11 January 2024

"...The People, called in Scorn, QUAKERS": part two

Robert Barclay, source.  

"When speaking with non-Quakers, I find it more exact to say I’m a Quaker. Among other Quakers I prefer Friend to reinforce to each other our relationship with Jesus and each other."

Survey respondent, explaining the occasions or contexts which determine whether they choose the term Quaker or Friend.

Last week I noted the powerful content of both terms among the early Quakers. The "scorn" they met with in the larger society when labeled Quakers, especially among the religious polemicists who opposed them, was an important differentiator. It was almost guaranteed to bring them the public attention they urgently wanted so that they could proclaim and demonstrate their revolutionary message.

As I said last week, the more I read, the more I got the impression those early Friends did not often use the term Friends as a public label. But it wasn't really a private label, either. Instead, it was used much more literally as an affectionate term of address within the community.

This aspect of the term may not have entirely disappeared. When I'm writing to a meeting or church or committee, I find that I almost always write "Dear Friends." I don't think I've ever written "Dear Quakers" in that context.

This week I'd like to sample some of the other responses to the survey. But before I do that, I'd like to say something about the state of the world we're in today, in comparison to which these questions about what we call ourselves may seem narrowly sectarian and scandalously trivial. You know as well as I that innocent civilians are being killed and maimed, and their homes are being destroyed, this very day, and you know where. You hear the outrageously bland and lying explanations from the leaders that command these crimes. Your tax money may have paid for some of the munitions.

Whatever we call ourselves, what might be our response? Should we be crowding the prisons with our civil disobedience, should we accompany with our own bodies those who are being bombed, should we stop paying taxes? All of these have parallels among early Quakers. At the very very least, should we not be telling the Judge Gervases of our time to "tremble at the word of God"?

Let's remember whom we might be addressing. The state of Israel claims to be the haven and guardian of the legacy left by the biblical People of God. Part of that legacy is a rich ethical heritage, summed up by the promise to Abraham that his descendents will bless all the peoples of the world.

The state of Russia claims to be the last line of defense for Christian civilization. Before it became a compliant government chaplaincy, the ancient Russian Orthodox Church differentiated itself from western Christianity by its so-called capacity for mercy

In both cases, the leaders ought to be made to tremble, and many of their people will have to answer for their meek conformity. (Do some of us also fit this description?)

So, we ourselves ought to be quaking, and warning others to quake at the word of God—while seeking with passion and creativity to make actual contact with those we want to reach instead of just self-indulgently preaching to the wind.

Now, what about that word that early Quakers loaded with so much affection: Friend? It seems to me that the more people we can evangelize and bring into loving communities of Friends, the fewer will remain to conduct war. I'm not joking: each new person who experiences the power of God to form communities that do not depend on coercion, wealth, or social distinction, but on God's grace, is one person closer to tipping the balance. Our affection for each other is an internal and an external witness: there is another way to live. 

We Quakers are of course far from being the only Christians who have a heritage of nonviolence and mutual love. It's not a competition—as in the days of the New Call to Peacemaking, let's encourage and support each other. Let's keep building ties to other faith communities who are also refusing to support governments and cultures dependent on violence. The affection represented by the word "friend" does not depend on whether we capitalize it.

As I showed last week, almost three-quarters of the survey respondents said they use both terms, Friend and Quaker. Here's how some responded to the follow-up question about what occasions or contexts their choice depends upon. Most of these responses (as well as the ones I didn't quote) seem to be in broad agreement.

I prefer “Friend” if it will be understood by everyone being spoken to. “Quaker” if that is clearer because some people might not recognize “Friend” as an address.

I use them relatively interchangeably. Personally, I would probably lean towards "Quaker" because I think it's more distinctive. In Evangelical Friends contexts (where I currently am most of the time) I will mix in "Friend" more since that a part of the official idiom, but I am still comfortable using "Quaker."

I use Friends in the description of my church and when pressed to ask what that means I say we are a Quaker church, because there is some knowledge of what that means but most people I have encountered are not aware of what "Friends" means as a denomination or movement.

Who I’m speaking to—Quaker has more ‘brand recognition’ for people who may not know much about us; Friend is friendlier to people I know are fFriends! (unless it’s being used as a form of admonishment!). (Notice the double fF—I've seen others use a similar device.) 

Both are interchangeable for me, but I'm more likely to use 'Friend' with people that are more Christ-centered theologically and 'Quaker' with Liberals.

On the blog post itself, Kevin Camp commented as follows:

The term "Friend" seems convivial and affectionate to me. I've applied it to others with whom I regularly worship and have fond feelings. Most people I have encountered outside of the Society of Friends know us as "Quakers" first and foremost. 

I don't prefer one over the other. Sometimes I use them interchangably.

I asked whether respondents used church or meeting in referring to their current congregation. Almost 62% said meeting and 23.5% said both; it depends. (Note: I'm dividing up 34 respondents in total for this question, so I can't claim scientific precision among all English-speaking Friends!) About 12% said church. Some of the reasons for their choices seem parallel to the responses for the Quaker/Friend choices. Examples of the responses:

Church: I'd like to use "meeting" more instead of "church," but I think this could just be weird and counterproductive to most of my fellow congregants.

Church: I prefer "church" because it marks us as a Christian body and is less sectarian.

Meeting: The word "meeting covers so many things, I do not know where to start: the act of meeting God; the act of meeting Friends; the collection of people who make up a meeting; the session in which worship takes place; the session in which business is conducted; etc. I suppose the words "congregation" or "assembly" could be used in some of these ways, but they come to mind less often.

This same Friend made another interesting observation in the "here's a place to comment..." section of the survey:

The individuals in my conservative meeting who at least part of the time use the word "church" are people whose families have been Friends for hundreds of years and tend to see the meeting as another religious group such as the Methodists or Baptists. Those who have made a break with other denominations are more consistent in saying "meeting".

Meeting: Church carries too much negative baggage for many people (in UK).

It depends: I generally say "my Quaker Meeting" when speaking about something where the phrase "my church" would be appropriate. I learned not to say just "my meeting" when I found out that a co-worker thought I was a very open alcoholic talking about my AA meeting!

It depends: I attend both Friends churches and Quaker meetings. But for me personally the word 'Church' refers to the congregation and not the church building.

There were several other interesting mini-essays that I plan to quote next week, but my main focus in part three will be responses from people who are not now Friends.

If you would like a spreadsheet with all the questions and responses (slightly anonymized where needed), write to me at johan@canyoubelieve.me.

Last week I linked to an article on the New Apostolic Reformation. Martin Kelley commented with another link to illustrate that "some of the New Apostolic folks have this bizzarro obsession with William Penn and use him to justify their Christian nationalism." Here's the link he provided: www.motherjones.com/politics/2023/08/abby-abildness-lobbyist/.

This brought back memories of the Bicentennial Conference on Religious Liberty, held in April 1976 at Arch Street Meetinghouse in Philadelphia. I had come down from Ottawa to serve on the Friendly Presence nonviolent security team for the conference. One of the security factors we were briefed on was the presence of the famous fundamentalist leader Rev. Carl McIntire and his supporters, who planned to (and did) picket this conference. Part of their message was that modern Quakers had betrayed the spiritual legacy of William Penn.

Alireza Doostdar on witnessing genocide—and specifically the self-giving of journalists.

It is difficult to square this hopeless situation with the radical hope required to continue the deadly work of journalism in an unfolding genocide. There is an excess, a surplus, in the hopefulness and urgency of Dahdouh and his colleagues’ daily reporting that cannot be explained through our ordinary secular sensibilities. The only way to account for this surplus, I think, is through faith: the journalists’ conviction that even if their witnessing does not stop the war, even if it does not end the genocide, even if it does not liberate Palestine, it is worth doing—on pain of death—as an act of shahāda, truthful witnessing before God and humanity.

And Joshua Frank on making Gaza unliveable.

When someone reports experiencing abusive religion, here's what not to say.

Elder chaplain Greg Morgan encounters loneliness, and responds.

On the way to movie screens, a "less mean" Mean Girls—and critics have mixed reactions. (There's a potential plot spoiler in this BBC article.) Back in 2007, as I reported here, I showed the first Mean Girls film to my American studies class in Elektrostal, Russia, observing that the campus depicted in the film was based on my own high school. After we viewed the film, we listed all the features of high school life that they saw in the film, and then in a second column, features of their own high school experiences. It was interesting that there were more similarities than differences.

Speaking of being scorned, here is a meditation on "I've Been Buked and I've Been Scorned (You're Going to Need Somebody on your Bond)." The audio-only YouTube link at the end of the article is also below, featuring Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Big Joe Williams, and Jimmy Bond.

"Yeah, you're going to need him."

No comments: