Why not call yourself a christian, like Lucretia?

I keep being surprised that people are surprised to find that christians are not the "straw man" they seem to be expecting. Jesus is reported as starting the saying after all - "Matthew ch7 v21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." I guess it baffles me that so many people amongst Quakers seem to be in the fellowship of the holy spirit, drawn into this church (Quakers) and yet denying that we are christians.

Yes, we aren't necessarily the same kind of christians as some of those centuries-old creeds appear to think are important, or as the straw man in the head of anyone who hasn't done the spiritual work to get through to the god they can honestly worship. I think it's obvious from George Fox's works to the Gospels that we are living a way which is about the truth and cutting back to what is real. Love really exists; it is manifest every day, people do incredible things to feed their children and to help strangers. Praise God, Love is Real! Why is it hard to admit that is following Jesus? To me it comes across as deceit to deny that the experience of unity with Jesus in scripture is the foundation of our church. We need truth in advertising, we can't pretend that Quakers are not christians, the truth is important.

I don't presume that I know the exact limits of that Love, so I am happy to join with all the millions who praise God and save the conversations about what exactly that means for when we need to do creative conflicting together. I don't understand why some of those of you who seem to be in unity with Friends from the way you hang around, seem to also be convinced that the heart of the faith is something alien to you. Do you really not find Jesus in your heart, a model of a man who lived and was faithful to truth unto death, finding resources to transform and heal? Aren't you united in living in the transforming power of truthful love?

I know I've had a lot of encouragement from other Friends to dig deep and understand that we are united. I have benefited such an amount from other christians showing me how scripture can be read from the persepctive of the oppressed - it only make sense to me that way! So I want to pass on to you encouragement to understand that if you love truth and experience the power of nonviolent love and Quaker's stripped-down way of living with God, you are following the way of Jesus and there's no need to feel you aren't.

I guess I sometimes get the impression it's important to some people that you don't mean the same as someone else does when they use the word God or Jesus. I wonder if that's coming from humility and faithfulness to the truth you experience? Maybe it is - but how on earth do you know that other person means something difference? Why not talk to them, united in the body of God, and find how you can light each other to the glory of God?

Lucretia Mott's words quoted recently by Hystery seem to me to be uncontroversial testimony of following Jesus, I know I'm in the same church as her. It puzzles me that there are so many people amongst Quakers who don't acknowledge that this is a church, part of christianity, and that it's fine to be your kind of christian: what is more important is doing what faith requires - following those promptings of God, building peace, feeding the hungry, teaching the impoverished, and raising up the oppressed. We've been given a toolkit of techniques for christian discipine and a manual of scripture to do that job, the most important thing to me is to live it to the glory of God. Enlighten me?

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Comment by James Riemermann on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 11:29am
Alice, I am very glad you asked this question, and I hope you can accept my answer as my sincere understanding of the truth, and not an attempt to denigrate you as a Christian. I would hate to do that.

First, I am simply not a Christian. By that I don't mean that I think Christianity is a bad thing, or that you or any other individual Quakers should not be Christians. On a purely human level I greatly admire much of what Jesus teaches in the Gospels, though not everything. There are some things he is reported to have said that I think are wrong and unhelpful. Nor do I think he is/was "the Christ," the title for which Christianity is named. It would make more sense for me to call myself a Ghandian, or a MLKingian, or a Thoreau-ian, since I feel more connected to their teachings than to Jesus's, but I don't consider myself any of those, either. I am not an exclusive follower of any person, nor of a God who I don't believe exists as a conscious entity or being. The only sort of God I could possibly "believe in" would be purely metaphorical, not real. Given all that it would be deeply dishonest for me to call myself a Christian, or a theist.

Yet I call myself a Quaker, and my meeting has agreed that I am one. For me that does not represent believe in any propositions whatsoever; it represents that Friends--real, live Friends who walk the earth just like me--constitute the particular people who I have bound myself to. I have other loyalties as well--to my family, to the human race--but my loyalty to Friends is deep and real.

You say "we can't pretend that Quakers are not christians", but it is a simple fact that a substantial minority of Quakers are not Christians by their own understanding, nor by any understanding that makes any sense to me. To say "Quakers are Christians" as a universal statement is simply false. To say that Quakerism has a special and ineradicable foundation in Christianity is true, but that is not the same thing. Saying "Quakers are Christians" is like saying "Christians are Catholics" or "Americans are white men". All three statements have a foundation in history, but are nonetheless false, unless preceded by the word "Some" or "Many."

Beyond that, several of Lucretia Mott's statements from the page you reference are in fact extremely controversial, and she was condemned by many orthodox Quakers and other Christians in her day for that very reason. She explicitly suggests that giving the Bible a unique status among ancient literature is folly, along with belief in miracles, and "mystery and mysticism," and "superstitious reverence for Jesus." She was profoundly naturalistic in her Christianity. She was a founding member of the Free Religious Association, which hoped to reform religion along lines of naturalism, evidence, reason, individual conscience.

I am not claiming her as a nontheist or a non-Christian, but she was a ferociously anti-credal and anti-dogmatic as anyone. She would have, in fact did, resist with all her heart any attempt to define Quakerism around matters of theological agreement.
Comment by Nathan Swift on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 11:40am
So, the other side of the question is, "If in Christian terms they are doing the will of the Father, why should Christians require that they wear the label?" Hmmmmm, does the injunction beginning in Romans 14:10 about judging our "brother" extend to those in our community who do not carry the same name we do? Worth thinking about.
Comment by Alice M Yaxley on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 1:54pm
Yeah, the main thing for me is are we doing the job. I'm absolutely not trying to impose any particular theological position, more saying, can we get on with it?
Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 2:23pm
We've got a couple meanings of the word "Christ" at work here.

The first meaning is roughly: "man who's had oil ceremonially poured on his head," which didn't mean much to the Hellenists, but to the Jews meant: "the Messiah = 'the son of God' = the king of Israel."

I hold that Jesus received that title as a result of having been anointed (read "crowned") by John the Baptist in what was misleadingly called his "baptism." The de facto rulers of his time subsequently killed them both, but the otherwise-unexplained title remained.

"Christ" as it came to be understood in the Hellenistic world of the Roman Empire... was the spirit manifest in Jesus. And so Fox explained the early Quaker movement as: This Christ has returned to teach people as he did in the early Church.

Jesus was evidently (Why else were these sayings preserved) quite clear that the man 'Jesus' was not personally divine (except, as he also says, as I understand him, in the sense that all people manifest that same divinity.)

You could make a case that the early Church, like early Quakers, used the terms "Spirit" and "Christ" fairly interchangeably.

And in that sense we are all (Sorry, James!) basically "Christian", with some of us a little further along is seeing what that implies about the world: that while we are necessarily reduced to metaphor in describing God, this Unseen Narrator is the true power at work in everything. (If you don't 'see' it, James, don't take my word for it!)

So what are we to make of this man Jesus? Stephen Mitchell, in The Gospel According to Jesus does an excellent job of providing parallels to his teachings from other enlightened teachers. Mitchell also fails to understand why a rich man can't enter the Kingdom, with or without his camel. Nobody's account seems able to contain Jesus, or reach the hidden depths of his teachings... so for obvious reasons, I can't be sure myself of having found all that's there!

So, with much respect for people's insistence on sticking to what they honestly know, I have to keep insisting that there's more for them to learn. It isn't the label; when I get rudely asked if I'm "a Christian" I really have to ask the inquirer what he means! If they're shipping us off in boxcars I guess I am; if it's the Christians doing the shipping, I ain't! (I think James is likely a Christian in that sense, yes?)
Comment by James Riemermann on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 2:32pm
Alice wrote: Yeah, the main thing for me is are we doing the job. I'm absolutely not trying to impose any particular theological position, more saying, can we get on with it?

That's good to hear. But in the various conversations that led up to this one, you have several times suggested that being non-Christian or exploring non-Judeo-Christian traditions is a problem for Quakerism. This makes me feel you think some of us are interlopers. Is it possible that your view is a barrier to our getting on with it?
Comment by James Riemermann on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 3:00pm
You can bet, Forrest, that I won't take your word for it--or anybody else's! I absolutely agree that there's more for me to know, but I think you and I have different standards of evidence. I have learned a lot from Christians and theists of various sorts. Indeed, many Christian Quakers leave me quite humbled in my feeble efforts to live the life. I'm quite clear it's not their Christianity, or their theism, that makes the essential difference. I'll keep watching and learning, though.

I appreciate your making the distinction between the Jewish meaning of messiah and the orthodox Christian meaning/s of the word. Christianity would be a very different animal if more Christians understood that. I will say, though, that "son of God" is not a particularly Jewish messianic attribute.

I hear you about the boxcars. The fact that my grandfather was loaded into one, I'm sure, is part of the reason I still call myself Jewish, though it's not my religion any more than Christianity is. I hope I would have the guts to stand with whoever's being carted off to the camps. I'm not sure I do have the guts, though. Moral courage is over-esteemed, physical courage is under-esteemed.
Comment by Alice M Yaxley on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 3:38pm
"... you have several times suggested that being non-Christian or exploring non-Judeo-Christian traditions is a problem for Quakerism. This makes me feel you think some of us are interlopers."

I hope not. I am sorry you have got that impression. I have written explicitly that I think the truth needs all of us, I want to invite a deeper engagement. It's my care for inclusion and unity that drives me to ask, seeking to understand. What we do has to be judged by the fruits it brings and the manner in which we do it.
Comment by James Riemermann on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 3:41pm
Thank you, Alice. I am in unity with you on this.
Comment by James Riemermann on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 3:47pm
Maybe a better way of saying what I said in my earlier comment would be: Moral courage without physical courage is useless; physical courage without moral courage is dangerous.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 6th mo. 9, 2009 at 7:39pm
I'd hesitate to call anything a nonJewish concept... Psalm 2.7 ["a royal psalm, composed for a coronation... The word 'anointed' in Hebrew is literally 'messiah,' one of the titles of an Israelite king"]

"He said to me, 'You are my son; today I have begotten you." (Pretty close to what Jesus is supposed to have heard at his 'baptism'; extremely close I'm told in earlier manuscripts)

As to different standards of evidence--I don't know of any kinds of evidence that aren't potentially misleading or subject to misinterpretation. I don't consider the physical world a privileged category of experience, so we do differ on that.

Rather than different standards of evidence... maybe putting more weight on some kinds than others?

In science, you'll naturally give greater weight to results that are consistent with theory and previous results, discount contradictory results as probably erroneous until you've got pretty strong evidence that something new is going on. I'll give more weight to interpretations consistent with my previous religious experience than if I hadn't built up a considerable expectation of things working that way; I wouldn't expect you to give such things the same weight. After awhile "coincidence" ceases to be a plausible explanation.

And I'm still busy learning too.

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