Last weekend I was invited to speak to Abington (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school…

Last week­end I was invited to speak to Abing­ton (Pa.) Meeting’s First-day school (n.b. proper FJ stylesheet) to talk about vocal min­istry in wor­ship. I haven’t been to wor­ship at that meet­ing for eons and can’t speak to the con­di­tion of its min­istry, but I do know that vocal min­istry can be some­thing of a mys­tery for unpro­grammed Friends. Many of us are “con­vinced,” com­ing to the Soci­ety as adults and often have a nag­ging feel­ing we’re play-acting at being Friends, but I’ve met many life-long Quak­ers who also won­der about it.

Per­haps as a response to these feel­ings, we some­times get rather pedan­tic that what­ever way we’ve first encoun­tered is the Quaker way. The cur­rent fash­ion of vocal min­istry in the Philadel­phia area is for short mes­sages, often about world events, often con­fes­sional in nature. What I wanted to leave Abing­ton with was the rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent ways unpro­grammed Friends have wor­shipped over time and how some of our prac­tices out­side wor­ship were devel­oped to help nur­ture Spirit-led min­istry.

(writ­ten this a.m. but only posted to lim­ited cir­cles, cut and pasted when I saw the mix-up) 

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Predictions on the ‘new evangelical’ movement

Read­ers over on Quak​erQuaker​.org will know I’ve been inter­ested in the tem­pest sur­round­ing evan­gel­i­cal pas­tor Rob Bell. A pop­u­lar min­is­ter for the Youtube gen­er­a­tion, con­tro­versy over his new book has revealed some deep fis­sures among younger Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. I’ve been fas­ci­nated by this since 2003, when I started real­iz­ing I had a lot of com­mon­al­i­ties with main­stream Chris­tian blog­gers who I would have nat­u­rally dis­missed out of hand. When they wrote about the authen­tic­ity of wor­ship, decision-making in the church and the need to walk the talk and also to walk the line between truth and com­pas­sion, they spoke to my con­cerns (most of my read­ing since then has been blogs, pre-twentieth cen­tury Quaker writ­ings and the Bible).

Today Jaime John­son tweeted out a link to a new piece by Rachel Held Evans called “The Future of Evan­gel­i­cal­ism.” She does a nice job pars­ing out the dif­fer­ences between the two camps squar­ing off over Rob Bell. On the one side is a cen­tral­ized move­ment of neo-Calvinists she calls Young, Rest­less, Reformed after a 2006 Chris­tian­ity Today arti­cle. I have lit­tle to no inter­est in this crowd except for mild aca­d­e­mic curios­ity. But the other side is what she’s dub­bing “the new evan­gel­i­cals”:

The sec­ond group — some­times referred to as “the new evan­gel­i­cals” or “emerg­ing evan­gel­i­cals” or “the evan­gel­i­cal left” is sig­nif­i­cantly less orga­nized than the first, but con­tin­ues to grow at a grass­roots level. As Paul Markhan wrote in an excel­lent essay about the phe­nom­e­non, young peo­ple who iden­tify with this move­ment have grown weary of evangelicalism’s alle­giance to Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, are inter­ested in pur­su­ing social reform and social jus­tice, believe that the gospel has as much to do with this life as the next, and are eager to be a part of inclu­sive, diverse, and authen­tic Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. “Their broad­en­ing sense of social respon­si­bil­ity is push­ing them to rethink many of the fun­da­men­tal the­o­log­i­cal pre­sup­po­si­tions char­ac­ter­is­tic of their evan­gel­i­cal tra­di­tions,” Markham noted.

This is the group that intrigues me. There’s a lot of cross-over here with some of what I’m see­ing with Quak­ers. In an ideal world, the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends would open its arms to this new wave of seek­ers, espe­cially as they hit the lim­its of denom­i­na­tional tol­er­ance. But in real­ity, many of the East Coast meet­ings I’m most famil­iar with wouldn’t know what to do with this crowd. In Philly if you’re inter­ested in this con­ver­sa­tion you go to Cir­cle of Hope (pre­vi­ous posts), not any of the estab­lished Quaker meet­ings.

Evans makes some edu­cated guesses about the future of the “new evan­gel­i­cal” move­ment. She thinks there will be more dis­cus­sion about the role of the Bible, though I would say it’s more dis­cus­sion fo the var­i­ous Chris­tian inter­pre­ta­tions of it. She also fore­sees a loos­en­ing of labels and denom­i­na­tional affil­i­a­tions. I’m see­ing some of this hap­pen­ing among Friends, though it’s almost com­pletely on the indi­vid­ual level, at least here on the East Coast. It will be inter­est­ing to see how this shakes out over the next few years and whether it will bypass, engage with or siphon off the Soci­ety of Friends. In the mean­time, Evans’ post and the links she embeds in it are well worth explor­ing.

Young Adult Friends Conference in Wichita this Fifth Month

I’ve been lucky enough to have two house­guests this week: Micah Bales and Faith Kel­ley (no rela­tion). They’ve come up to the Philadel­phia area to help pub­li­cize a gath­er­ing of young adult Friends that will take place in Wichita in a few months. Before they left, I got them to share their excite­ment for the con­fer­ence in front of my web­cam.

Inter­view with Faith Kel­ley & Micah Bales, two of the orga­niz­ers of the upcom­ing young adult Friends con­fer­ence in Wichita Kansas.

FAITH: This is an invi­ta­tion for a gath­er­ing for young adult Friends ages 18 – 35 from all the branches of the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends from all across the con­ti­nent. It’s going to be in Wichita Kansas from May 28 – 31. It’s a time to get together and learn about each other, to hear each other’s sto­ries and wor­ship together. We’re really excited by this oppor­tu­nity to have peo­ple who have never been to these before and to have peo­ple who have been to other gath­er­ings to come back.
MICAH: A lot of the advance mate­rial is already up online so you can get a good idea what this con­fer­ence is going to be about and to get a sense of how to pre­pare your­self for a gath­er­ing like this. We’ll be get­ting together with folks from all over the coun­try, Canada and Mex­ico – we’re hop­ing a lot of His­panic Friends show up and we’ve already trans­lated the web­site into Span­ish. Reg­is­tra­tion is set up already; early reg­is­tra­tion goes until April 15. Air­fare to Wichita is look­ing pretty good at the moment; if you reg­is­ter early you’re likely to get a fairly decent plane ticket out.
FAITH: We’re hop­ing peo­ple will choose to car­pool together. So get orga­nized, reg­is­ter early and look at the advance mate­ri­als online. 

2010 Young Adult Friends Con­fer­ence

Remembering George Willoughby

There’s a nice remem­brance of George Willoughby by the Brandy­wine Peace Community’s Bob Smith over on the War Resisters Inter­na­tional site. George died a few days ago at the age of 95 [updated]. It’s hard not to remem­ber his favorite quip as he and his wife Lil­lian cel­e­brated their 80th birth­days: “twenty years to go!” Nei­ther of them made it to 100 but they cer­tainly lived fuller lives than the aver­age cou­ple.

George in 2002, from War Resisters Inter­na­tional

I don’t know enough of the details of their lives to write the obit­u­ary (a Wikipedia page was started this morn­ing) but I will say they always seemed to me like the For­rest Gump’s of peace activism – at the cen­ter of every cool peace wit­ness since 1950. You squint to look at the pho­tos at there’s George and Lil, always there. Or maybe pop music would give us the bet­ter anal­ogy: you know how there are entire b-rate bands that carve an entire career around end­lessly rehash­ing a par­tic­u­lar Beat­les song? Well, there are whole activist orga­ni­za­tions that are built around par­tic­u­lar cam­paigns that the Willoughby’s cham­pi­oned. Like: in 1958 George was a crew mem­ber of the Golden Rule (pro­filed a bit here), a boat­load of crazy activists who sailed into a Paci­fic nuclear bomb test to dis­rupt it. Twelve years later some Van­cou­ver activists stage a copy­cat boat sail­ing which became Green­peace. Lil­lian was con­cerned about ris­ing vio­lence against women and started one of the first Take Back the Nightmarches. If you’ve ever sat in an activist meet­ing where everyone’s using con­sen­sus, then you’ve been influ­enced by the Willoughby’s!

The Golden Rule, 1959, from the Swarth­more Peace Col­lec­tion.

For many years I lived deeply embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties co-founded by the Willough­bys. There’s a recent inter­view with George Lakey about the found­ing of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety that he and they helped cre­ate. In the 1990s I liked to say how I lived “in its ruins,” work­ing at the pub­lish­ing house, liv­ing in a coop house and get­ting my food from the coop that all grew out of MNS. I got to know the Willough­bys through Cen­tral Philadel­phia meet­ing but also as friends. It was a treat to visit their house in Dept­ford, NJ — it adjoined a wildlife sanc­tu­ary they helped pro­tect against the strip-mall sprawl that is the rest of that town. I last saw George a few months ago, and while he had a bit of trou­ble remem­ber­ing who I was, that irre­press­ible smile and spirit were very strong!

When news of George’s pass­ing started buzzing around the net I got a nice email from Howard Clark, who’s been very involved with War Resisters Inter­na­tional for many years. It was a real blast-from-the-past and reminded me how lit­tle I’m involved with all this these days. The Philadel­phia office of New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers went under in 1995 and a few years ago I finally dropped the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project that I had started to keep the orga­niz­ing going.

George at Fort Gulick in Panama (undated), also from Swarth­more.

I’ve writ­ten before that one of the clos­est modern-day suc­ces­sor to the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is the so-called New Monas­tic move­ment – explic­itly Chris­tian but focused on love and char­ity and often very Quaker’ish. Our cul­ture of sec­u­lar Quak­erism has kept Friends from get­ting involved and shar­ing our decades of expe­ri­ence. Now that Shane Clai­borne is being invited to seem­ingly every lib­eral Quaker venue, maybe it’s a good oppor­tu­nity to look back on our own legacy. Friends like George and Lil­lian helped invent this form.

I miss the strong sense of com­mu­nity I once felt. Is there a way we can com­bine MNS & the “New Monas­tic” move­ment into some­thing explic­itly reli­gious and pub­lic that might help spread the good news of the Inward Christ and inspire a new wave of lefty peacenik activism more in line with Jesus’ teach­ings than the xeno­pho­bic crap that gets spewed by so many “Chris­tian” activists? With that, another plug for the work­shop Wess Daniels and I are doing in May at Pendle Hill: “New Monas­tics and Cov­er­gent Friends.” If money’s a prob­lem there’s still time to ask your meet­ing to help get you there. If that doesn’t work or dis­tance is a prob­lem, I’m sure we’ll be talk­ing about it more here in the com­ments and blogs.

2010 update: David Alpert posted a nice remem­brance of George.

August 2013 updates from the pages of Friends Jour­nal: The Golden Rule Shall Sail Again and Expand­ing Old Pine Farm.

Movement for a New Society and the Old New Monastics

Robin wrote a lit­tle about the New Monas­tic move­ment in a plug for the Pendle Hill work­shop I’m doing with Wess Daniels this Fall. 

Here’s my work­ing the­ory: I think Lib­eral Friends have a good claim to invent­ing the “new monas­tic” move­ment thirty years ago in the form of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety, a net­work of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadel­phia that cod­i­fied a kind of “sec­u­lar Quaker” decision-making process and trained thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that fea­tured low-cost com­mu­nal liv­ing arrange­ments in poor neigh­bor­hoods with part-time jobs that gave them flex­i­bil­ity to work as full-time com­mu­nity activists. There are few activist cam­paigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS cul­ture sur­vives today in bor­der­line neigh­bor­hoods in Philadel­phia and other cities. The high-profile new monas­tics rarely seem to give any props to Quak­ers or MNS, but I’d be will­ing to bet if you sat in on any of their meet­ings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fif­teen cen­tury monas­tic rule that might be cited.

For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety.” The for­mal struc­ture of MNS had dis­banded but many of its insti­tu­tions car­ried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remain­ing pub­lish­ing house, New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neigh­bor­hood food coop and occa­sion­ally dropped in or helped out with Train­ing for Change, a revived train­ing cen­ter started by MNS-co-founder (and Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neigh­bor­hood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb related move­ments with dif­fer­ent styles (e.g., a strong anar­chist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coin­ci­dence that some of the Philly emer­gent church projects started in West Philly and is strong in the neigh­bor­hoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actual neigh­bor­hood has gen­tri­fied.

So some ques­tions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pendle Hill: 

  • Why haven’t more of us in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends adopted this engaged lifestyle?
  • Why haven’t we been good at artic­u­lat­ing it all this time?
  • Why did the for­mal struc­ture of the Quaker-ish “new monas­ti­cism” not sur­vive the 1980s?
  • Why don’t we have any younger lead­ers of the Quaker monas­ti­cism? Why do we need oth­ers to remind us of our own recent tra­di­tion?
  • In what ways are some Friends (and some fel­low trav­el­ers) still liv­ing out the “Old New Monas­tic” expe­ri­ence, just with­out the hype and with­out the buzz?

It’s entirely pos­si­ble that the “new monas­ti­cism” isn’t sus­tain­able. At the very least Friends’ expe­ri­ences with it should be stud­ied to see what hap­pened. Is West Philly what the new monas­ti­cism looks like thirty years later? The biggest dif­fer­ences between now and the hey­day of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is 1) the Internet’s abil­ity to orga­nize and stay in touch in com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways; and 2) the power of the major Evan­gel­i­cal pub­lish­ing houses that are hyp­ing the new kids.

I’ll be look­ing at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I needed a change. I’m now in the “real world” – semi sub­ur­ban free­stand­ing house, nuclear fam­ily. The old new West Philly monas­ti­cism, like the “new monas­ti­cism” seems opti­mized for hip twenty-something sub­ur­ban kids who roman­ti­cized the gritty city. Peo­ple of other demo­graph­ics often fit in, but still it was never very scal­able and for many not very sus­tain­able. How do we bring these con­cerns out to a world where there are sub­urbs, fam­i­lies, etc?

RELATED READING: I first wrote about the sim­i­lar­ity between MNS and the Philadel­phia “New Monas­tic” move­ment six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pendle Hill should take a seri­ous look at this new move­ment.

Going lowercase christian with Thomas Clarkson

Vist­ing 1806’s “A por­trai­ture of Quak­erism: Taken from a view of the edu­ca­tion and dis­ci­pline, social man­ners, civil and polit­i­cal econ­omy, reli­gious prin­ci­ples and char­ac­ter, of the Soci­ety of Friends”

Thomas Clark­son wasn’t a Friend. He didn’t write for a Quaker audi­ence. He had no direct expe­ri­ence of (and lit­tle appar­ent inter­est in) any period that we’ve retroac­tively claimed as a “golden age of Quak­erism.” Yet all this is why he’s so inter­est­ing.

The basic facts of his life are summed up in his Wikipedia entry (http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​T​h​o​m​a​s​_​C​l​a​r​k​son), which begins: “Thomas Clark­son (28 March 1760 – 26 Sep­tem­ber 1846), abo­li­tion­ist, was born at Wis­bech, Cam­bridgeshire, Eng­land, and became a lead­ing cam­paigner against the slave trade in the British Empire.” The only other nec­es­sary piece of infor­ma­tion to our story is that he was a Angli­can.

British Friends at the end of of the Eigh­teenth Cen­tury were still some­what aloof, mys­te­ri­ous and con­sid­ered odd by their fel­low coun­try­men and women. Clark­son admits that one rea­son for his writ­ing “A Por­trai­ture of Quak­erism” was the enter­tain­ment value it would provide his fel­low Angli­cans. Friends were start­ing to work with non-Quakers like Clark­son on issues of con­science and while this ecu­meni­cal activism was his entre – “I came to a knowl­edge of their liv­ing man­ners, which no other per­son, who was not a Quaker, could have eas­ily obtained” (Vol 1, p. i)– it was also a symp­tom of a great sea change about to hit Friends. The Nine­teenth Cen­tury ush­ered in a new type of Quaker, or more pre­cisely whole new types of Quak­ers. By the time Clark­son died Amer­i­can Friends were going through their sec­ond round of schism and Joseph John Gur­ney was arguably the best-known Quaker across two con­ti­nents: Oxford edu­cated, at ease in gen­teel Eng­lish soci­ety, active in cross-denominational work, and flu­ent and well stud­ied in Bib­li­cal stud­ies. Clark­son wrote about a Soci­ety of Friends that was dis­ap­pear­ing even as the ink was dry­ing at the print­ers.

Most of the old accounts of Friends we still read were writ­ten by Friends them­selves. I like old Quaker jour­nals as much as the next geek, but it’s always use­ful to get an outsider’s per­spec­tive (here’s a more modern-day exam­ple). Also: I don’t think Clark­son was really just writ­ing an account sim­ply for entertainment’s sake. I think he saw in Friends a model of chris­tian behav­ior that he thought his fel­low Angli­cans would be well advised to study. 

His account is refresh­ingly free of what we might call Quaker bag­gage. He doesn’t use Fox or Bar­clay quotes as a blud­geon against dis­agree­ment and he doesn’t drone on about his­tory and per­son­al­i­ties and schisms. Read­ing between the lines I think he rec­og­nizes the grow­ing rifts among Friends but glosses over them (fair enough: these are not his bat­tles). Refresh­ingly, he doesn’t hold up Quaker lan­guage as some sort of quaint and untrans­lat­able tongue, and when he describes our processes he often uses very sur­pris­ing words that point to some fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences between Quaker prac­tice then and now that are obscured by com­mon words.

Thomas Clark­son is inter­ested in what it’s like to be a good chris­tian. In the book it’s type­set with low­er­case “c” and while I don’t have any rea­son to think it’s inten­tional, I find that type­set­ting illu­mi­nat­ing nonethe­less. This mean­ing of “chris­tian” is not about sub­scrib­ing to par­tic­u­lar creeds and is not the same con­cept as uppercase-C “Chris­tian.” My Lutheran grand­mother actu­ally used to use the lowercase-c mean­ing when she described some behav­ior as “not the chris­tian way to act.” She used it to describe an eth­i­cal and moral stan­dard. Friends share that under­stand­ing when we talk about Gospel Order: that there is a right way to live and act that we will find if we fol­low the Spirit’s lead. It may be a lit­tle quaint to use chris­tian to describe this kind of generic good­ness but I think it shifts some of the debates going on right now to think of it this way for awhile.

Clarkson’s “Por­trai­ture” looks at pecu­liar Quaker prac­tices and reverse-engineers them to show how they help Quaker stay in that chris­tian zone. His book is most often ref­er­enced today because of its descrip­tions of Quaker plain dress but he’s less inter­ested in the style than he is with the practice’s effect on the soci­ety of Friends. He gets pos­i­tively soci­o­log­i­cal at times. And because he’s speak­ing about a denom­i­na­tion that’s 150 years old, he was able to describe how the tes­ti­monies had shifted over time to address chang­ing worldly con­di­tions.

And that’s the key. So many of us are try­ing to under­stand what it would be like to be “authen­ti­cally” Quaker in a world that’s very dif­fer­ent from the one the first band of Friends knew. In the com­ment to the last post, Alice M talked about recov­ered the Quaker charism (http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​C​h​a​r​ism). I didn’t join Friends because of the­ol­ogy or his­tory. I was a young peace activist who knew in my heart that there was some­thing more moti­vat­ing me than just the typ­i­cal paci­fist anti-war rhetoric. In Friends I saw a deeper under­stand­ing and a way of con­nect­ing that with a nascent spir­i­tual awak­en­ing.

What does it mean to live a chris­tian life (again, low­er­case) in the 21st Cen­tury? What does it mean to live the Quaker charism in the mod­ern world? How do we relate to other reli­gious tra­di­tions both with­out and now within our reli­gious soci­ety and what’s might our role be in the Emer­gent Church move­ment? I think Clark­son gives clues. And that’s what this series will talk about.

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More ways to QuakeQuake in the socialscape

ff.gifFor any bleed­ing edge Web 2.0 Quak­ers out there, there’s now a Quak­erQuaker Friend­Feed account to go along with its Twit­ter account. Both accounts sim­ply spit out the Quak­erQuaker RSS feed but there might be some prac­ti­cal uses. I actu­ally fol­low QQ pri­mary by Twit­ter these days and those who don’t mind annoy­ing IM pop-ups could get instant alerts. 

Web 2.0 every­where man Robert Scoble recently posted that many of his con­ver­sa­tions and com­ments have moved away from his blog and over to Friend­Feed. I don’t see that occur­ring any­time soon with QQ but I’ll set the accounts up and see what hap­pens. I’ve hooked my own Twit­ter and Friend­Feed accounts up with Quak­erQuaker, so that’s one way I’m cross-linking with this pos­si­ble over­lay of QQ. 

For what it’s worth I’ve always assumed that QQ is rel­a­tively tem­po­rary, an ini­tial meet­ing ground for a net­work of online Friends that will con­tinue to expand into dif­fer­ent forms. I’m hop­ing we can pick the best media to use and not just jump on the lat­est trends. As far as the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends is con­cerned, I’d say the two most impor­tant tests of a new media is it’s abil­ity to out­reach to new peo­ple and its util­ity in help­ing to con­struct a shared vision of spir­i­tual renewal. 

On these test, Face­book has been a com­plete fail­ure. So many promis­ing blog­gers have dis­ap­peared and seem to spend their online time swap­ping sug­ges­tive mes­sages on Face­book (find a hotel room folks) or share ani­mated gifs with 257 of their closed “friends.” Quaker Friends tend to be a clan­nish bunch and Face­book has really fed into that (unfor­tu­nate) part of our per­sona. Blog­ging seemed to be resus­ci­tat­ing the idea of the “Pub­lic Friend,” some­one who was will­ing to share their Quaker iden­tity with the gen­eral pub­lic. That’s still hap­pen­ing but it seems to have slowed down quite a bit. I’m not ready to close my own Face­book account but I would like to see Friends really think about which social media we spend our time on. Friends have always been adapt­ing – rail­roads, news­pa­pers, fre­quently flier miles have all affected how we com­mu­ni­cate with each other and the out­side world. Com­puter net­work­ing is just the lat­est wrin­kle.

As a per­sonal aside, the worst thing to hap­pen to my Quaker blog­ging has been the lack of a com­mute (except for a short hop to do some Had­don­field web design a few times a week). I’m no longer stranded on a train for hours a week with noth­ing to do but read the jour­nal of Samuel Bow­nas or throw open my lap­top to write about the lat­est idea that flits through my head. Ah the tra­vails of telecom­mut­ing!

Opening up the QuakerQuaker listings

Every­one can now add posts to the Quak­erQuaker cat­e­gory list­ings. Sim­ply book­mark the post in Del​.icio​.us, list the QQ cat­e­gories and it will be added to the page.
For exam­ple, say you’ve seen just the coolest post on Con­ver­gent Friends. Go to the “Con­ver­gent Friends”: page to find the right “tag” – in this case “quaker.convergent”. Book­mark the post you like, write a title and descrip­tion and list “quaker.convergent” as its tag. An hour or so later the post will show up on the Con­ver­gent Friends page. How cool is that? Here are “instruc­tion on how to use Del​.icio​.us and title pages”:

Con­tinue read­ing

Emergent Church Movement: The Younger Evangelicals and Quaker Renewal

A look at the generational shifts facing Friends.

I’m cur­rently read­ing Robert E. Webber’s The Younger Evan­gel­i­cals: Fac­ing the Chal­lenges of the New World, which exam­i­nes the cul­tural and gen­er­a­tional shifts hap­pen­ing within the Chris­tian Evan­gel­i­cal move­ment. At the bot­tom of this page is a handy chart that out­li­nes the gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in the­ol­ogy, eccle­si­as­ti­cal par­a­digm, church polity that he sees. When I first saw it I said “yes!” to almost each cat­e­gory, as it clearly hits at the gen­er­a­tional forces hit­ting Quak­erism.

Unfor­tu­nately many Friends in lead­er­ship posi­tions don’t really under­stand the prob­lems fac­ing Quak­erism. Or: they do, but they don’t under­stand the larger shifts behind them and think that they just need to redou­ble their efforts using the old meth­ods and mod­els. The Baby Boom gen­er­a­tion in charge knows the chal­lenge is to reach out to seek­ers in their twen­ties or thir­ties, but they do this by devel­op­ing pro­grams that would have appealed to them when they were that age. The cur­rent crop of out­reach projects and peace ini­tia­tives are all very 1980 in style. There’s no recog­ni­tion that the sec­u­lar peace com­mu­nity that drew seek­ers in twenty years ago no longer exists and that today’s seek­ers are look­ing for some­thing deeper, some­thing more per­sonal and more real.

When younger Friends are included in the sur­veys and com­mit­tees, they tend to be either the unin­volved chil­dren of impor­tant Baby Boom gen­er­a­tion Quak­ers, or those thirty-something Friends that cul­tur­ally and philo­soph­i­cally fit into the older par­a­digms. It’s fine that these two types of Friends are around, but nei­ther group chal­lenges Baby Boomer group-think. Out­spo­ken younger Friends often end up leav­ing the Soci­ety in frus­tra­tion after a few years.

It’s a shame. In my ten years attend­ing a down­town Philadel­phia Friends meet­ing, I eas­ily met a hun­dred young seek­ers. They mostly cycled through, attend­ing for peri­ods rang­ing from a few months to a few years. I would often ask them why they stopped com­ing. Some­times they were just nice and said life was too busy, but of course that’s not a real answer: you make time for the things that are impor­tant and that feed you in some way. But oth­ers told me they found the meet­ing unwel­com­ing, or Friends too self-congratulatory or super­fi­cial, the com­mu­nity more social than spir­i­tual. I went back to this meet­ing one First Day after a two year absence and it was depress­ing how it was all the same faces. This is not a knock on this par­tic­u­lar meet­ing, since the same dynam­ics are at work in most of the liberal-leaning meet­ings I’ve attended, both in the FGC and FUM worlds – it’s a gen­er­a­tional cul­tural phe­nom­e­non. I have never found the young Quaker seeker com­mu­nity I know is out there, though I’ve glimpsed its indi­vid­ual faces a hun­dred times: always just out of reach, never gelling into a move­ment.

I’m not sure what the answers are. Luck­ily it’s not my job to have answers: I leave that up to Christ and only con­cern myself with being as faith­ful a ser­vant to the Spirit as I can be (this spirit-led lead­er­ship style is exactly one of the gen­er­a­tional shifts Web­ber talks about). I’ve been given a clear mes­sage that my job is to stay with the Soci­ety of Friends, that I might be of use some­day. But there are a few pieces that I think will come out:

A re-examination of our roots, as Christians and as Friends

What babies were thrown out with the bath­wa­ter by turn-of-the-century Friends who embraced mod­ernism and ratio­nal­ism and turned their back on tra­di­tional tes­ti­monies? This will require chal­leng­ing some of the sacred myths of con­tem­po­rary Quak­erism. There are a lot that aren’t par­tic­u­larly Quaker and we need to start admit­ting to that. I’ve per­son­ally taken up plain dress and find the old state­ments on the peace tes­ti­mony much deeper and more mean­ing­ful than con­tem­po­rary ones. I’m a pro­fes­sional web­mas­ter and run a promi­nent paci­fist site, so it’s not like I’m stuck in the nine­teenth cen­tury; instead, I just think these old tes­ti­monies actu­ally speak to our con­di­tion in the twenty-first Cen­tury.

A Desire to Grow

Too many Friends are happy with their nice cozy meet­ings. The meet­ings serve as fam­ily and as a sup­port group, and a real growth would dis­rupt our estab­lished pat­terns. If Quak­erism grew ten­fold over the next twenty years we’d have to build meet­ing­houses, have extra wor­ship, reor­ga­nize our com­mit­tees. Involved Friends wouldn’t know all the other involved Friends in their yearly meet­ing. With more mem­bers we’d have to become more rig­or­ous and dis­ci­plined in our com­mit­tee meet­ings. Quak­erism would feel dif­fer­ent if it were ten times larger: how many of us would just feel uncom­fort­able with that. Many of our Meet­ings are ripe for growth, being in boom­ing sub­urbs or thriv­ing urban cen­ters, but year after year they stay small. Many sim­ply neglect and screw up out­reach or reli­gious edu­ca­tion efforts as a way of keep­ing the meet­ing at its cur­rent size and with its cur­rent char­ac­ter.

A more personally-involved, time-consuming commitment

Reli­gion in Amer­ica has become yet another con­sumer choice, an enter­tain­ment option for Sun­day morn­ing, and this par­a­digm is true with Friends. We com­plain how much time our Quaker work takes up. We com­plain about clear­ness com­mit­tees or vision­ing groups that might take up a Sat­ur­day after­noon. A more involved Quak­erism would real­ize that the hour on First Day morn­ing is in many ways the least impor­tant time to our Soci­ety. Younger seek­ers are look­ing for con­nec­tions that are deeper and that will require time. We can’t build a Soci­ety on the cheap. It’s not money we need to invest, but our hearts and time. 

I recently vis­ited a Meet­ing that was set­ting up its first adult reli­gious edu­ca­tion pro­gram. When it came time to fig­ure out the for­mat, a weighty Friend declared that it couldn’t take place on the first Sun­day of the month because that was when the finance com­mit­tee met; the sec­ond Sun­day was out because of the mem­ber­ship care com­mit­tee; the third was out because of busi­ness meet­ing and so forth. It turned out that reli­gious edu­ca­tion could be squeezed into one 45-minute slot on the fourth Sun­day of every month. Here was a small strug­gling meet­ing in the mid­dle of an sym­pa­thetic urban neigh­bor­hood and they couldn’t spare even an hour a month on reli­gious edu­ca­tion or sub­stan­tive out­reach to new mem­bers. Mod­ern Friends should not exist to meet in com­mit­tees.

A renewal of discipline and oversight 

These are taboo words for many mod­ern Friends. But we’ve taken open-hearted tol­er­ance so far that we’ve for­got­ten who we are. What does it mean to be a Quaker? Seek­ers are look­ing for answers. Friends have been able to provide them with answers in the past: both ways to con­duct one­self in the world and ways to reach the divine. Many of us actu­ally yearn for more care, atten­tion and over­sight in our reli­gious lives and more con­nec­tion with oth­ers.

A confrontation of our ethnic and cultural bigotries

Too much of Quaker cul­ture is still rooted in elit­ist wealthy Philadel­phia Main Line “Wasp” cul­ture. For gen­er­a­tions of Friends, the Soci­ety became an eth­nic group you were born into. Too many Friends still care if your name is “Roberts,” “Jones,” “Lip­pen­cott,” “Thomas,” “Brin­ton.” A num­ber of nineteenth-century Quaker lead­ers tried to make this a reli­gion of fam­ily fief­doms. There was a love of the world and an urge for to be respected by the out­side world (the Epis­co­palians wouldn’t let you into the coun­try clubs if you wore plain dress or got too excited about reli­gion).

Today we too often con­fuse the cul­ture of those fam­i­lies with Quak­erism. The most obvi­ous exam­ple to me is the oft-repeated phrase: “Friends don’t believe in pros­e­ly­tiz­ing.” Wrong: we started off as great speak­ers of the Truth, gain­ing num­bers in great quan­ti­ties. It was the old Quaker fam­i­lies who started fret­ting about new blood in the Soci­ety, for they saw birthright mem­ber­ship as more impor­tant than bap­tism by the Holy Spirit. We’ve got a lot of bag­gage left over from this era, things we need to re-examine, includ­ing: our will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice Truth-telling in the name of polite­ness; an over-developed intel­lec­tu­al­ism that has become snob­bery against those with­out advanced school­ing; our taboo about being too loud or too “eth­nic” in Meet­ing.

Note that I haven’t specif­i­cally men­tioned racial diver­sity. This is a piece of the work we need to do and I’m happy that many Friends are work­ing on it. But I think we’ll all agree that it will take more than a few African Amer­i­cans with grad­u­ate degrees to bring true diver­sity. The Lib­eral branch of Friends spends a lot of time con­grat­u­lat­ing itself on being open, tol­er­ant and self-examining and yet as far as I can tell we’re the least ethnically-diverse branch of Amer­i­can Quak­ers (I’m pretty sure, any­one with cor­rob­o­ra­tion?). We need to re-examine and chal­lenge the unwrit­ten norms of Quaker cul­ture that don’t arise from faith. When we have some­thing to offer besides upper-class lib­er­al­ism, we’ll find we can talk to a much wider selec­tion of seek­ers.

Can we do it?

Can we do these re-examinations with­out rip­ping our Soci­ety apart? I don’t know. I don’t think the age of Quaker schisms is over, I just think we have a dif­fer­ent dis­ci­pline and church polity that let us pre­tend the splits aren’t there. We just self-select our­selves into dif­fer­ent sub-groups. I’m not sure if this can con­tinue indef­i­nitely. Every week our Meet­ings for Wor­ship bring together peo­ple of rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent beliefs and non-beliefs. Instead of wor­ship, we have indi­vid­ual med­i­ta­tion in a group set­ting, where every­one is free to believe what they want to believe. This isn’t Friends’ style and it’s not sat­is­fy­ing to many of us. I know this state­ment may seem like sac­ri­lege to many Friends who value tol­er­ance above all. But I don’t think I’m the only one who would rather wor­ship God than Silence, who longs for a deeper reli­gious fel­low­ship than that found in most con­tem­po­rary Meet­ings. Quak­erism will change and Mod­ernism isn’t the end of his­tory.

How open will we all be to this process? How hon­est will we get? Where will our Soci­ety end up? We’re not the only reli­gion in Amer­ica that is fac­ing these ques­tions.


1950 – 1975


1975 – 2000




as a ratio­nal world­view

as ther­apy Answers needs

as a com­mu­nity of faith.



as meaning-giver
Per­sonal Faith

the meta­nar­ra­tive
Embod­ied apolo­getic
Com­mu­nal faith


Civil Reli­gion

sen­si­tive church
Mar­ket Dri­ven

Coun­ter cul­tural



Mar­ket tar­geted

Back to cities




Priest­hood of all



Week­end fun retreats

Bible Study, Wor­ship, Social Action


Infor­ma­tion cen­tred

gen­er­a­tional groups and needs

for­ma­tion in com­mu­nity


the rules

and suc­cess








as illus­tra­tion







of evan­gel­i­cal social action

social action (divorce groups, drug rehab

cities and neigh­bor­hoods

See also:

On Quaker Ranter:

  • It Will Be There in Decline Our Entire Lives. There’s a gen­er­a­tion of young Chris­tians dis­il­lu­sioned by mod­ern church insti­tu­tion­al­ism who are writ­ing and blog­ging under the “post-modern” “emer­gent church” labels. Do Friends have any­thing to offer these wea­ried seek­ers except more of the same hashed out insti­tu­tion­al­ism?
  • Post-Liberals & Post-Evangelicals?, my obser­va­tions from the Novem­ber 2003 “Indie Allies” meet-up.
  • Sodium Free Friends, a post of mine urg­ing Friends to actively engage with our tra­di­tion and not just selec­tively edit out a few words which makes Fox sound like a sev­en­teen cen­tury Thich Nhat Hanh. “We poor humans are look­ing for ways to tran­scend the crap­pi­ness of our war- and consumer-obsessed world and Quak­erism has some­thing to say about that.”
  • Peace and Twenty-Somethings: are the Emer­gent Church seek­ers cre­at­ing the kinds of youth-led inten­tional com­mu­ni­ties that the peace move­ment inspired in the 1970s?


  • From Evan­gel­i­cal Friends Church South­west comes an emer­gent church” church plant­ing project called >Sim­ple Churches (since laid down, link is to archive). I love their intro: “As your peruse the links from this site please rec­og­nize that the Truth reflected in essays are often writ­ten with a ‘prophetic edge’, that is sharp, non com­pro­mis­ing and some­times rad­i­cal per­spec­tive. We believe Truth can be received with­out ‘curs­ing the dark­ness’ and encour­age you to reflect upon find­ing the ‘can­dle’ to light, per­son­ally, as you apply what you hear the Lord speak­ing to you.”
  • The emer­gent church move­ment hit the New York Times in Feb­ru­ary 2004. Here’s a link to the arti­cle and my thoughts about it.
  • “Ortho­dox Twenty-Somethings,” a great arti­cle from TheOoze (now lost to a site redesign of theirs), and my intro to the arti­cle Want to under­stand us?
  • The blog­ger Punkmon­key talks about what a mis­sional com­mu­nity of faith would look like and it sounds a lot like what I dream of: “a mis­sional com­mu­nity of faith is a liv­ing breath­ing trans­par­ent com­mu­nity of faith will­ing to get messy while reach out to, and bring­ing in, those out­side the cur­rent com­mu­nity.”