11 July 2019

A "conservative" call for actual love and actual truth

Clean and simple: Yearly Meeting Web site (screenshot); source.
Hello from Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, where I'm attending the annual sessions of North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative). I've prepared an address for tomorrow evening's session, looking at this year's theme of "Retire to Quietness; Let the Light Shine."

This yearly meeting is one of three remaining yearly meetings of Conservative Friends in the USA. The others are Ohio Yearly Meeting and Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). If you're familiar with the Quaker world, you already know that Friends use the word "Conservative" to mark a movement among Friends that is distinct from the dominant divisions ("liberal," "orthodox," and "evangelical"  -- I acknowledge the inadequacy and flattening quality of all of these labels).

Conservative Quakers may or may not be politically conservative (most are not, I'd guess) but they often cherish certain aspects of historic Friends practice more consistently than other Friends might. Chief among these emphases is this combination: a deep commitment to unprogrammed "waiting" worship, a complete rejection of paid and settled pastors for their own congregations, and a Bible-centered style of piety -- although this last feature varies widely from place to place, and even among individual meetings in the same yearly meeting.

In addition, one of the most attractive features of Conservative Friends practice, in my opinion, is the the unhurried pace of business meetings, with approval of minutes after each item of business or after each small cluster of items. It has been at least twenty years since I was last at Ohio Yearly Meeting and I've never been at a business meeting in Iowa, so my generalizations may all be a bit stale, but I'm happy to report that this pacing is being practiced before my admiring eyes here at these sessions.

The Interim Discipline of North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) has a helpful and candid overview of these features as experienced in this particular community. A rather pessimistic overview of the Conservative movement among Friends, written ten years ago, can be found in this article by Bill Rushby.

I was never a member of a Conservative Friends meeting, but its culture and spirituality helped form me as a new Christian, through the influence of one remarkable Canadian Friend. My mentor for my earliest years as a Friend was Deborah Haight, a founder of Ottawa Friends Meeting, who was born and raised in the Conservative Friends community of Norwich, Ontario.

To be honest, I'm using the word "conservative" in the title of this week's blog post at least partly as bait. In the non-Quaker use of the term, "conservative" Christianity in the USA, especially in its white evangelical manifestations, often appears to have become thoroughly compromised in its enmeshment with right-wing politics. I propose, instead, that the more conservative your theology is, the more radical your practice ought to be. And this is the very moment in American history, when cruelty and corruption seem to be on the throne, when genuinely conservative Christianity ought to rise up in confrontation with the forces of "the father of lies" (John 8:44, context).

Here's what I'm baiting you to read. It's both a sample of Conservative Quaker rhetoric, and an exhortation to the nation. Arguably, it's an exhortation to those Christians who typically claim to be conservative. It dates back to last summer, having been approved as an open letter by Ohio Yearly Meeting, but today was the first time I heard it -- in this morning's business session, where it was read along with Ohio Yearly Meeting's 2018 epistle to North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative):
A Christian Call from Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative)

We are Christian Friends (Quakers) from various walks of life, political persuasions, ages, and backgrounds. We share both a desire to obey the Lord and a growing concern that our nation bring itself to the path of righteousness and mercy that Jesus taught.

Again and again, Christ calls us to love. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:5, Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30-31). When we are Christians, this is not optional. If our hearts are full of love, there is no room for fear, because “perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) Being blessed with God’s abundant love, we should be keeping families together, be welcoming to the strangers, and show compassion to those in need. We should see the best in each other regardless of political affiliation.

We know that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14) And who is our neighbor? Jesus’ answer is the parable of the good Samaritan. Only the Samaritan shows mercy to the beaten man. Only the Samaritan is a true neighbor in the eyes of the Lord (Luke 10:35-37). Today, are we acting the part of the priest and the Levite, or of the Samaritan? Is each of us willing to be a good Samaritan only to those who are like us, or who like us, or whom we like?

We are to follow Him who is the Truth (John 14:6). In an era of confusion between falsehood and truth, we risk leaving Christ's side when we listen to only what pleases us. (2 Timothy 4:3-4) For the sake of Christ, it is worth investigating the truth, wherever it may lead. In the words of Isaac Penington (a 17th century Friend). “truth will not lose ground by being tried.”

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Is that what we are showing the world? As Christians, we are called to live exemplary lives that glorify God (I Peter 2:13) Standing on the True Foundation, the Rock of Christ, let us return to His path, stand in the Light of Christ Jesus that reveals all things, and bears witness to our Lord above all – above party, above friends, above media, and above ourselves..

The Ohio Yearly Meeting Ministry and Oversight report to Ohio Yearly Meeting included the following statement. Friends united with the proposed statement and adopted it as amended. The statement is titled “A Christian Call from Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative). Friends also appointed a committee to consider means and methods of accomplishing distribution and publication. In addition, the statement has been appended to our Epistles, and Monthly Meetings are encouraged to distribute the statement locally to ministerial associations and similar bodies. [Source.]
I have no doubt that this Call needs to continue reaching new audiences.

[One week later I wrote about this yearly meeting's consideration of a call to support the Poor People's Campaign.]

Related posts:

Why it's hard for me to criticize Biblical literalists
Process discipleship
Good news or bad news?

Friends Committee on National Legislation: Rejecting cruelty as a policy solution.

Jonathan Trotter: The cure for my contempt (and yours, too).

Tomgram: William Astore on drowning in militarism.

Sean Guillory's fascinating interview with David Brandenberger on Stalin's famous/notorious Short Course. (Would you believe Stalin might have been a self-effacing editor?)

The evolution of the world map.

More Canadian content from Harpdog Brown...


Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Johan. Our business meetings in Iowa (Conservative) remain unrushed (a better description would be “slow, patient and prayerful”); I think you would probably approve.

There is a lot of political radicalism in the yearly meeting, of the secular-to-“spiritual” left-of-NPR variety, but less of the deeper radicalism that early Friends exemplified and I sense you hunger for. That deeper radicalism has to be taught and nurtured over a fair length of time, and although Iowa continues to have adherents to such a radicalism, it has lacked people willing to articulate it meeting after meeting, let alone people capable of drawing large numbers of others into it, in recent decades. Still, the Teacher in the heart and conscience remains at work, and I do not despair of His ability to restore what needs restoring.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Marshall. As I look within myself, I can confess going through times of impatience, but when I go deeper, I also "do not despair."