My response to Bruce's article was as follows:
Thanks to Chris for forwarding this article, which makes many very valid points. Some of it applies more to Quaker service organizations than to meetings, but most of it is very broadly applicable. In a meeting, I believe that what Bruce calls the "clerk style" of leadership is very appropriate for (surprise!) the clerk of the meeting, and that other kinds of leadership must come from other Friends. The clerk must seem to be and actually be a listener and process-guider, not a decision maker or visionary leader. The visionary or prophetic leaders are those Friends seized by concerns laid upon them by the Spirit and who present them to the meeting for discernment. This doesn't mean that the clerk is purely passive, however. As Bruce points out the clerk is the servant of the whole meeting, not particular members or their agendas. There are indeed times when clerks need to be very firm about behavior that obstructs the process.
One quibble I have with this article has to do with Bruce's reading of early Quaker history. Even though he wants to emphasize an acceptable role for leaders, he says (apparently as a concession to the contrary view) that "Early Friends refused to acknowledge the authority of kings and magistrates." Actually, the first generation of Friends (and the succeeding generations for at least two centuries) explicitly acknowledged and affirmed the authority of kings and magistrates and said that it should be exercised for the purpose of restraining evil-doers and protecting the innocent. They did refuse to give the authorities flattering customary titles and bow and scrape before them, but that was a rebuke to pride not to authority itself. They also, of course, insisted that the highest authority was God and that kings and magistrates should not interfere with the authority of God over the conscience, especially in purely religious matters. In general, I think the first generation of Friends had less trouble with the concept of leadership than any generation since. George Fox was an extremely dynamic and authoritative leader, as was James Nayler until his downfall, Margaret Fell, Stephen Crisp, Francis Howgill, and many many more. When conflicts arose over leadership it seemed to have more to do with who was leading and whether they were leading rightly than with whether there needed to be leaders at all.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans
Cynthia Large's further response was:
Thank you for this article! I think it has some important ideas in it about Quaker leadership, some of which can apply on the Monthly Meeting level.
I read Rich's comments with interest, as well, about the recognition early Friends gave to the authority of worldly governments, as well as to their own leaders, while at the same time refusing to offer any forms of flattery or "respect" to these people. I suspect that this came from their understanding of Christian society functioning together as "one body, many parts." A hand may well have to acknowledge the authority of the more perceptive eye. And it takes a great measure of humility to accept, for instance, foot-hood as one's lot in life. "But now they are many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." (1 Cor 12:20) So, the part with more authority is not a more neccessary part, it simply fulfills a different role. Each must accept his or her role with humility. The Lord is over all. I really think this was a vital part of the thinking of early Friends. Ideas about individuals, with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, while they may have been hinted at in some of the more radical groups in England at the time, had not been enshrined the way they later were in the United States.
There is one part of the article that I would disagree with. He follows this observation:
" And secondly, no one stands above the group; all 'leadings' must be tested and confirmed through a Spirit-guided group process."
with this conclusion:
"I believe that this distrust of power and authority undermines Quaker leadership to such an extent that Quaker institutions-from monthly meetings to large, national organizations-suffer."
A true leading, from God, will certainly hold up to the spirit-guided group process meant to test it. If anything, it will be clarified, burnished, and tempered in the process. The testing of leadings is what protects us from Ranterism, in ourselves as well as in others. It is a spiritual discipline, rising not out of a distrust of power and authority, but rather out of a humble acknowledgement of how fallible we are.
So, it was a very thought-provoking article! Thank you!