As this is my first post on QuakerQuaker, and as it might be relevant to understanding my perspective on this matter, I'll briefly introduce myself.

I'm Frederic Bayer, 19 years of age, a convinced and enthusiastic Friend living in the United Kingdom but born and brought up in Germany. I regard myself as a Christian Quaker. I was a "spiritual but not religious" atheist before I became a Quaker – the Quaker Way "reconciled" me with Christianity.

Within the Liberal Quaker framework of the United Kingdom, I suppose I could be considered somewhat "conservative", as I adhere to a form of "new plain" dress, and feel that the activist side of Quakerdom should not make us lose sight of the spiritual side – a view excellently expanded on by Ben Pink Dandelion in his Swarthmore Lecture this year.

I am also, however, a Quaker universalist, believing that the Quaker Way should be open to non-Christians, to anyone who shares our worldview and testimony. I firmly believe in non-creedalism, and as the Quaker Universalist Group puts it, I believe "that spiritual awareness is accessible to men and women of any religion or none, and that no one Faith can claim to have a monopoly of Truth."

In that light, I was shocked and dismayed at a major display of ill-spiritedness in the Facebook group "Religious Society of Friends". Here it is, summarised in a single screenshot, censored for privacy:

I find both the post and the comment shown here quite disturbing and "unquakerly", if I may be forgiven for passing that kind of judgment.

Before I get back to that, though: Other responses weren't much better either. One of the most common complaints? A sense of: "How dare he speak for God!"

That just puzzled me. Is it not the foundation of the Quaker Way – the unifying factor between all our branches, liberal, conservative and evangelical – that each and every one of us has the capacity to be moved by the Spirit and thus speak for God (or for our "collective unconscious" or whatever image the non-theists and polytheists among us might propose?) A phrase we use and hear all the time: "that of God in everyone" – are we really saying that some people do not have anything of God within them?

Another criticism I find more understandable was that this message was "preachy". And yes, that is a point of fault with it. In its tone, it insinuates that non-Christian Friends are either stupid, delusional, or both. At this point, I consulted §17 Advices and Queries of my yearly meeting:

Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

This, to me, is one of the central insights of our community. This tender spirit in which we are to receive all speech, in case they might be ministry, in case they may have a purpose to fulfill in our own journeys of life, faith and thought.

That advice, I hope, makes obvious my quarrel with both the original ministry and the response: The original ministry leaves no room for error. It leaves no room for the belief that God may not exist. It leaves no room for the belief that Christ may not be his son, nor that the Bible may not be his word. Everyone is free to have their beliefs on God, on Christ and on Scripture, but not to criticise others for not sharing in them. In my view, that violates one of the tenets on which our Religious Society of Friends, at least here in Britain, is based: Acceptance and respect for one another.

The reply is guilty of the same. No attempt was made to "try to sense" where this querying came from. It is very possible that the Friend making the post was genuinely curious to see what non-Christian friends' views of God, Christ and Scripture are. And it was also hurtful and provocative, because it dismissed not only Christianity but theism as a whole, which permeates Quakerism and is held as a view by the vast majority of Quakers worldwide, as a "superstition", as something silly, facile, delusional.

On both accounts, I wonder: Where is the goodwill? The respect, acceptance, the attempt at understanding? The tender spirit and open heart which is one of the foundations, if not even the single-most important foundation, of our community?

Pink Dandelion warned in his Swarthmore Lecture that if the two major "types" of Quakers in Britain today – theist and nontheist – drift apart and radicalise in their views, hardening their hearts to those of others, this will lead to a schism. I would like to think that the unifying, reconciling spirit central to Quakerism should prevent that, but evidently, the danger of its failure is greater than I was willing to believe.

P.S.: I myself am not immune to this. We are all struck with anger or a temper on occasion, and I cannot claim to always react well to things that "rub me up the wrong way". But just as I am glad to be called out when that happens, I think it is the responsibility of every one of us to make others aware of when they do it, and that is what I have attempted to do here.

Views: 998

Comment by Bill Samuel on 12th mo. 30, 2014 at 4:33pm

Thee might try reading some early Friends, particularly the numerous doctrinals. You'll find them very preachy and not at all reluctant to pronounce other people's ideas as wrong. This idea that we are all to be nice-nice and accept all views as valid was definitely not a part of early Quakerism.

Comment by Frederic Sebastian Bayer on 12th mo. 30, 2014 at 4:47pm

Very true, Friend Bill. I have indeed read parts of George Fox's journal, including those where he refers to people as "full of filth". However, all faith changes. At the time of George Fox, the Roman Catholic Church endorsed torturing heretics, which it doesn't today. I hope you will agree that that is a change for the better. If change has been a good thing for Catholicism, can it not have been a good thing for Quakerism?

Comment by William F Rushby on 12th mo. 30, 2014 at 4:52pm

Frederic Bayer wrote: "Is it not the foundation of the Quaker Way...that each and every one of us has the capacity to be moved by the Spirit and thus speak for God?"

My answer is "yes". 

Comment by MaryBeth Smith on 12th mo. 30, 2014 at 6:40pm

I'm a new Quaker, so will go out on a limb here a bit. I'm remembering the story of John Woolman, who traveled among the Native Americans and spent time with them. Although he could not understand the language of one of the people with whom he spoke, he said that he heard "where the words come from," viz - from the Divine Spirit, the Light, that we all share. 
To be certain, language is important. It must be -- why would so much of the real estate of the human brain be taken up with language processing? However, to insist that we all use the same words to describe individual experience, I think strays into the making of a creed. I've always been moved by the words of Jesus, taught that "by their fruits shall ye know them." The life lived in faithfulness to the testimonies and in love and care for each other is a more rigorous spiritual discipline that one might think, but one that is bearing fruit in many, many lives, and in the world. Thank you for a thoughtful and tender post.

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 30, 2014 at 7:45pm

Thank you Friend for this.  I might say,  "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ".   Although, I understand this gospel differently from much of orthodox Christianity, in fact, should they examine my understanding, I would be eligible for the charge of heresy,  that's why I am a Quaker!  nevertheless, I am not ashamed, nor silenced when moved to speak concerning my experience with our Teacher.  To  those who snidely and with a superior air smirk and throw about the word "superstition"  and would silence Spirit when revelation is genuine, I might look at them with fire in the eye and ask, "Will THEE teach me?"  

To those whose  "sophisticated" position  

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 30, 2014 at 8:24pm

the Teacher Himself.  .   .  He doesn't seem to have been "nicey-nice".    He seems to have often been sharp and biting.  The book, The Humor of Christ, illustrates this,  and this is clear in the gospels themselves.  I don't think people were offended by the "man in the leathern pants" or beat up the early Quakers because their message went down smoothly. 

Things do sound worse online and the tone of the conversation of these two people on Facebook might sound far more balanced in person.   But it seems the Teacher Himself might be silenced as perhaps would be George Fox in some circles, if they came across a bit too preachy!

Comment by Shane Moad on 12th mo. 31, 2014 at 10:04am
I guess Fredrick, with all humans we sometimes do not clearly think about what we/they say before saying it so as not to hurt someone unessasarly. What you posted from than FB page was not how I personally would have approached it from either of the points of view. I am a Conservative Friend and my faith is grounded in Christ but I also know some Friends are not. I will never deny the foundations of what Quakerism was built on, which is Christ, but I will always try and be understanding towards others who feel different. As Laura said, "things do sound worse online".....sometimes too, it is because they are.
Comment by Jim Wilson on 12th mo. 31, 2014 at 10:47am

Good Morning Frederick:

It is often difficult to comprehend the tone of a speaker when they post online.  I have learned to be extra cautious when interpreting a post that I find disturbing.  Perhaps the original post was meant humorously; I mean that the poster wasn't necessarily speaking for God, but may have been trying to express a point of view using a literary technique that doesn't transfer well to the web.  This is just a possibility; I don't really know.

We have a similar journey, as I come from a non-Christian background and, like you, it is the Quaker tradition which reconciled me to God and Christ.  I am in the position of truly comprehending the non-theist views that are being pushed in various venues of the RSoF.  This is because for many years I was a non-theist and I understand the view, the arguments, the history behind it, etc.

Personally, it never occured to me during my long period of non-theism to join a religious society whose teachings are theistically based.  I truly find it exceedingly strange that there are non-theists who want to bend the RSoF to their will and utterly transform it into something agreeable to them.  The thing is, there are so many organizations and places for non-theists to go where there would be no friction.  I know this is true because I participated in some of these groups.  So I am baffled as to why Quaker non-theists feel compelled to latch on to the RSoF.

An analogy might help.  If someone joined a society devoted to a particular composer (let's say Bach) and then insisted that the society be open enough to include non-musical concerns, I think people could see that as disruptive.  Suppose person X joins the Bach Society and then insists that the society spend time, energy, and host workshops on the Aurora.  Wouldn't it be legitimate to ask them why they are doing this?  It's not that the Aurora are uninteresting.  But there are organizations devoted to studying the Aurora, so why put energy into having the Bach Society host Aurora Workshops?

I have similar feelings about non-theist Quakers.  It is not a matter of tolerance, it is a matter of what the purpose is of the RSoF.  I just don't think that non-theist Quakers get it.

I bring up these considerations because I can sympathize with the original poster; behind the post I read a sense of frustration and an inability to communicate across assumptions.  The response is the kind of condescension and dismissal that non-theists often have regarding what the RSoF stands for. 

Hence, I suspect we will see more of these kinds of interactions, rather than less. 


Comment by Laura Scattergood on 12th mo. 31, 2014 at 11:17am

Jim. yep.  And let our tenderness to the dead not quench the Spirit of Life.  

Comment by William F Rushby on 1st mo. 1, 2015 at 1:44pm

Hello, James!  I think you mean to say "suffer [allow] the little ones to come unto me."

I have no problem with non-theists attending a meeting for worship.  However, I would draw the line at taking a non-theist into membership in a Christian meeting.


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