Saturday, April 01, 2006

Press Release - Seventh Day, 1st of Fourth Month, 2006

New York City, 1st of Fourth Month, 2006 C.E.

In a long expected move that builds on recent trends toward theological inclusivness in the Religious Society of Friends, an ad hoc group of members, attenders, and non-member non-attenders of several Friends' Meetings announced today the formation of a group tentatively called the NonQuaker Friends Association. Kelly Brinton-Jones, the group's "clerk of the day" (a kind of presiding officer whose tenure is 24 hours) said the group's final name may change since some of its founding members believe that the use of the word "Friends" as an identifier is unduly limiting and exclusionary.

"The Society of people called Friends has a long and sad history of narrowness and exclusiveness," said Brinton-Jones, "but today we take another step in our journey toward universal inclusiveness." The group's potential nationwide constitutency is estimated at 10 - 15 individuals.

Brinton-Jones explained that in the early days of the Society of Friends it included only people who were anti-clerical, anti-war, anti-luxury, anti-pride, anti-vanity and pro-Christian to boot. He said that Puritans, Roman Catholics, Ranters, Baptists and other English groups of the time were not formally prohibited from attending these early Friends' meetings, but they were subtly excluded by the strong stands the Friends took against things that others believed in. "In theory, you could come to Meeting no matter who you were," said Brinton-Jones, "but if you wanted to swear oaths, kill people, or dance around the maypole you were NOT made welcome."

In later times, this trend toward exclusiveness nor only continued, but increased according to Brinton-Jones. "The 'Free Quakers' who supported the American Revolution were unceremoniously expelled because of the Society's rigid insistence on its 'peace testimony'. In the 18th Century, inspired by zealot John Woolman, Friends also purged their ranks of well-to-do citizens who happened to own slaves, even though this practice was then legal and technically a private personal matter."

"In the 19th and 20th centuries," Brinton-Jones continued, "the exclusionary trends began to reverse. Today, in large sections of the United States Meetings no longer exclude people who want pastors like other churches. In the 1970s California Friends warmly embraced a member who had scandalized some traditionalists by becomeing Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, making war against a foreign nation, and covering-up a burglary. In a few isolated pockets, Meetings have opened their doors and hearts to people who embrace ritual practices from other faith-traditions, such as communion with bread and wine, baptism with water, and Wiccan fertility dances. We of the NonQuaker Friends Association welcome these trends, just as we welcome the growth of the Nontheist Friends, Universalist Friends, and other groups who stretch our traditional definitions. Ultimately, however, it is not good enough to just say that no particular beliefs are mandatory. The Society of Friends will remain exclusionary and sectarian as long as its Meetings accept only Quakers as members. It is with this in mind that we call upon all Friends Meetings to topple this final barrier between our beloved Society and the greater Society around us."

It is believed that the group will attempt to hold an informal interest group at upcoming sessions of Friends General Conference.

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Blogger Joe G. said...

I can't wait to go to the interest group at FGC, which is perfect for this sort of thing... ;)

1:21 PM, April 02, 2006  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

While I sympathize with the frustration the spawned this posting (and yes, I noticed the date), I find that it leaves me with a sad feeling over what I perceive as sarcasm.

About 2 weeks ago, I was in a discussion where we talked about someone describing himself as a "Pagan Quaker". One of the participants, Lloyd Lee Wilson from NCYM(C), told the story that when he first came to Quakerism, he would probably have called himself a "Pagan Quaker" or something similar. When he decided to as for membership, one of the elder members told him "You can believe what you want, Lloyd, but remember that everything that you love about Quakerism is essentially Christian" (I wish I had the exact words).

I believe it could have been a great loss for Quakerism today if that elder had said "Sorry, Lloyd, unless you consider yourself a Christian, you can't be a member."

7:33 PM, April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, history long ago pre-empted you. Read up on the history of Congregational Friends (also known as the "Friends for Human Progress").

The only book on the subject is Anne Braude's important and eye-opening "Radical Spirits."

You will find the facts are stranger than your fiction. No, I mean it. *Much* stranger.

However, don't laugh too hard. This was at once a platform for unlimited folly on the one hand and a lauching pad for the Woman's Rights movement on the other.

If it hadn't been for the zanies, American women might still be barefoot and pregnant.

-- Mitch

8:14 PM, April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...isn't the problem Membership itself? I've struggled with the idea of 'Members' for a long time - in my view, if you turn up and sit for worship then you're a Quaker - if only for an hour - perhaps we should have Membership Cards?

4:03 AM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Paul L said...

Sounds like a group I once associated with, the Not-very-religious Society of Very Nice People.

10:24 AM, April 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is saddening that the prospect of radical inclusivity seems to be so frightening to some Friends.

11:09 AM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Many thanks to all who commented. This was indeed, as everyone seemed to realize, an April Fool's prank (and I am the April Fool who pulled it).

Some commenters were troubled by the attitudes they thought my satire implied. I hope to post more about what my attitudes actually are in the next few days. For now I'll just say that just because I satirize and implicitly criticize a certain kind of inclusiv-ism doesn't mean that I'm completely against inclusion itself, nor that I think the right answer is some kind of wall-building.

Just as Lloyd Lee Wilson came to Meeting as a "pagan Quaker" I myself came to Meeting originally as a fairly anti-Christian Quaker. And I'm glad they (you/we) took me in.

Also a note to Bowen: Just because I critique a certain position doesn't mean I am "frightened" of it. If I were frightened of the things I disagree with I'd have shrunk away from the RSofF long long ago.
- - Rich

5:02 PM, April 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo, Rich! Many moderns seem to have forgotten the reasons why membership still matters. You've found a light and gentle way of reminding us of a few of them.

9:48 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger Conservative Soup said...

You had me. I was trying to put your blog together with a continuum of your post...nothing lined up. Wow.!


10:30 PM, April 03, 2006  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

I'm sad about being identified as someone with no sense of humor, but I was just hurt by this.

given the recent state of things, it certainly FEELS like you're saying that embracing nontheist members is similarly ludicrous.

If you're not saying that, I really would like to know what you are saying.

I am actually more interested in the topic raised about the whole idea of membership. I am a member of my meeting, but I find that many of us have fallen away in various ways since becoming members, and it is like a weird "club" sort of feeling (not exactly, cause I couldn't even tell you who is a member and who isn't in my meeting)

I wonder if we are heading for a rift among liberal Friends, or if we will just 'lose' some to conservatives. Certainly if it comes down to there being a group (which I feel more and more) saying "I don't want to worship with you if you don't believe in God" (and I'm not interested in hearing your story and seeing if it resonates with me, I just want to hear the word "god") then they don't want to worship with me, and I guess I'm making my peace with that. It's a loss for them (you) I think, but it's certainly your choice.


12:18 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Monthly meetings have always expressed different characteristics. Like individuals, they each have their gifts. Some are good at worship, some at activism, some at being inclusive of societal outcasts (I haven't found the meeting good at it all, alas!). While the primary goal of Quaker meetings has always been to discern God's will in a corporate manner, some meetings have always shown a strongly individualistic focus, where worship is considered a place where everyone comes together to do their own thing and decisions are made on rationalistic principles. Call it progressivism or universalism or non-theism, it's a Quaker tradition in its own right that can be traced back at least 150 years (thanks for the history reminder Mitch!). I find the prospect depressing but some find it liberating and who am I to judge? In places where the only option is a individualist meeting, Friends with a concern for God and a calling for religious fellowship will have to find or start alternate meetings. That's okay, that's cool.

Liberalism is being cool with diversity and that means not merely a diversity of individuals but a diversity of communities. Pair the principle of inclusivity with individualism and you have an exclusivity that is intolerant of social diversity. The lessons of the old Quaker schisms should be that we can't declare any one Quaker model to be the only one.

My gut feeling is that strongly individualistic meetings will either have a pendulum swing in their own good time (a generation or two from now when the kids wonder if there's not something more to this Quaker thing), or else drift off toward a form of liberal progressive non-denominationalism.

Either way is kind of a win-win for the world: I love Quakerism and as Mitch said, there's been some great zanies in the individualist tradition that have changed the world for the good. Not just women's rights but abolitionism and anti-militarism--they fought the good fight when a lot of Quakers were snoozing in the back benches.

I have to say I have my doubts whether the strongly individualistic spiritual communities have the "legs" to hold themselves together more than a generation or two but that's okay. I drove by the most famous Progressive Quaker meetinghouse last weekend (outside Longwood Gardens) and can report that the Longwood Progressive Friends building makes a very attractive county tourist office. I can also report that the somewhat-snoozy Wilburite meeting I spend my time hanging around approved FGC's minute on LGBT inclusivity the week before that. Let's not make too much of a perceived liberal-conservative divide. The Spirit is at work my Friends.

4:33 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Though offered in jest, as Pam says, this post just makes me SAD.

There are too many Friends in my life right now--myself included--who are genuinely wrestling with concerns of inclusivity, theological diversity, religious unity, hunger for community...

This post cuts too close to the bone for me, and the Divine Love for one another that is supposedly at the center of our tradition--to answer that of God in each of us--is ultimately lost to me in the wash of sarcasm here.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

11:56 PM, April 04, 2006  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

I don't understand the leaps made in a comment above, where individualism is presumed to be the flag of those who step outside of the Christian or theistic tradition.

How is a community which seeks to embrace all open-hearted comers in a spirit of equality more individualistic than one which rejects those of unconventional beliefs? How is it less individualistic to allow those of particular beliefs(in this case Christian, or theistic) to dictate or define who shall be permitted to belong to the Religious Society of Friends?

I also see some leaps in the equation of universalism or non-theism with a purely rational approach to decisions. Certainly, I have heard some strident atheists who tout the foolish notion that everything worth anything is a datum to be recorded in a scientific log-book. (Though I would agree that we should steer clear of decisions which are fundamentally irrational.) But I have never met a Quaker, atheist or Buddhist or pagan or Christian or whatever--who came anywhere near that perspective. The notion of unbelievers as souless technicians is a phantom.

The issue is not whether we will be individuals or not--of course we will!--but about whether power will be vested in a few of us, or equally among the community in a spirit of love and openness to new and better understanding. To say that we are speaking not for ourselves, but for God, is pseudo-humility, an inflated opinion of our own will (individual or corporate) as identical to that of the creator of the universe. The creator of the universe will take care of herself; we need to take care of our fellow creatures and our earthly home, and that with the utmost humility.

Genuine humility, the humility of Quaker clearness, is a constant questioning of our perspectives, individual and corporate, in order to find the most righteous path we can find today, with our human hearts and minds. It is not the presumption that we know the perfect and transcendent truth, but the certainty that we do not, and must always continue seeking and questioning. Nothing is more dangerous and poorly led than certainty.

11:39 AM, April 06, 2006  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Wow, thank you, Mr. Riemermann.

11:15 PM, April 06, 2006  
Blogger ef (Pam) said...

Beautiful, James.

I've been trying to figure out how to say some of the same things.

I am repeatedly confused by the assertion that those of us who are not worshipping Jesus (or, for the more "open minded" GOD) during MfW are "doing our own thing" - It seems like quite a leap.

I have always assumed that anyone who is led to worship with quakers, is, well led to worship with quakers. We are there to "do" meeting for worship, however we interpret that.

I am all for dialogue that works toward a common vision of what that means, but I am fully aware that there are plenty of confessing "christians" who knit during meeting for worship, make their shopping lists, enjoy the quiet time, etc. Just as there are plenty of pagans, atheists, buddhists, etc, who are opening themselves to (what can be called) the workings of the spirit through the community(even if it can also be called the vision of the goddess, the light of Christ, a deeper knowing, or an infinite number of other things.)

There is something to being a quaker, to how we do meeting for worship, to how we live our lives, and hold ourselves and each other both accountable and up to the light, I just don't think it has anything to do with doctrine and exclusivism.


2:05 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I have appreciated this discussion, though I'm sorry that my original post came across to so many as sarcastic. I have now added another post to try and clarify my intent as well as to respond to some of the issues people have raised. See April Fool Satire Not Intended as Sarcasm

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

2:56 PM, April 07, 2006  
Blogger stuart greene said...


We try to be a community which seeks to embrace all open-hearted comers in a spirit of equality - unless you are a Republican.

Some Queries:

Why does God speak to us and not them?

If there is 'that of God in all of us' does that mean Repubicans too?

9:56 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Allison said...

This is a very well written satire.

It's also an example of irony in life.

Because I do agree with everything you wrote.

"The Society of Friends will remain exclusionary and sectarian as long as its Meetings accept only Quakers as members. It is with this in mind that we call upon all Friends Meetings to topple this final barrier between our beloved Society and the greater Society around us."

4:36 PM, November 13, 2007  

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