11 January 2018

Unvarnished Quakerism (comments needed)

This is the second Thursday in a row when I've felt completely floored by something coming out of the U.S. White House. I'll save my few comments for the link section below.

Our Quaker church, Eugene Friends Church, has been remodeling its Web site. We'd like to add a section of basic information about Friends, and I was asked to draft something for discussion for that purpose.

Several other Friends meetings and churches have put together Web-based resources for similar purposes, but I thought I'd try to start from scratch. If you know of a site that you particularly like, please let me know in the comments -- at the very least we might link to it.

I especially welcome comments on the draft I've pasted in below. Just to set some context, here are the principles I tried to observe:
  • minimum of Quakerese
  • undefensive about diversity while reflecting the strong Christian commitment of our church
  • low-key tone
  • not assuming the reader is an intellectual; friendly to diverse temperaments
  • not repeating points already well made on the site
  • not pretending to be encyclopedic (but what crucial elements have I left out?)
  • reasonably up-front about our ideals without pretending we're perfect
In addition to missing topics, how could this presentation be improved? Don't worry, it won't be published without local testing as well! I'd really love to hear from people who are not Friends already, who don't have an emotional investment in our typical ways of describing ourselves.

Here's the draft so far:

Exploring the world of Friends

Are "Friends" and "Quakers" the same thing?

Yes. The term "Quakers" started out 350 years ago as a nickname for Friends -- at first it was a sarcastic tag, then Friends adopted it and have used it ever since. Historical background (scroll down to section VIII).

Are Friends Christian?

Yes. Friends began as a reform movement among British Protestants in the mid-1600's. We rejected the established churches' ceremonialism, enmeshment with government, and reliance on priests as intermediaries, and proclaimed that "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Historical background.

OK, but are all Friends Christian?

There's nobody at the top of the Friends movement to enforce theological conformity. As with all non-authoritarian religious movements, we have our liberals and our fundamentalists, and everything in between. Eugene Friends come from the evangelical Christian community of Quakers; we're decidedly Christian, enjoy exploring what that means for ourselves and our community, and are not manic about imposing exact definitions. More context.

What roles do Quaker women have in leadership?

Leadership is based on spiritual gifts, not social categories. From the very beginning of the Quaker movement, women have participated in leadership, including the role of minister. In past times, this principle of total equality was not honored as diligently as we'd like, but today it's our intention to maintain and practice this central teaching of Friends. Historical/biblical background.

You say "there's nobody at the top" -- so who provides leadership for a Quaker congregation?

We envision the Friends church as people who have gathered together with Jesus at the center. We are learning what it means as individuals, families, and church to live with Jesus at the center, and helping each other to learn how to live this way. Pastors help us by coordinating our work, teaching and preaching, and providing ways for the church to be open to the wider community. Elders keep a watch on the emerging gifts of the people, work with the pastor to see what pastoral care and encouragement the people need, and help set priorities for the growth of the church. The presiding and recording clerks serve the church by chairing the meetings for business (where the church as an organization is governed) and recording the decisions. More context.

Among Friends, what's the difference between a "minister" and a "pastor"?

We Friends are not much for rigid distinctions! In general, we don't distinguish between "laity" and "clergy," so in a sense, we are all ministers. Most Friends churches have one or more pastors, who have particular responsibilities to coordinate worship services, arrange for pastoral care, and represent the church in the wider community. (Specific responsibilities are determined by individual Friends churches.) Friends whose spiritual gifts are reflected in various forms of public ministry may become recognized by their churches as "recorded ministers." More context. Even more context.

Where does the Bible fit in?

The Bible has a central role in our discipleship and discernment. Most Friends agree with early Quaker theologian Robert Barclay that the Bible is "the only fit outward judge of controversies among Christians; and that whatsoever doctrine is contrary unto their testimony may therefore justly be rejected as false." In general, Friends cherish and study the Bible but do not indulge in hot controversies over literal interpretation. Historical background.

Do I have to be a pacifist to be a Friend?

Through the centuries, almost every official body of Friends has taught that we are to reject war and has encouraged conscientious objection to military service. However, we can't claim that all Friends have always observed this teaching. As with all Friends teachings, it would be important for you to study the Friends doctrine of nonviolence and its biblical context before you decide whether or not you can agree 100%. You don't have to consider this alone; pastors and elders stand ready to help you think through whether this or any other feature of Friends faith and practice is a real impediment to your wholehearted participation with Friends. Historical expression.

What are the "testimonies"?

"Testimonies" is Quaker language for the ethical principles and practices of Christian discipleship that we hold dear. It's an important part of what we've learned about living with Jesus at the center. 
  • We choose leaders based on their spiritual gifts, not social status or other irrelevant criteria
  • we make decisions together as a praying community; each member has a voice, and decisions require substantial unity
  • we live simply, avoiding waste, luxury, and vanity
  • we uphold nonviolence in our personal lives and as citizens
  • all people are made in the image and likeness of God; we oppose discrimination of any kind.
These principles are listed in various ways by different Friends churches, but almost all such lists include features very similar to this summary. Example.

Where can I find out more about Friends?

Eugene residents and visitors: please come visit us in our natural habitat (Sunday worship) or contact us to meet our pastor or an elder or to borrow from our library.
There are many online resources to learn more about the Friends movement. The QuakerSpeak videos are one such resource. For example:
Each QuakerSpeak video has discussion questions and a transcript. Not every member of Eugene Friends Church would agree with every nuance of these videos. As you have probably already noticed, we Friends don't put much effort into pretending we're all alike.

Friends World Committee for Consultation is an organization that keeps Friends all over the world in touch with each other. Browse the links for the regional sections of FWCC in Europe and the Middle East, the Americas, Africa, and Asia and the West Pacific.

Ready to plunge into some foundational Quaker writings? Here are some links to get you started:

Robert Barclay, Apology for the True Christian Divinity (1678)
Margaret Fell, Six Epistles; Women's Speaking Justified
George Fox, Selected Epistles; Journal, vol. 1; Journal, vol. 2

How Norwegians seem to feel about Donald
Trump's comparison of immigrants' homelands.
Around midafternoon I opened my browser to Twitter, and was surprised to see Norway on the very top of the "trending" list, having reached 115,000 mentions. Naturally, being Norwegian-born, I was curious, but my curiosity soon turned to shock. I was soon directed to this explanation:

Trump derides protection for immigrants from 'shithole' countries

Since there are more Norwegian-Americans than there are Norwegians, having come here from the old country by the boatload back when Norway was an impoverished country, I could not find any possible way to interpret this bizarre commentary other than toxic ignorance and racism.

Equally distressing was another much-tweeted analysis that said White House staffers were not concerned about the backlash from Trump's comment -- it will play well with his base.

This, dear evangelicals, is our "dream President."

Among the many sarcastic and vitriolic responses to Trump's idiocy (often pointing out why Norwegians might not now be flocking to the USA), there was a breath of sanity from James Martin, SJ, editor at large with America. He said,
"Why are we having all these people from sh#*hole countries come here?"
1) They are our brothers and sisters in need.
2) They are often fleeing war, violence or famine.
3) There are children among them.
4) It's the right thing to do.
5) That's who we are.
Shortly afterwards, he added:

The other evangelicals. ("There are more of them than you think.")

Martin Marty begins a new year of commentary.

My denominational-bureaucrat nerves were creatively jangled by Christy Thomas, writing on why the United Methodist Church might need a barbarian like Donald Trump.

Restoring perspective: Scientists are rethinking the very nature of space and time. (Thanks to 3QuarksDaily for the link.)

Just in time to help me recover a bit from s#*holes, a newer version of Buddy Guy's autobiographical song, "Skin Deep."


Tom Smith said...

Johan, In general I found this a good "non-technical" summary. One slight "addition" might be to the "Inward Christ" (Spirit of Christ) that is looked to as the source of "unity" in business. This may help some persons who hear of "consensus" as unity, but there is more than that. Also this may assist in looking at the Bible in the Light of Christ.

On another topic, I don't know if your "feed" was the same as mine on the "Space-Time" article, but in mine the article immediately following that piece (which didn't say much about what "quantum entanglement" actually is) was about Norway haven't reached a milestone in changing vehicular energy. Maybe we do need to have more "immigration" from Norway in the form of ideas.


Tom Smith said...

Sorry about that: "haven't" should read "having" in the next to last sentence

Bill Samuel said...

I thought your draft on Quakers was a good effort. I do have a question on the Bible part. You quote Barclay in a way that I feel is misleading, since there is no hint of his words that they are not the principal ground of Truth nor the adequate primary rule of faith. Now it is possible that Eugene Friends, coming out of the evangelical tradition, are not so comfortable with that strong point in Barclay as with the point you quote. But in what you write, the wording seems to imply you are trying to write for Friends in general, not just a particular wing of it. And I believe it is misleading if this is the impression given, and I also believe it is unfair to Barclay. What you omit is somewhat central to the particular perspective of Friends, in contrast to other Christian groups.

Johan Maurer said...

Tom and Bill -- many thanks to both of you. I will include your comments as we review the draft with other Friends here in Eugene.

Concerning "quantum entanglement" ... I just spent a half hour chasing down better introductions to the subject. I'm just not qualified to evaluate them! I agree that the article I linked to is not very complete, but it did serve to take my mind off the horror show of U.S. politics at the moment.

Norway hopes to reduce sales of internal combustion cars to zero percent by 2025. As a proud Norwegian, I much prefer this reference to the thousands generated by DT's remarks about desirable immigrants.

Jay T. said...

Perhaps you'd like to include a link to the other Friends meeting in Eugene. Perhaps not.

My inklings about the testimonies is that they are found inductively by noticing common themes in how we live our lives under Christ's leading. This contrasts with the way they're often spoken of, as principles or values arrived at through intellectual processes.

Eugene Friends may have a different understanding of testimonies from me. I'm not Evangelical, but have many Orthodox understandings.

Anonymous said...

If I were trying to decide whether to visit Eugene Friends, I might get frustrated at the "testimonies" section - because it lists many general things that all Christian churches also list. And the devil is in the detail here.

I would be looking for a little bit more meat here. This is the section that I would expect specific behaviors practiced to be listed. How is your non-violence evident to the community around you? How is your equality, your rejection of discrimination shown? On and on.

A personal example of what I'm saying: I once went to sample an Evangelical Quaker church that said in generalities that they do not discriminate. They even talked about the equal treatment of women in their literature. Yet once I visited and quizzed the minister, it became obvious that the equal treatment did not include gay people. So, I had went away with a negative impression. I've since learned that there are many Evangelical Quaker churches that can't imagine Jesus (if he was alive in our time) discriminating against gay people in any way. So they follow suit, even hosting gay marriages. This particular issue was important to me due to gay family members and Friends who are wonderful Christians. And it hurts me how other Christians persecute them.

My point is that generalities are fine. But where you know people will be wanting specifics - you should supply them. Maybe I missed something listed somewhere.

Johan Maurer said...

Thanks for commenting on the "testimonies" section. I'll be sure this comment is taken into account.

One of my guidelines was not repeating things that are already covered elsewhere on the site, but your ideas make me think that when we have examples (such as the policy on equality of sexual orientations, and low-income housing involvements in Eugene and Mexico), maybe we should link to those examples.

Unknown said...

I didn't understand this statement "In general, Friends cherish and study the Bible but do not indulge in hot controversies over literal interpretation." Since we have yearly meetings tearing themselves apart over interpretation of the Bible, I'm wondering if you mean something different?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nudge. Seek out those in the Meeting who came to Friends as adults. What was their experience? Reflecting on my own ... Keep It Simple, and, Stick To The Basics. "Who/What are Friends/Quakers?" (first question. Use scriptural citation for 'Friends' and then only use 'Quakers' when necessary).
"Are Friends Christian?" (yes, but; use scriptural citations to define Friends distinctiveness).
[eliminate - 'OK, but are all Friends Christian' - Your Meeting is, and learning about the others comes later]
"Who's In Charge" (a brief discussion of authority which becomes the basis for the distinction between Minister [we are all ministers - cite Spiritual Gifts] and Pastor [more on Spiritual Gifts - from God to the Meeting], and role of women.
"Where Does the Bible Fit In?" Many of those who formed the Religious Society of Friends had copied the Bible by hand when it was illegal. It is not so much what the Bible says, as what reading it does to us. NOT the Word-of-God (that's Jesus). Role of Spirit, which continues, daily reading is strongly encouraged.
"What are Testimonies?" Eliminate 'quaker' reference - we use it but do not own the copyright.
"Do I have to be a pacifist to be a Friend?" Discuss role of Testimonies in Life of Meeting [these are community truths that individuals may not be able to abide by (i.e., use of Tobacco)]
"Where can I find out more about Friends?" Excellent!

Johan Maurer said...

Great comments, Unknown and Anonymous! I'm encouraged by this whole series so far....

Marshall Massey said...

Johan, it took me an extra couple of nudges from you before deciding to offer a comment here. So thank you, not just for the nudge, but for your persistence.

I sense in your words on “Friends” vs “Quakers”, and on Friends and Christianity and the Bible, and on the testimonies, a bit of dodginess that I am not sure Christ would approve of. The fact is, as we both know, that the overall Friends world is deeply divided on the second of those issues, and the division shows in how different members fall out on the first one. The fact is, too, that many Friends would feel very uncomfortable by the way your article suggests that its list of testimonies is, basically, representative of the testimonies all branches of Quakerism support. (I am personally sorry that there is no mention of any sort of environmental testimony on your list, and I know many others would be saddened by that too. And I see, on the left, a growing testimony on sweeping inclusiveness, which many on the right might be uncomfortable with since their own concern is more about faithfulness. It’s Troeltsch’s old church-sect distinction, which just never seems to go away, and all christian communities have to make decisions on where they sit sooner or later.)

These problems might be mostly resolvable by deciding, and then saying up front, that what you are speaking for is not the views of all Friends but the understanding of Quakerism held by your particular faith community. That frees you to be more forthright, and I believe that would be a healthy thing.

And getting back to what Christ would approve of: he had a gospel to convey, which was the heart of his own faith, and he commanded his disciples to preach it too. He might well be hoping that you will be following through. I don’t think it is necessary to preach a gospel in this particular essay, since that is not its purpose; but if a gospel, any gospel, is any large part of what you are as Friends, that fact needs a mention.

Johan Maurer said...

Many thanks, Marshall! I'm putting all these comments into the hands of the ultimate editors.

By the way, what do you-all think about the related resources made available on the North Valley Friends Church Web site? Should we link?

Marshall Massey said...

Should you link? I think that needs to be your community’s decision, based on your own sense of your own identity. How closely do you want your identity linked with theirs? If they change the essays they have posted, will you be passive or active? — how will you handle it?

RantWoman said...

Friend Marshall speaks my mind about making clear that the perspectives on your site reflect your particular community's understanding of the Divine, response to Divine call. (choose your phrasing.) I agree it would be nice to find some thing bout care of creation that your church unites with but in general making clear that this site reflects your Light also liberates you from having to cover everything other Friends might feel called to highlight.