    Thank you for chal­leng­ing us to do more with con­ver­gence than just talk about it!
    –Ash­ley

  • David — Thanks for you com­ments. I want to respond to your point about the sta­bil­i­ty of the “move­ment,” and I think (hope) you will see I am in agree­ment with you. First, we have tried very hard to not call con­ver­gent Friends a move­ment, we real­ly don’t see it as that. We have stressed that it’s a sen­si­bil­i­ty, a con­ver­sa­tion, and/or a char­ac­ter­iz­ing friend­ship. So, sec­ond­ly, yes it is unsta­ble and we real­ly, I think I can speak for oth­ers, don’t want it to be sta­ble. At least, if by sta­ble we mean insti­tu­tion­al­ized, draw­ing an income for all peo­ple involved, appoint­ing this or that offi­cial and seek­ing to replace oth­er struc­tures already in place. This is a vision I per­son­al­ly reject. But we are try­ing to get grass­roots change to take place. If in 1, 2, 3, or 10 years from now no one knows of CF I will not be sad, it’s just one name, among many, to sig­ni­fy what we believe God is attempt­ing to do among our tra­di­tion.
    Ryan Bol­ger and Eddie Gibbs, in an arti­cle I recent­ly read called, “Post­mod­ern Forms of Church,” argued that all these emerg­ing church­es are unsta­ble, a bad thing from a mod­ern per­spec­tive, but a strength from a post­mod­ern one (or at least not all bad).
    Final­ly, I think that the under­ly­ing the­o­log­i­cal and prac­ti­cal assump­tions of the CF pre­clude even the pos­si­b­li­ty of a megachurch mod­el. I am very skep­ti­cal such an idea is even ten­able, so I wouldn’t wor­ry about eat­ing words too soon! Thanks again for your com­ments.

  • To me the attrac­tion and the truth of the idea of “con­ver­gent Friends” is this: that the “con­ser­v­a­tive” branch of Friends has got it more right than either the evan­gel­i­cal branch or the FGC branch, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its “con­serv­ing” of unpro­grammed wor­ship on the one hand and the pri­ma­cy of scrip­ture and Jesus Christ on the oth­er, and that there­fore both the evan­gel­i­cal branch and the FGC branch should learn from and “con­verge” towards the con­ser­v­a­tive branch, and on this basis seek greater uni­ty. On the oth­er hand, there are things about the con­ser­v­a­tive branch that seem non-essential and pecu­liar, such as their pecu­liar style of “plain dress” and “plain speech. Not that I don’t see the val­ue in such pecularities/hedges/distinctions, but there are good rea­sons on the oth­er side for not adopt­ing them, and there­fore such things should not be a focus point in our con­ver­gence, and indi­vid­ual Friends and Friends meet­ings can fol­low their own lead­ings in such mat­ters.
    This whole idea of “con­serv­ing” has a much longer and more ven­er­a­ble his­to­ry of wider and more fun­da­men­tal appli­ca­tions than this pecu­liar idea of “con­ver­gence,” and so per­haps our empha­sis should be — more sim­ply — on re-affirming the essen­tial role of “con­ser­vatism” in reli­gious faith and prac­tice. While Chris­tian­i­ty and Quak­erism is a liv­ing faith, it is a faith that is nec­es­sar­i­ly passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, and so it depends for its con­tin­ued vital­i­ty upon the basic “con­ser­v­a­tive” prin­ci­ple that (in the for­mu­la­tion of the con­ser­v­a­tive anar­chist Albert Jay Nock) when it is not nec­es­sary to change, it is nec­es­sary not to change. Of course, dis­cern­ment will still be need­ed to see when in fact it real­ly is nec­es­sary to change, and dis­agree­ments on such points will still inevitably occur, but it seems to me that Quak­erism as a liv­ing faith would be much more vital and its iden­ti­ty clear­er if we shared this basic “con­ser­v­a­tive” pre­sump­tion against unnec­es­sary change (and if changes that have already been made unnec­es­sar­i­ly were rolled back to seek our cen­ter.) Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the word “con­ser­v­a­tive” under­stand­ably car­ries neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions for many Friends. This is some­thing we’ll have to work to get over in order to regain among Friends a truer under­stand­ing of what it means to “con­serve,” and to forge more uni­ty with the branch of Friends who already describe them­selves as “con­ser­v­a­tive.”
    On the oth­er hand, I am also attract­ed to the oth­er idea con­veyed by the label “con­ver­gent” — name­ly, the idea that the so-called “Emer­gent Church“‘s embrac­ing of post­mod­ernism and evan­ge­lism has a lot to offer Quak­ers. I espe­cial­ly find con­ge­nial the post­mod­ern idea that truth is found in expe­ri­ence rather than propo­si­tions. But I won­der — isn’t this an insight that has already been empha­sized by Quak­ers from the very begin­ning? It appears to me that the Emer­gent Church move­ment, while offer­ing valu­able insights for our times, has much more of the fla­vor of a “fad” than does the peren­ni­al idea of “con­ser­vatism,” and so I am much more skep­ti­cal of the wis­dom of empha­siz­ing it. As a fad, it has a lot of poten­tial to turn peo­ple off and cre­ate arti­fi­cial divi­sions. As for the Emer­gent Church’s empha­sis on evan­ge­lism — this like­wise has been some­thing that Quak­ers did from the begin­ning, and is some­thing that is clear­ly enjoined in the gospels. A renewed empha­sis on con­ser­vatism there­fore should be enough to help Friends redis­cov­er its impor­tance. Indeed, the “offi­cial” con­ser­v­a­tive branch­es of Quak­erism in Ohio and North Car­oli­na already appear to be redis­cov­er­ing its impor­tance with their efforts at out­reach.
    The peren­ni­al Quak­er insight (redis­cov­ered by post­mod­ernism and the Emer­gent Church) that truth is found in expe­ri­ence rather than propo­si­tions cre­ates a ten­sion that has exist­ed from the begin­ning. I myself have to admit that, while I can say that I know from expe­ri­ence that God exists and that He loves us, I am mere­ly per­suad­ed (by a pre­pon­der­ance of the evi­dence), and there­fore “believe” in only a con­tin­gent fash­ion, that Jesus rose from the dead and is the incar­na­tion of God him­self. I can’t say that I know these propo­si­tions about Jesus to be true, and can’t say that I believe our sal­va­tion hinges on those propo­si­tions being true or on our believ­ing those propo­si­tions to be true. Think­ing of those self-described “non-Christian” Quak­ers who wor­ry that they would be exclud­ed from a more con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­erism, I won­der why the “offi­cial” dec­la­ra­tions of belief of a more con­ser­v­a­tive Quak­erism couldn’t be along the lines I’ve just described, acknowl­edg­ing the con­tin­gent nature of belief in propo­si­tion­al state­ments while affirm­ing that as a cor­po­rate body we nev­er­the­less are “per­suad­ed” and “believe” that Jesus rose from the dead and is God incar­nate, and that we strive to live accord­ing to his mes­sage. Even the more dog­mat­ic church­es do not shut their doors to doubters. On the oth­er hand, for the sake of the integri­ty and vital­i­ty of our Soci­ety, I would like to see a Quak­erism in which a “Friend” who was actu­al­ly con­vinced that the Chris­t­ian gospel is hog­wash would be a walk­ing con­tra­dic­tion.
    John K.