Sunday, May 20, 2007

Review of Chuck Fager's "Without Apology"

The following review has been resting on my hard drive for at least a couple of years. I have not published it before as I was intending to look more deeply into assertions I make about Hannah Barnard and Joel Bean, in order to increase my assurance what I said is actually true. In the meantime, I did show the review to some Friends here in New York, and one mentioned it during a recent session of our course about Robert Barclay's Apology. I looked it over, found that it still says some things I think worth saying, and decided to post it here. As always, comments are welcome.

Chuck Fager’s Without Apology

Reviewed by Rich Accetta-Evans

Chuck Fager’s book Without Apology: The Heroes, the Heritage and the Hope of Liberal Quakerism is available from the Kimo Press of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. I recommend it as a very good read, both for those who recognize themselves as “liberal Quakers” as the book defines this term and for Friends like myself who emphatically do not. One does not have to endorse its conclusions to recognize that this book, like many of Fager’s previous writings, exhibits both a love of the Quaker movement, and a refreshing willingness to view it critically. He is also a good storyteller and is able to give us a sympathetic understanding even of people whose views he rejects. Chapter 8, which recounts some of the troubles of our own Yearly Meeting, includes remarkable accounts of conversations between the author and two quite different people: the evangelical pastor Dan Whitley, of Clintondale Friends Church, and the feminist Quaker Carolyn Mallison.

Liberal Quakerism (however defined) has certainly taken its lumps from various quarters over the years. There is, after all, a glaring contrast between the radical but flamboyantly Christian rhetoric of Quakerism’s heroic early period and the bland theological equivocations of Friends’ bodies that see themselves as “liberal” today. So much so that liberal Quakerism has come to seem to many outsiders (and to many thoughtful Quakers themselves) like a movement that is losing touch with its historical memory and its spiritual roots. Chuck Fager wants to remedy this by demonstrating a connection between liberal Quaker faith and certain strands of thought and action that have been present among Friends since the days of George Fox. More than that, he wants to show that in some respects liberal Quakerism can claim to be the most faithful embodiment of what was always best in Quakerism. His story has not only liberal heroes but orthodox and evangelical villains (the Conservative or Wilburite branch of Quakerism is almost entirely ignored, however). By giving a voice to these ideas, Friend Fager’s book may initiate a dialogue that is long overdue and thereby assist other Quakers in understanding what makes their liberal cousins tick.

None of this is to say, however, that Without Apology is or ought to be the last word on these subjects. The very clarity of its assumptions and arguments will make it easier for some readers to articulate what seems to be wrong with them. Here are some of my own critiques:

There are at least some Friends, who might like to identify ourselves as Liberals, too, but who are excluded by the “inclusive” definition of the term that Chuck Fager offers (more on this definition below). We value the peace testimony, we prefer to worship without pastors or ordained human leaders, we embrace critical studies of the Bible and scientific theories of human origin, we believe in social and economic justice, in gender equality, and in the civil rights of homosexuals. We rejoice in the separation of Church and State. We advocate tolerance by the state toward people of all religions and toward people who reject religion. But we believe these things in the name of our living Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ, and we find in Him the central reason that we are Quakers. It is this last point that makes us not-Liberal according to all too many of our Friends, and now according to Chuck Fager as well (though he does at least concede that it is OK for us to be Quakers.)

There is a mismatch of some kind between the book’s two kinds of definition for what he means by “Liberal Quakerism”. His “institutional” definition is that

“it primarily includes a network of yearly meetings in North America and Britain. Many of the North American Yearly Meetings are associated with Friends General Conference; several others…are unaffiliated.”

Although he does not list the Yearly Meetings he is talking about, it seems clear to anyone who knows the territory that they include Pacific Yearly Meeting, Britain Yearly Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, New England Yearly Meeting, and our own New York Yearly Meeting. This seems pretty much in line with what we would expect. Most Friends would certainly list these as “liberal” Friends’ bodies, while they would acknowledge that the membership is diverse. Chuck Fager’s “theological” definition of liberal Quakerism, however, contains terms that would be very controversial among Friends in these bodies – even, if not especially, among those who self-identify as liberals.

“Theologically”, he says, “I define Liberal Quakerism as: An ongoing effort to make visible a particular portion of the true Church, by means of the specific traditions and disciplines of the Religious Society of Friends. This very idea of manifesting the true Church is, we believe, rooted in the early Quakers’ unique and inclusive understanding of the Society’s Christian background and origins…”

This is not the whole definition, and much that I have omitted is important to the book’s overall argument. But in this passage, it seems to me, Chuck Fager’s familiarity with Quaker tradition has put him out of step with the rank-and-file Quaker liberal for whom he would like to speak. The very term “church”, much less “True church” is almost a taboo among many liberal Friends, so it would seem to me like a bit of a stretch to include it in a definition of who they are. Indeed, I think it will come as a shock to many of them to find that George Fox, Margaret Fell and the Valiant Sixty thought of themselves as part of a Church at all, though they emphatically and certainly did.

Notwithstanding that his very use of the term “true Church” may well mystify his fellow liberals, it will hardly endear him to students of what the term “Church” meant to early Friends. Fager leans heavily on certain ideas found in Robert Barclay’s “Apology”, which is a work of Quaker theology written by a contemporary of George Fox in the 17th century and widely used by Quakers to explain their faith to others throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and even into the 20th. Fager appreciates and enjoys the irony of basing a book called “Without Apology” on another one called “Apology”, but it seems to me that he is not really clear about the gulf between Barclay’s views and his own.

Starting with some things that Barclay actually said and believed, Chuck Fager extrapolates from them and draws his own conclusions. The reader not previously familiar with Barclay may have a hard time discerning where Barclay’s actual teachings leave off and Fager’s begin. A full discussion of this topic would not easily fit within this brief review, but the gist of it is this: Barclay taught that Christ’s spirit is alive and active within every human being and that those who “have become obedient to the holy light and testimony of God in their hearts” are thereby included in the true and invisible Church whether or not they have ever even heard of Jesus’ earthly ministry, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection. This much is true. The conclusion Chuck Fager extrapolates is that the Society of Friends should try to make this invisible church visible by embracing people as members without regard to whether they are Christians, and thus to be as inclusive on Earth as God presumably will be in Heaven.

Barclay himself rejected such a position, though to see that he did you will have to read his “Apology” for yourself, rather than rely on Chuck Fager’s selective quotations. For Barclay, the visible church (as distinct from the subtle and invisible church which he also talked about) was simply the community that openly and explicitly experienced, worshiped, listened to and obeyed the living Christ. Moreover, it was also quite simply the body that has since come to be known as the Religious Society of Friends. He, like other Quakers of his time, believed that a major problem with most Christian denominations was that they were too inclusive, allowing membership to people who professed belief in Christ but did not actually trust him, listen to his living voice, or obey him. I know of no Quaker in Barclay’s generation or for decades thereafter who argued that either meetings or other churches should include non-Christians as members. When Friends welcomed newcomers to join their meetings, they did so on the basis that these newcomers had heard the Quaker message about Christ, had been “convinced” by it and intended to live by it. It would be vain, of course, to argue that something has to be true if Barclay or Fox believed it. But it seems quite unfair to implicitly invoke their authority in supporting views that they rejected.

The orthodox and evangelical villains of Fager’s history lesson are in some ways straw men and straw women: not that they are not real people, but that they are far easier to knock down rhetorically than other representatives of Christian Quakerism he might have chosen. In some cases they are not even the best exponents of evangelical and orthodox Quakerism itself (why no discussion of T. Canby Jones, for example, or John Punshon, or Richard Foster, or Thomas Kelly?) But more to the point, for me, is that the evangelical and orthodox movements themselves are far from the only representatives of Christian Quakerism. I would have liked to read a serious treatment of the lives and ideas of contemporary Friends like Bill Taber from the Conservative tradition, Licia and Larry Kuenning of the independent Glenside Meeting, and Lewis Benson, John McCandless, Chris Stern and the whole New Foundation movement. These are Friends whose Christian vision is informed by authentic Quaker tradition, far less diluted by protestant fundamentalism than those whom Chuck Fager wants to take on in debate.

The “liberal heroes” whose stories are told in this book include many Friends who were not in fact “liberals” at all under the definition which the author has offered, though clearly they were liberal in the broader sense of being open-minded, generous, and loving – in the sense, that is, that any genuine follower of Jesus would hope to be. The kind of liberal Quakerism, which Chuck Fager is advocating, however, (the kind which says the Society of Friends should not be explicitly Christian) did not arise in these Friends’ lifetimes and there is no reason to think that they would have embraced it if it had.

For example, Friend Fager counts Hannah Barnard as a “foremother” of liberal Quakerism apparently because she was disowned in 1802 for denying the literal truth of certain passages of scripture: notably those in which God is presented as commanding Israel to wage wars. Although this position offended the evangelicals of her time, it was apparently based on her understanding of other passages of scripture – such as the commandment by Jesus that we should love our enemies and do good unto those that hate us. Nothing that Chuck Fager tells us about her supports his contention that she thought the Society of Friends should equivocate about the central importance of Jesus. Perhaps it is a hopeful sign that Christian faith has a future in liberal Quaker Meetings, if liberal Friends take inspiration from a woman who was as courageously loyal to Jesus’ teaching as Hannah Barnard seems to have been.

It may be that a subtext of this story is that just as Hannah Barnard is a ‘foremother’ of liberalism so her persecutors are forerunners of conservative or evangelical or otherwise “Christo-centric” Quakers of today. I would say, rather, that insofar as they were persecutors they were forerunners of the persecuting spirit wherever it appears – even when it appears in a “liberal” meeting that winces at “exclusive” Christian messages.

John Whittier, whom Fager acknowledges to have been part of the Orthodox wing of Quakerism, is nevertheless presented as a hero of liberalism because he spoke out against creedalism and in favor of the primacy of the Spirit over the letter as a guide to Truth. This, again, could be called a “liberal” attitude in the broadest sense, and some non-liberal Friends would no doubt dispute it. Yet Whittier was a Christian and I know of no evidence that he thought the Society of Friends should be anything other than a Christian body. Certainly there is no such evidence in this book.

Even Joel Bean, who Fager embraces as a liberal Friend is really not a liberal at all under Fager’s own definition, despite his important role in the history of the liberal Pacific Yearly Meeting. The book recounts how Bean was hounded out of Iowa Yearly Meeting by the Holiness Revival Quakers because of his adherence to more traditional quietist principles, and then hounded out of the meeting he fled to in California. It says that he then founded a new Meeting called the College Park Association of Friends. This Association’s Purpose, according to its own statement, was “To promote the interest of Christianity and morality and to disseminate religious and moral principles,” (italics added). Chuck Fager counts this as a “liberal” statement because of its relative brevity and simplicity. I’m afraid, however, that if Joel Bean were to form such an association among the Quakers of New York Yearly Meeting or Pacific Yearly Meeting today then someone would take him aside and elder him for his “exclusive language”.

Finally, I think that this book carries the weight of unrealistic and contradictory expectations for Quakerism. It wants us to retain a connection to the spiritual vitality and social radicalism of our ancestors, while rejecting as narrow and exclusive the faith and belief that nourished them. In a section of Chapter Four, the book gives us some terms to help us see “How Quakerism Is, and Isn’t Christian”. He tells us that Quakerism is “Christogenic”, “Christomorphic”, “Christogogic”, and “Christophilic”.

Notwithstanding that these quasi-Greek neologism sound ugly to the ear and look pretentious on the page, I found myself gathering enthusiasm when I first saw them. Apparently, I thought, Chuck is here acknowledging that Friends’ faith and practice were born in Christ, shaped by Christ, taught by Christ, and steeped in the love of Christ.

But no. For Chuck, “Christogenic” Quakerism is Quakerism that “emerged from the religious experience and cultural history of Christianity” - - quite a different thing than emerging from a direct experience of Christ himself. Likewise, “Christomorphic” Quakerism is called that because “its institutions and processes reflect explicit efforts to recreate and practice what Friends like William Penn regarded as ‘Primitive Christianity revived’”, and Quakerism is “Christagogic” in that it has “much that it can learn from Christianity, its founder, and its larger Biblical context”. But how and why will Friends who do not believe that Jesus is a living teacher want to keep their focus on the traditions that refer to him? What relevance does the Christian content of Quakerism have, unless we continue to experience Jesus as neither a dead man of history nor a distant figure in Heaven, but as one who has “Come to teach his people himself?” Don’t we already see that some Friends find any ministry that refers “too much” to him as an imposition and even as unQuakerly?

Judging by “A Modest Postscript”, which appears in the stapled typescript version of this book, but not in an earlier bound edition, Chuck Fager himself is aware of this problem. “Our near-universal ignorance of our heritage-Quaker, Christian and biblical-is appalling” he writes.

In summary, if I were to coin a term for the kind of Quakerism that Chuck Fager calls “liberal” and “inclusive”, I think I would call it “inclusivist”. It is almost too new an ism to be recognized as one. By articulating its premises as well as he has, Chuck Fager has made it possible to learn from this ism, but also – I hope – to begin to move beyond it. The best alternative to this inclusivism is not necessarily its direct opposite, “exclusivism”. Rather, I would hope that the future lies with Friends who are less concerned with the boundaries of Quakerism (whether by erasing them or reinforcing them) and more concerned with strengthening its central core.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings, Rich.

I'd like to respond to two things in your post. First, on a relatively trivial note, another liberal yearly meeting (not much noted in the blogosphere) would be South Central, taking in Tx, La, Ark, Okla, and a bit of Mo. We use Pacific YM's Faith & Practice. Perhaps because we are in the Bible Belt, I have heard less of the sort of disgruntlement about Christian language in these parts, although not a whole lot of Christian language either. There seems to be, however, more tenderness among Friends around these issues than perhaps exists on the coasts.

I'd also like to respond to your comment: "But how and why will Friends who do not believe that Jesus is a living teacher want to keep their focus on the traditions that refer to him? What relevance does the Christian content of Quakerism have, unless we continue to experience Jesus as neither a dead man of history nor a distant figure in Heaven, but as one who has 'Come to teach his people himself?'”

This has been one of the most intriguing and difficult parts of my own engagement with Quaker Christianity. There's a lot of mystery there for me, as I don't have the assurance that you appear to have of a "living man of the present" (as I interpret what you may be saying about Jesus) who is guiding me.

As I sit in waiting worship I experience grace, leading, teaching if you will, of a divine nature. As one Friend pointed out on my blog when I asked some time ago about what a presently living Christ would mean, Friends sometimes make the distinction between Jesus and "the Christ." Wm. Penn seemed to do this, as he identified the Christ as something that preexisted the Jesus of history, and Jesus as a man who was an exemplar of one completely open to and possessed of that Spirit. (I'm taking this from Paul Buckley's "21st Century Penn" although I don't recall which essay at the moment.) So, to the extent that Jesus provided that sort of example, I am supremely interested in him and his teachings.

But "come to teach his people himself" does not require me to literally believe that Jesus the man is alive today and is whispering in my ear or heart. (I hope I'm not misintrepeting your meaning on that, I'd be delighted to be corrected if I am).

Jesus himself said in effect that he wasn't good: only the Father is good. He was pointing to the divine, what we call the Christ and what other cultures call something else, that can in fact lead us and guide us. Fox, Penn et al acknowledged the presence of this principle in those who were not "Christians." So while there is no doubt that these early Friends identified as "Christians," its fairly clear to me that they meant that in a "by their fruits you shall know them" rather than in a "you must believe" sense of the term. That to me is the essence of Quakerism: that its not about the "forms" or even the "notions" -- its about experiencing the truth and living it. Admittedly I don't have to cling to the Christian tradition, but then perhaps clinging itself gives a false sense of security. That doesn't mean, however, that I must discard it either. Its there, a part of my heritage and who I am, and even more so now that I am Quaker. I embrace it and am instructed by it -- but in a Quaker sense, in which love is at the center more than "having the right thoughts."

Well, I didn't mean to get off on that sort of theological tangent, and I'm sure I've opened all sorts of cans. Nevertheless, the bottom line for me is that I find the Christian narrative meaningful and spiritually uplifting -- as I understand it. So there's one exmple of how a Friend might value the Christian content of Quakerism while not believing that Jesus is a presently-living entity. There are probably other ways, though I will leave those for other Friends to elucidate if they wish.

In Friendship,

Dave Carl

6:49 PM, May 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a fine essay, and a welcome critique of a certain kind of mentality -- the mentality that treats religion as a way to justify one's own preëxisting way of thinking, instead of as an invitation to become someone genuinely different.

It makes me want to buy and read Chuck's book, though. Is that good or bad?

To Dave Carl, I would like to point out that, according to the Gospel record, Jesus himself never "said in effect that he wasn't good." In the story to which Friend Dave refers, when Christ was addressed by a sincere questioner as "good teacher", he replied that none is good but One, God. (Mark 10:18, Matthew 19:17, Luke 18:19) But in saying this, Christ did not rule out the possibility that he might be one with God. Indeed, given that the questioner was apparently steeped in religious thinking, and would accordingly be quick to pick up on the theological implications once they were pointed out to him, we can legitimately infer that Christ was gently pointing out to him that in perceiving him as a good teacher, and addressing him accordingly, he was perceiving, and confessing, Christ's oneness with God.

-- Of course, according to John (verse 10:30), Christ made that same point much more baldly on a different occasion.

7:12 AM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks to Dave and Marshall for their comments.

I think that Dave and I are closer to being on the same page than might at first appear, but it may be a few days before I have enough time to adequately respond to what he has had to say.

Thanks to Marshall for saying that my review is a "fine essay". I value this praise because I so often feel the same when I read things he has written. Do I think it's a good thing that he wants to go out and read Chuck's book? Yes, I do. I think it's a good book, even a very good book, notwithstanding that I disagree with much of it. I also find that - at least to me - Chuck Fager's sometimes quite courageous work for peace and for racial understanding earn him a respectful hearing for anything he says about Quakerism.

Marshall says of my review that it is a welcome critique of "...the mentality that treats religion as a way to justify one's own preëxisting way of thinking, instead of as an invitation to become someone genuinely different." This makes me want to read my own review again, because I was not aware of having made quite that point. I am, in fact, critical of the mentality he describes. And I do recognize that this mentality is sometimes very evident among Friends (not just "liberal" Friends, by the way). Yet I don't think I would make this particular charge against Chuck Fager. Maybe Marshall can point out where I seem to do so.
- - Rich

9:08 AM, May 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Marshall,

Perhaps I worded that in a way that wasn't good! My intent was to say that Jesus was deflecting excess attention from himself as the source of ... goodness or what have you. For me the bottom line was that (imho) Jesus was not asking or directing that he be worshipped, and was instead directing the questioner's attention to the worship of God. I believe that Jesus was divine and one with God, just as all of us are. Where he was more than us, in my opinion, was in his understanding and experiencing of that fact.

I understand and accept that others do see this differently, and am happy to worship with those who do and to listen to their views.

Dave Carl

4:01 PM, May 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The future lies with Friends who are less concerned with the boundaries of Quakerism (whether by erasing them or reinforcing them) and more concerned with strengthening its central core."

Thank you, Rich, for this powerful statement of the truth.

4:27 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

I can appreciate your desire for Quakerism to be more unified-ly Christian, as I once shared that desire. In that sense, while I disagree with much of your critique, beyond a certain point I don't begrudge you your opinions.

What I have a harder time understanding are your thoughts on how this kind of outwardly Christocentric Quakerism relates to liberal Quakerism.

Most briefly, I'm puzzled you see Chuck's "inclusivism" as a new "ism." It seems this is at least as old as the Quaker universalist movement, and is quite frequently spoken of under the heading "universalism."

More substantially, you seem to have fallen for a classic case of what I think should be called the "Christocentric Persecution Fallacy":

"There are at least some Friends, who might like to identify ourselves as Liberals, too, but who are excluded by the “inclusive” definition of the term that Chuck Fager offers ... we believe these things in the name of our living Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ, and we find in Him the central reason that we are Quakers. It is this last point that makes us not-Liberal according to all too many of our Friends, and now according to Chuck Fager as well (though he does at least concede that it is OK for us to be Quakers.)"

You appear to be claiming that Chuck sees all Christian Friends as illiberal, but in reality you've only demonstrated that he sees Christian Friends who desire to marginalize or expel outwardly non-Christian Friends as illiberal, as indeed they/you are.

Those are two very different groups of people. Specifically, the latter is a particular and smaller subset of the former. Do you recognize this? Do you see how it undermines the notion that Chuck is somehow excluding you or anyone else from liberal Quakerism based on your Christianity?

That's bit of a semantic issue, but I see it as important because it seems to be a somewhat frequent way in which the conversation becomes confused. Sometimes I wonder if "Christianity-is-mandatory" Christian Quakers are unwilling to stand on their own two feet, and are tempted to identify themselves with all Christian Quakers because it would strengthen their position, if only it were true.

6:42 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Not surprisingly, Rich, I have to agree with Zach. It's strange--most of the Christians I know in my own meeting seem just as fiercely universalist as myself, and have no trouble accepting that a non-Christian, even a non-theist, can be just as fully and truly a Quaker as can a Christian. They think our diversity is a great blessing, to be nurtured rather than reined in. I don't know how to verify this, but, in FGC at least, my sense is that those who hope for a more exclusively Christian Quakerism seem to be quite a small minority of Christian Quakers. Except in the world of blogs, perhaps.

This is a difficult challenge for me. I really want to work toward a Quakerism where Christian Quakers, non-Christian theist Quakers, an nontheist Quakers, all feel embraced and free to speak their faith openly. But the particular strain of Christian Quakerism that insists on its own primacy within our society, is a horse of another color.

7:50 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Many thanks to Cathy, Zach, and James for their comments. In responding, I hope to further clarify what I was trying to say in this review.

First, I was gratified that Cathy picked up on my final paragraph, in which I endorse being "less concerned with the boundaries of Quakersm (whether by erasing them or reinforcing them) and more concerned with strengthening its central core." This is a theme I was almost afraid would get lost, since I really didn't expand on it. That might be one more reason that I left the essay on my hard drive so long. I realized it was incomplete, but also that it was already pretty long. Perhaps I can write a separate post at some point about the "strengthening the center" concept. I hope Friends will notice, also, that I say that the best alternative to the "inclusivism" I critique is NOT its direct opposite, "exclusivism".

Zach wonders why I see Chuck Fager's "inclusivism" as a new thing, since it's as old as the Quaker Universalist movement. There is a kind of Quaker universalism that goes back to the beginning of Quakerism itself, but the movement I think Zach is speaking of is itself pretty new. I don't think it really took hold until well into the twentieth century. It also struck me that Churk's particular defense of it, and the emphasis he put on it, was newer even than that, but it's not a point I would insist on.

I do want to clear up an apparent misunderstanding. I understand what Zach is talking about when he describes the "Christocentric persecution fallacy". One sometimes does hear Christian Friends complain that they are being "excluded", when in fact their Meetings are making every effort to be just as warmly welcoming to them as to any other spiritual minority. And sometimes Christians can make themselves unwelcome by acting ungraciously, then blame their reception on the supposed prejudice of others. (It's not only Christians who can do this, by the way, but it surely does happen). However, I don't think I was making that mistake here.

I did not say and I did not mean that Chuck Fager or Quakers with his understanding are excluding Christians from the Quaker community, nor that they are trying to do so. I don't believe they are. My point, rather, was that Chuck was defining liberal Quakerism in a way that excludes people like me (and also like most of the forerunners of liberalism whom he praises) from his definition, not from the Quaker community itself. I will also agree that his definition doesn't necessarily label all Christians as illiberal, only those like myself who yearn to belong to a recognizably Christian religious community, as opposed to an interfaith community.

By almost any non-Quaker's definition of the term I am a flaming liberal, even a radical, both politically and theologically. Even on this issue of inclusion/exclusion I have never sought to impose any kind of theologcal test on prospective members in my meeting. I do hope for a meeting community that is more centered on Christ, and as way opens I work toward this by following my leadings and bearing my witness. But I don't try to create that centering by policing boundaries or turning people away from the fellowship.

Yet Chuck Fager, it seems to me, would not recognize me as a "liberal" because my longing is still for that communal centering on Christ. I would be a liberal, by his lights, only if my goal were a kind of inter-faith Society of Friends. I love inter-faith gatherings, but I would like the Society of Friends to be one of the particular faith communities that comes to the table, not a little would-be universal path in and of itself, ergo I am not "liberal".

This use of the word liberal is not Chuck's alone. It has pretty much become the way the word is used among Friends. It is for that reason that I no longer call myself a liberal when talking to Friends, though I often do when talking to others.

James R's point of view seems fairly similar to Zach's. His generous picture of the Christians in his Meeting makes me wonder how James would see me and how I would see him if we were in the same meeting. Although it sounds to him like I represent the kind of Christianity that "insists on its own primacy in our Society" I can state that it's also true that I "embrace" many non-Christian Friends and I hope I have never prevented anyone from speaking their faith openly. I would say "Some of my best Friends are universalists" but I suppose it would sound phony : )

I would still like to go back and say more in response to Dave Carl, but it is a tad late, so that will have to wait for another day.

Before I close, I want to state again, for anyone who has missed that particular point, that I am an admirer of Chuck Fager and by no means intending to denigrate his book, still less his overall witness for peace and social justice and for the life of the Spirit. In fact, it was because Chuck Fager put the case for liberal Quakerism so much more cogently than I have seen it done elsewhere, that I felt the need to engage with what he wrote.

I see from the kimo press website that his book is still available, and I recommend it as a very good read.

Peace to all,
Rich Accetta-Evans

11:49 PM, May 22, 2007  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Rich,
I too think this is a great essay. The comments are fascinating too. I have to say I agree that we've become somewhat confused about just what words like "liberalism," "universalism," etc., mean, or maybe just that we've not been clear enough on just how radically different the new definitions are from the old ones.

I look at Quaker thought and see myself as a fairly classic Liberal Quaker and a classic universalist--I suspect I'd feel quite at home in a meeting populated by Chuck's liberal Quaker heroes. Yet I too probably wouldn't fit his definitions. Plucking heroes out of context is an all-too-common way of trying to sidestep just flatly stating our own opinions/openings and is an appeal to authority that is ironic given it's use to alter language and self-definitions.

At the heart of the new definitions is a ban on belief: yes you can be a Christian but you can't believe in it, by which I mean you can't believe that Christianity is the best/right/only path to God. But if you don't think your spiritual path is the best do you really believe in it? Or is it just nostalgic or superficial, as deep as a spray-on tan? Okay, I know I'm outrunning my guide when I start giving too-clever pop-culture references. Let me just repeat the thanks that you dug this out and posted it.

And Marshall, Chuck's book is definitely worth reading, it's an important self-definition for many liberal Friends. Chuck is one of the more complicated characters of the character-rich liberal wing of the RSOF. I sometimes thinks he enjoys his iconoclast persona a bit too much but there's usually a gem or two in what he writes. I never finished "Without Apology," probably because I can't take too many straw-person arguments, but the parts I did read gave me some images to chew on. I should try reading it again after all these years.
Martin @ Quaker Ranter

2:34 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich, you write, "Marshall says of my review that it is a welcome critique of '...the mentality that treats religion as a way to justify one's own preëxisting way of thinking, instead of as an invitation to become someone genuinely different.' This makes me want to read my own review again, because I was not aware of having made quite that point. I am, in fact, critical of the mentality he describes. And I do recognize that this mentality is sometimes very evident among Friends (not just 'liberal' Friends, by the way). Yet I don't think I would make this particular charge against Chuck Fager. Maybe Marshall can point out where I seem to do so."

Well, Rich, you tell us that Chuck seriously distorts what history tells us of some of the defining figures of Quakerism, like Barclay, Barnard, Whittier and Bean, and that he outright ignores the rôles of others like Kelly, Benson and Punshon, all to justify the "liberalism" to which he himself subscribes.

Is this not (mis)treating (the Quaker) religion as a way to justify his own preëxisting way of thinking?

If Chuck is serious about being a Quaker, shouldn't the practice of integrity require him to see and hear those defining figures as they actually were, without the distortions you have so nicely described, and to hear the words of those defining figures clearly, and to learn to see the world as they saw it, so he could see what they were actually getting at as they articulated Quakerism?

By distorting the words and the personal characters of Barclay, Barnard, Whittier and Bean, as you say he does, Chuck shields himself from the actual message of their lives --

8:41 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Rich, it's hard to know for certain how you and I would see and relate to each other if we were in the same meeting. I don't know you, but I have seen many signs of your fundamental decency and warmth, and suspect we might have a genuinely caring relationship, but problematic in some ways because of our different visions of an ideal Quakerism.

Paul Landskroener is a Friend in my meeting, and a friend of mine. He is a dear and thoughtful man whose presence and energy is a gift to our meeting. Without him we would be diminished in many ways. And I don't think I could fairly call him "exclusivist"--he is fully engaged with many Friends whose vision of Quakerism is very different from his own. Yet I get a sense, both through his blog and through personal interactions, that, were his vision for Quakerism to come to fruition, there would be no place for me, in fact no place for many of the dearest Friends in our beloved community. I'm fairly confident exclusion is not his goal, but I think it would be the inevitable outcome of the kind of Quakerism he envisions, in which Christianity is not simply a possibility or a tendency, but the essential core of Quakerism.

As I said in my earlier comment, this issue is very challenging for me. I find it right and natural and fruitful to be in religious community with those of very different religious understandings than my own. I am appalled by the idea of a community where atheism is the essential core. Not because atheism is bad, but because growth requires diversity. But I don't quite know what to do when a Friend speaks, from under the cover of that great and fruitful diversity, for less diversity. I do think it is the wrong direction for us, and it seems important to me to say so.

If believing in a particular religious understanding means, as Martin asserts, believing that it is the best/right/only path, then I don't care much for religious belief. Perhaps this is what religious belief means, though I'm not convinced. I don't think there's any question that spiritual genius that dwarfs my own paltry spiritual understanding has emerged from many religious traditions.

I also think that certainty in theological questions is dangerous and almost certainly unjustified, and that humility--accepting that one may be deeply wrong about the nature of ultimate reality--is essential. This very much applies to my own beliefs. Belief of this sort is quite distinct from belief in the good and the right. Intentionally causing suffering is simply wrong; working to relieve suffering is simply right. This is a matter for the heart, not the head; it has nothing to do with propositions about ultimate reality. And--this is where my Quakerism comes in--there are spiritual paths and practices that have been proven to work. Quakerism is not the one true path. It is a path that works, that has great potential for drawing out spiritual gifts.

Back to Chuck's book for a moment--the original subject--I'm really not interested in justifying liberal Quakerism based on early Quakers. I'm for reading them and understanding them, but they are not the authority. It seems to me that Chuck's primary claim is not that liberal Quakerism is the one genuine heir to the first Quakers, but that it follows and extends some genuine and important threads from that tradition. This seems quite obviously true to me.

8:59 AM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

I wrote the last post under the assumption that every Quaker blogger knows Paul Landskroener's blog. Even if the assumption is true, I should have provided a link:

9:35 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading the Quaker blogosphere for quite sometime now, with a growing sense of sadness for all the mutual blame that goes on.

I have a question for all of you, since I'm still a new Friend:
Without the equivalent of a Curia or Presbytery, what is going to prevent Quaker theology from spiraling ever outward and taking on still more varied forms? It just seems to me that this is the reality of our situation and that no amount of mutual accusations or blame will change that.

In the end, I feel that there is just something infinitely delicate yet strong --sort of like the thread a spider weaves-- binding us more or less closely somewhere around the Testimonies.

BTW,I'm looking forward to meeting Chuck soon at the QUIT conference...but I'd look forward to meeting ANY of you in person!

And, according to my reading of Quaker history, I also wonder if we were ever a really united group except when under the harsh arm of persecution or the heavy hand of a Committee for Oversight. All this harking back to a glorious and perfectly unified past strikes me as a bit overdone. As our Quaker 101 teacher noted, all groups of Friends claim to be in the tradition of the early members.

I guess I just get very discouraged and sad to see opinions presented with such a generous helping of blame and even bitterness. I don't know why but it just seems so...unQuakerly!

Schuylkill Friends, Phoenixville

9:56 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gee Barbara, while I respect your feelings on that, I'm not seeing a lot of blame or bitterness here. Maybe I'm just getting used to it! But have you spent much time reading arguments --"flame wars" -- elsewhere on the internet? This all seems pretty civil, albeit straightforward, to me. I value the ability to read and comment on posts by Friends who are not afraid to speak what's in their hearts. There's an art to speaking truthfully while maintaining respect for one's listener. We Quaker bloggers don't always practice that art to perfection, but I think for the most part Friends have maintained civility, and even those with vast differences have helped one another gain a larger perspective.
I'll admit I am sometimes annoyed by what I read, but I'll have to say that sometimes its the posts I find most annoying that have challenged me to look at things in a different light, often to my spiritual benefit in the end!

In Friendship,

Dave Carl

10:44 AM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What is going to prevent Quaker theology from spiraling ever outward and taking on still more varied forms?"

I want to extricate Barbara's question from a discussion (albeit worthwhile) of blame and civility among Quaker bloggers.

I don't have a ready answer to it. Does anyone else?

12:26 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Heather Madrone said...

I'm not at all interested in going back to either original Christianity or original Quakerism. Jesus was an apocalyptic itinerant preacher. Apocalyptic ministry continues to motivate people to do stupid and evil things (destroy the environment, burn people at the stake, etc.), and I don't think it has any place in a sensible religion.

I'm also not interested in standing on street corners naked condemning the evil people in a particular town as the early Quakers did.

Nor am I interested in carrying forth John Woolman's witness against immunization. Immunization is a complex issue, but it seems more sensible to confront it from a scientific perspective.

While we're at it, I want to live in a democratic republic, but not one where women are the chattel property of their husbands. I am not interested in restoring the original systems of ancient Greece or ancient Rome.

The early Quakers saw a path and set their feet on it. They didn't see the end of the path. They didn't clearly see what we are meant to do. We receive those revelations now.

For many liberal Quakers, the early Friends were guideposts, but not maps for the entire future. They set us on the way we have gone, but we have expanded their ideas. Universalism has grown from Christian Universalism to Universalist Universalism. The basic precepts of Christianity have expanded beyond their original Biblical context to values that dwell in the human heart.

In my Meeting, there are two Friends who clearly yearn for our Meeting to be more explicitly Christian. They are in the minority and might be in the process of finding a more explicitly Christian place to worship. Other Christian Friends in our Meeting are more Universalist in character. They take Christ's ministry to heart in their own lives but do not insist that other people follow it. Their example is a powerful argument for Christianity; they live it rather than professing it.

Often, on the Quaker blogosphere, I wonder whether the folks who are most vociferously Christian are possessors, like most of the Christian Friends in my Meeting, or professors, like the two Friends who preach Christian ideas at the Meeting but whose lives have not yet grown into their ministry.

1:06 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Thanks to Marshall for clarifying how I gave the impression that I think Chuck Fager uses religion " justify [his] pre-existing way of thinking rather than as an invitation to become someone genuinely different." I was suprised to think I had implied this because - going as far back as his early writings about the civil rights movement - I have always thought of Chuck as someone who is able to change his mind and to think very creatively and originally. Yet, in reading what Marshall has to say, I see that I left a contrary impression.

Marshall explains that my review showed that Chuck Fager's book
<"...seriously distorts what history tells us of some of the defining figures of Quakerism, like Barclay, Barnard, Whittier and Bean, and that he outright ignores the rôles of others like Kelly, Benson and Punshon, all to justify the 'liberalism' to which he himself subscribes."

I'm beginning to wish that Chuck Fager himself were in this conversation and to speak for himself, but the least I can do in his absence is to clarify these points a little.

In the case of Barclay, I think Chuck explains Barclay's views pretty clearly and then extrapolates from them in a direction that (in my opinion)Barclay would not have accepted. I think he even acknowledges that he is extrapolating, though I don't have the book at hand right now to check. I thought that the distinction between what Chuck was saying and what Barclay was saying would be unclear to most readers - especially those who had not read Barclay - but I was not saying that I thought that Chuck was deliberately or carelessly distorting Barclay.

As for Barnard, Bean and Whittier, I have very little independent information about them. My impression that they don't really fit Chuck's definition of the liberalism he claims them for is based on quotes from their writings that he himself provides. So while he may be misapplying the lessons of their lives, I don't think he is doing so in a morally objectionable way.

In general, I try not to focus on discerning the motivations of people I disagree with. I don't think Marshall does that either, and I'm sorry to have inadvertently suggested conclusions about Chuck Fager that were actually not warranted as far as I know.

I especially regret that this may have contributed to Barbara's sadness about "all the mutual blame going on". I agree with Dave Carl, however, that for the most part the bloggers here are conducting a pretty civil conversation.

Welcome, too, to Carol Holmes - an old friend formerly from 15th Street Meeting. The question of Barbara's that Carol highights may be worthy of another post all its own in addition to whatever further comments on it Friends may want to offer here.

1:32 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

I'll take a shot at Barbara's/Carol's question -

I don't think anything will stop liberal Quakerism taking on more and more varied forms. Those members of liberal meetings who espouse what is essentially Conservative Quakerism generally don't have enough "political"/committee power to enforce their vision, though I suppose it remains to be seen whether they have enough moral authority to win enough liberal Friends to their cause despite this. This is why I continue to recommend they consider starting their own officially Christian worship groups or meetings if they can't mainstream liberal Quakerism for what it is.

And I don't think framing it in terms of a "center" or "core" rather than boundaries is enough, though I do think it's a well-intended gesture, at least not if we're talking about re-centering existing liberal meetings. Being officially marginalized is little better than being expelled.

I'd like to respond to the other comments as well.

Rich, you seem to be basically granting my point, though I'm not quite sure. Beyond that, I'd just like to comment that being liberal in other spheres does not a liberal Quaker make.

Which brings us to Martin's point, that the meaning of liberal has changed. This is rather like complaining that a scientific theory has changed over time. Of course it has changed! We've learned over the years the fuller implications of what was always implicit in Elias Hicks's basic emphasis, and Fox's before him, i.e. that inner transformation is more important than outward doctrines and forms. The fact that earlier liberal or proto-liberal Quakers might not have recognized the full implications of this is as irrelevant as the fact that Newton didn't foresee all the implications of physics.

In a similar same vein, I'd like to partially defend Chuck's use of Barclay. I will grant that Chuck may have been too sloppy about making clear where Barclay ended and he began (Rich), and might be trying too hard to claim Quaker authority for what are partially his own views (Martin). And insofar as he might not have been forthright enough about this, maybe it's true that his treatment of these proto-liberal historical figures amounts to distortion (Marshall)!

But a key aspect of what Chuck was doing I think is completely unobjectionable: using the ideas of past figures in the way that seems to best represent reality -- despite the fact that this sometimes conflicts with how the author in question would've wanted their ideas to be used. It's only a sad poverty of imagination and intellect that would claim otherwise.

In concrete terms, Barclay's statement (of the classic Quaker position) about outward non-Christians being able to be inwardly Christ-following quite logically and steadily leads to the very universalism, even tolerance of outward nontheism, that liberal Quakerism embraces today, whether Barclay himself would like that fact or not. Doing so turns it into something other than pure Barclay, of course, but not wholly other.

2:15 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

I see now that while I was writing Heather made several of the same points in more eloquent and personal language :)

2:24 PM, May 23, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Heather wrote:

The early Quakers saw a path and set their feet on it. They didn't see the end of the path. They didn't clearly see what we are meant to do. We receive those revelations now.

This is an excellent way of putting it, and exactly how I feel.

3:18 PM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Powerful thread on a critical question for the future of Quakerism.
I am a ‘Jesus-centric’ Friend (just to join in on the labeling) new to the Quaker blogging community so I ask that you treat these comments with compassion as I’ve not become used to the typical level of ‘civility’ that you all are now accustomed (but that could happen I guess :))

A couple of themes/questions/notions come to mind:

1. Where does ‘continuing revelation’ come into all this? I see several postings (and not sure what Chuck says as I’ve not read his book … yet, as I am now intrigued as he can do) wondering aloud as to why Quakerism cannot expand, grow, even morph beyond whatever it is that we understand characterized the Christianity of the founding Quakers.

To that I say, continuing revelation absolutely says that that can happen and more so I’d venture expects it to happen (i.e., expectant waiting worship). Are we waiting for messages from the Divine in Meeting about everything other than Quaker process and Faith and Practice matters? Seems to me that not only can God tell us new ways in which to practice and worship, the original Quakers expected such growth. As a Canadian Friend shared in a worship sharing at CYM a few years ago, a part of her requirement for being a part of a religion or faith community was that it have the ability to self-correct, reformed itself or more positively put grow in its faithfulness and understanding of the Divine. Blessedly we have that in Quakerism – a lot of other faiths do not.

And I will venture that this concept, that of continuing revelation, of an ongoing conversation with and connection with the Divine trumps all other advices and sources of guidance. Not that the others are unimportant, but push come to shove it is what we are hearing from the Divine in the here and now that we must pay most attention too. And here to touch on a theme that Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar elucidates, in any study of the past, of the Bible in particular, we need to ask the question ‘what does it mean’ and specifically what does it mean to us today. To me that’s another form of continuing revelation – what does the relatively inclusive nature of 17th century Quakerism mean for us today? What does the very conscious decision not to have a creed or a profession of faith mean to us today? Are we instructed to be literalists in our interpretation of historic Quakerism or are we to search for guidance in the metaphor and beyond literal meanings? In that one could interpret their radically inclusive Christianity (there is that of God in the Turk and Jew) as guidance to us to be radically inclusive not by the standards of Fox’s day but by the standards of our day. If we were to take that query into worship, what Spiritual sense of it might we make? Simply put, is a more ‘Christian’ focused Quakerism more important/vital, to uncovering God’s Kingdom or is a radically inclusive Quakerism more important? I’m not sure of that answer, honestly. But I am sure it is a critical question and that the answer has to come out of deep communal worship.

2. As such, it seems any time we appeal to history as our guide we need to temper that with our actual sense of Spirit’s leadings to day – as we discern them through MfW in collective community. And I do hear from a number of Christo-centric Friends (and I use that label with risk in service of brevity) that they are experiencing today a renewed connection to the Living Christ and wish to more fully express that and connect with others experiencing the same. And to that I think the RSOF has examined itself and realized that in ways it had become ‘unfriendly’ to such desires and practices and over the past ten years has ‘reformed’ itself to be more truly universalistic as in welcoming of a diversity of spirit-led ministries including ‘Christian.” As that reformation has taken place I hear voices for even more of a honoring, or placing at the center of RSOF practice a Christian core bordering on (but by no means always) exclusive core in such sentiments as one dear Friend shared with me, “I just want to know that everyone in the Meeting room with me holds Jesus as their primary guide.”

3. Well on that, and as an ending portion of this comment, I remember sharing with that Friend my puzzlement on how we were going to do that in a non-creedal faith. But then maybe time has come to have a creed. Yes, even that could be questioned, and that question posed in MfW. I’m pretty sure that God does not wish us to institute a creed and as such I think it is highly likely to be one of the growing edges of Quakerism that we will, like it or not, have a great diversity of ‘beliefs’ within our meeting community by the very nature of the fact that we don’t believe in forcing people to state their beliefs in words. And as such we have other processes and ways in which we discern who is and who isn’t a part of our faith community. Plenty of other ways to do that and it is appropriate that we do do that. Not everyone is met to be, called to be a Quaker, and maybe that is how we more deeply center on our ‘core’ by more faithfully discerning that calling within our membership process. But that then is another topic, eh?

Well, I didn’t expect to write this long or even to take this path when I started. I welcome Friends comments (not that I need to do that as this is what this is all about, eh?)

John Helding
San Francisco Meeting

3:34 PM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Rich -- many thanks for the clarification! I understand now that you are not saying Friend Fager attributed any of his odd ideas unambiguously to Robert Barclay.

On the other hand, there remains your statement that Fager "conten[ds] that [Hannah Barnard] thought the Society of Friends should equivocate about the central importance of Jesus." There is indeed some evidence -- from her enemies -- that Barnard questioned the divinity of Christ. But even if her enemies got that right, divinity and centrality are not the same thing. According to Thomas Foster's A Narrative of the Proceedings in America, of the Society Called Quakers, in the Case of Hannah Barnard... (1804), Barnard condemned those "absurd appendages, which had been attached to the doctrines of pure Christianity, by ignorance, or worse design", such as credal affirmations and belief in miracles. And for all its heterodoxy, that still sounds very much like a confession that Friend Barnard desired "pure Christianity", a religion to which Jesus the Christ could hardly be anything other than definitive and in that way central.

I also note that you do not modify your comments about Fager's treatment of John Whittier and Joel Bean. And I agree with you: there can be no doubt that either Whittier or Bean wanted anything other than a Christocentric Society of Friends.

Now, as to Barbara's question, reiterated by Carol Holmes -- "what is going to prevent Quaker theology from spiraling ever outward and taking on still more varied forms?" -- I'd say that depends on whether we are speaking of Hicksite/Beanite ("liberal") or Orthodox (FUM, EFI and Conservative) Quakerism. Hicksism has never (so far as I know) been willing to take firm doctrinal positions on theological matters, and as a result, nothing prevents its theology from spiraling outward to the point where the falcon is out of earshot of the Falconer. But Orthodox Quakerism, as its name indicates, has a history of anchoring itself to firm theological positions, and such anchorings do help to some extent to deter theological drift.

Similarly -- to John Helding -- "continuing revelation" has different meanings for different branches of Quakerism. For the Hicksite/Beanite branch -- the "liberals" -- it means new realizations that can contradict, and so force one to discard, one's former beliefs. The assertion that "Quakers don't have to be Christian" is a good example of what "continuing revelation" can mean in the Hicksite/Beanite world. For the Orthodox, on the other hand, "continuing revelation" means that each new generation, each new person born into the world, has an opportunity to experience for herself, afresh, the same truths that the prophets and early Christians experienced, and with the same sense of wonder. The assertions that "Christ did indeed die for me" and "Christ really has come to teach his people himself" are representative examples of "continuing revelation" among Orthodox Friends.

I'm saddened by Heather Madrone's statement that "apocalyptic ministry continues to motivate people to do stupid and evil things (destroy the environment, burn people at the stake, etc.), and I don't think it has any place in a sensible religion." I see no evidence that apocalyptic ministry is intrinsically disposed to producing that sort of effect. I see plenty of real-world evidence that the profit motive, and sheer human obliviousness, have destroyed far more of the environment than apocalyptic ministry has, and that patriotism has killed more people who disagreed with it than apocalyptic ministry has. And contrariwise, Silent Spring and Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert's Peak -- two works that have done much to strengthen attitudes of environmental restraint -- are both examples of genuine apocalyptic ministry in our time. Perhaps Heather would consider aiming her barbs at more deserving targets.

8:05 PM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regard to Jesus: "divinity and centrality are not the same thing."

Thanks for that, Marshall. I find that statement very helpful.

For Heather, re: "Jesus was an apocalyptic itinerant preacher." There are some current Christian theologians, like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, who argue that he broke with the apocalyptic teaching of John the Baptist...and that much of the apocalyptic language found in the Gospels constitute later accretions. You might be interested in Crossan's latest work: God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (Harper, 20070.

Dave..yes, the tone of this discussion is fairly respectful ... but I've been lots of places where "civility" amongst Friends has indeed been lacking.

10:55 PM, May 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to Marshall for providing me with an understanding of how the concept of continuing revelation varies across the Quaker spectrum, albeit I don't remember LLW describing as such in NCYMC, but maybe so there as well.

I do though wish to comment on the Michael's contention that 'liberal' friends have 'nothing [that] prevents its theology from spiraling outward to the point where the falcon is out of earshot of the Falconer.'

There is something that keeps things from spiraling outward --
the Falconer herself. If it is not the will of God it is not to happen. Our sense of Spirit's leading, arising out of MfW will guide us, rather than dependence on 'firm theological anchors' found or relied on elsewhere within RSOF. That's at the heart of the instruction to get to the Spirit behind the words. At the deepest most profound levels we are not guided by doctrine but by our sense of the will of God as revealed to us in MfW. Yes that is tempered by testimonies, experience, process, elders, etc. But to say that it (our sense of God's will for us in this day and age) cannot contain the spiral seems very much to limit God in ways that none of us believe her to be limited.
Do we trust in God or in doctrine? My sense of Quakerism as a mystical faith is with the former.

1:41 AM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I think that Heather Madrone and I may share some common ground!

Heather says "I'm ... not interested in standing on street corners naked condemning the evil people in a particular town as the early Quakers did." I, too, find myself disinclined to this particular form of ministry.

Heather says "Nor am I interested in carrying forth John Woolman's witness against immunization." If, by this, Heather means that she's OK with vaccination, then I agree with her on this as well. (To be fair, though, I'm not sure what I would say about the far less safe procedure ("inoculation" rather than "vaccination") that was used in Woolman's day).

Heather says, "While we're at it, I want to live in a democratic republic, but not one where women are the chattel property of their husbands. I am not interested in restoring the original systems of ancient Greece or ancient Rome." Here there is yet more common ground. I, too, am firmly opposed to the restoration of the Roman Empire and even of the Greek city-states.

Heather says "The early Quakers saw a path and set their feet on it. They didn't see the end of the path. They didn't clearly see what we are meant to do. We receive those revelations now." I agree with this, too, though I would add that the revelations we receive now will take us further along the same path, even bring us to turnings in the path, but surely not cause us to jump to another path altogether.

On some things, though, I cannot unite with what Heather says, or at least with how and where she says it. She speaks of "..the two Friends [in her Meeting] who preach Christian ideas at the Meeting but whose lives have not yet grown into their ministry." I fortunately do not know who these two Friends are, nor whether Heather's accusation about the state of their spiritual maturity is accurate. Had she identified them any more specifically I would have removed her post from my blog. As it is, I am somewhat queasy that some of you do know who she is talking about, and that this characterization of them is a form of public shaming, albeit a relatively mild one.

I would add this to my own list of things I am "not interested" in going back to: the holding up to public shame of people whose spiritual condition we feel we can accurately judge without any kind of spiritual due process (aka "gospel order"). I am afraid that I unwittingly do this myself from time to time, and hope that I will be called on it when I do.

- - Rich Accetta-Evans

9:37 AM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

Rich, I think I share you unease with the fact that these are people who some might be able to identify. Better might've been to say "I've known several Friends who..." and leave it as vague as that.

Be that as it may, we would be amiss to miss Heather's point - that in her experience there seems to be no one-to-one correlation between spiritual maturity and outward profession.

In the same vein, I would also challenge your response to her comment that "The early Quakers saw a path and set their feet on it. They didn't see the end of the path...", to which you replied "the revelations we receive now will take us further along the same path, even bring us to turnings in the path, but surely not cause us to jump to another path altogether."

But that's exactly the point - that the Quaker path does not lie in outward forms such as the profession of the name of Christ, but in minding the promptings of love and truth in our hearts. Even stronger, I would venture to say that in the 21st century, when the grounds for Christian conviction are much less firm than they once were, it is those who would deny fellowship to non-Christians who are at risk of leaving the path of goodness and truth.

3:20 PM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Ignoring all the straw men and women who seem to populating some corner of liberal Quakerism I must be unfamiliar with...

In a recent meeting of the Friends Historial Association, Chuck Fager gave a riotous address about the Quaker tendency to rewrite history. The centerpiece I remember was a small book George Fox wrote in mid-nineteenth century--yes, THAT George Fox and yes, hundreds of years after his death. This was the period during which spiritualism became popular among a particular fringe of Hicksite Friends and the book was dictated in a seance. Chuck read various passages from "Fox's" new book and even the staid FHA crowd was holding back tears laughing so much. As might be expected the book had Fox defending nineteen century principles of spiritualism with the kind of gusto he had previously reserved for seventeenth century Quakerism. Chuck's rediscovery of this book is a fascinating glimpse into Progressive Quakerism but as far as I know no one has rewritten their biographies of Fox around it (smile). I do hope is still around in the twenty-second century, as some of our blog posts and mailing lists might provide similar opportunities for levity at the 2173 FHA Tricentennial meeting. (Chuck's piece and excerpts were subsequently published as part of a booklet from the meeting, if anyone is interested email me and I'll see if I can dig up its title).

And just a quick correction to what Marshall said, that liberal Quakerism is not all Hicksite. I belong to a meeting started in Eliza Gurney's parlor and I attend a self-consciously Wilburite meeting, both part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and both respectable parts of the liberal Quaker universe (the currently yearly meeting clerk hails from the meeting I attend).

The promise of liberal Quakerism is that it should be able to encompass such diversity, that it should be a welcome place even for those Friends who hold Christ as the center. Fortunately that's true in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Friends General Conference, at Friends Journal and Pendle Hill and all the major institutions (Christocentric liberal Friends might feel unwelcome at particular monthly meetings or particular blogs of course). Whether such a range of thought adequately defines a church or whether our bodies have become more associations--social networks--is an open question.

5:54 PM, May 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me that’s another form of continuing revelation – what does the relatively inclusive nature of 17th century Quakerism mean for us today? What does the very conscious decision not to have a creed or a profession of faith mean to us today? Are we instructed to be literalists in our interpretation of historic Quakerism or are we to search for guidance in the metaphor and beyond literal meanings? In that one could interpret their radically inclusive Christianity (there is that of God in the Turk and Jew) as guidance to us to be radically inclusive...

All good questions and thoughts. But, these imply a specific final conclusion - that the "result" or "final game plan" is one of an "inclusive" community, which by many liberal Friends' definitions mean a pluralistic theology. That's one sort of conclusion or continuing revelation. Another is to accept all of what Friends from the Hicksite have learned over the years, but then to decide to limit themselves, not out of judgment or exclusivity, but out of devotion for a particular teacher or path - it's a sort of "post-liberal", "post-pluralistic theology".

I'd like to note that limiting continuing revelation to the idea of the present form of a pluralistic theology can itself be perceived as pretty literal in its formulation (either we're exclusivistic or we're radically pluralistic).

Again, the fears that many Quakers (who see the logical conclusion of continuing revelation as being theologically pluralistic) might be due to the fact that many who advocate for a sort of uniformity or limited theological focus also advocate for the centrality of Christianity and/or Christ. Both of these latter terms have been tragically associated with horrible crimes against individuals and communities.

Having noted all of that - I must admit that I agree with Zach here. For all intents and purposes liberal Friends are theologically pluralistic. My complaint is that it doesn't have the ability or gumption to officially claim that reality, as has the UUA, for example. It's not my cup of tea for spiritual nurturance (pluralistic theology), but others find it to be very challenging and rewarding.


6:09 PM, May 24, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

Martin, it seems a bit unduly snarky to talk about "ignoring all the strawmen" without coming out and saying who you're claiming is making strawmen.

6:28 PM, May 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

joemg -- appreciate your comments about liberal quakerism pluralism
but I find the construct you put forth limiting. Limiting in that as I follow your logic, Quakerism has a choice to be either "christo-centric" or to fall into the abyss of wishy-washy, undefined, we don't stand for anything as we are accepting of everything, UUism. (and btw, UUism makes even liberal Quakerism look downright dogmatic -- this from personal experience).

Is there no definable position between Christian exclusivity and UU everythingism? Can you only be firm in your tradition, practice, testimonies at the one end of the pluralism continuum?

Loyld Lee Wilson speaks of digging a deep well -- in that you need to pick a place for the well and dig there and not all over the place. I heartily agree with him. I don't think many of us would disagree. The operative question then to me(and where LLW and I agree less) is not whether we're going jump all over the place digging shallow wells, but where exactly do we wish to dig the deep well.

How do we make that choice and what does it mean to make that choice? I strong resonate with the desire for Quakerism to be well defined and not slip into everythingism. When I say I'm a Quaker I want to feel as though that means something and means something beyond my own personal take on it.

And if I put forth my sense of what it means to be a Quaker, it will likely revolve around a share sense of Quaker practice and process centered on our practice of worship and discernment of Spirit. My experience both personally and collectively has been as we more deeply commit to our practice, as we become more orthodox, the definition of who we is made more and more apparent. Is revealed to us.

So why not focus our attention on more clearly defining our practices, of becoming more orthodox, and out of that behaviour, that living, trust that we will increasingly develop a strong and well defined sense of who we are as Quakers -- both collectively and individually?

12:09 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

You speak much of my mind, but I'm curious what you mean by your last paragraph though - the overall emphasis seems to be on practice, and "becoming more orthodox" (in what sense?) seems like an outlier.

2:05 PM, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


And you speak much of mine I sense.
By 'becoming more orthodox' I'm using that in a sense of practice and my understanding of the original, core practices of Quakerism (and I put MfW at the center of that and MfW in the sense of expectant, waiting worship). I also include continuing revelation as an orthodox practice.

Checking the definition of orthodox, "Adhering to the accepted or traditional and established faith, especially in religion" (online AHD), I find that the emphasis is on the concepts of 'adherence' and 'traditional.' I don't recognize traditional Quakerism as having a creed or set of beliefs to which one must profess/adhere. So when I think of orthodox or traditional Quakerism, I see it as a deep and faithful adherence to the practices and processes of Quakerism.

My inspiration for this sense of the word is North Carolina Conservative YM and LL Wilson's sense of it. He once said to me in conversation that a better name for NCCYM might be NC Orthodox YM. His concern with the word 'conservative' is that it implied a certain ideology/theology/content whereas orthodox, to him, implied original practice.

(And as an aside, NCCYM is an intersting example of adherance to orginal practice as well as an openness to continuing revelation. Most of the MM in NCCYM are welcoming to gays and gay unions/marriages. Hard to believe, not that I have any specific evidence one way or another, that the orginal Quakers would be open to gay couples let alone gay marriage. Thank God for continuing revelation which has allowed us to expand upon the application and understanding of the orginal Quaker's understanding of inclusion.)

So I too use orthodox in that sense -- a continued and deepening return to original and time-tested Quaker practice. The practice of which will reveal to us Spirit's leadings for us -- individually and collectively.

3:00 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

The dialogue between Zach and John in the last few comments is interesting. From some of the things he says, it does sound like John isn't talking about orthodoxy ("right teaching") so much as orthopraxy ("right practice" to borrow a term I picked up somewhere recently). On the other hand, if John feels in tune with Lloyd Lee Wilson, it's probable that he actually values both practice and teaching in the best sense of those words.

Marshall Massey's recent series on doctrine, dogma, and creed made a great deal of sense to me and I highly recommend it (though I suspect that one or both of you have read it already).

The first of the series is the one on "Doctrine" and is called Friends and Doctrine.
The second is called Christians, Dogmas, and Creeds.
The third is Creeds In Quakerism:The Barbados Letter.

4:26 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger RichardM said...

Perhaps a bit late in the game for me to stick my two cents in but here goes.

The concept of an orthopraxy without any shared beliefs really makes no sense at all. What someone is doing cannot really be understood if you ignore what they think they are doing. If one person thinks that by pouring water over the infants head they are washing away the baby's original sin and another person thinks they are reenacting a quaint ritual in order to have an excuse to have a party, then the two people are not engaging in any common practice. They only look like they are.

People have to have shared beliefs in order to participate in any common action. Otherwise they are merely sharing a meaningless outward form. But, and the qualification is important, the people working together don't have to share every belief in common, only those that are essential to their understanding of what they are doing. And, this qualification is also important, they don't have to use the same words to describe their beliefs.

So, I would say that yes there does have to be a center or core in order for the RSOF or any part thereof to be a real community. The core does not have to insist of Christian language. The core does not have to be very tight. The core definitely should not involve a creed. And this core will marginalize people who do not think that there is a real Teacher who guides us. It doesn't matter in the end what name individual Friends use to describe the Teacher. I don't think it matters what relationship they believe the Teacher has to the historical Jesus. We can and should continue to be inclusivist in that sense. How could there be communal discernment of whether a leading is genuinely from God if half the people in the community don't believe there is a God at all? What in the world would they be discerning in such a case?

By the way I think that all the MM in NCYMC are comfortable with openly gay Friends. Even our most conservative MM, West Grove, has welcomed openly gay Friends in worship.

7:47 PM, May 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few brief comments from out here in Omaha, Nebraska --

John Helding asked, "what does the relatively inclusive nature of 17th century Quakerism mean for us today?" I notice that his question has been repeatedly quoted in subsequent comments here. But I see no evidence that 17th century Quakerism was "relatively inclusive". The 17th century Quaker sect excluded all but a tiny subset of European Christians; it admitted no Jews, no Muslims, and no unconverted native Americans or Africans to its ranks. I would be grateful if John Helding, or someone, would explain just what "relatively inclusive" means in this context.

MartinK (Martin Kelley) wrote, "...just a quick correction to what Marshall said, that liberal Quakerism is not all Hicksite." In point of fact, I didn't say it was all Hicksite; rather, I equated "liberal" with "Hicksite/Beanite". I would suggest that while the meeting Martin attends may be "self-consciously Wilburite" in its own eyes, if it is genuinely Wilburite it doesn't qualify as liberal, and if genuinely liberal it doesn't qualify as Wilburite.

To anyone who doubts the truth of this, I would say: read Wilbur's writings and the writings of his followers. Read also the disciplines of Wilburite yearly meetings (the only surviving one of which is Ohio Yearly Meeting, but the old disciplines of the others can still be purchased through used book dealers). You will find that Wilburism is ultra-conservatism. It was never, from the very beginning, designed to include diversity, which is precisely why it refused to include the diversity represented by the Gurneyites. And the word "liberal" simply does not apply.

To John Helding -- Rich is quite right. "Orthodoxy" is a Greek word meaning "right teaching" (from ortho-, "right", + dogma, "teaching"). If you wish to speak instead of right practice, then the appropriate term is "orthopraxy" (from ortho-, "right" + pragma, "practice").

"Orthodox Friends" is a term with an established meaning; it refers to FUM, EFI, Holiness Friends, and Conservative Friends, taken as a group, and they are "Orthodox" because they committed themselves, at the time when they separated from the Hicksites, to the orthodoxy of Protestant Christianity. The non-Orthodox branch of Quakerism, composed of the Hicksites (now FGC) and the Beanites (the independent unprogrammed meetings), never committed themselves to any orthodoxy, are not orthodox today, and -- as their reaction to FUM's recent re-affirmation of the Richmond Declaration shows -- are not about to commit themselves to orthodoxy any time soon.

I agree with RichardM that practice is linked to belief, but this does not necessarily mean that orthopraxy demands orthodoxy. Any student of religious anthropology should be able to tell you that Hinduism is a religion united by an orthopraxy but lacking any orthodoxy whatsoever.

My thanks to Rich for his kind words regarding my "Quakers and Creeds" series. There will be a fourth installment, though I don't think it will be finished for a few weeks yet. And there may eventually be a fifth installment as well.

10:22 PM, May 25, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

I am surprised that you would be unaware of the extremely well-known sense in which 17th century Quakerism was "relatively inclusive." You seem to be focusing on only the issue of membership, and are right as far as that goes. But John is almost certainly referring to the belief that every person, even outward non-Christians – or stronger, people who outwardly had not even *heard* of Christ – could in fact still hear and be faithful to the Inward Christ. The Turk, the Jew, the Native American, of course. I'm not sure this was a totally unique position at the time but it certainly was not mainstream.

Also, in the interest of historical accuracy, at least one modern liberal/FGC meeting *was* in fact Orthodox historically, and I think may still be in a few pockets (I wouldn't really know) – New England YM, which in fact is where John Wilbur himself was from.

I'm also a bit befuddled that you claim the Orthodox separation involved a commitment to "Protestant orthodoxy." I don't know much about this period, but I would've expected that it was originally about the traditional *Quaker* understanding of *Christian* orthodoxy, and that the traditional understanding of Friends as "neither Catholic nor Protestant" would've been carried forward until around the Gurneyite separation.

10:29 AM, May 26, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

PS – I believe London YM (now Britain YM) should be seen as a historically Orthodox YMs that is now a liberal one.

10:33 AM, May 26, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

It's eye-opening, as one reads the responses and responses-to-responses on blogs like this one, to discover how often people use the same word to mean different things and different words to mean the same things.

Like Marshall Massey, I had wondered what John Helding meant when he said 17th century Quakers were "relatively inclusive". Marshall said "I would be grateful if John Helding, or someone, would explain just what "relatively inclusive" means in this context." Zach A then responded that "John is almost certainly referring to the belief that every person, even outward non-Christians – or stronger, people who outwardly had not even *heard* of Christ – could in fact still hear and be faithful to the Inward Christ."
This may, indeed, be what John was referring to. I will let him answer that himself. It may also be at least part of what some others mean by "inclusive". I want to point out, however, that in objecting to "inclusivism" I was objecting to something else altogether. In fact, the heart of my disagreement with Chuck Fager's book is that he starts with a statement something like the above (which he finds in Barclay, Fox, and other early Friends and which remains for me and most Christian Friends that I know an extremely precious truth) and extrapolates from it to the belief that a Quaker community could include and possibly should include people who have heard of Christ and do know his teachings, yet reject Him in the name of some non-Christian religious tradition. It is this latter position that I object to as "inclusivism".

Of course, there is still another sense of "inclusive" which I would like our Quaker community to more fully become: inclusive of people from all nations, all cultures, all economic classes, all racial and ethnic groupings, all levels of education and sophistication, and indeed of anyone anywhere who shares the essentials of our faith and our practice.

That said, I am not going to add any further comments to this post, though I will continue to read any that others may wish to contribute. I imagine that the only way to keep a conversation from continuiing ad infinitum is to relinquish any thought of having the "last word" in it.

There have been a few threads here that I do hope to return to: Dave Carl's questions in the first comment above is one. Carol Holmes' question is another. But I will reserve these for some other post. For today, I will simply start writing a new post about the recently-concluded course on Robert Barclay's Apology in Fifteenth Street Meeting. I hope some readers will find it interesting.

Peae and Friendship to you all,
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

12:54 PM, May 26, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zach, what you describe may be "an extremely well-known sense" in which 17th century Quakerism was "relatively inclusive", but I myself wouldn't use that phrase that way, and neither (I think) would anyone else in my corner of the world.

The 17th century Friends doctrine of the Light never said more than that each person has access to the Light. It never said, "you can be saved without hearkening to the Light and being changed"; and there was always an assumption that the Gospel needed to be preached to the heathen before the vast majority of the heathen would hearken to it and turn and be saved. That's why Mary Fisher went to Constantinople and preached to the Sultan of Turkey; she didn't tell him, "You are already just as illumined as we are, and you don't need to become a Christian to be saved," she said, "Let me tell you about the historical Jesus Christ, and about the Light that is Christ in you."

If we use "inclusive" to mean "including people who can be saved if we preach them the Gospel and they listen to what we say and put it into practice", which was the 17th century Quaker attitude toward Jews and Muslims and other unbelievers, then we are equally justified in saying that 17th century Anglicanism, the great opponent of Quakerism, was "relatively inclusive" because it included everyone on earth in the list of people whose sins Christ died for and to whom Christ now offered redemption. We are also justified in regarding the 17th century Roman Catholic Inquisition as "relatively inclusive" because it believed that absolutely anyone it was trying for witchcraft could be restored to the good graces of the Church simply by confessing whatever sin she was accused of.

"Relative inclusivity" wouldn't be the label I'd personally choose for that attitude. And as a matter of fact, I'd think most liberals in your part of the world would be more likely to label it "cultural arrogance" than "relative inclusivity". But maybe times have changed where you live, and I'm just plain out of touch. I'm getting old, Zach, and the trends are increasingly leaving me behind.

On another point: historically speaking, the present New England Yearly Meeting is much less Orthodox than Hicksite. It's a consolidated yearly meeting, born of a merger of Orthodox and Hicksite bodies, and the Hicksite/Beanite component is presently dominant, since the urban Hicksite meetings and campus Beanite meetings within it have grown very substantially in numbers while the old rural Gurneyite churches and Wilburite meetings have been wasting away. My understanding is that many of the most orthodox members of the old Gurneyite churches have actually withdrawn from NEYM over the years, attaching themselves either to other Protestant denominations or to EFI.

Finally, so far as I know, there was no "traditional understanding of Friends as 'neither Catholic nor Protestant'" prior to Rufus Jones. George Fox and other early Friends were on record as stating publicly, in letters to the English government and the general populace, that Friends were firmly Protestant and abhorred Catholicism as much as any other citizen of England. However, Rufus Jones wanted to remake Quakerism into a sort of independent version of Christian mysticism, and in order to do that, he had to detach it from Protestantism, so he cheerfully rewrote history.

8:04 AM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Marshall, you wrote Finally, so far as I know, there was no "traditional understanding of Friends as 'neither Catholic nor Protestant'" prior to Rufus Jones.

I'd like to call your attention to George Fox's rather lengthy epistle #171 (thanks, Google Books!). In it, Fox does seem to lump Protestants in with the other "framed faiths" he criticizes. Here is one excerpt:

They that followed the pope, were called Papists; and they that protested against the pope, were called Protestants.

And thus they gave names one to another. And so common-prayer men, and directory men, and Independents, and Baptists. And thus in the envy, out of the love, out of the spirit, which gave forth the scriptures, gave they names one to another; all of which we judge.

Our faith, our church, our unity is in the spirit, and our word at which we tremble, was in the beginning, before the Papists' mass, and your Episcopals' common-prayer, and the Presbyterians' directory, and Independents, Baptists, and other church-made framed faiths were; and our unity, church, and fellowship will stand when they are all ended.

Another section that seems a little more pointed is:
All religious will fight about religious and worships, and kill like the heathen about their gods; Jews, Gentiles, Papists, Protestants of all
sects, which are out of the power of the Lord, and the spirit that the apostles were in. And so, they are all out of the royal spirit, that hath the royal, spiritual weapons, and out of the royal seed, which saith, `love enemies,' which is the royal command to the royal priesthood.

If it is just a matter of Christians either being Catholic or Protestant (or Eastern Orthodox), I might see that as a context for considering Quakers to be Protestant, but my impression here is that Fox was considering Protestant denominations to be "framed faiths" that were as out of the Power of the Lord as the others. It also seems to make sense that if Quakerism represents a return to primitive Christianity, it wouldn't necessarily fit a label that describes a denomination that is a reaction to Catholicism (unless "Protestant" actually implied a return to primitive Christianity).

With love,

1:38 PM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

The main thread of the conversation seems to be mostly exhausted, so I hope people won't mind if I try to resolve the disagreements with Marshall here.

You seem to be correct about New England YM being a consolidation of Orthodox and Hicksite/Beanite meetings. I had in mind the fact that NEYM remained fully Orthodox through the Orthodox-Hicksite separation (though did split during the later intra-Orthodox separations), but I presume Marshall is referring to the independent meeting movement of the early and mid 20th century. I thought this was a relatively small-scale phenomenon but a few minutes perusing Betsy Cazden's thesis just now (which I haven't read yet) has convinced me I underestimated it.

However, on the issue of early Quaker theology being "relatively inclusive," it seems your intellectual faculties are being clouded by your allergy to the word "inclusive." Your comment itself undercuts your conclusion: you say "there was always an assumption that the Gospel needed to be preached to the heathen before the vast majority of the heathen would hearken to it and turn and be saved."

Friends' 17th century peers – Anglicans, etc. – would've said "all," not the weaker "the vast majority of," because the latter allows for the possibility that, however difficult and rare it may be, some people not reached by the outward gospel will nevertheless hearken to the Inward Christ.

I can appreciate what is probably your concern that, if this point stands, it's a slippery slope to full-on modern Quaker liberalism, but if you're concerned about that, the appropriate reponse is to argue against people who wish to extrapolate further from that point (down the slope as it were). Rewriting history to claim that Friends in fact did not have a relatively inclusive theology for their time is not an appropriate response.

Finally, I do think, Marshall, that you underrestimate the tradition of "non-Protestantism." Friends did sometimes, as non-Catholics, identify as protestants in the loose sense of the term – Fox seems to have particularly done this in the 1670s and 80s – but there is also quite a lot of language suggesting they saw themselves as distinct, as Mark provides an example of. The Apology repeatedly distinguishes the Quaker positions from Catholic and "Protestant" positions as well. And consider this passage from Fox's The papists strength, principles, and doctrines answered and confuted:

"The Protestant and Papist are fighting and striving about Works. Now because the Apostle said, They were justified by faith without the works of the Law: And James saith, that faith without works is dead. And these are the Scriptures they fight about, being both Protestant and Papist found out of the faith the Apostle spoke of, and are found out of the works of the Law both ... but are out of truth, that cloathes not the naked brethren, and doth not give them victory, and sees them destitute of dayly food, and doth not feed them, but lets them cry up and down for bread & cloathes about the streets, this is like the Papist and Protestant, and Sectaries faith, and they are not the Preservers of the Creation, but out of the living faith, and in the dead..." (1658, pp. 97-98.)

Going beyond the scope of our little historical discussion, words that should give us pause, that as we all argue about our faith here we remember also to live it.

Warm regards,

3:21 PM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

Zach wrote:
I can appreciate what is probably your concern that, if this point stands, it's a slippery slope to full-on modern Quaker liberalism, but if you're concerned about that, the appropriate response is to argue against people who wish to extrapolate further from that point (down the slope as it were). Rewriting history to claim that Friends in fact did not have a relatively inclusive theology for their time is not an appropriate response.

I think that what Zach is missing from the "slippery slope" theory is the point that Rich brought up recently, which is that in modern liberal Quakerism we are not dealing with people who have not heard the outer Gospel but still respond to the inner Christ. Instead, we have people who hear the outer Gospel and do not associate it with the inner Christ.

The "rewriting history" accusation could be thrown back and forth and find quite a few targets, like "that of God in every one" and "what canst thou say". I don't think that's an appropriate direction to head.

With love,

6:42 PM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

I'm not exactly sure how you were reading me, but I don't think we actually disagree. Modern liberal Quaker pluralism (to use a more apt word) is indeed quite different from the kind of inclusivism that early Friends believed in. But it's true that people can (rightly or wrongly, soundly or unsoundly) argue from one to the other. That's the "slippery slope" I had in mind, and which I was suggesting Marshall may be trying to "nip in the bud" by denying the starting premise.

As far as "rewriting history," whenever people are actually doing it – most definitely including wishful thinking about the favorite liberal phrases you cite – I think it's profitable to call them out on it. If we don't have respect for factual accuracy then all of the talk we do about history is quite foolish.

7:59 PM, May 27, 2007  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

To me a "slippery slope" implies that you are almost forced in a particular direction. I don't think I would agree that Marshall's point would be starting down such a slope.

When I look back at Marshall's comment, I am inclined to agree with him. Early Quakers were not "relatively inclusive". As Marshall said, they did not just admit anyone, and it wasn't long before they got pretty good at kicking people out, too.

From your position, Zack, one could argue that because anyone can listen to and follow the Light, that is "relatively inclusive" - the theology about the accessibility of the Light is inclusive. The theology is not necessarily the society, though.

The society itself, because it operated with the understanding that the Light was Christ, was not so inclusive. As Marshall wrote, the RSoF didn't admit Muslims or Jews, and in that context, I believe he is factually correct and is not "rewriting history".

The "light was Christ" part, I believe, is why the theology of the early Friends does not set them on a slippery slope towards modern liberal Quakerism. Again, as Rich pointed out, the "inclusiveness" of the early Quakers wasn't about people who heard the Gospel and rejected it. You can't just jump over that into pluralism. Wouldn't it be more likely that someone like George Fox would say that if you think you are listening to the Light and it doesn't sound like the Gospel, you aren't listening to the right thing? I'm sure others can answer this better, but I think even Elias Hicks would have agreed with that.

With love,

9:38 PM, May 27, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I never considered that "relatively inclusive" could engender such an ongoing discussion. Or that being away for a few days (I was playing the traitor in John Steinbeck's play about occupiers and the occupied at the beginning of WWII, The Moon is Down" -- recommend it highly as it could be as easily about Iraq 2007 as Norway 1942) would leave me so far back. But then I am new to this world of blogs.

Well, a couple of thoughts on what I was meaning (although Zach pretty much summarized it already) and some responses to other comments made.

By relatively inclusive I was relating to my sense of several aspects of early Quakerism (and not just the 17th Century). Not only that of God in everyone or God in the Turk and the Jew, but also the practice (which I now know as orthopraxy -- cool) of 'relative' equality of women, youth, and the flatness of the Quaker organization made possible by the abandonment of the hireling clergy. Guess I find Fox's sense that 'Jesus had come to teach his people himself' to be a profound expression of inclusion as at its heart it is a theology of direct access to Spirit without the need of learned/elite intermediaries (although with the need of a faith community et al.).

I think in this day in age, it is easy, understandable easy, to underestimate the radical nature of Quakerism. Similar to Jesus, and as we all know, these people were persecuted, imprisoned, and killed because of their radical and threatening approach to that day and age’s Christianity. In that they were not unique, but they sure weren’t main stream hanging out in the dungeons.

Add onto this the ministry of Woolman and others in the 18th century, and Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony and others in the 19th century and I think one can make the argument (and not only Rufus Jones) that both the spark of Quakerism and the ministries that rose from it and were nurtured (sometimes less than more I will admit) point to, and here I go again, a "relative inclusiveness" within the context of their day and age. And I use the word relative because they and we still have so far to go.

In all this, and to borrow again from LL Wilson, I think the evidence is there to define a Quaker gestalt of inclusion -- of seeing beyond boundaries, and as others have pointed out, to rejecting many of the boundaries the religious world was busy creating.

To Marshall’s point, as to a third path of Christianity. Whether Rufus Jones was the first to elucidate the concept or not, the practice, the Quaker orthopraxy _:) sure is distinct from the other denominations. So maybe they labeled themselves Protestant to the authorities, but did they actually think of themselves as fundamentally the same? (and to Mark’s posting does appear that they also saw and wrote of the difference). And surely to my eye they didn’t worship as others did.

And I end here with some thoughts on role of practice and thought and how they do or don’t need to be connected. Bottom line, I think it’s darn hard/dare I say impossible, to deeply practice Quakerism, good old unprogrammed Quaker worship, and not be brought into the realm of the Light. My opinion/experience.

And I am in agreement with RichardM that there needs to be some core to Quakersim – some shared spiritual truth/experience. For me, that core, that essential truth and experience, is the surrendering of self and the acceptance of the light beyond self. That through a centering and quieting, within community, you can connect with the great beyond and from that place receive comfort, guidance, acceptance and connection. So for me, a Quaker is someone who is willing to try that practice, and as she becomes proficient with that practice (and that’s not a chronological concept, at least not linear) comes to experience, comes into a relationship with the great beyond/light/god/spirit. So I’m not sure I need to place Jesus or “Christianity” at the core (even as I self-describe as a Jesus-centric Quaker) but I do think there must be a core and what I do place there is the practice of worship and the resulting, active relationship with the Divine.

And I know I am so very practice-focused because of my own spiritual journey and experience of Quakerism. I came to Friends 17 years ago, a childhood Episcopalian in a state of total rejection of religion, and hanging out with Quakers out of a social connection. I started the practice with no expectation other than it was nice to be quiet for at least an hour once a week. By stepping into the practice, over time, I’ve been brought into profound new wisdoms, mystical experiences, and by this time an intimate relationship with God. But again, I had no sense or especially belief/expectation that that could/would happen when I started to sit in Meeting. So for me, orthopraxy was the opening and orthodoxy would have had me slamming the door shut.

Again, very grateful for the many contributions and insights on this thread. I’m quite humbled and enriched by it. Much to consider.

In the Light,


1:19 AM, May 28, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

I continue to think we actually agree on the main details here, which is that early Friends' theology was in fact "relatively inclusive," which is why it was silly for Marshall to object to that comment. I think you're not reading my comments very carefully, and assuming I mean or am talking about things other than I am.

"Slippery slope" is indeed a slippery metaphor, but from the rest of what I said I think it's clear I wasn't suggesting that there's any unavoidable, logical progression from the theological inclusivism of early Friends to what we might call the "ecclesiological" inclusivism of modern liberal Friends -- which is why I suggested it's reasonable for someone to think (even though I personally do not) that such a progression is "unsound." I said that people *can* argue in this direction (and provide as evidence that liberal Friends in fact *did*), but I nowhere suggested that they *must*.

Nor did I say anything about early Friends being inclusive in the "ecclesiological" or "Society" sense. I in fact said quite the opposite, and only imputed to them "theological" inclusivism.

I think it's quite absurd that such a well-documented, well-known and unique feature of early Quakerism should be so controversial here.

12:07 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

I have to say, I am frequently astonished by the energy with which Friends on all sides try to enlist Barclay, Fox, and others to their understandings of Quakerism. It is an interesting conversation, I agree, but it is fundamentally irrelevant to the question of whether this or that branch or thread or understanding of Quakerism is good Quakerism.

I mean, seriously, is our experience of sitting together in silent worship, listening for whatever is there, so thin that we need to appeal to dead Quakers to decide whether it is spiritually enriching or not?

The way I know worship in my meeting is right for us, is by doing it and seeing how it feels, what comes of it, for myself and for other Friends. It really can be that simple, organic and alive.

We have never had one theology, thought we have sometimes said otherwise. We have always had many. The idea that we need a single theology to unite us is simply mistaken.

12:14 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

My impression of Marshall's comment is that he was reacting to "relatively inclusive" being used as a way to describe the acceptance of other religions within Quakerism. In looking back again, I'm not completely sure it was a justified reaction, but I believe his description of how Quakerism was not "relatively inclusive" in the context of membership was still factually correct. Is it possible that you are misreading Marshall to think that he was referring to the theology?

I don't agree that it is absurd to have this discussion, because that feature of early Quaker theology is used as a justification for pluralism today, which as Marshall pointed out was not an aspect of early Quakerism.

I'm sorry for participating in dragging it out this long, though.

While I agree that it is not very fruitful to enlist early Friends or later Friends in order to bicker & argue (which unfortunately I have allowed myself to participate in again), I do believe it is fruitful to learn about other Quakers' experience of the light. Their experience of the Light sometimes differs from modern Friends - we don't often hear modern Friends say things like: For where the only true seed takes root, there all man’s plants and plantations are plucked up; for there the earth, in which the earthly plants grow, is broken up, ploughed up, and ripped up, and all things made manifest, which have lain hid in it.

The Light didn't always leave a good feeling, especially at first, it exposed your inner demons. If we no longer have that experience of the Light, is it because we are ignoring it? The traditional Christian/Quaker view of the Light is that it is unchanging - we change, our culture and experience changes, but the Light does not, and in that, we do have a common context in which to compare our experiences with "dead Quakers", or even dead 1st-century Christians.

I believe there is something more to worship than "seeing how it feels". If I have not been living my life in the Spirit, I might expect to feel some level of reproach at first. In that way, yes, it is still "seeing how it feels", but if it doesn't feel good, that doesn't mean there is something wrong with it, it could mean there is something wrong with me that needs to be exposed. It's like your mother scolding you - she loves you, but sometimes you need to be told not to do something.

Also, Quakerism is about more than just Meeting for Worship, it is about living our lives in constant contact with God, and the meeting used to feel more of a responsibility to help keep its members in that life in the Spirit. The "dead Quakers" had a lot to say about that, and I don't see it discussed much at least in my monthly and yearly meetings. It is more about individuals pursuing their own paths and staying out of their way.

With love,

6:02 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

Hi Mark,
Perhaps "absurd" was too strong a word. I guess what I'm saying is that insofar as this issue is discussed, the focus should be on whether it was justified for Hicksite/Beanite Friends to move from point A to point B, a matter about which I think reasonable people can disagree. But what is not debatable is that we did in fact start out at "point A," and I was reacting with dismay to what seems like a reluctance to admit even that.

I don't think I've misread Marshall at all, though I'd be happy to change my mind if you or he could show me where or when. You're right - he wasn't talking about theology in the original comment for which I took him to task. That was exactly the problem: he seemed to be trying to deny the undeniable, by way of narrowly focusing on the way in which early Friends were not inclusive (ecclesiology), and by ignoring and then trying to deny the way in which they in fact were (theology).

Sometimes I wish it were easier for me to let these things go, but I cannot. It is no doubt partly ego, but also partly because I think the truth (in the everyday sense of the term) is very important.

6:39 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

I can't answer for Marshall, of course, but I do understand your point that it seems to you he was shifting the focus, and upon further review, it does also look like that to me, but I will hold open the possibility that I don't understand where Marshall was going with it.

I don't really want to debate the jump from point A to point B, I really am trying to steer away from these kinds of debates. As I said in my reply to James, I am concerned with the responsibility of the meeting to its members and vice-versa, and I think that may hold more of the reasons for some of the perceived and real problems of liberal Quakerism than the question of pluralism.

With love,

10:57 PM, May 29, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Mark Wutka and Zach A, my thanks for pointing to passages in which Fox apparently distinguished Friends from Protestants.

Early Friends did have an bivalent relationship to Protestantism. They explicitly identified with Protestants as opposed to Catholics, endorsed the basic Protestant program of purifying Christianity of Catholic errors, and supported many national Protestant endeavors. But they distinguished themselves from both the Protestant establishment and the dissenting Protestant sects.

This bivalence, I think, accounts for the confusion in this discussion. But I don't think it proves that Friends identified themselves as non-Protestant. It merely proves that, when they wanted to condemn all other religious movements as human-made, it was a whole lot easier to use the shorthand "Catholic and Protestant" than to reel off the exact list "Catholic, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Lutheran, Socinian, Congregational, Independent, Baptist, Familist, Waldensian, Hussite, Mennonite, or Grindletonian".

Zach's arguments about the difference between "the vast majority" and "all", and about the difference between membership and theology, do not convince me. There is a long and continuous tradition in Christian theology of recognizing that a minority of non-Christians can be saved by righteousness; it begins clear back with the apostles Peter and Paul (see Acts 10:34-35 and Romans 2:11-16), and continues through such worthies as Justin Martyr (the first Christian theologian), pseudo-Clement (another prominent early theologian), and Augustine of Hippo. Certainly there were intolerant non-Quaker Christians in the seventeenth century who didn't think that any person not of their own persuasion would be saved; but there were also those who were non-Quaker and yet agreed with Peter and Paul.

11:04 PM, May 29, 2007  
Blogger Chris M. said...

Well, I'm just amused by seeing my friend John pulled into this discussion. This is the longest thread I've seen in about a year! When I last looked there were only 26 comments, now there are 51-52.

I don't agree with James that appealing to the wisdom and writing of dead people is dry and thin. I like to read and find much that is thick and nourishing and organic. And so is there much in real-time in-person interaction such as at meeting.

However, I do agree with James about the multiplicity of concepts and ideas (dare I say notions?). Kathleen Norris wrote in one of her books about people not willing to face "the embarrassment of the many beliefs Christianity has always had," or words to that effect. Even Paul writes about not following false teachers in the early church!

-- Chris M.

12:10 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Christ, I don't think I said that the writings of Fox, Barclay, Woolman, et al, are thin or dry, and I certainly don't believe that. Not in the least. My taste in literature runs far more toward fiction and poetry than history or theology, but I have spent enough time at least in the shallow end of the pool of early Quaker writing to have a clear and enthusiastic sense of the wisdom and creative spirit there.

What I meant to say, thought I said, is that one's experience of worship, or more broadly of life in modern Quakerism, would have to be terribly thin in order to *need* justification for it from these early Quakers. My experience of Quakerism is thick and rich and filled with genuine life, and requires absolutely no justification or comparison with how we think Quakers used to do it. What we Quakers are, is what Quakerism is. What it is like, that is the measure.

I once read a delightful literary trifle called a "Forged Letter from Fyodor Dostoevsky," dismissing rumors of the "death of the novel." A line that stuck with me: "The thing either flies or it crashes to the ground, however in or out of keeping with current aerodynamic theory." Same with the thing called Quakerism.

8:50 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Oops, sorry, that last post was addressed to Chris, not Christ. Though Christ is welcome to read it as well ;-)

8:51 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:30 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

(once more without the big typo)

I'd like to thank you for your gracious spirit. Let's hope some of it rubs off on me. As for debating "point A to point B," I feel exactly the same way. It seems a distraction from spiritual living in general, and in particular from the much more important practical and meeting-based initiatives and thinking like what you seem to be suggesting. But I do still feel led to jump into these debates when it seems like the status of non-Christian Friends in liberal Quakerism is being threatened, as it seemed to me was happening to varying degrees and ways on this thread.

It's true that there's a thread of what we're calling theological inclusivism as far back as Acts, but until the 20th century it's been little more than that for the vast majority of Christians – a little bit like how pacifism goes all the way back to Jesus but has never widely been practiced. The Catholic Church was quite explicit about this – Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, "no salvation outside the Church" – until they in effect adopted the traditional Quaker position on this issue at Vatican II. And with a different understanding of "the Church," classical Protestantism carried the doctrine forward as well. I can understand if you might not believe me, but perhaps you'll be persuaded by the unimpeachable authority of Wikipedia (at the link above).

9:32 AM, May 30, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Zach, I'm familiar with the doctrine that there is no salvation outside the Church.

Wikipedia's authority, though, is not "unimpeachable" as you claim. As a result of an article in The New Yorker a few months back, it has become public knowledge that at least one of Wikipedia's resident "expert" editors was actually a person with no advanced training in the fields he was editing. No one knows how many other Wikipedia editors were similarly unqualified, but the result has been something of a public scandal. I am told that one of the founders of Wikipedia has gone on to start a new, similar site with far heavier controls on who may edit. Alas, I don't have the details handy.

Basically, it seems to me that the difference between us is mostly just one of emphasis.

You see a big difference between the Quaker position that the vast majority of the heathen need to hear the Gospel to be saved, and the official Papal-and-Puritan position that all the majority need to join the Church. You discount the non-Quaker Christians who were not in the official Papal-and-Puritan camp. You also discount the fact that early Friends would not actually allow the unchristianized into membership.

I see less of a difference between the Quaker and non-Quaker positions, and in part this is because I've done a lot of thinking about the many instances in which common Christians have declined to follow their Popes and their Puritan preachers into active hostilities against people of other faiths. In another part, it's also because I also think that mere abstract expressions of tolerance count for less than a person's real-life willingness to let a very different sort of person join his personal, local church.

10:43 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:25 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

(I really must start proofreading better)

I was being a bit facetious about Wikipedia being unimpeachable :) I do think it's a generally reliable resource, especially on certain topics, but it is a little funny when people cite it for support (as I just did), since the person could've created or edited the article moments prior to citing it. (The ironies of the digital age...) That said, this particular article cites most of its sources, so I think an assumption of "accurate until proven inaccurate" is justified.

I think you're right about it being a difference of emphasis.

I wouldn't necessarily say there's a "big difference" between early Friends and other Christians. Both are, when compared to modern liberal Quaker standards, quite "less inclusive," and might be seen as "culturally arrogant," as you suggested earlier. But even if it's not a huge difference, it is still a very real and significant difference. It only takes a tiny rudder to move a large ship.

For one thing, it reduces the dissonance between the idea that God is loving and just and the fact that most people in history died without hearing about Jesus – which I believe is why most Christians eventually have come to agree with early Friends.

Another reason I see it as a significant difference is that I can find little other way to explain the extremely unusual and unprecedented anomaly of modern pluralist liberal Quakerism – an otherwise Christian denomination having a sect that came to see the outward profession of Christianity as optional. I think this is a testament to the suggestive power of this doctrine. It even seems some more mainstream modern Christians with similar beliefs are approaching a similar conclusion. (Again, I don't claim that there's any inevitable progression from one to the other – that is a matter about which reasonable people can disagree. But the fact that a significant percentage of Friends have believed it as reasonable is a significant fact.)

I don't think I'm discounting the fact that early Friends "would not actually allow the [outwardly] unchristianized into membership." I'm quite freely admitting that they did not. I just don't think that fact negates the other fact we're discussing.

I'm not completely sure what you mean by "the many instances in which common Christians have declined to follow their [leaders] into active hostilities against people of other faiths." Can you give an example, and explain how it relates to the broader issue? And I'd be interested to hear more about "the non-Quaker Christians who were not in the official Papal-and-Puritan camp" on this issue.

I think you're also right to suggest that abstract expressions of theoretical/theological tolerance are one thing, and welcoming a person into one's community who is more substantially different (class, politics, ethnicity, etc.) is more difficult. Personally I think liberal Quakerism has far to go on that score.

11:37 AM, May 30, 2007  
Blogger Chris M. said...

James: Thanks for clarifying the addressee(s) of your comments, and for your good humor!

Thanks also for clarifying what you meant. You wrote: "one's experience of worship, or more broadly of life in modern Quakerism, would have to be terribly thin in order to *need* justification for it from these early Quakers."

That's a perfectly reasonable position, and I agree with it. And I also see that reading early Quakers can help us understand why the people around us are doing what they're doing. Clearness? Unity? Meeting for worship with a concern for business? Advices and queries? That doesn't seem identical with using them for justification, though, granted, they can be used that way, too.

-- Chris M.

12:20 AM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...


I can certainly see how reading the early Quakers can shed more light on our practices, and that's one perfectly good reason for reading them. And there are many other good reasons. I would never want to discourage anyone from such reading. It's a good thing to understand where our society has come from as we move forward.

But a strong thread in this conversation, and in many other Quaker conversations on and off the internet, is the kind of justification I criticized. "What is wrong with modern Quakerism? It's not enough like original Quakerism." I fundamentally don't buy it, and I don't think it helps us move forward.

Further, my own perspective--very personal, I admit--is that the "why" of Quaker practices--clearness, unity, business, advices, queries, worship--should take a back seat to "how" and "what" and "does it work." And my best teacher by far for those three has been to sit with Quakers and do what they do, see how it works, preserve the forms with life and walk away from those without life. Experience, experience, experience.

7:17 AM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger Mark Wutka said...

While I would agree that you can't really understand Quakerism until you experience it over and over, but I would be cautious about de-emphasizing the "why" too much. I'm sure you know that our perceptions are shaped by the context in which we view them, and without a contextual background, it may be difficult to grasp what is going on. One of my favorite stories along this line is about a girl watching her mother prepare a ham. She asks "Why do you cut the end off?" The mother replies, "I'm not really sure, my mother always did it." So the next time the mother talks to HER mother, she asks "Why did you always cut the end off the ham?" and she replies "Because it was too big for the pan."
With love,

12:14 PM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's a good thing to understand where our society has come from as we move forward. . . .
What is wrong with modern Quakerism? It's not enough like original Quakerism." I fundamentally don't buy it, and I don't think it helps us move forward."

What does "forward" mean in this context?

12:47 PM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couple of comments late in this thread (hello f/F Chris M -- yes, I’ve stumbled into the quaker blog world ... help).

I think the zero summing of conceptual beliefs/intent about inclusion vs. the practice of inclusion is a false dichotomy.

From my work on my own and others racism, I have experienced the big big first step is a willingness to admit intellectually and emotionally that one is racist (and if you are as I am, a white male raised in U.S. you are highly, highly likely to be racist). Only then do you have a real chance of changing your behaviour.

So at the very least, early Quakers started us on the path -- at least on the conceptual level they were exploring the idea of religious inclusion, of the universal nature of grace (and importantly not spending there time on actively attempting to justify a theology of exclusion as others were).

And to my eye, more than that they were practicing relatively (that word again) progressive inclusion and again I hold up the revolutionary role of women within the early and ongoing RSoF as one clear example. (and to that point, haven't in this thread seen an alternative explanation of that practice and its meaning vis-à-vis inclusion within the RSoF).

And here I'm in agreement with and intrigued by Zach's sense that there must be something, some seed behind the evolution that has brought us liberal Quakerism. To me this evolution is further evidence of the seed of relative inclusiveness that early Friends both prayed and thought on as well as in various ways, small and large, practiced.

1:00 PM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Carol Holmes said...

"It's a good thing to understand where our society has come from as we move forward. . . .
What is wrong with modern Quakerism? It's not enough like original Quakerism." I fundamentally don't buy it, and I don't think it helps us move forward."

What does "forward" mean in this context?

Really I mean nothing beyond, foward to the next moment, which is bound to be different from the present moment, which is certainly much different from the 17th century. I don't assume that I know what it should be like--we need to discover that together--but I do feel it should graciously and fearlessly accommodate whatever new things we learn about the world and how it works. The primary point is, we should not allow a a romantic, idealized picture of the past blinker our vision of the future.

1:47 PM, May 31, 2007  
Blogger James Riemermann said...

Excellent story about the ham, Mark, and very much in line with my thinking. If we are cutting off the end of the ham and we can't say why, maybe we should try not cutting it off and see how it comes out.

And we're definitely cooking with a bigger pan nowadays.

1:54 PM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To your question Carol: Move forward?

To me it comes simple: forward to greater faithfulness.

As I continue to read and ponder the many powerful thoughts and infomation presented on this thread, I keep being pulled back to what I experience at the center of Quakerism -- Meeting for Worship. And not Meeting for Worship at Swathmore Hall 350 some odd years ago, but Meeting for Worshop at Ron and Shelia's house (in my case) this past first day. In what ways are we instructed and led right now?

Of course to my sense this needs to be informed/leavened by the past (as the past can be seen as the record of all of the earlier leadings and resulting practices of Friends). But to my taste it is a stagnant religion that prioritizes past experiences of the Divine over the present, living experience of the Divine. Unless, of course, one believes that the conversation is over. And does anyone here argue that Quaker practice and/or belief is that such leadings, such instruction is not available from our Meetings today? If so I'd be very interested in hearing and better understanding that view.

2:14 PM, May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zach, I can see other ways "to explain the extremely unusual and unprecedented anomaly of modern pluralist liberal Quakerism – an otherwise Christian denomination having a sect that came to see the outward profession of Christianity as optional."

To begin with, we might note that it is not as "unprecedented" as you say: Unitarianism and Universalism got there a lot earlier, and some of the Socinian communities seem to have gotten there earlier still. And in the second place, we might note that similar phenomena have arisen in the other "Abrahamic" religions, in ultraliberal Judaism and Sufi Islam.

My explanation? It has nothing to do with any need to recognize that people can be saved without Christ. It's simply that every sufficiently domineering religion -- such as the "Abrahamic" religions all tend to be -- tends to generate subgroups where people can escape that religion's intolerance by seeming to be religiously comparable to the mainstream, and yet where they can be freethinkers amongst themselves. Even the Roman Catholics have their liberal Jesuits. That is the purpose that such groups try to serve -- although they always walk a tightrope between the abyss of too great outward rebellion and that of too great inward conformity, and from time to time they all fall.

You write that you're not completely sure what I mean by "the many instances in which common Christians have declined to follow their [leaders] into active hostilities against people of other faiths." And you ask for an example. But surely you are already aware of how, when the early Friends' lands and property were seized as penalties for their violation of the various anti-Quaker acts, and were then offered at auction, the Friends' nonquaker neighbors would sometimes conspire to offer only a trifling bid for each auctioned item, and then refuse to bid the price up further, and then would give the property back to the original owners, thus defeating the persecutors' intentions --

If you read the history of early Anabaptism, you will find repeated instances of Roman Catholic princes and common folk sheltering Anabaptists from Roman Catholic persecution. If you read up on the history of Christian-Muslim relations, you will find many instances of Christians in mixed lands refusing to join in official violence against Muslims. (Even today there are plenty of American churches where the preacher inveighs patriotically against the Muslim threat, while a substantial minority of his parishioners give him no support.)

There is in short a general pattern of Christian officialdom, at least in more militant times and in the more militant sects, expressing intolerance even to the point of violence, while a substantial minority in their flock, comprising a great many ordinary Christians, remain gentle and accepting of the diversity in the world, and able to recognize that folk of other religions can be sufficiently virtuous to be deserving of real honor. That substantial minority seems to me to embrace a Christian position regarding non-Christian peoples no different from that of the early Friends, or from that of the apostles Peter and Paul.

Finally, to your concluding paragraph: You write, "I think you're also right to suggest that abstract expressions of theoretical/theological tolerance are one thing, and welcoming a person into one's community who is more substantially different (class, politics, ethnicity, etc.) is more difficult. Personally I think liberal Quakerism has far to go on that score." I'm glad to see we're in agreement on the facts! However, as I hope you know, I personally think that liberal Quakerism has already gone too far. I'm all for religious tolerance in the secular world; I feel blessed to live in a city peaceably embracing all sorts of religions. But when it comes to the Society of Friends, I see us as a movement especially dedicated to the practice of conscious discipleship to Christ, and of no great value when we depart from that discipleship.

I am in full agreement with Johan's latest remarks in that regard.

9:23 AM, June 01, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

Clarification: When I said I think liberal Quakerism has far to go as far as accepting significantly different people, I wasn't referring to theological beliefs, though I generally support that as well as you know. I was referring to the things I listed - political viewpoints, people of non-European descent, people who aren't middle-class. I know you have reservations about the middle point, but I hope we can leave that conversation for another day.

I think your theory that domineering religions tend to produce liberal subgroups has some real merit, but I don't think it conflicts with what I was saying. That seems like the macro point of view, and I'm describing the close-up view of how that tendency has played out in the case of Quakerism.

Re Socinianism/Unitarianism, yes, those may be seen as examples of other "Christian" groups who became non-Christian, but I think Friends are a little different. Those are basically founded, with a relatively clean break, on the premise of anti-trinitarianism and low Christology, whereas Quakerism evolved from a relatively orthodoxly Christian community to one that presently includes non-Christians.

It's good to remember that not all lay Christians (indeed, not all underlings generally) unthinkingly obey their leaders. But I still don't see quite how this bears on the question of Quaker liberalism.

6:41 PM, June 04, 2007  
Blogger Chuck Fager said...


A Friend pointed out your review to me a few days ago, just as I was gearing up for the Quaker Conference on Torture; that event was a very somber and absorbing one, which I'm still processing.

You expressed some interest in hearing my response to your review, and I'm interested in offering some comments. But I'd rather do so in a separate post/comment thread. This one has gotten so long I find it both ungainly, and wandering off (as threads often do) into various meta-discussions only tangentially related to the original subject. Let me know if you're willing to do that.

In the meantime, you might be interested in a post of mine on a different subject, the recent FUM sessions in Kenya and their continuing reverberations. It takes note of the New York YM delegates' reports on that session, and presents some perspectives of my own. You'll find it, under the heading "Wrestling With A Roomfulof Elephants," at:

12:03 AM, June 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Zach, I don't have reservations about the middle point. I have no reservations at all about having people of non-European descent in our Society.

As a matter of fact, I regularly attend, and give my concrete support to, the sessions of Great Plains Yearly Meeting (FUM), which is, so far as I know, the most polyethnic yearly meeting here in the continental U.S. Two of its five monthly meetings are predominantly native American, and its youth program has far more black and native American participants than white Anglo participants.

Great Plains Yearly Meeting is also very probably the most politically and theologically diverse yearly meeting in North America, with two meetings full of members whose unite with the Mid-America Yearly Meeting [EFI] cultural worldview, and two others full of people who lean to the leftward side of the FGC spectrum. And yet they work together, and love one another, and make real efforts to bridge the divides that challenge them.

So that's what I give my concrete support to, Zach. And what about you?

8:07 AM, June 05, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:40 PM, June 05, 2007  
Blogger Zach Alexander said...

Hi Marshall,
Let me hasten to clarify that I didn't mean to make it sound (though perhaps I did) that you have any problem with nonwhite Quakers! I was referring to a distinct issue - once you wrote something that seemed to indicate that you felt trying to *actively* attract racial minorities to Quakerism (as some in liberal Quakerism do) is misguided, and that the ethnic composition of Quakerism shouldn't be seen as a problem in need of a solution.

3:41 PM, June 05, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:01 AM, June 06, 2007  
Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:03 AM, June 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't been associated with the Friends tradition all that long, but the Friends tradition seems to be almost the only Christian tradition that has people so resolutely claiming to be going back to holding to its origins while, at the same time, trying to strip the tradition of everything related to Jesus Christ.

If you find a Lutheran, Episcopalian, or Presbyterian saying, "We need to get back to our roots," you will find someone who values the person of Jesus as presented in the Bible.

If George Fox came to the understanding that Jesus was his teacher who spoke to his condition, how could someone claim to follow the origins of Quakerism and deny Jesus' very existence in favor of Eastern philosophy?

Is liberal Quakerism reduced to a set of social issues that relate to a socialistic worldview? This is sad because moralism can't meet the need of the soul; law can't become gospel. We need what Jesus gives.

12:50 AM, July 24, 2007  

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