“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

Views: 1547

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 1:17am

It's not nice to use sarcasm on dumb people! My head is still spinning!

You wouldn't want to say that these people are taking the position they do because gay folks freak them out; because after all they say that it's about the Bible having no errors. So if the Bible said they should just get over it, they'd just get over it!

But it doesn't, so they can't.

Except (you and) I think the Bible really says they should just get over it; and even though we don't think the Bible is foolproof (It may even be loaded!) we are bound to wonder how much of their fervor on this one particular issue is about the Bible, and how much is about, well, them being freaked out by the fact that God makes some people turn out gay... just as we suspect that many people in Civil War days wouldn't have liked the Bible much if they didn't think it supported slavery, as we're pretty sure it doesn't.

But you're too nice to say so; it wouldn't be polite. It wouldn't be very respectful of these people's deep moral concern!

But are you sure that the Bible approves of sarcasm?

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 6:17am

The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy preceded the same-sex debate by over 100 years.  I don't have a good grasp of the implications of Biblical inerrancy, but I am quite sure that it originated long before the same-sex movement became an issue.

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 6:32am

Wikipedia on "Biblical inerrancy": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_inerrancy

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 9:30am

Hello Doug,

For clarity, Is biblical innerrancy a "challenge" for Quakers because it "provokes a crises of disunity?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 9:34am

Clearly people for a long time simply took it for granted that events and doctrines included in the Bible were basically factual. The doctrine that every bit of it must be true became an issue when that assumption proved unfounded.

It became a contentious issue when politics got involved, ie whether one could legitimately use the Bible to justify an evil custom or prejudice. As it has clearly been used on several occasions.

Does it work for justifying a good social policy? Clearly its effectiveness for that is questionable, since the customs of the times when it was written were either downright evil -- genocide, slavery, and second-class status for women -- or so contrary to modern practice -- measures to limit land hoarding and usury for example -- that their appeal to Bible enthusiasts is quite limited.

Taking up the good purposes we can use the Bible for would be, unfortunately, off topic.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 9:45am

Keith -- Yes, Biblical inerrancy is a challenge to Friends because it is a factor (caustive, who knows?) in some very current very bitter schisms. It's also a challenge, I believe, because it takes us away from the most important message Quakers have to offer the world: that God is still speaking to each and every one of today, and that we can hear God if we still our ourselves and listen.  (And yes, the Bible can help us in that listening.)

Forrest -- I'd love to hear you on the good purposes for which we can use the Bible.

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 10:02am

Douglas Bennett wrote: "Keith -- Yes, Biblical inerrancy is a challenge to Friends because it is a factor (causative, who knows?) in some very current very bitter schisms."

Seen from another perspective, "Biblical revisionism"is a challenge to Friends because it is a factor in some current schisms.  DB sees Biblical inerrantists as causing schism.  I see the schisms arising  from the conflict between Biblicists and revisionists over many issues, the same-sex matter being one of the more recent.

IMHO,  the basic question is whether we read the Bible in the light of current cultural trends, or whether we evaluate current cultural trends in the light of Biblical values and norms.  I would not take "continuing revelation" as a license for substantial Biblical revisionism.  As a matter of fact, I think the notion of "continuing revelation" is a modern concept which the early Friends, Robert Barclay included, would judge as something close to heresy!

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 10:41am

I wrote: " DB sees Biblical inerrantists as causing schism."  I should have said that DB implied that Biblical inerrancy causes schism.   My apology for misrepresenting DB.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 11:38am

Thank you Doug. So is sexual intimacy with someone of the same sex a factor in these schisms?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 11:46am

Well, the belief in 'continuing revelation' goes back well before Barclay among early Friends. They, and the folks they got it from, were admittedly reluctant to accept anything actually contradicting a Biblical statement -- but then you have Jesus, in the Christian Bible, saying, "You have heard that it was said [pious Jewish shorthand for 'that God said'] to the men of old... but I say," and so there is certainly precedent within the Bible itself --

although "I say" in such usages had better not mean "This mortal here says" but "Thus I'm led to say".


I have found the Bible very illuminating as a way of seeing and understanding how God has interacted, and continues to interact with, people -- especially (though not entirely) through studying it with groups of people taking it in the Jewish Renewal sense.

Dana Densmore (one of Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's editors) writes: "Some of the results of [his] re-visioning, held up up against the traditional orthodox system, look so radically different that ... he may be accused of abandoning Judaism for some sort of new religion... This accusation could be, and has been, made of the Talmudic Sages after 70 CE. Their radical re-visioning was necessary then, and perhaps there is a common imperative... that Schachter-Shalomi is feeling. In his view, a Judaism that cannot evolve with the changing world and the spiritual evolution of humanity will be increasingly sclerosed and increasingly irrelevant. But... he wants to look back to the text, and draw lessons for our time from that...

"There are many ways in which Rabbinic Judaism looks different from the Israelite religion of the Bible. But somehow the Rabbinic vision... took hold and established itself as a continuation of the same Biblical religion that was built around the Temple and its sacrifices...

"Schachter-Shalomi's openness to non-Jewish religions leads to the charge of syncreticism...  whether it is comfortable to acknowledge this or not, Judaism has historically absorbed identifiable influences from other religions and cultures among which it has lived -- from Canaanite to Hellenistic to Zoroastrian to Islamic to Christian.... a Judaism purged of all those influences [might] not look 'Jewish' to us now."


So I'm talking about a continuation of the same process that formed these scriptures in the first place, working [as rabbinic teachers often do] from the intent a ruling or practice served in previous circumstances to how this might best be embodied in current circumstances, depending very much on God to guide that process. Which doesn't imply either throwing out or giving final authority to anything in the tradition, simply following the Divine-human conversation from its known beginnings so we don't have to start from zilch.



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