“We want to clarify for everybody that this is not a homosexuality issue for us, this is an authority of scripture/interpretation of scripture/orthodoxy issue for us.” That’s what Anthem Friends Church said last week as they withdrew from Northwest Yearly Meeting.

Their exit helps clarify, for me, the stakes involved in how we read and regard the Bible.

The church letter added, “We have come to find over the years that Anthem Friends (formerly Hayden Lake Friends Church) see things very differently than the NWYM.” How so? What’s the authority of scripture issue that leads Anthem Friends to say they “see things differently?”

In their statement of faith (is this a creed?) Anthem Friends (a large church in Hayden, Idaho, with a second location in Coeur d’Alene) says “We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.”

This is Northwest Yearly Meeting from which they withdrew: not an FGC Yearly Meeting, and not an FUM Yearly Meeting, but rather a yearly meeting that is part of Evangelical Friends Church International, which includes five Yearly Meetings in North America (Alaska YM, Eastern Region YM, Mid-America YM, Rocky Mountain YM, and Southwest YM), and many more around the world (140,000 members in 24 countries, says EFCI’s website).

Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends Church (NWYM) has a banner on its website saying “it is a covenantal community of evangelical Friends churches that make Jesus Christ known by teaching and obeying the whole gospel as revealed by the Holy Spirit and recorded in Scripture.” Apparently that was not good enough for Anthem Friends.

Not good enough as assertion or not good enough in practice? I only know what Anthem says in their letter, but presumably it arises from an unfolding and unresolved controversy in NWYM. This past July, the Elders of NWYM released a letter that begins “Recognizing that our yearly meeting is unable to embrace our current diversity, and recognizing the shattering that is ensuing, with grace and charity we sorrowfully release West Hills Friends Church from NWYM membership.” The “shattering” issue was West Hills’ “affirmation of committed same sex relationships and the decision to perform those weddings.”

The Elders’ letter noted that there was an appeal process regarding their decision, and, to date, eight Meetings/Churches have filed appeals. Eight others have written letters supporting the Elders decision. You can read them all here, and my hat is off to NWYM for providing public access to all this material.

The Elders’ letter acknowledges “We recognize that as a yearly meeting, we are not in consensus over our statement on human sexuality in the Faith and Practice. We recognize that we need to do the hard work of theological reflection as Friends on the issues of revelation (including the authority of both the written and living Word of God) and human sexuality (in a broader sense than just LGBTQ issues).” The appeal letters also lift up the lack of consensus over sexuality matters, which has been manifest in NWYM for several years.

I take it, then, that Anthem Friends Church has withdrawn from NWYM not because of “a homosexuality issue” but because the Yearly Meeting couldn’t clearly and decisively affirm the [alleged] teaching in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. Disunity, for them, was a cause for separation. (For the record, I believe the Bible is quite unclear about many matters of sexuality.)

Anthem’s posture is fundamentalist. Their creedal statement is an affirmation of Biblical inerrancy. Again, “We believe the Scriptures in the Old and New Testaments are completely without error and are the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life.”

This is the issue Friends need to confront. The issue is not whether the Bible is valuable. It is not whether the Bible provides “texture and clarity to our understanding of God's will,” as a Friend put it recently in a comment on QuakerQuaker. It certainly does. And of course there are those calling themselves Quaker who want nothing to do with the Bible. That’s their loss in my view. But their posture isn’t the one forcing crises in Yearly Meetings. It is the adherents of Biblical inerrancy who are provoking such crises.

When Indiana Yearly Meeting came apart at the seams a few years ago, the driving issue was Biblical inerrancy. Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) has wrestled with issues of creeds and Biblical inerrancy in recent years. Now we have crises in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) and in Northwest Yearly Meeting both driven by assertions of Biblical inerrancy as a litmus test. Both of these crises have been followed well and closely by Steve Angell and Chuck Fager in Quaker Theology and in Fager’s blog, A Friendly Letter. My hat is off to both Steve and Chuck for reporting on these crises. It is time more Friends paid attention to the challenge of Biblical inerrancy.

Close adherence to the Bible, while valuable, is unlikely to yield final and spiritually satisfying answers to all issues that may arise. Insisting on “the Bible alone” as a source of spiritual guidance will sow further schism and hard-heartedness. Seeing the Bible as “without error” and as “the supreme and final authority of God in faith and life” shouts that God stopped speaking to us a millennium and a half ago. I affirm instead that the God who speaks to me through and beyond the Bible assures me that God is still speaking. The meetings in Northwest Yearly Meeting that are wrestling with human sexuality believe, too, that God is still speaking to them.

On the Bible, I would much rather Friends take guidance (though not as a creed) from Barclay’s Apology in which he says of the Scriptures, after noting the Bible’s value:  

Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader. Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule.

Also posted on River View Friend

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Comment by Diane Benton on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 5:42pm

I know no free will.  My desires are either given to me by my Creator or by the people around me.  How Spirit is making the Creator's desires known to me, however dimly, over the desires of others, is a mystery.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 6:20pm

There was a long time I couldn't glance at a "Christian" book without wanting to barf! "We're Christians, and we're good; and we're going to make it, but those other guys are Screwed..."

The gospels, the part that isn't about "Thank God we are not like those nasty Pharisees!" are something else. Admittedly we need to read them as they came to us, filtered through a bunch of egoish (pejorative sense) sensibilities in transmission...

---

Dana Densmore [editing the Schachter-Shalomi talks I'm reading]: "In... _A History of Biblical Interpretation_ editors Alan Hauser & Duane Watson... see the start of interpretation with the incorporation of the biblical traditions into the first biblical text. 'What is selected in this creative process will be a direct result of the perspectives, social mores, religious beliefs, hopes and fears, and political and economic needs of the person or community that does the editing.' "

So that kind of static is mixed in from the beginning.

But if you recognize a coordinating spirit that does keep holding this show together, letting us dance on the rims of our crib but (so far) not letting us fall ... and yes, certainly it's a 'Self' we recognize as our true self (even if too often the self we know & act from is too much lesser) -- Then what's the point of trashing people who know that as "God"?

Zalman: "So now comes the question 'how would God send us messages?'... The Torah speaks in human language...

"So if I bring a primitive keyboard to [the Master of the Universe] I'm going to get a primitive message.... I have the sense that when we speak about fundamentalists, people who only read the p'shat of the thing, and they sometimes don't have a sense of what an oriental language is, that it uses metaphor and is not so literal, is not to be taken so literally..."

[editor]: "We will not get a true revelation from Scripture by experiencing it passively or (as it were) as a consumer. We will not get it by accepting whatever doctrine and interpretation we have been given by the authority of tradition."

...

[S-S]: "But if I ask myself, in those places where I can't sleep and I want to know 'what is the whole purpose of life and what am I doing here' and so on and so forth, at that point what I need to know in order to live better isn't necessarily another interpretation that Rashi gives me....

"What I need to know at that time is something that has to do with my life. What is my current question? What have I been working on, you know? If I get it from God, if I get it as a revelation, that's what comes down for me, that is going to be wonderful. And if I get only more fancy words and so on and so forth, and nothing else that will help me with the real issues in my life, then Shavuot [aka 'Pentecost' in Christianity] came only to bring me blintzes. Blintzes are good, but if I don't get answers to my questions I'm going to be in trouble."

----------

The strength of the Quaker insight was that we can access something that can give us those true answers, even if sometimes it needs to dumb them down to babytalk for us.

So I agree we should welcome anyone willing to sit with us and give the Mystery a chance... but we need to stop dissing and dismissing everybody who receives their Messages differently phrased! Okay, please?

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 7:52pm

... but we need to stop dissing and dismissing everybody who receives their Messages differently phrased! Okay, please?

Seems to me like it's sometimes a contest as to who can look most like the victim of the others' unfairly disrespectful characterization.  "Stop calling me a name-caller you name-caller."

Two solutions:  

(A) do like hip-hop and/or forensic league debate where it's a contest (athletic event) to strut and puff upon the stage while delivering a few well-placed insults (art form; rhetoric). Participation is voluntary and rules agreed to.  We're seeing this a lot on TV this election season.

(B) dial back on being a victim in the first place.

More words about each option:

(A) one learns from polarity, from opposing voices, as the Rabbinical tradition celebrates. So much philosophy was written literally as dialog.  We're not going to keep the audience from hissing and jeering at the Punch and Judy shows -- that's how we know they're tuning in.  So lets carve out spaces in which to get to know of our differences in a mosh pit kind of way.  

Funny example (maybe, if immune to cursing):  https://youtu.be/0N_RO-jL-90  (hip-hop contest between Western and Eastern philosophers).

[ a lot of these are oh so ridiculous in that they pit characters against one another who'd be unlikely to take mutual offense e.g. Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss, even in Heaven [1]].

(B)  seems like everyone's eager to Speak Truth to Power, but have you noticed no one is actually coming off as Power?  No matter how high you go, it's always some syndicate, cartel, conspiracy or cabal that's between "us" (the goodies) and the Promised Land.  

Inheriting from Gnosticism (I would claim) I take my brand of Quakerism in a different direction, away from being the victim, more in the direction of acknowledging what a deeply influential religion we're turning out to be, like OMG!  Actually the Open Source community does it even better (I'm learning from them), publicly espousing World Domination as a goal, just in case you ask. :-D  Quakers are kinda penguin-looking aren't they?  Yes it's tongue-in-cheek.  Refreshing though.  I go to Open Source Convention and geeks look at each other questioningly asking "OK so now what?  Now that we've won?"  You don't get that very often, when everyone's more trying to play the loser. :-D

[1]  I also enjoy Drunk History and adore this portrayal of Friend Mary Dyer:

https://youtu.be/QaDk0wG-HWk  (again, same warning about language -- the premise of this show is to get some historian who really knows the story to tell it while drunk (makes it more comic and candid).  Just watched some new ones on Bobby Fischer and Elvis (shared on Facebook :-D).

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 8:14pm

I am generally down on atheists for being generally more eager to goof on somebody else's picture of God than to ask what's really out/in there/here. My own Meeting has been practically stifled for years from their undue influence, valuable as their individual contributions have often been.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 8:43pm

Tracking Transcendentalists as leading lights, my Quakers are stifled by thousands of years of orthodoxy standardizing on three mutually orthogonal XYZ shish-kababs ("the Jack") as super-significant of something.  Quakers of my ilk (maybe all two or three of us? -- joined by friendly others) come back with "Caltrop Coordinates" (called Quadrays in Wikipedia), partly just to prove Primitive Geometry is not Fascist either (there's room for more than one sandcastle way of talking on this beach).

We're actually subverting the notion that 2 x 2 x 2 is "two cubed" (or has to be, rather -- schooled people sound especially smart to themselves when they say that).  Lots more on the Web.  I call it Martian Math, but it's really Fuller's Synergetics in thin disguise.  Applewhite thought me a horse worth betting on.  I still have my fans out there and try to get my laps in.  Not slowing down on the job yet.

Fuller (Medal of Freedom, sometimes called first "engineer-saint") was urgent about all this, claiming over-fixation on Cube versus Tetrahedron was a bug really deep in our thinking, a wrong turn long ago, and by now responsible for literally "X stadiums per day" in unnecessary loss of life -- but of course anyone can argue hypothesis contrary to fact, a fallacy (e.g. "if you hadn't turned just there we wouldn't be in this ditch now").  With my background from Princeton philosophy with an admiration for positive futurists (inherited from dad), I struck out in search of "4D adventures" (that's a brand Fuller used and I'm 4dsolutions.net so it all makes sense).

Talk about an obscure melodrama in which to star!  S'been exciting, I can tell you.  :-D

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 8:53pm

I'm talking about prudish chaperones on what might have been a hot date with God. Quakers have had our share of those from 'Orthodox' Christian traditions as well over the centuries, but that's not what bogs one down hereabouts.

Look, if you want to duke it out on who's sharper than who, drop over to dragongoserver.net for a friendly game with 'trees'. Admittedly I've got a tad more in the way of book moves in my head... but really, could we please just talk about the stuff that matters...?

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 9:13pm

but really, could we please just talk about the stuff that matters...?

Yeah but to whom?  I'll go away from this thread now.  I enjoyed the segment on polygamy especially.  Grousing endlessly about whether best friends should get married to enjoy the civil benefits seems more like what good lawyers might talk about.  Making this be Quaker business, more than it already is, is not my intent.  By sticking around, I might be adding fuel to a fire I'm not interested in feeding right now.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 17, 2015 at 12:07am

It matters to the world whether it's round or flat; it doesn't care whether it's you or me who's righter or wronger, brighter or more differently-bright...

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