Author’s note: I have taken the liberty of making use of Ben Pink Dandelion’s reference to a specific manner of Quaker practice as “liberal-liberal” Friends. As one who identifies closely with Conservative Friends, I am a Hicksite and identify as an FGC liberal Friend. My comments are more concerned with identity and intelligibility than an overarching critique of FGC Friends, which has a far different character.

 

It is important that I find a way to speak to a Friend whom I am very close to in a gentle way. I was pained, and even somewhat hurt, by this individual’s generalizing about Quaker faith and practice, and perhaps unwittingly making claims on behalf of all Friends that were simply not true, even in our own meeting. It has come to a point in my journey with liberal-liberal Friends that I have come to feel that, not only is my experience not trusted by Friends due to my Christ-centered faith and love of the Bible. It has also come to a point where I begin to realize that the nature of the broader spectrum of Friends in the United States is rendered insignificant due to the projection of individual experience and opinion onto Quaker faith and practice as a whole.

 

In the midst of ongoing conflict in our monthly meeting, a conversation occurred between me and another Christ-centered Friends who has been with the meeting for more than 40 years. During a dialogue between us, she indicated that a particular action undertaken be me was particularly hurtful. In listening to her, and reflecting on my behavior – I confessed that I was wrong and had sinned against her because I was acting in a manipulative manner. My confessing to her in a public manner is foundationally biblical, and meant to begin a reconciliation process by agreeing to be held accountable to a community and corporate authority in a time of conflict. Unfortunately, my confession that made use of a language familiar to Christ-centered Friends was rejected by a long-time member of our meeting who was trying to “keep peace.” She stated, in response to my reflection and reaching out to another, that “Quakers don’t believe in sin, and we don’t need to get down on ourselves.”

 

In fact (and I am not insistent upon facticity), many, if not most of the people who call themselves Quakers do believe that sin exists, even amongst Friends, and that evil exists in our experience. However, because an exchange between two Friends made another individual uncomfortable – it was simply disregarded as a necessary aspect of reconciliation. It is my belief that our measure of Light cleanses us of sin, that sanctifying process that Quakers have historically called convincement. We may be perfected – ever closer to our goal of spiritual maturity – but this is no indication that sin does not exist, nor is there any historical evidence that Quakers did not believe in sin. It is simply a preferred way for many liberal Friends to understand the nature of humanity (and, I do not believe in depravity or the potential for a human being to be “evil’) and avoid judging another individual’s behavior. Liberal-liberal Friends seem to eschew the nature of accountability, and when I made use of Christian narrative to ask forgiveness from a member of our community, one person rejected a key component of that narrative according to a personal understanding of Quakerism.

 

I have been absent from worship for some time, being released from ministry to work with a Methodist Church. Upon return to worship, we had some visitors, and this individual shared a little about Quaker faith and practice while we were still gathered after worship. Again, she identified Quaker practice according to her own beliefs, and not only ignored the beliefs or understandings of many individual in our meeting, but seemed to obliviate the nature of Friends diversity. She also swept 350+ years of Quaker witness into a dark corner. “We don’t believe in baptism” she stated firmly.

 

Not only is this statement untrue of Friends historically, it is untrue in differing ways of Friends today. Historically, and in the beliefs of many liberal Friends, and most every conservative Friend, we do experience baptism. Friends have traditionally rejected the necessity of water baptism, and historically, Friends only accepted spirit baptism as legitimate. However, spirit baptism has always been a major component of Friends faith and practice, and has simply been ignored as archaic and unnecessary in the beliefs of a growing number, if not a majority, of liberal-liberal Friends.

 

More importantly, an increasing number of liberal-liberal Friends refuse to maintain relationships, or even a working knowledge, or the diverse nature of Quakerisms that exist today. Just south of our state line, FUM Friends are practicing water baptism. They indeed call themselves Quakers. Evangelical Friends also practice water baptism in some of their churches. Sweeping generalizations about Friends that do little more than self-justify our own preferences not only reject the need for dialogue with others who call themselves Quakers, but limits participation in our own meeting. Especially when someone speaks out about testimonies in a manner that conflicts with entrenched practices of those who are considered “elders.”

 

During this sharing time, I also learned that Friends do not practice communion but have potlucks instead. Table fellowship is certainly a necessary aspect of Friends faith and practice, and it may be considered an act of communion. More importantly, however, is the tragedy that this Friend rejected the most important aspect of worship; that being the belief of Friends far and near that waiting worship is an act of communion – inwardly and without form. To reduce inward sacraments to potlucks, or to simply reject them out of hand and ignore the very real potential for the Holy Spirit to welcome an individual into new relationship and life-changing spiritual awareness is detrimental to the community as a whole. The suggestion that “Quakers don’t baptized” is to marginalize the very nature of what Friends found to be foundational. That Christ is our inward Light that will wash away sin and make known to us our own measure of Light.”

 

Truly, the sudden recognition of this transformative grace is indicative a baptism by fire and Spirit, and indicative of early Friends experience. The painful aspect of my perception is that this conversation cannot be had. Liberal-liberal Friends refuse to be held accountable for their beliefs or understandings, yet insist on shaping the nature of Friends faith and practice to suit their own assumptions and preferences. At least six individuals left meeting thinking that all present at the meeting were represented by the statements of one Friend.

 

Perhaps we should simply begin to qualify every statement we make to others as related to the nature of Quaker beliefs. I often find myself doing that, mostly to prepare folks who might visit meeting that they will hear a lot of ideas that do not represent the meeting as a whole, even though they are stated in a manner that suggests the opinion is universally held. A question I ask of myself is: How can we begin to talk, when certain concepts are immediately rejected as illegitimate. I don’t mind if folks who attend meeting simply reject the experience of baptism out-of-hand, but please don’t generalize or project.

 

A final plea.

 

It is impossible to have discussions when others say that “I’m not like that, and my meeting isn’t like that.” I am grateful if your FGC meeting “is not like that.” But, please understand that for years, many Friends have experiences like those stated in this blog, and it is a very common occurrence. The “fact” that the critique is not representative of your liberal Quaker belief does not mean it does not exist.

A statement meant to exonerate your own practice and belief, as well as the belifs or practices of your meeting, It immediately cuts the conversation short by discrediting the experiences and observations of those who are challenging the liberal-liberal Quakerism.. In fact, I rarely if ever hear liberal-liberal Friends challenge such blanket statements, However, these Friends who are “not like that” will certainly be quick to challenge Christ-centered critiques.

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Comment by scot miller on 11th mo. 7, 2012 at 5:43pm

Thanks for your comments John. The "author's name" is Scot - that's me. My use of the term liberal-liberal Quakers is not one of my making, but has been offered a s a descriptive term of some Friends by one of the most valued liberal Friends scholars in Britain and North America - Ben Pink Dandelion. At this point, I would like to share the proper citation for the term, as it is simply one aspect of FGC Friends' faith and practice - and is one that I specifically address as one of many Quakerisms, though perhaps I did not make that clear.  Dandelion dedicates approximately four pages to describe "liberal-Liberal Quakerism" in his book An introduction to Quakerism. (Pink Dandelion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. pg. 133-139.) Dandelion is not portraying liberal-Liberal Quakerism in negative terms, but he certainly makes a respectable attempt at defining it. Perhaps reading his definition might help clarify the term for folks.

As for being one-sided, I wrote it from my perspective, but also from the perspective of a meeting that I was a member of for 14 or more years. I also identified myself as a Liberal FGC Quaker. Your comment to me seems to indicate that I am not understanding the perspective or faith and practice of my own meeting, or, you simply want to disregard my experiences. The comments above indicate that, while others may not agree with my manner of addressing my concern, they certainly understand and empathized with the experience.

Also, the individual that offended my sensibilities is an individual that I have known for 14 years and lived in community with for four years. Not only do I understand where she is coming from, but I consider her one of my spiritual elders, and she has been involved in many a clearness in which I participated. While I choose not to reveal her name publicly  the article indicates that I am searching for a way to communicate with her in a gentle manner in regard to my experience.

As for actions - mine will speak for themselves as observed by the faith community that I have been faithful to for 14 years. I reserve the right to place my actions within the context of Quaker language. Your assumption that I am one-sided indicates that you have not read much of my writing, and have not considered the following when stating your assumption. My elder continuously stated what Quakerism does not do. I am attempting to place our peculiarities with a positive context. As for open-mindedness. Indiana yearly meeting now has churches that practice water baptism. If you are open minded, you must be open to those newcomers who seek that experience. After all, we don't want to be one-sided and unfair to those whose individual experience trumps the corporately tested leading of Quakers through the ages. Inward Sacraments. Imagine, it might be revealed, if we con;t want to be unfair, that war can be an answer...

Comment by scot miller on 11th mo. 7, 2012 at 6:04pm

Friend Gail, I greatly appreciate thy post. your call to engage one another in discussion is one that I want to engage in in depth, but find very few takers. also, I believe you have hit one nail squarely on the head. My rather didactic tone, and often condescending nature, make it very difficult for others to believe I am listening. many folks in my meeting are working with me on this, though I fall short of this mature of spiritual goal more often than not.

Comment by John Vechey on 11th mo. 7, 2012 at 9:00pm

Scot,

Thank you for both your post and your comment. In reflecting a bit, reading more, and getting some extra thoughts, as well as re-reading your original post and your commentary back, I realize that I was mistaken. Please accept my apologies.

I believe that I am guilty of that which I accused you of.

I have downloaded the book to better understand liberal-liberal definition by Ben Pink, but need to read it as I can't easily search. I will start reading it and will be able to better understand, but as I understand your post now, I do reach out with empathy at your situation. I would be hurt / frustrated / angered if I were in your shoes.

While I use different language to describe my spirituality, and try to do my best to understand others,  I (clearly) have a lot to learn and appreciate this interaction at helping me grow.

Again, I apologize and thank you.

Comment by scot miller on 11th mo. 7, 2012 at 9:53pm

John, I am humbled by your gracious response to a terse comment. Thanks. I believe you will enjoy the Dandelion book in its entirety. As I mentioned above, he does not address the nature of "liberal-Liberal Quakerism" in negative terms, but makes pertinent observations that tend to agree with my own. As part of m committment to dialogue between liberal and liberal-Liberal Friends (this is getting tiring) I have asked Chuck Fager and Paul Buckley to come to Ann Arbor, MI to lead workshops on Quaker Universalism and the Hicksite movement. These are my interests, and I am interested in initiating conversation. However, a large number of LL Friends seem to be disinterested, both in the conversation, and the process of learning.

Comment by Mackenzie on 11th mo. 8, 2012 at 1:06pm

I'm pretty firmly in the liberal category, but as Randy suggested, I have certainly moved from a standoffish position to one more ok with Christian language (I'm going to blame Micah Bales and our friend Annalee for this...they make Christianity sound so much better than what I grew up with and what I hear from the sorts of preachers that get on TV).  

Still, when I think of what "real" "traditional Quakerism" means, I think of the few remaining Conservative Yearly Meetings... the ones that are still unprogrammed, still no water baptism, and still outspokenly Christian. And I think I might actually like such an atmosphere, especially since I have the sense that community is taken more seriously among Conservative Friends. It has been my experience with my joint-FGC/FUM meeting that you can be around for 3 years, attending pretty regularly, and still have other regulars ask "so who are you?" One of my friends started attending my Meeting's mid-week worship several months ago and has found that only a tiny handful of people are willing to even try to have a conversation with her (she's deaf, but she has a hearing aid, so if you face her and speak up, it can work) that goes beyond "hi, how are you? *walk away without waiting for an answer*" It's only when she attends Sunday morning worship and people see me acting as ASL interpreter during Meeting that people who know me (mostly other YAFs) come up and have a conversation.

I think it's funny that the moderates of Quakerism are called "Conservative."

Comment by Pieter-Jan on 11th mo. 12, 2012 at 4:21pm

Interesting reading your thoughts Scot. They reminded me of an article from 2007 in Friends Journal, maybe familiar  http://www.friendsjournal.org/misunderstanding-quaker-faith-and-pra...

Comment by scot miller on 11th mo. 12, 2012 at 4:23pm

Pieter-Jan, I just read that article recently. An individual that is close to our meeting, a non-theist, proposed that a group of us read it. I commented extensivley on the article, if you would like me to email it to you. My email is r dot scot dot miller at gmail dot com

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