Articles & News

Sad News from FUM

Friends United Meeting - Thu, 12/13/2018 - 10:44am

The global community of Friends United Meeting grieves the loss of DaleGraves, who died on December 10, 2018, eleven months after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Until January, 2018, Dale served as Interim Director of Belize Friends Ministries, an FUM field staff position. In this capacity, he gave tirelessly to fulfill God’s call on Friends to witness to the love of Jesus Christ among the Southside community of Belize City. He was instrumental in helping FUM reach clarity on that call, and led the work of finding, buying, and rehabilitating a new facility in which to house a burgeoning ministry.

Dale and his wife, Sylvia Graves, are beloved by Friends from around the world, who experienced their humble and generous gifts of service over many years. Eden Grace, FUM’s Global Ministries Director, shared these thoughts:

“Each morning in Belize, Dale would rise before the sun and set out on a jog along the seashore. This morning routine was not only a time for physical exercise, it was a time for spiritual sight, in which he attuned himself to the beauty and wonder of his surroundings. Many mornings, he would return from his run to post a breathtakingly-beautiful sunrise photograph on Facebook as testimony to the glory of God and the gift of a new day. Dale’s collection of sunrise photographs have served as many things for me – background images for powerpoint presentations, memes, and screen savers – but also as visual reminders of the wonder and joy of each moment in each day, in all things vast and minute. Dale’s unique combination of good cheer, hard work, and spiritual perception have left an indelible mark on countless people, and he will be dearly missed.”

A service of thanksgiving for the life of Dale Graves will be held on January 5, 2019. Details will be shared as they become available.

Categories: Articles & News

Religious Leaders Arrested at the Border

American Friends Service Committee - Mon, 12/10/2018 - 4:17pm
Faith leaders and Border Patrol

Hundreds of faith leaders face Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego as part of AFSC's week of action Love Knows No Borders: A moral call for migrant justice. 

Copyright: AFSC
Categories: Articles & News

New Director of Belize City Friends Center Called

Friends United Meeting - Mon, 12/03/2018 - 12:51am

Friends United Meeting has called Nikki Holland to fill the position of Director of Belize Friends Ministries! This full-time, long-term field staff position will have primary management responsibility for coordinating all of FUM’s work in Belize, including supervising the staff, managing the facilities, developing donor relationships and coordinating with the FUM headquarters in Richmond, Indiana, USA.

Three years ago, Friends United Meeting committed itself to pursue a significant expansion of its ministries in Belize. Building on more than twenty years of success in operating a small non-traditional school for at-risk inner-city youth in Belize City, FUM is now working to:

  1. Gather a worshipping body of Friends in Belize through incarnational and relational evangelism in the Southside neighborhood of Belize City
  2. Grow the Belize Friends School to serve more young people, to offer primary-level education to adults, and to provide pastoral counseling to students and families
  3. Facilitate the Southside community’s transformation from a place of hopelessness and violence to a place of hope and peace through multiple ministry initiatives, beginning with the re-launch of the Alternatives to Violence Project in Belize
  4. Identify and develop suitable facilities to house the expanded Friends work in Belize

As the Director of the Belize City Friends Center, Nikki will lead the staff team: the school Principal, teachers, administrative assistant, Pastoral Minister, and other staff and volunteers. She will participate actively in the ministries of FUM in Belize, serve as a member of the Belize Friends School Board, write grants and develop donors, manage the physical plant, and host Living Letters visitors and volunteers. Nikki will also work with the FUM Communications and Global Ministries staff teams to share compelling stories of what God is doing in Belize, cultivate relationships with government and non-governmental entities in Belize, and build networks among the various stakeholders in the Southside neighborhood, and, as way opens, build relationships among the wider Friends community in the Caribbean region.

Nikki is a member of The New Association of Friends and has spent the last four years living in Mexico. During this time, in addition to raising a family and working, she has been part of starting a Quaker worship group; has been studying for an M.Div at Earlham School of Religion; and has been investigating potential solutions for problems with domestic violence that exist in her city.

Nikki writes, “Each of these activities has taught me about what kind of ministry I have been created to do. I am called to a ministry of spiritual hospitality. I am called to make space for people to rest and grow in the love of God. I believe that my calling is consistent with the role of Director of Belize City Friends Ministries.”

As a member of the FUM field staff, Nikki will work with the Global Ministries staff to raise prayer and financial support sufficient to sustain the ministry. Communications staff are already at work preparing her magnets, pledge cards, and more.

General Secretary Kelly Kellum says that Nikki brings a lot of energy and capacity to the work in Belize, and that “her teachable spirit will serve her well in a new cross-cultural environment and her experience in working internationally will greatly benefit the Friends Center. Most importantly, Nikki is enthusiastic about Jesus and about being a Friend.” In addition, Kelly says, “I’m certain that she will fit well within the FUM community and become the leader she is being called to be,” and he encourages the beloved community of Friends to support her with prayer and financial pledges.

About her sense of call, Nikki writes: “The work that I see happening in the Belize City Friends Center (BCFC) is about transforming difficult situations. It’s about offering second and third and fourth chances. It’s about believing in youth to live into their potential. BCFC makes space for young people to rest from turbulent pasts so that they can grow in a loving and encouraging environment. An inspiring team of people are doing this work in the same spirit that I see in the gospel work of bringing the Kingdom of God to this world.”

“Peace overcomes violence. Hope grows in frustrated circumstances. Love never fails—

“It is beautiful work and I feel honored and excited to have the opportunity to participate in it.”

Nikki, her husband, Brian, and their three boys, are hoping to make the move to Belize by July 1.

Belize Friends Ministries Mission Statement: Building on the existing Belize Friends School ministry, Friends United Meeting will engage in a holistic Christian Quaker ministry that is deeply grounded in the discernment of God’s direction in Belize. We seek to witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit through our witness, including worship, discipleship, education, leadership development, alternatives to violence, community building and economic empowerment.

Categories: Articles & News

Not One Quaker Experience but Many

Friends Journal - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 3:05am

 

The twelfth month, in which many Christians traditionally commemorate the Nativity, seems an especially poignant time to consider the relationship Quakers and the Religious Society of Friends have with Christianity today. When we began to plan for this issue, our team knew it was important to account for the wide breadth of Quaker perspectives on Christianity that Friends hold. I hope you’ll let us know how well we’ve succeeded. Our audience (you among them—thank you!) includes Friends but also many with other spiritual identities, for whom Friends Journal is a lighted window into Quaker faith and practices.

It has been an axiom of ours at _Friends Journal _that there is not one Quaker experience but many. Our continuing-revelation faith requires each of us to look to that of God in ourselves, act and testify as led by Spirit, and answer to that of God in others. Our Society has therefore evolved differently in different places, and it stretches to accommodate a wide range of thought and testimony. Our Quakerism encompasses many journeys. I’ll tell you a little bit about mine.

My parents came to Friends from the Catholic tradition. When I was a young boy in Anchorage, Alaska, they became convinced Quakers. There was little explicitly Christian content in the Quakerism I grew up with, but a rich contemplative and community spirit. Thinking back, I assumed the lack of traditional Christian content in my childhood religious education to be a product of my parents’ walking toward the mystical side of spiritual experience. Then I thought to myself, why rely on assumptions? I called my dad.

My dad, Bill, told me he was drawn, early on, to contemplative and mystical experiences. This fit within Catholicism as he knew it at the time—think of Meister Eckhart, who taught “All that God asks you most pressingly is to go out of yourself … and let God be God in you.” “When you enter the contemplative Christian realm,” Bill said, “the borders begin to blur, to blend, to mix.” When he encountered the feminist theologian Mary Daly and the Bible and Church hierarchy began to fade from importance, the mystical center remained, and he found a home for his seeking journey and a community with Quakers. And so the Quakerism my brothers and I absorbed from our parents was rooted in seeking that of God within, rather than in scripture.

Engagement with Christian Friends through programs like the Quaker Youth Pilgrimage and Friends World Committee gatherings has helped Bill (and likely many Friends like him) maintain an openness to Christian thought. Worshiping with those whose level of Christ-centeredness differs is an exercise in “faith translation” for Bill, but one that strengthens his own sense of community and God’s love.

I consider myself a Quaker and an aspiring follower of the teachings of Jesus. For me, existence is a learning experience enriched by contemplation, but even more so by encounter with other people, seeking out God in every one. On behalf of the dedicated staff and volunteers who put so much of ourselves and our own faith and curiosity into curating and crafting Friends Journal, I invite you to “read for Spirit” in these pieces, even if you find you disagree. And we hope you will visit us online at Friendsjournal.org, where we’ve published several more insightful perspectives from our vibrant community.

The post Not One Quaker Experience but Many appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

The Continuing Revelation of My Christianity

Friends Journal - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 3:00am

I’ve always identified as a Christian, but that identity has held very different meanings for me over the years. My father began taking me to an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church when I was in kindergarten. But even as I was “born again” as a rite of passage when I became a teenager, I never felt connected to what I was learning in Sunday School. Each week I would ask to not go to church with my father, and finally, when I was in high school, he acquiesced. I had been attending a Friends school throughout my childhood and had felt an affinity with Quaker values more strongly than I had with the AME church. When I was in eleventh grade, I attended the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference (QYLC), an annual gathering of Friends school teachers and students, and it made me realize that somewhere along the way, I had become Quaker. The QYLC was the first time I can remember explicitly learning the testimonies, and I recognized them as my own core values. I began attending meeting for worship with my friend’s mother and calling myself a Quaker. My Quaker identity remained a personal rather than religious identification for more than a decade.

Through my own clearness experience and my experience serving on clearness committees for others, I gained a deeper understanding of Quakerism as a Christian religion. Somewhere along the way, I read or was told that because Quakerism is a Christian religion, the expectation for Quakers is that we at least believe in the power and significance of the story of Jesus. I became comfortable answering the question of whether Quakers believed in Jesus as the Son of God with an explanation of how Quakers have diverse beliefs around Jesus because ours is not a dogmatic faith.

Five years ago I began working at a Catholic school as its director of social action. I was surprised by how similar Catholic thought about religion was to my own thought about Quakerism. My new colleagues referred to Catholicism as a religion grounded in peace and justice, which is how I think about the Religious Society of Friends. My role as director of social action centers on supporting the community in translating faith into action, which is also the focus of much of my Quaker committee work. Although I had been nervous about working at a school with a different faith from mine, what I found was that I was able to live my Quaker faith every day at work.

Because of the Catholic identity of my school, I have learned a great deal about what unites Christians. I have learned much more about the story of Jesus through my work than I ever have through Quaker forums. I have found that learning more of the details of the life of Jesus has deepened my Quaker faith. The more Bible stories I learn, the more the model of Jesus makes its way into my heart and my consciousness. I have become an associate, a lay partner in mission, of the Society of the Sacred Heart, the order of nuns that runs the network of schools to which my school belongs. Their mission is to bring more love into the world, and that is my mission as well. Similar to when I discovered Quakerism, Sacred Heart spirituality felt like a good fit for the values I already hold dear. I began to call myself not only a Quaker but also a Christian, as Jesus’s model became more central to my spirituality.

 

This summer I spent a month in Bethlehem with Holy Land Trust, whose website explains:

While Holy Land Trust is not a religious organization … we believe that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, Jesus Christ in his teachings, compassion and interactions “was an extremist for love, truth and goodness.”

I signed up for their Summer Encounter program because of my work with the Quaker Palestine Israel Network and was surprised to discover once in Bethlehem that four of the five other participants in my group were Wheaton College students whose evangelical Christian identity was extremely important to them. To bridge what seemed like a chasm between us, I initially shared a website about the biblical roots of Quakerism and focused on our shared Christianity. I was hoping that we would never have to explore how different my Christian faith was from theirs.

The author and Jean Zaru in Ramallah.

My greatest fear came true when we met Jean Zaru, the inspirational Quaker leader in Ramallah. In discussing our different takes on her remarks, I ended up being asked if I believed in an omnipotent God. To their horror, I answered that I don’t not believe in one. That led to the follow-up question of whether I believe in a trinitarian God, and they were even more horrified when I gave the same answer. They wondered how I considered myself a Christian if I did not share that basic foundation with them. I explained the centrality of Jesus’s model in my own life as I commit myself to bring more light and love into the world. One of the young men then asked how I understood love outside of the concept of a trinitarian God, to which another of them answered that I believed in a love with justice. That ended the conversation, because it made clear to everyone involved that we did, indeed, share at least that faith foundation.

My summer immersion among evangelical Christians reminded me of Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family,” which has the refrain “we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” I was a part of a group whose Christianity was about as different from mine as is possible, but we all felt that our faith called us, in the words of William Penn, to “try what love will do.” In her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett writes:

There is a value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to each other with dignity, without rushing to a common ground that would have all the hard questions hanging.

 

I’m grateful to have been in a loving community with people whose Christianity was so different from mine and yet who questioned the nature of my Christianity; it pushed me to become clear on what my Christian identity means to me and to embrace what that identity means to others.

The author with colleagues and nuns (including a cutout of St. Philippine Duchesne) at the Sacred Heart Spirituality Forum in 2017.

Based on my time with my new evangelical friends, I have committed to learning more about the Christian aspect of my faith. Through their recommendations, I have been reading C.S. Lewis’s books and listening to the evangelical podcast The World and Everything in It. I do not agree with everything I read or hear, but I certainly feel that the exploration of a more conservative Christianity opens rather than closes my mind. There are some ways in which my faith will always be distinct from that of people on the other end of the spectrum of Christianity, but there are times when the differences are meaningful and push me to think about things in new ways. For example, in a recent episode of The World and Everything in It, John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said: “One of the things I think is really important to realize is that if the Bible is inspired, it’s not just inspired in what it says, it’s inspired in how it chooses to say it to us.”

Although I may not think of the Bible as being divinely inspired in the same way that he does, I appreciate being pushed to consider whether I pick out the parts of it to use in my life that least challenge my worldview. And that is a question I never would have come to without hearing from Christians who approach the Bible differently from me.

Ever since my experience this summer, I have become more aware of how I describe Quakerism, taking care to explain not only my own unprogrammed experience of Quakerism but aiming to address the diversity with Quaker faith and practice. The diversity within Quakerism and the diversity within Christianity allow us additional windows into the Divine, if only we open our eyes. And at the end of the day, what I believe most strongly is a sentiment from British Orthodox rabbi Jonathan Sacks that is shared in Tippett’s Becoming Wise: “To be true to your faith is a blessing to others regardless of their faith.”

The post The Continuing Revelation of My Christianity appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Are We Really Christian?

Friends Journal - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 2:55am

The origins of Quakerism were the seventeenth century, a time when people were seeking to make sense of their faith in Christ. My grandparents from both sides were Quakers, as were my parents and most of my siblings.

When it comes to the question of whether we are Christians and real Christians, Quakers, like many other religious groups that profess Christianity, have both strengths and weaknesses. I believe that there is no Christian-professing group that is inerrant or totally righteous. All human beings, however good they are, sometime fall short of that goodness. So the question, “are we Christian or are we really Christian?,” can only be answered by each Quaker Christian person. Why so? To become a Christian is an individual choice. We can really become a Christian if as an individual we have been convicted to do so. There is a saying in my mother tongue which goes, Kumwoyo kukhubolela kwahila owakhusala, “Your heart will tell you better than the one who brought you in the world.” The choice of being a Christian emanates more from one’s heart than from being convinced by other people. The spirit from within is powerful to transform one’s thought, which in turn transforms one’s actions and words.

Are we Christian as Quakers? Yes and no

Yes, because many Quakers around the world have demonstrated the love and kindness that were and are reflected by our Lord Jesus Christ. Being a Christian means emulating the person and character of Jesus Christ. I believe in Scriptures as God’s living Word. They are the source of power and wisdom which we can apply in our daily lives. I believe Quakers have drawn a lot from Scriptures, especially the New Testament which is Christocentric in nature. That Christ is an embodiment of what he said and did (see the multiple “I am” statements of Jesus in the Book of John) has been reflected by many Quakers I have encountered or read about:

  • Just as Jesus sacrificed himself, left his abode in heaven, humbled himself, and incarnated into our human form to love and serve the world, many Friends have left their comfortable homes to go to far away, unknown worlds to love and serve the people of those worlds. Is this not Christian?
  • Many early Quakers suffered for being Christians, just as Christ suffered for being Christ. Even though much of the suffering that human Christians go through may not compare to those of Christ, it is still painful.
  • We are Christians because, even when we do not measure to being Christ-like, there is that of God in us. We still possess the Imago Dei, “the image of God.” It is not all lost in us because the grace of God is sufficiently available for us. There are always second chances for us to improve in our measure of Christianity.
  • We are Christian because deep down in our hearts, we have the desire to do good.
Ways in which we are not Christians

Many times Quakers have focused so much on the religiosity of Quakerism rather than its spirituality. Last year, attending some of the annual Quaker gatherings and worshiping in Quaker meetings at home, I realized that most Quakers would rather promote a Quaker identity than the spirituality rooted in the person and character of our Lord Jesus Christ. In their religiosity, they rely on their personal knowledge, feelings, and mind as the measure of truth rather than upon the inspired Scriptures and Holy Spirit for direction.

Many prophets of the Old Testament such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Jeremiah prophesied against religiosity in Israel. Chapters 1–39 of Isaiah speak about the consequences of complacency. Many Christians today, including Christian Friends, tolerate complacency and practice the opposite of love, peace, equality of all, justice, integrity, community, and simplicity—the very core values that should be reflecting in their lives. We need to revisit the foundation of our faith, and practice what is rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ, our Inward Light.

Walter Brueggemann, a minister and scholar in the United Church of Christ, challenges believers against complacency of faith in his article “Prophetic Imagination.” Those are the ones who imagine a world without God, or believe in a remote God who is not directly involved in the world, or a “pet” God who is preoccupied with one’s own well-being (along with the well-being of one’s nation, party, gender, or ideology). He says that such people take for granted images of God—liberal- and conservative-minded alike. Like prophets of old, do we have Quakers who, like Brueggemann points out, can confront the powers of our nations today and who see nations as the primary focus of God? The Old Testament prophets saw the world being turned upside down by powers that led them to exile and left their land devastated. It was the prophets’ task to help people imagine new ways of hope. Is this true for us Quaker Christians of today?

Many times our words and actions do not match our beliefs as Christians. Christ was the embodiment of his teaching and deeds. His words and actions matched who and what he was and what he did. When he said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), he demonstrated by giving sight to the blind; when he said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), he fed the hungry. These and many more verses in John are good examples for us Christians today to emulate if we would confidently claim to be of Christ. An important question to ask here is: when carrying out interventions in lives of the needy, what is our goal and our standard for action? Howard A. Snyder, in his article “Distinctiveness of Biblical Development,” says that God’s intention for the needy should be the goal and standard by which we help those in need.

There are still elements of discrimination among professing Quakers around the world. Discrimination manifests when dealing with those who are not like us. These are, for example, the people of other faiths or religions, especially those who do not profess Christianity; people of other races; the poor; people with disabilities; people with different social, political, and economic status. We are not like Christ because Christ died for all, and God loves the whole world, not just a part of the world (John 3:16).

Many times as Quakers, we are silent when we are supposed to speak out. Unless we are reluctant to speak or act for the voiceless—like the separation of families in America, women especially in African nations, modern slaves in countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya, Palestinians who are being murdered daily, the poor around the world, people with special needs, and many other voiceless at all levels of our relationships—we are not fit to be Christian. We need to speak out on behalf of the voiceless (Proverbs 31:8–9, Isaiah 1:17).

Being really Christian

We are really Christians if we love as Jesus loved, that is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving others as ourselves. For us to love God, we must be spiritual. God is Spirit (John 4:24), and so if we keep in step with the Spirit, our lives are marked by the Spirit’s fruit as in Galatians 5:22–23, which puts it clearly that there is no law that will condemn us anymore.

Does it matter that we are Christians?

Yes, it matters a lot that we are Christian because of the following:

  • Christ is alive!
  • We can remain relevant if we remain faithful to our Christian mission which gives us a prophetic mandate to carry out his love in the world.
  • We can make a difference in the lives of people.
  • We can overcome any temptation that comes our way. Jesus himself was tempted and overcame.
  • We have hope of everlasting life after this one. Jesus overcame death.
What does it even mean to be Christian in the world?

To be Christian in the world means we listen to Christ’s instructions not only with our ears but with our hearts too. We have to live as if we are not of this world because if we live comfortably in the world, we will love the world so much and treat God remotely or even imagine that God does not exist. It also means living each day as if it is the last day of our lives and keeping the kingdom priorities of entering a new earth that is without suffering, sorrow, and death. This way, we will always be reminded to act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8), knowing that our work will be shown for what it is because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work (1 Corinthians 3:13).

The post Are We Really Christian? appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Inward Power

Friends Journal - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 2:50am

© victor zastol’skiy

I’ll first mention a conversation I had with my son over Skype while he was working in Korea several years ago. He was attending a Presbyterian church with his landlord on Sundays (the only Quaker meeting in Korea is about 300 miles north, in Seoul), and had met a young woman who was a member of that church. He wanted to marry her, but in order to do so, he would have to become a member of the church. One evening (my time; it was morning for him) as we were talking, he asked, “Dad, have I ever been baptized?” Without thinking I blurted out, “Not with water you haven’t!” But I didn’t object when he decided to go forward with it. After all, the apostle Peter found a group that had been baptized with the Spirit while hearing ministry, and he baptized them (with water) almost as an afterthought (Acts 10:44–48). Does our Quaker witness to the inward baptism still make the point it once did? As with many of our testimonies, it is a witness which may have lost meaning, and therefore power.

There are those who hold that Quakers can’t be Christian because we don’t practice the ordinances, that is the rites that were considered to have been ordained by Scripture, in particular the rite of baptism (sprinkling) and of communion (the supper). The Quaker understanding has always been that baptism with water is a Jewish ritual and unnecessary, and in fact, we avoided it as a witness to the inner baptism, rather than the outward. We would use Scripture to explain our practice to outsiders (e.g. Mark 1:8 “I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”), while our own understanding was guided by the Spirit directing us to the inward experience that is found in worship.

Another case of a testimony that may have lost its meaning, or at least its power, is our testimony against oaths. When I worked doing abuse investigations for the county, I would often be required to testify in court. The bailiffs got to know me and recognized that I would not take an oath. (Once, in an adjacent county where I wasn’t known, a bailiff tried to force my hand onto the Bible.) I would explain to them, and anyone else who asked, the reason for this, both scripturally (Matthew 5:34, James 5:12) and rationally (i.e. an oath implies a double standard of truth). But if I have to explain the witness, it loses its power. It becomes a quaint peculiarity. Yet it did serve to remind me of my commitment to truthfulness in all things, maybe no longer a witness to others but still very useful.

 

Quakerism arose out of a time of political and religious turmoil in England. The Quaker movement was a reaction against the structure and practices of the church at the time. Friends considered the church of the day to have gotten away from true Christianity and become far too dependent on creeds and rituals, outward forms that came between the worshiper and the direct, inward experience of God. The testimonies were employed in what they called “The Lamb’s War” to confront the hypocrisy of the professors (those who professed Christ but did not possess inward knowledge of him).

I am a convinced Friend, and the first book I read on Quakerism was Friends for 300 Years _by Howard Brinton (now updated as _Friends for 350 Years). He considered Quakerism to be a third branch of Christianity, neither Catholic nor Protestant. The former places authority in church tradition as well as the Scripture, and both as interpreted by the hierarchy; the latter places authority in the Bible alone. (Luther proclaimed sola scriptura, “only scripture,” and is said to have thrown an inkwell at an appearance of Christ because such an appearance was not scriptural.) Quakers, on the other hand, place authority in the Holy Spirit as experienced in the gathered meeting. Rufus Jones made the same point:

Quakerism in spirit and ideal is neither a form of Roman Catholicism nor a form of Protestantism. Protestantism in its original, essential features called for an authoritative creed, specific sacraments, and an authentic form of ordination. Quakerism at its birth was a fresh attempt to recover the way of life revealed in the New Testament, to re-interpret and re-live it in this present world. Its founders intended to revive apostolic Christianity.

Early Quakers seemed to have taken for granted that Quakers are Christian, but what kind of Christian? They ranged from the orthodox tendency as reflected in George Fox’s 1671 ” Letter to the Governor of Barbados,” and a less doctrinaire understanding as was presented in William Penn’s Primitive Christianity Revived. In the last paragraph of Penn’s “Advice to his Children” from 1699, he equates the “Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth and wisdom” with the divine principle cited by pagan philosophers.

The canonical Christian scriptures include several understandings of the nature of Christ. In particular, there are those expressed in the letters of Paul, in the synoptic Gospels, and in the writings of John. The councils and creeds that plagued the early church bear witness to the church’s divisions and search for unity.

 

So which primitive Christianity do we revive? And what was it? Christian orthodoxy was established in the creeds and church practices (traditions which have become authoritative in the Catholic Church). William Penn seems to have overlooked the fact that even early Christianity—maybe especially early Christianity—was split by many different understandings. That was the reason the creeds were developed: to define the true Christians. To be fair to Penn, his knowledge of early Christianity was limited. The only knowledge that was had at the time of competing sects was seen through the eyes of the orthodox writers.

Friends have long eschewed a creed. Maybe we resist being pinned down as to what we believe, but I like to think that it is more that our faith cannot be put into words; God is transcendent and beyond words. Fundamentalist Christians take the stories of the Bible literally. But God can’t be spoken of directly, and we must speak in metaphor. So the Bible is full of metaphor, and we miss the point when we take these stories literally. Jesus spoke in parables in the synoptic Gospels; why don’t we recognize the same rhetorical technique in the rest of the Bible?

Our language is drawn from Scripture even where we don’t realize it. The very name “Friends” comes from John 15:14–15. The Bible was a source of inspiration, as well as of images used as shorthand, causing the reader to go inward for meaning. Take my favorite example: the reference in the Journal of George Fox to coming back through the flaming sword, an obvious reference to Genesis 3:22–24, and Fox’s way of telling us in as few words as possible, that he was in no need of baptism to wash away original sin. (Was he claiming perfection?) Unless one understands the story of the expulsion from the garden (and one doesn’t need to accept the story literally), one will fail to understand Fox’s message. It is when Friends were presenting arguments to other Christians that they used Scripture as proof texts for their arguments. This use is shown in the “Letter to Charles II” of 1660, which we now consider the seminal declaration of our peace testimony.

 

Rufus Jones was an Orthodox Maine Quaker who moved to the Philadelphia area and taught at Haverford College. Many consider it to be he who introduced the mystical strain into Quakerism (we have always been prophetic). Jones tried to show Quakerism as a development of mystical movements in continental Europe going back to Meister Eckhart and the fourteenth century. They were expressions of Christian mysticism, but as mysticism at its highest level goes beyond language and thought, the Christian language falls away. So Christian mysticism in Quakerism quickly becomes pure mysticism and may lose its Christian element.

But it is language with which we often have difficulty. Today the real issue is our language in vocal ministry. Just as political correctness is a concern in secular settings, among Friends the matter is one of theological correctness. Friends have many words for Christ: Holy Spirit, Seed, the Light (inward Light or Light within), the Inward Teacher, Guide, Divine Presence or Space, and Jesus are some that come to mind. All these names (except Jesus which refers to an actual personage) have the advantage of being gender neutral.

Some years back, I accompanied a woman, traveling in the ministry, at a meeting near my own. She spoke of the experience of Christ. After meeting, as they were having introductions, one member of the meeting addressed her directly and said, “We don’t use that kind of language in this meeting.” This kind of eldering stifles ministry. We lose the power of our ministry when we have to think ahead to guess the effect our words will have on the listener rather than whether they are coming through us from the Spirit. We need to feel free to speak the words as they are given to us.

Friends sometime say that the purpose of ministry is to bring the listener to Christ and leave him or her there. My companion was clearly not able to do that for at least one Friend. Yet I have to assume she was true to her Guide. We don’t know how others in the room may have been affected.

 

The language of Friends is replete with metaphors taken from Scripture. A prime example is the Light. For some of us the Light is rhetorical, and for some of us, it is experiential. Robert Barclay considered the gospel of John to be the Quaker gospel, and in John 1:9 he found the Quaker text: “That was true light, which enlightens everyone that comes into the world.” In chapter 3 of John the Light is expounded upon:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

Yes, the light exposes our faults, but it also enlightens us and heals us. When someone is sick or having difficulties, we hold them in the Light. But just as Christian mysticism becomes just mysticism (for good or ill) when it loses the language in which it is expressed, in the same way, our theology of the Light loses its connection with the Light of Christ, and the Light as it is expressed in the Gospel of John.

We proclaim continuing revelation as a core belief. It took 100 years for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to move from an acceptance of slavery to a denial of it. The aforementioned “Letter to the Governor of Barbados” includes a defense of slavery. By the 1800s North American Quakers were active in the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves to reach Canada. We continue to seek continuing revelation around issues of social justice (race, in particular, continues to be an issue for Philadelphia Friends) and same-sex marriage.

But we must always remember that continuing revelation implies that it is continuing from somewhere. Our roots are in Christianity, and whether we believe in the salvific power, or even the centrality, of Jesus Christ, we can’t avoid the roots out of which we grew. To cut off those roots is to deprive the Religious Society of Friends of power and life. Quakerism would become a dry intellectual exercise. To my mind, that would be a great loss. Without our Christian roots and the language that goes with it, we deny the power that that language gives us, and those who would cut themselves off from that language are missing a great deal.

 

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God, Jesus, Christianity, and Quakers

Friends Journal - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 2:45am

© Kevin Carden

As a nontheist Friend, I sometimes confront questions about my belief in God, my understanding of Jesus, and my relationship with Christianity. I welcome these questions and generally enjoy discussing these subjects.

I don’t have any difficulty answering the God question or affirming my belief in God, although I don’t believe in a God who is a being, who is involved in my life, who answers my prayers, who judges me upon death, or who offers me everlasting life.

Also, I don’t have any difficulty answering questions about Jesus as I understand Jesus to be a teacher, healer, and social activist in the great tradition of Hebrew prophets. Although I don’t see Jesus as divine, I do see him as an amazing inspiration for the basic tenets of his teaching, specifically his two commandments: to love God with all your heart, and to treat others as you would wish to be treated.

The second commandment is easy to understand though often hard to practice. It isn’t as easy to understand what commandment one involves, especially if you don’t conceive of God as a being. Still, it does have meaning for me as I conceive of God as the primal life force of the universe—the thing, process, or force that brings universes into being and that has led to life on Earth. Life on Earth includes many ugly events and human tragedies, but it also includes many lovely developments. I can imagine life developing without these positives, so I experience them as a gift. This is how I understand commandment one: I am to live in a way that promotes lovely developments for Earth and its inhabitants, both human and animal. Admittedly, this is rather nebulous, but it provides some guidance and is consistent with the testimonies of Friends.

 

I find questions about the Quaker embrace, or my embrace, of Christianity more challenging. Many non-Quaker Christians, especially Evangelical ones, would of course answer the Quaker Christian question using a defined set of criteria: Do Quakers believe in a God who created the universe, who responds to prayer, and who judges us at death? Do Quakers believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and that belief in him leads to heaven and saves us from hell?

I don’t think these questions are at all helpful when we as Quakers address the question of Christianity for ourselves. In most Christian denominations, there is some kind of declaration of faith, some kind of baptism or ritual, and official membership is usually important and recognized. For members of these denominations, the question of Christianity is easy and straightforward.

Obviously, it is not such an easy question for unprogrammed Friends. There is no given creed to attest to and persons often attend meeting and serve on committees for years without formal membership. There is indeed the ritual of the clearness committee for membership and a hearty welcome to formal membership, but overall the initiation into formal membership is low-key and the distinction between members and attenders is minimal.

Yet, modern Quakers are the heirs of a long and rich Christian tradition. I will leave it to the Quaker historians to provide the details of this. I think the question of whether Quakers are Christian or individual Quakers are Christian are problematic, best replaced by questions about how we conceive of God, how we understand Jesus, or how we experience the sacred.

 

The question of my Christianity is certainly problematic for me, and I might give different answers on different occasions depending on a number of factors. When I might answer, yes, I am a Christian, I am considering that I am a member of a traditional Christian denomination, and I have a great love of Jesus and strive to uphold testimonies consistent with his commandments. I also take into account that the early followers of Jesus had different understandings of exactly who Jesus was and what his message was, so I understand that Christianity has always had a broad definition, even if individuals and denominations often sought to restrict the term to those who share their own beliefs. The definition of Christian I like best is simply “a follower of Jesus of Nazareth”—not Jesus Christ; I would be a Christian under that definition.

When I am tempted to answer, no, I’m not a Christian, I am considering that I don’t believe in an afterlife; I don’t believe in God as a being active in the world; I don’t accept the Nicene Creed, and I don’t believe Jesus physically rose from the dead. I also think that if I were magically able to share my beliefs with all of the world’s professed Christians, the majority would not consider me a Christian. This makes me think that describing myself as a Christian would go against the most widely accepted meaning of the word.

In any case, I am not so invested in being known as a Christian, and I am not enthusiastic about defending any right I might have to be known as such. I am more protective of my right to be known as a believer in God and as a lover of Jesus, even though my conception of both may differ from the mainstream.

 

How important is it for the Religious Society of Friends or Friends General Conference to decide if the Quaker body is Christian? Is it important for marketing purposes? Self-selection purposes? Other purposes? One thing is clear: present-day Quakers will never agree whether Quakerism remains a Christian religion.

What is unclear is whether Quakers can have a productive discussion on the topic. I think there are limited opportunities to discuss our own beliefs, so I fear thoughts and emotions on the topic often occur without clear understanding. I think and hope it is possible to discuss the range of beliefs, conceptions, and experiences existing within Quakerism in a way that creates understanding, acceptance, identity, and cohesion.

I know some Friends have accepted that Quakerism is held together by common testimonies and practices, and this is enough for them. I think there is a real value, however, in a discussion of our beliefs as well. My most moving and inspiring experiences as a Quaker have been participating in clearness committees for membership and hearing the beliefs and experiences that led someone to seek membership. Often our meeting would share letters for membership, and this was inspiring as well.

I have also been inspired by the lengthy exchanges that have occurred this past September on the Facebook Quakers group. Dozens of participants weighed in on questions about God, Christianity, and Quakerism in a very thoughtful and respectful way that made me proud and reinforced my belief that such discussions are both possible and powerful.

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