“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: 1538

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 5:50pm

Wow, this conversation seems rather unfocussed, partly because it appears to in fact be two or three related but different discussions!  I don't think we can get very far this way, because the issues are too complex and weighty.

The Wikipedia essay on Biblical inerrancy shows that this is not a simple doctrine.  There are various takes on it.  For a meeting like Anthem Friends to proclaim their commitment to B.I. doesn't tell us exactly which interpretation of it they are endorsing.

D.B. is interpreting Biblical inerrancy to mean that one would accept the normativity of all Old Testament strictures (the orthodox Jews would claim 613 such "laws").  I am quite sure that the Anthem folks would not interpret Biblical inerrancy this way!!!

Anabaptist biblicists (dare I claim to be one in this crowd??) would hold that Christ "turns the page", so to speak, marking the beginning of a new covenant and a re-visioned ethics.  This doesn't dispense with Old Testament ethics, but it recasts it into an ethics centered on the Lordship of Christ.

One of the consequences of this re-visioning is that such matters as same-sex intimacy need to be seen primarily from a New Testament point of view.  Old Testament ethics are not thereby cast aside, but they are no longer pivotal in significance.

I have not examined the same-sex issue in any detail, but I have never heard of any "snippet" (to use D.B.'s term) that explicitly sanctions same-sex intimacy.  To work up a rationale for this, one must attempt a more circuitous kind of Biblical interpretation.  I have a (now in distant past) friend who has been considered to be a major Mennonite Bible scholar.  He examined the New Testament take on same-sex intimacy, and couldn't find a convincing rationale for it, so I am told.  (I have his book on the subject, but confess that I have not read it!)

I think those who claim Biblical warrant for same-sex intimacy have to indulge in some not-very-obvious Biblical interpretation, which groups like the Anthem Friends would probably reject as illegitimate.  For them, this is where the rubber hits the road, and why they claim Biblical inerrancy!

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 5:56pm

Diane: I still don't grasp exactly what kind of reinterpretation you are attempting and, for this reason, can't comment meaningfully on your effort.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 6:13pm

Doug. Okay, I’ll come at it from another angle. Do you agree that the current disunity within various Yearly Meetings (a disunity that I am very up to speed with) is because people who engage in sexual intimacy with people of the same sex wish inclusion into the Yearly Meeting context and other people who do not wish to be associated with or to accept (supported biblically or otherwise) the behavior of people who engage in sexual intimacy with people of the same sex seek their exclusion from the Yearly Meeting context?



Comment by Adria Gulizia on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 8:22pm
It seems to me that, regardless of one's views on biblical inerrancy, a meeting that performs same-sex marriages in direct, substantial and obvious contradiction of the Faith and Practice that the meeting itself has expressed its unity with is probably out of order. Is that a crazy thought?
Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 9:07pm

William Rushby, you're trying to bring a microscope to an astronomy event... and this discussion will consequently have to remain unfocused to you until you can try a change of lens.

For some people these questions are best examined by looking for explicit instructions: "Should we, ore shouldn't we, include people who make love with others of the same sex -- as full members of our tribe?" The "thou shalt not" involved is, after all, one of many which the Jews considered specifically addressed to them... and there was considerable controversy, as you can read about in your Bible, as to whether the early church should allow full inclusion to people who not only hadn't been circumcised but had no intention of trying it out.  I don't know about you, but I've got no compunction whatsoever about eating a clam, thereby committing another "abomination" in direct violation of one of these 613 commandments -- which if you read the text in Hebrew as carefully as the Jews have, are stated as every bit as much "Commandments" from The Big Guy as the ten we make the big deal about...

If God has all along used the Bible [and other things] as a means of communication with the human race, as seems to be the case, and is certainly implied by the doctrine of 'Bible inerrancy' -- then we do better to ask, not: "What did Hashem say exactly?" -- a stance which suggests a sort of small-child What-can-we-get-away-with-&-what-can't-we attitude -- but

"What's He getting at here?" Talking with another person, particularly One who is considerably beyond us in knowledge & wisdom, you want to hear meanings rather than something as literal as a grocery list. Not "Get carrots but not cream cheese," but "Oh! He wants us to make soup!" So to speak. & then what to do, what not to do becomes much easier to work out from the context.

Schisms are what you find among people who put the most weight on making the Bible their guide. Because human beings are incapable of understanding anything whatsoever except in a context; and everybody comes with a slightly different context in which to read a Biblical passage. If it were a technical manual, we'd know how to use it. A conversation with transcendent Being works a little differently from that.

Comment by Doug Bennett on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 9:22pm

Adria -- not crazy a bit.  But let me sketch a case, and not such an unusual one. A Quaker meeting has a newcomer, a woman, who comes and stays and joins. Becomes an integral part of the meeting. A year or two later she brings a friend, and the friend comes often, too, and she, too, finds herself comfortable with the meeting. The meeting is delighted in these newcomers.  Time passes, and gradually meeting members learn the two are a couple. And quietly the two ask if the meeting will marry them.

Faith and Practice doesn't allow that, you object. But does it, really? Of course F&Ps are different one YM to another, but look at yours. Does it really say anything about same sex marriage? I bet not. Remember many F&Ps work not by 'thou shalts' but rather by advices and queries. (We often say to ourselves, we are not a religion of creeds.)  By all means, read what yours says, if anything, about same sex marriage.

Many FUM and evangelical YMs have a section that includes the Richmond Declaration. Is this a creed? People have been arguing about that since it was written (1887). Some people want to point to it and say there! it's clearly against same sex marriage. But here's what it says about marriage:

"MARRIAGE:  Marriage is an institution graciously ordained by the Creator Himself, for the help and continuance of the human family. It is not a mere civil contract, and ought never to be entered upon without a reference to the sanction and blessing of Him who ordained it. It is a solemn engagement for the term of life, (Matt 19:5,6) designed for the mutual assistance and comfort of both sexes, that they may be helpmeets to each other in things temporal and spiritual. To this end it should imply concurrence in spiritual as well as temporal concerns, and should be entered upon discreetly, soberly, and in the fear of the Lord."

Is it so clear now?

This is not hypothetical one bit. Many Friends meetings and churches have walked down this road, finding among their members someone (or two) who want to be married under the care of the meeting, but whose partner is of the same gender. They wonder and pray, and pray some more. And they notice that actually, their Faith and Practice says nothing about the matter.  And they are clearly a couple in love.  Would you deny these faithful Friends the blessings of marriage: that is, the meeting blessing their union?

Comment by Diane Benton on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 10:08pm

William, I'm willing to accept that I've failed in communicating to you on this issue and leave it at that.

Comment by William F Rushby on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 10:19pm

Forrest wrote: "William Rushby, you're trying to bring a microscope to an astronomy event... and this discussion will consequently have to remain unfocused to you until you can try a change of lens."

Forrest, I don't understand what you are driving at.  Could you make your point without using so many obscure metaphors?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 10, 2015 at 11:50pm

Sometimes it's better to view connected issues as parts of a larger whole -- rather than framing them as 'related but different'. Doing so might clarify things that a precise dissection of different variants of 'Biblical inerrancy' would utterly miss. 

One very significant common factor to those different variants might very well be: 'people feeling that their customary way of life is threatened.' The different types of 'Biblical inerrancy' in that context would be different ways of constructing a defense, rather than being causative factors in their own right.

And for those of us who find the idea of Biblical inerrancy absurd, having found too many inconsistencies with known history and with its own material -- and with the nature of God as we've come to know God in our own lives --

but have also found so much that made sense and helped us recognize God's ways with us and with the world

there remains that essential question: What is the proper use of this book that we see so many people misusing for the abuse of self & others?

When I see people eagerly discussing the Bible here -- almost always I find that at bottom, the issue that moves them is political. How can I persuade people that there are things there they need to understand, not swallow undigested.

[You can't get me to 'stop using obscure metaphors'! They aren't there for decorative purposes; they're part of my means of understanding. Cognitive psychologists observe that metaphor is in fact built in to human abstract thinking, just not always explicit.]

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 11, 2015 at 1:29am

Maybe this is getting even more 'obscure' -- but often there will be more than one metaphor that people can readily use to make sense of a particular situation. That is, you can take some concrete thing that people understand the workings of, and to some extent an abstract social situation may work the same way. But there's often another concrete thing, subtly different, that could have similar properties -- but the way people will answer a question about that situation will depend on whether they're thinking of it as like concrete thing1 or concrete thing2.

How can you tell? Before you ask them the question, you set up a situation that will lead them to think about thing1. Or about thing2, instead. Statistically, which way they've been set up before the question turns out to affect how they'll answer.

Is that off the wall? Well, yes, it is -- but people really do work that way!


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