Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pop Quiz Answer

Many thanks to all who have been praying for Florence Accetta. She is still in the hospital but feeling somewhat better. The long range prognosis is uncertain.

While I still don't have a lot of time for keeping up the blog, I thought I should at least furnish the answer to my silly "Pop Quiz on Quaker Theology/History". As I all but told you this was in a sense a "trick question" in that the right answer is precisely the one you wouldn't expect. My source is Chuck Fager's interesting article FGC's "Uniform Discipline" Rediscovered published in Quaker History volume 89, Fall 2000. Chuck's article says
...the Philadelphia Hicksite Discipline of 1918. It still retained a section, under the heading of "Conduct and Conversation," which stated:

"If anyone in membership with us...shall deny the divinity of Christ, the immediate revelation of the Holy Spirit, or the inspiration of the Scriptures, he ought to be tenderly treated with for his instruction, and the convincement of his understanding, that he may experience repentance and forgiveness." (P-H 1918, p.50.)


Obviously, today's liberal Yearly Meetings would not have such a provision in their books of discipline (aka "Faith and Practice"). Indeed Chuck Fager's article traces the history of how FGC yearly meetings drastically revised these books in the years from 1926 - 1930, partly under the influence of a suggested "Uniform Discipline" issued by FGC itself.

My not-so-hidden agenda in springing my "pop quiz" was to point out that a strong emphasis on faith in Jesus Christ was not a marginal position among our Quaker ancestors, even in the Hicksite branch (though the Hicksites clearly did understand Jesus quite differently than the Orthodox and conservatives). Jesus got marginalized in some meetings only in relatively recent times: a development that I regard as a detour from the mainstream of Quaker tradition.

Ruth-Ann said that she wanted this to be an evangelical quote because
That way I can tsk tsk and mutter things about typical evangelicals always insisting that everyone think the same thing and feel all superior!

Just goes to show how unpredictable people can be. I had thought that a universalist reading this quote, far from feeling superior, would be humbled by the evidence of how far she had strayed from real Quakerism ;)

I would point out in all seriousness that in this quote the 1918 Hicksites were not always insisting that everyone think the same thing. They were assuming that on one very central issue all Quakers (not everybody else) would agree. Many liberal Friends feel a lot like that about the Peace Testimony, or about the modern reinterpretation of George Fox's phrase about "That of God in Everyone".

The Philadelphia Hicksites were also assuming that if people disagreed on this central point the proper remedy was to push for "repentance", as if an incorrect theological position were a moral failing. I feel more uncomfortable with that than with their belief that faith in Christ was a central issue. (But in this respect they were also well within Friends tradition, unfortunately).

Lorcan dealt with the whole issue by saying
As for me, what Friends know, they should know mostly in the heart. Books describe the light, but the heart knows the light.
My answer is: Yes, but... these particular books, the books of Discipline of the various Yearly Meetings were very serious attempts to explain and set forth the beliefs and commitments that defined Quakerism. The very special honor accorded to Jesus survived in even the Hicksite disciplines for a century or more after the Hicksite/Orthodox split. We need to be willing to look at these books if we want to understand the commonalities and continuities between the Quaker faith (or faiths) of today and that of our spiritual ancestors.

Well, enough pontificating for now.

Peace,
Richard
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2 Comments:

Blogger Joe G. said...

My prayers for Florence. I hope things go as well as possible.

Thanks for letting us know the source of the quote.

I agree with your thoughts here. Although I think Lorcan makes a good point that, in the end, things must be written on the heart, there's nothing like some written confirmation of this. Helps to clarify and guide along the way, both for the individual and most certainly for the community.

5:00 PM, March 25, 2005  
Blogger Larry said...

We all believe what we've been given. To require something else is neither good Quakerism nor good Christianity. But I agree we all have a central focus that more or less determines the shape of our theology. For me it's the love of God and of our neighbor-- the words of Jesus, not his divinity or anything else that has been written or said about him.

4:54 PM, April 05, 2005  

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