Over on Beppeblog, “Liberal Quakerism is no longer Quakerism”, the first of a multi-post series. In part one, Beppe looks at our difficulty articulating a collective voice that might proclaim “Truth.” Individualism has really taken a hit on Quakers, that’s for sure. In this day and age, how can a group set itself apart as a “religious society” – a coherent community of believers? I don’t find fulfillment in my own self and I’m an awfully slow learner when I try to figure out things myself. I need other’s wisdom but books and blogs only take me so far.
As Dave Carl reminds us in the comments, the inward Christ is available to all, everywhere. But just because you can have a visitation while standing in the supermarket checkout line doesn’t make the supermarket a religious society or the cashier a minister. Many of our meetings are good for the casual seeker who wants a stress-free meditation center. The RSOF seems to serve many seekers as an in-between point: a place of entry back into the Christian tradition (for those who have been alienated by false prophets) but not a final destination in itself. If you want to get serious you often have to leave. That’s a shame, not only for the lost seeker, but for our own religious society which sees a constant “brain drain” leaking-out of gifted ministers.
I turn on the TV and radio and hear all sorts of perversions of the gospel being spouted out (yesterday’s Memorial Day pap was particularly annoying – hasn’t any of these Christians read the Sermon on the Mount?!?). The world still needs the kind of radical, back-to-the-roots Christianity that Quakers have long held up as an alternative. But how can we unite to speak with that prophetic voice if we have no collective voice.
I’m not as pessimistic as all this sounds. I think most Friends want something more. We’re constantly lifing up the example of dead Friends with prophetic voices and there’s a strong pride in our history of social justice. Our modern culture of individuality blinds us to how these voices got nutured and how those old-timey Friends were able to come together to speak out these truths. But Friends have often been lured away from our calling and every age has had faithful Friends who have been willing to hit their heads against the brick walls of frustration time and time again in order to remind us of who we are. The back-and-forth of reaching out into the world and pulling back into our tradition is actually itself part of our tradition and Quaker bodies have often seen healthiest when we’ve been able to hold both together.
PS: Check here for Beppe’s second post, which argues that “Liberal Quakerism continues to be Quakerism.”