16 July 2015

Quakers' best-fit market

I've always resisted the idea that Friends faith and practice are for special people. Since we welcome anyone who yearns to live with Jesus at the center of the community and learn with the rest of us how to live that way (including its ethical consequences), there is no limit on what "kinds" of people -- sophisticated or unsophisticated (who's to say!?), calm or emotional, of whatever race or nation or culture or even religion -- could potentially feel at home among us.

But I also like the challenge of marketing, or to put it another way, the challenge of communicating our welcome and making sure that there is actual fair access to our community. Ethical marketing communicates its invitations in the form of honest presentations of the host community's deepest values in ways that help those who find those values attractive to try out our community. Creativity in marketing involves making those values shine in the midst of the world's noise, but it never involves pretending something that isn't true. Why set our audience up for disillusionment or regret -- and furthermore, wasting our valuable time and resources to do so?

Furthermore, the marketing process -- if it is to be truly ethical -- also involves self-examination, to see whether we actually hold and manifest the values we claim. Are we making promises that we can't fulfill? On the other hand, does our marketing mainly consist of "mating calls" designed to attract only those already just like us in social/cultural/ethnic terms, or are we genuinely accessible to all who identify with our values and seek a trustworthy community that practices them? Are we centered on Jesus, or are we simply parroting someone else's scripts? Do we treat each other peacefully, and deal peacefully and honestly with those who disagree with us, or do we gossip and mock with the rest of the world? (In the USA, how do we treat the visitor who dresses up -- or down -- for church, or who clearly doesn't share the majority's politics?) Do we truly govern ourselves through the Holy Spirit's leading, learned through prayer-driven group discernment, or does persuasive offstage politicking play a role?

When conflict arises, do we fight fair, remembering that we love those we're in conflict with, and desire their well-being just as much as our own? Do we remember that not every conflict needs to be settled immediately, but must always be described honestly in terms that all would recognize? (Anything else is false witness.) Or is it easiest just to settle into the world's tired and boring old ways of polarization and false heroism?

My idealistic definition of church -- people who yearn to live with Jesus at the center of the community -- could theoretically describe any Christian body, so ... what are the likely values that shape Quaker marketing? Here are my suggestions ... what would you add or subtract?
  • We love honesty and therefore take care not to exaggerate or slander.
  • We present the Gospel to all with honesty and urgency, hiding neither its challenge nor its loving invitation: "Repent and believe the good news!"
  • We also believe people should make sober and thoughtful faith decisions, therefore we avoid manipulation, theatricality, or pressure.
  • We cherish the Bible, and therefore treat it with integrity, rather than using it to proof-text for political advantage or ascribe to it magical powers that the Bible itself never claims.
  • We base our leadership on spiritual gifts rather than social status. We love to see the spiritual gifts of men, women, and children flourish, and to emerge in powerful service to the community.
  • We know that the dialogue between faithful liberals and faithful conservatives, while sometimes contentious, is a precious resource for community discernment, and we will not cut it off, however attractive the prospect of a false peace might be. Likewise for the dialogue between generations.
  • Our worship services never marginalize the rank-and-file participant, and we ensure that there is space for the spirit of prophecy or interpretation to be expressed through anyone present.
  • We reject any principality or power that tries to tell us who our enemies are, or to prevent us from praying for our actual enemies.
  • We remember the difference between hosts and guests, and explain transparently how a newcomer can eventually move into the host role.
If you're reading this on your way to Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions starting this weekend, and you suspect that I have my own beloved community in mind, you might be right.

Benigno Sanchez-Eppler explains (video) why he worships with other kinds of Quakers.

Metropolitan Kallistos gives a candid and fascinating appreciation of Anthony Bloom: "...no other Orthodox has had that extent of influence on the popular level. Somehow his particular message spoke to people’s hearts." (Thanks to Jim Forest for the link.)

The most important thing that Benjamin L. Corey thinks we can learn from Christian agitator Bree Newsome.

Frederica Mathewes-Green considers the verse, "God desires all to be saved." (1 Timothy 2:4.) Do you agree with her that nowadays "God's mercy is emphasized to the near exclusion of any other characteristic"?

Speaking of mercy, journalist Natalia Antonova (reminding us that, by its very nature, mercy is not "deserved") advocates that mercy be shown to singer Iosif Kobzon.

Mercy may not be the central theme in Rick Estrin's "You Can't Come Back," one of the songs he and the Nightcats included in their too-short set at the Waterfront Blues Festival earlier this month. Toward the end you can see his rather hands-off approach to harp-playing.


Marshall Massey said...

Good definition of church, Friend, and good list of suggestions. For me, though, an important place must be given, in any sort of marketing, to a presentation of the ways in which Quaker practice is designed to make possible a life that is faithful to Jesus’s requirements. For apart from that important feature, there really is no reason for a person who yearns to live with Jesus at the center of community, to choose to be a Quaker. She or he might just as well choose to join some bigger worshiping community with easy programming and a better child-care program closer to home.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Marshall. You're right. One of the key reminders is the title many yearly meetings give to their books of discipline: Faith AND Practice. Ideally, we'd have the language to describe how we implement each of the values we hold dear. Otherwise, our peculiar practices just turn into folkways, or worse yet, just serve to feed our own conceit.

Among the examples that we could cite, and one that often holds true throughout the varieties of Friends, is the way presiding clerks serve the meeting for business.