A growing body of research questions the value of the trips abroad, which are supposed to bring hope and Christianity to the needy of the world, while offering American participants an opportunity to work in disadvantaged communities, develop relationships and charge up their faith. Critics scornfully call such trips “religious tourism” undertaken by “vacationaries.”
My brand of religious don’t do this kind of mission work but we are more and more enchanted with long-distance conferences. We now address every issue with a conference but do we ask any “research questions” about their effectiveness? The web is a great tool to extend the conference outward and yet, despite all the content that could be easily ported to the web, most conferences, consultations and gatherings barely exist online.
I know that real life has it’s own value–I was happy to have a visit from individual traveler Micah Bales this weekend, a Friend with a great talent for the good question that stays with you long after his bus departs. I just wish I saw more media coming out of these big events, more ways to bootstrap the volumes of content produced at these events into something we can use for outreach.
If anecdotal evidence is an indication, most of the people who have come to Friends in the last half-decade first encountered us on Beliefnet, a for-profit dot-com with no connection to any Friends body. It’s definitions of “Liberal Quakers” and “Orthodox Quakers” have become more important (de facto) than all of our books of Faith and Practice. Beliefnet, Wikipedia and a site called Religious Tolerance have become the definers of our faith to millions of seekers. Nothing we’re doing comes close to Beliefnet.
And this is part fo the reason I’ve been fascinated by a Youtube video that was made this weekend. It’s an introduction to “liberal Quakers” by someone who’s never been to Quaker worship. While this might sound presumptuous, the real crime is that hers is the only American liberal Quaker introduction on Youtube. What the hell are we doing, Friends? I’ve been corresponding with the Youtuber. She’s 22, a spiritual seeker who cobbled together a spirituality after following a couple of dead-end spiritual paths. She came across the Beliefnet quiz, came out a “liberal Quaker” and started looking for real world Friends. She tried the meeting in her home town but it looked deserted (!) and so started an email correspondence with a Friend she found on another meeting’s website. She did the Youtube video because she couldn’t find any American introductions and wanted to give back, especially to younger seekers that might not respond to a British Youtube series. Yes her video is awkward and a little sketchy on some points of liberal Quaker theology, but it’s honest and doesn’t contain any viewpoints you won’t hear around most meetinghouses.
PS: Since writing this I’ve come across the first video from the just-concluded FGC Gathering. I don’t know if it’ll help with outreach but it is really funny. Thanks Skip, I feel like I was there!