Becoming the Community the Spirit Would Have Us Be

Note: I originally posted this as a comment to Mike Shell’s stimulating blog, “Seeing Beyond the Projections” (which I recommend you also read).  I offer it here as a separate blog to invite comments just on it.


It is unfortunate that many of our Quaker meetings/churches have brought into the meetinghouse the divisiveness that is so prevalent in the world at large.  One of the great charges of Jesus is that God provides for and loves all - even those we might individually consider wrong, misguided, and so forth. Lao-tzu in the Tao Te Ching says the same thing.  Further, Jesus stated that we each should love all in this same perfect manner. If this isn't "universalism", then I don't know what is.  Yet, you cannot love someone of a different perspective, if you don't take the first action of welcoming them into your spiritual community.

I will speak here from the liberal Quaker perspective - but my questions could easily apply also to pastoral and evangelical Friends.  If our meetings do not appeal to the varying shades of Christianity and general spirituality, the whole political spectrum, the rainbow of ethnic origins, varied economic backgrounds, and intellectual capacities - then we just might not be loving (as a community) others, as Jesus suggests we should.  It is one thing to say we accept all; but the 'proof in the pudding' is how comfortable are the 'all' being among us.

Again, let's just take liberal Quakers as an example (an easy one to point to for me because I am part of a liberal Quaker meeting).  The form of worship utilized by liberal Quakers could be an inviting environment for all - no pastor, no sermon, no anything but the living Spirit to minister among us.  However, many of our meetings don't come off as inviting to Republicans, Evangelical Christians, etc.  Our dedication to the movement of the Spirit among us should be uniting us in love - period.  Yet, we often act as the world does by sending subtle messages that we don't respect, accept, or value these "others".

We must ask ourselves direct questions as a meeting in order to reform ourselves into the community the Spirit wants us to be.  Such as, "Do we emphasize our SPICES testimonies (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, Stewardship) without also emphasizing what political action Friends should take?  Does our Peace and Social Concerns committee stick to these testimonies - or do they direct Friends on how they should vote or what they should support in order to "be good Quakers"?  Example: My yearly meeting's Peace committee recently sent out a directive that Friends should contact their legislators about supporting the Iran Nuclear Treaty.  This was done in a directive manner without first arriving at a sense of the yearly meeting that we ALL wanted to do this?  Yet, we have some politically conservative Friends among us who sincerely believe that this treaty will lead to war, violating our Peace testimony.  Surely, it must be obvious to any objective person that our common support for our testimonies does not mean we all support the same political actions in order to manifest them.

Our meetings/churches would do well to embrace some humility before we make assumptions about those among us.  While we all embrace love and light, it is unlikely that we all embrace the same application of these in daily earthly life.  And unless we have come to a common understanding through our Quaker process that we are unified in particular secular action, we must concentrate on spiritual unity above all else.  This is the only way we will ever be able to demonstrate that we actively love all.  The Bible itself says “God is Love”, and so it makes perfect sense that Jesus consistently advocated for Love above all else.  What better basis for our spiritual unity could we have than this?

This simple change in attitude within our meetings/churches could make a distinguishing difference and a witness to the world we live in.

Views: 977

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 5:56pm

We had a lot of concern among Shelvers at Multnomah that our PSCC "not try to be the conscience of the meeting". Our business meeting clerks, when not making secret deals with RadFem [1], were worried about Friends (besides themselves) "representing the Meeting" to the public.  I understand that concern.

However a model / ideal PSCC need not pester the Business Meeting to pass this or that Minute as a core function, nor commit Meeting funds.  Rather, each PSCC member is an activist / individual following their own heart, and when they show up at other groups they don't say "I represent such and such a Meeting" but rather "I'm practicing my Quakerism and some Quakers may disapprove of what I do -- we do not require conformity of opinion".  Activists benefit by working together.  The committee is open to people with leadings.  It's not about bossing others.  More like a study circle.
Also, on occasion, the committee may wish the whole meeting to act.  Eugene Friends just passed a minute endorsing the Iran Deal for example, the text of which is currently spreading to PSCCs throughout our region.  But that need not be a core function of an active PSCC.

[1] these deals were undone, thanks to a strong Oversight Committee.  Advice:  if you don't have strong Oversight, your Meeting clerk(s) may be tempted to imagine themselves pastors, but fortunately we don't have pastors in our tradition, just clerks, and maybe the occasional released Friend.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 6:26pm

Kirby, thanks for your post. It clarifies in influence of experiences in your own meeting. I heard about the RadFem issue and agree with withdrawing the meeting house as a venue. 

I'm still concerned about some of your language. Did the people you disagree with give themselves the title of 'shelver' or was that pinned on them by others? 

Labeling others, particularly if intended as derogatory, is dehumanizing. The Tea Party and Fox commentators use it to try and shame others into silence or withdrawing. It's very painful when is happens in a Quaker meeting.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 6:39pm

I'm an avid blogger so might refer readers there regarding my use of the word "brand" and "Quakerism" in close conjunction.  I'm not an easy read, but I think rewarding, I've been told that.

"Shelver" and "Shelver Movement" [tm] are now published terms of reference in Western Friend (July / August edition 'Sticking Out Like Sore Thumbs'), but they were originally my coin, not chosen by those whom I chose to label as such.

I agree with the analysis that old timers are more likely veterans of some counter-culture, e.g. 51st Ave. Meeting in Chicago has some old timer Black Panthers (lets surmise).  But millennials and others grew up in different circumstances and may not have the same connection to AFSC, FCNL or whatever.  It's up to each cohort, to some extent, to pioneer its own relationships.

I'm one of those who sees the pen, theater, screen violence, as alternatives to the real thing (I am not "against violent video games" -- Quakers Play Quake is a bumper sticker). 

Having done some homework, I know that there's plenty of room in this world for Friendly polemics and by extension polemicists.  I admire Chuck Fager quite a bit, as a writer.  I really look up to Mark Twain.

A lot of Quakers were not amused by my coin of "quasi-Quakers" or "Kwazis" for short, and my way of applying it, especially to Shelvers.  But then any Liberal Meeting that lays down PSCC is in my view in violation of its 501(c)(3) and should investigated with an eye to maybe stripping it of its tax-free status.  Quakers of conscience should blow the whistle. 

"Lying to the public about what we do" is a punishable offense under secular law.  Shelvers need to be resisted and defeated, for the sake of Quakerism, in my book.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 6:45pm

PS:  it's really 57th Street Meeting ( ) but I was being hypothetical ("Black Panthers").  That's where I started out, before moving to Multnomah Meeting in Portland (that was pre JFK assassination -- we'd moved to Rome, Italy later 1960s).
Autobio / blog:

Comment by Jim Wilson on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 7:04pm

Greetings Kirby:

I haven't read your article in Western Friend so I'm not sure exactly what you mean by 'shelver'; but from the context of this exchange I suspect that I would fall into that group.  (I'm not sure though, perhaps you could put a link to the article?)  It is not clear to me what offends you so much about shelvers that you want to see them 'defeated'.  Not all Quakers are activists, so it isn't lying to the public if the Quaker tradition is described in a non-activist way.  There is a lot of Quaker history that would support such a presentation.

I may have more to say after gaining more clarity about the distinctions you are making.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 7:23pm

The only time that I've heard of an established religion  almost losing it's 501(c)(3) status was the UCC after then candidate Obama spoke at it's annual conventional about the connection between his politics and his religious beliefs. 

501(c)(3) is a designation for an organization being charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering amateur sports competition, or preventing cruelty to children or animals. 

A politically active nonprofit should be a 501 (c)(4) or a 501(c)(6).

Personally, I don't find secular arguments very persuasive when it comes to how Friends treat one another. 

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 8:09pm

I believe that a Quaker Meeting is more in danger of losing its 501(c)3 designation due to an over-zealous Peace and Social Justice committee that advocates on behalf of the meeting a particular candidate or political party.

It would be unheard of for any church to lose that 501(c)3 designation because of the elimination of a Peace and Social Justice interest.  

The Peace and Social Action Committee (we call it PSAC) at my meeting is very good about NOT delving into politics or directing (or even implying to) Friends what politics to support.  They emphasize to Friends our testimonies and encourage them to look for ways in their personal lives to manifest these.  They shy away from acting as a quasi-lobbying group for any political cause, party, or candidate.  Therefore, we have attracted a diversity of political leanings among Friends, and we all unify together in Light and Love, AND our Quaker testimonies.  We just don't all manifest our commitment to these in the same way.  The meeting recognizes that and respects that.

I see this as no different than respecting different doctrinal 'notions' or theological beliefs in a spiritually thriving meeting.  What would happen in a liberal Quaker meeting if the Ministry & Counsel committee issued directives on what Friends in the meeting should believe in order to practice Light and Love in their lives? Specifically, what if that committee told Friends what to believe about the trinity, hell/heaven, the divinity of Jesus, on and on?

It is sad that many meetings are more willing to have theological diversity than political diversity.  We should seek diversity - period.

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 9th mo. 19, 2015 at 8:12pm

Thank you, Howard.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 2:05am

Hi Jim --
Western Friend does put some of its articles on the web for free, but mine was not among them.  Here's how the article starts:

Sticking Out Like Sore Thumbs
by Kirby Urner

Given that Quakers don’t like to use violent words like “kill,” we use euphemisms instead. So the current trend among Quakers to euthanize our Peace and Social Concerns Committees is one that I will call the “Shelver Movement.” We have spent countless hours in recent years trying to lay these committees down, but we end up “shelving” them instead.

In our NPYM region, the published Faith & Practice strongly implies a Monthly Meeting will have a Peace and Social Concerns Committee. I don't take lying to the public lightly, given Quakers supposedly have some integrity. 

I agree with other comments though:  it's somewhat an idle fantasy on my part that Liberal Meetings betraying the public trust would be outed, declared imposters and yadda yadda.   In actuality, they get away with it.  We have examples in our region.

Those opposed to this view say F&P provides guidelines only, and any Meeting is free to configure itself howsoever it pleaseth.  To me that seems self indulgent and I wonder "where do we draw the line?".

I'm not alone in thinking a Peace and Social Concerns Committee is where the rubber meets the road and a Meeting without one is phony. 

Sure, we'd like to litigate and put the Kwazis (fake Quakers) out of business, for betraying the public trust.  I talked to a Multnomah County lawyer about this very topic today in fact.  "What is the law when a nonprofit fails to follow its own bylaws?" was my question.  I'm at least allowed to vent my frustration.

Comment by Howard Brod on 9th mo. 20, 2015 at 7:21am


I must confess that a requirement that a Quaker meeting MUST have any committees at all, is one of the most bizarre things I've ever heard. 


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