“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 Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 7:11pm

In place of G-word there's a Church of FSM.  I'm not a Pastafarian myself but will identify as Subgenius.  Might've shared this already:  http://grunch.net/synergetics/quakes.html

Our collaborative project, still in the works is a bumper sticker with FSM logo and caption "Abducted By Quakers" -- the idea being you're proud to show Quaker heritage on your car even though you don't go with Sistine Chapel style idolatry or anything Biblical (more on math-teach / Math Forum).

The "Good Without God" meme was launched some time ago.  Billboards everywhere:

Do people seriously say "Goodstuff?" in your Meeting?  Sheesh.  

Who does your marketing?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 7:28pm

"Good without God?" is simply mistaken. Good without recognizing God's part in that -- okay, that describes my own deceased father quite well.

In the Gita, there's this conflict between two ranking families -- and both of them come to Krishna for support. This puts him in a bind, which he skillfully resolves. "One of you can have my army, and the other side will need to settle for me."

Both sides are happy. The spiritually-clueless faction says, 'Yay, we'll take the army and kick their butts!' Arjuna's gang opts for Himself. After considerable gory, unedifying macho violence there are a great many people dead, and Arjuna is king.

You can embrace that clueless choice, and glory in your freedom from discrimination; and you can certainly call the result of that "Quaker", but it's no more 'Quaker' than 'Quaker Oats.'

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 9:38pm

By 'reaching out to "good without God" humanists' I didn't mean I was thereby intent upon turning Quakers into CFI types specifically.  CFI is but one branch -- atheists fork the same way we do -- with Pastafarians actually accepting God, just not the Sistine Chapel depiction, of some giant human ("manga monstrosity") floating in a cloud.  

Islam agrees:  that's in awfully poor taste, and nothing in the Bible proves we have a duty to buy into such imagery.  God with a beard?  Too many intelligent adults get reminded of Santa and the misinformation scam some adults still try to perpetrate in the name of "protecting innocence" -- proving the point that adults cannot always be trusted.

Pastafarians actively mock said stereotypical idolatry ("church of FSM" was a hyperlink, did you click? -- sometimes hard to tell, the way QuakerQuaker colorizes type), but they're not without imagery of their own.

The thinking among Liberal Friends has always been "we're very small, we unprogrammed Friends, so if we wanna make a difference in the world, best to forge alliances with Armies for Good" (understanding that "Army" need not involve many if any outward weapons -- mostly likely an Army for Good wouldn't use those, duh).  

David DiNucci (humanist prez) invited me to a ReThinking911 talk at Friendly House so I'd be better equipped to encourage Multnomah and NPYM Friends to host a similar talk, this time by one of our own (D. Chandler is all over Youtube).

http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2015/03/rethink911-hgp.html

I also see Dr. DiNucci at the Linus Pauling House, another important institution in Portland's "smallish town" lineup of think tanks, with historic ties to AFSC and said Multnomah Friends on Stark, who inherited Doug Strain's building.  Doug was a student of Linus Pauling's at Caltech and a CO during WW2 who admired AFSC -- though he was not a Quaker.  His company, ESI, became uber-successful.

Quakers have had a lot of interest in Science, historically, kind of like the Jesuits.  It stands to reason that some of our people count not so much as missionaries but ambassadors into the territory of non-theists (many of them scientists), or in other cases simply non mono-theists.  

Is the Dalai Lama an atheist?  Our definitions get fuzzy.  As C.S. Lewis pointed out, an atheist may be a lot closer to God, in sensing his smallness in the universe, than a smug self-aggrandizing Christian who thinks it's all about him.  There's no need to paint with a broad brush.  Some humanists are far more saint-like than their professing Xtian brethren, I don't think that's a controversial statement.  As studies have shown, Xtians are not necessarily as generous.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11979235/Muslims-and-Chris...

So I see this outreach as part of our alliance-forging, not missionary work.  Quakers have a lot to learn and gain from their fellow humans, regardless of professed head-beliefs about deities or whatever.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 15, 2015 at 11:45pm

There's no need to 'forge alliances' with a group that's already taken over your whole territory. Secular Dogoodists are so thick in many Meetings down here that I don't see much point in trying to attract more -- & do see considerable danger of misrepresenting what the Quaker thing should have to offer besides that.

Does an atheist have a Buddha Nature? Well, duh, I guess so. No fangs, no horns. Anyone should be welcome to come to Meeting, sit with us awhile, see if he finds "Hey you!" echoing between his ears (or his wherever -- or if he experiences whatever way the Nature-of-All-This might get in touch with this particular person.)

But I don't want to see the essential Quaker witness watered down any more, homogenized or pasturized or just plain mushied into A Nice Experience Of The Southing Silence Of Nothing Happening. Because the Big Something will happen to us if we let Hmr; and we need that far more than any amount of donations or volunteer goodness or scraps under a political table or two...

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 11:01am

There's no need to 'forge alliances' with a group that's already taken over your whole territory.

Well, yes and no.  Remember we Beanites were disowned by Iowa Yearly some decades back.  The Beans became refugees in California, in need of new Friends.  From our angle, Quakerism was overtaken by alien non-Quaker forces in the midwest:  "Doctrinally, the revivalists vehemently rejected the Quaker notion of a universal, saving Inner Light, declaring that the Spirit dwelt only in those Christians who had been properly saved and sanctified." [1]   We see ourselves holding on to bold traditions that got subverted in the so-called "heartland" in the late 1800s.

In 2015, we see other Quaker lineages still working through issues we worked through some thirty years ago, still fragmenting over gay marriage and the like.  I don't see much interest in going back to that, all talk of Convergent Friends notwithstanding.   Praise Allah for our own inner leadings and adept outward leadership.  I'd rather be doing outreach among non-Christians, healing those rifts, vs. trying to patch it up with those who kicked us out.  I invited West Hills to join us over on the WQM listserv.

I think most of us would prefer our children marry or otherwise team up with ethical secularists than Xtian fundies of any stripe.  Yes, we have our bigotries too.

However a fundamentalist is not to be confused with someone who reads, respects and gains wisdom from the Bible (as well as other texts). We have no quarrel with sharing such heritage, and Bible Study happens every Monday morning (is happening right now in fact).  

If the "Big Something" involves the criminalization of nuclear weapons and wholesale disarmament, sign me up.  If it's just a lot of spazzing out and falling to the ground in some supposedly God-induced paroxysm -- we have churches down the road for that.  No need to dilute our brand.  Not that it's either / or of course, and some quaking in the presence of one's God is always appropriate.

As secularists take on the testimonies, join committees, and learn to work together in an egalitarian fashion vs. in top-down military pyramid ala the standard US model (a very militarized state), they become more Christian in a good way, more Friendly in the way Jesus was:  happy to party with Romans, Pagans etc., not standoffish wall-flowers always judging, always bitter, always ready to demonstrate "zero tolerance" for something or other.   Those are the ones we don't need cluttering our worship spaces or committees.

[1] http://www.quaker.org/liberal-history/bean.html

Comment by Diane Benton on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 11:26am

Violence will end when human being is being guided by the Light in its conscience.  

"Just becoming nicer dupes of literally-savage social machinery -- That's not 'The Kingdom arriving' yet!" Forrest Curo

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 11:39am

The Kingdom is Here -- that's already the teaching.  And humans are perfectly free to mess up their little part of it (Doctrine of Free Will).  Or not.

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you."

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 12:37pm

Exactly Kirby!  Amen!

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 4:51pm

The teaching is, ~"You shall love the boss your God with all your mind, heart, and strength. After that you can manage to love your neighbor, which very much like loving God." (That's really the only way you can learn to know your neighbor, and yourself, well enough to dare love anyone whatsoever -- because love would be very dangerous in a world of Death, but is quite natural when everything and everyone you do love, including yourself, is God-in-motion...)

"The Kingdom" -- whatever it might mean to you -- is this world reconciled to God, where that happens, so far as that happens. 

"The Kingdom" is not -- a collection of God's human children trying to run away from home, or living a fantasy of being big, brave, orphans who don't need anyone stronger and wiser, but can run this show just fine all by themselves.

[Look how well we-all have been doing that -- I mean, look honestly for a change! "Who's afraid of the Big Bad nuclear bombs, malfunctioning reactors, polluting chemicals & dangerous excesses of natural chemicals, destablized runaway climate, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other micro-organisms continually being amplified in virulence by human mistreatment of animals & fellow-humans alike, escalating human violence, corruption, the rule of lying thugs, the ongoing vicious-cycles of propaganda techniques befuddling everyone including the befuddlers themselves, or anything I might have forgotten -- just plain death & all the diseases that kill one off in installments... Us? We're going to lick all that, right? Before our cardboard towers fall down under us, sure.]

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 16, 2015 at 5:20pm

I agree the the flickering dim bulb of egoic consciousness, wrested at some price from the collective background, as some quasi-cogito (the yo who says "yo") -- getting press as "self" in some circles... that little guy is not what's behind our success with the Zeitgeist insofar as we achieved some, and most little guys know it.

Going to the moon and back took lots of prayers and belief in intelligence beyond that of the everyday worried mortal nervous system, driving to and from work and hoping it lives to see another day.  

Those flickering selves (the candlemen) haven't invented much of anything to speak of.  They're along for the ride, depending on Divine Grace from one second to the next.  Their flame is fragile. For the most part I think having an ego is a good idea, but not if it's too weak.

Computer science is for people who light candles and cross their legs (or not) and say Om and stuff, hoping to get in touch with something half-way intelligent.  Getting through the day without some flashes from the beyond... is a dull day.  

We'd never be hosting these 10 billion 300 watt hominids were we just orphan children running from our higher Self.  We know God intimately, better than the backs of our hands, though we may not be programmed to use the G-word especially -- depends on the consciousness package using your brain at the moment, which we have a great variety, Praise Allah.  I probably think of most of Christianity the way Steve Jobs thought of Windows:  rather garish and tasteless.  But that's not God's fault.  God was never Christian, the very thought it ridiculous nonsense (sinful heresy).

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