What do Friends have to teach me about how to deal with people at Quaker gatherings who are openly hostile to christians? I've encountered some of it in the most liberal Quaker gatherings I've been to. It's not ok. I know that some liberal Friends groups in their lack of openness attract some people who are really spiritually wounded.
How do we make such people welcome and address their fears whilst at the same time not tolerating hatred of Christ or people who follow him? It's not a loving favour to indulge the spiritually wounded. Our indulgence of each other is spiritually dangerous and I believe I have seen it pretty much kill the spirit of a Meeting. How do we challenge wounded people to heal?
I care about this because it's not just about sucking up the persecution. It's about whether liberal Quakers get to keep a whole load of smart committed highly motivated christian young folks who may already be bored to tears with boomer wooliness. This is a key issue for people in liberal meeting to address. I think lack of toleration for open hostility to Christ needs to be the very least we can expect, otherwise what on earth are we doing?
A "Christian" problem--hostility to Liberal folks?
I think we've got a language problem here. A lot of people don't understand Christian language (I know I don't!) and many of them feel like the slaves John Woolman dreamt about, who cursed 'Christ', via reasoning that whoever had inspired their masters must be "a cruel tyrant."
The frustration... of knowing that this Christian language is about something real and needed, which many modern people simply can't find in it--is enough to leave a christian feeling rumpled and dissed. Talking louder doesn't bridge the gap.
One big source of discommunication: the belief that one knows and understands what another person is saying from having heard someone else say something similar before!
Hostility to the word 'Christ' is not, as you know, 'hostility to Christ'! It does make for heavy turbulence in the communications effort. If you literally can't talk about what's needed, yes, it's enough to make a meeting die of scurvy!
What, by the way, is this... stuff about "boomer wooliness"? Let's see, if I'm born in 1944 does that relegate me to "pre-boomer wooliness"? To avoid an excess of levity here, shouldn't we just stipulate that a lot of people don't like to think too hard; it might injure the brain? Leading one to make injudicious statements from time to time?
I was really looking forward to a post from thee about certain Christian terminology that doesn't make enough sense to me, but sounds like it might be shorthand for something I would understand.
The experience of my meeting, with gay people... We kept getting these gay attenders; they'd stick around for awhile, help out, make themselves very much appreciated--and then, realizing that we were never going to approve a minute in support of gay marriage, they were gone. Eventually, we slipped that minute through when the major diehard opposition's wife persuaded him to stay home that day. A year or so later, we helped marry a nice Lesbian couple, whom we're still fond of, but for now they're too busy to attend.
How does this translate to "christian young folks"? You might well lose them the same way. Is being "christian" a 'special interest' in the sense that being "gay" seems to be? It shouldn't be, but if the roots of that christianity don't go deep enough, it can work that way: a matter of style and language and 'my tribe & my tribe's god.'
For a liberal quaker christian... who isn't entirely sure what any of these things do or should mean (Wooliness is no doubt setting in!) I'm left with this certainty that there is something vitally important we all need to get, and that we're barred from that by the assumption that the other side is talking pernicious nonsense! That may not be "hating Christ," but it certainly implies being estranged from Christ.
This speaks to me. I don't know if this is answer to the dilemma, but the fact is that many traditions honor Jesus in this way and admire his teachings. One example that really enhanced my understanding is The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta by Swami Prabhavananda. It is an embarrassment that so many in this country and especially among Friends are not as aware of the actual teachings of Jesus as are many Jews and Muslims and others.
Alice, it is soothing to me, to hear you address this. I have done intensive Quaker intervisitation work for 14+ years. I am a Jesus-loving FUM Quaker. I identify with traditonal Christian language. I didn't learn until college (at a liberal Quaker school), that even if you have the best of intentions and are as grounded in love as one can be, it still hurts people just to say the very words that are associated with this past hurt. This in turn can trigger swift attack.
I really, really, struggle with this.
I can't tell you how many times I have been attacked by liberal Friends just for showing up and stating my affiliation or openly identifying as a "Christian." (Though, even for me, that word has been hard. I JUST started reclaiming that word as well.)
I don't wish to press my beliefs on others. Generally, I will share, if it feels appropriate, anything I have learned/found that has been useful in my spiritual walk. With little provocation though, I have been yelled at, cursed at, mimicked, fired, insulted, disrespected and in one case physically and forcefully shaken for my background and current path.
My question is--do people WANT to be healed?
If you have been hurt by certain Christians, that sucks. It's pretty horrible. But don't throw out the baby with the bath water!
I share disillusionment with much of the mainstream Christian church past and present--believe me--but I am doing the best I can to make things better and be as faithful as I can be. I am over being kicked in the shins by intolerant, narrow-minded, holier-than-thou FGC/liberal Friends.
You're right though, Alice...what's the answer then?
I actually think about this often...
P.S. I actually just got off the phone with an openly gay Christian Quaker who just told me about being berated at an FGC Gathering. Being gay was ok. Being Christian evidently was not.
There's a lot useful to said in prior comments. Some meetings seem full of sick people not wanting to get well. Healthy people are viewed as sick. What happens when good Christians stay in such meetings? Well, a variety of things, but one thing I've noticed is that they tend to take on some of the illness. I'm not sure it's healthy to stay.
Does it have to be like this? The faith community I'm in now (I resigned from a liberal Friends meeting in 2005) also attracts lots of people who didn't fit in typical evangelical, Catholic, or whatever churches. But our community focuses on discovering what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, not on rejecting Christ because others have distorted him badly. Such a refreshing contrast to many Quaker meetings.
One sign of illness: Ask a liberal Quaker about their faith, and you're more likely than not to get an answer about what they're not rather than what they are. It's become a reactionary faith. Where I am now, we dialogued together for a year and came up with a vision. And we're about following that vision, not about reacting to false visions. We're concerned about many of the things that liberal Quakers are, but there is a very different atmosphere. I went back once to my old meeting, and it stunned me. I didn't realize quite how reactionary and negative the atmosphere was until I had been immersed in a very positive atmosphere for awhile. And I think my meeting was healthier than most other meetings around.
What a great posting! What great questions!
I have the impression that some Quakers who are not Christians sometime feel (rightly or wrongly) that Christian Friends believe that the Society of Friends is, at base, a Christian movement and that Quakers who are not Christians therefore need to defer to those who are.
That Quakers who are not Christians sometimes feel that way might make it hard for them to be as open as they ought to be to their Christian sisters and brothers.
I find that one of the great ironies of condition of spiritually wounded people coming to Friends and bringing with them their "allergy" to Christianity is that Quakerism itself is a critique of forms of Christianity that people were wounded by, but they cannot see that because the critique is couched in Christian language. I sometimes ask, "Who will save Christianity from the Christians?" One of the answers is that the early Quakers tried to. You just have to read read Barclay calling the doctrine of predestination a blasphemy against the love of God, or to read him saying that denying the possibility of perfection in this life is to deny the power of God, to understand the depth, power and passion behind that critique. Many liberal Friends don't see that. I also have to say that my experience is that liberal Quakerism is becoming more accepting of Christian Friends over the last 10 or 20 years. Or at least Friends are more comfortable using and hearing Christian language. At least it is a start.
Maybe a question we should be asking is why people aren't really healing from those wounds, or they are healing very slowly. If there was a vibrant life in the Spirit in which people really felt refreshed, if people were so happy to dwell in the unity together that they didn't care how long meeting lasted, or were hungry for more worship opportunities, might those wounds be healed faster?
There is a place in George Fox's Journal where he says "I was cruelly beaten and bruised by them with their hands, bibles, and sticks", and that certainly didn't turn him against the bible. It's not that we should say to people "hey, you think you had it bad, Fox was physically beaten with the bible, so suck it up" - but that we have a sure hope that as we dwell in the Divine Seed, those hurts do fade.
It is sad that Bill Samuel had to go somewhere else to find that, but I rejoice in his finding of it.
I think that we have to be prepared to point out in love that all too often, the response to hurt is to become what we hate. This is only human, we have been hurt, we strike back. The point here is that reaction does not help communication, understanding does. Reaction, even that based on limited experience, is still prejudice.
I gues on the level of interpersonal relationships with such "hostile" people one good Christian Friend can always keep in mind, that the hostility in question is not because Christ nor His message, but because some painfull, rejecting experience these people or their important ones once have from institutionalized, formalized or self-proclaimed "christians", hence they are making this projective, negative blanket-statement, discounting everything "christian". This is not problem, solution is always to listen and inquire directly persons experiences, feelings behind those "anti-" statements, which are only kindda cries for positive affirmation and, actually, truly christian acceptance of anyone as possessing indelible "that of God in us".
Hold Thee in Light -- Algis, Lithuania (Eastern Europe)
I agree that hostility to Christians and to so-called "Christian language" is a problem in many meetings. To some extent it has been a problem from time to time in my meeting, where I've been a member for about 35 years. I have not felt it to be quite so much of a problem in recent years, but I'm not sure how much of the change is a change in the meeting and how much is a change in me.
I've experienced the Friends in my meeting (including some who seem so closed to Christian terms) as deeply loving and committed people...people who have been very generous and kind to me as well as to others throughout those 35 years and especially in certain crisis situations as far back as 1975. My gratitude to them has helped me love them, and I believe my love for them has helped me be a kinder gentler witness for Christian faith. Over the years it seems to me that at least some of these Friends are more able to hear and appreciate Christ-centered ministry than they were at one time. Some otherChristian Friends in the Meeting agree that this is so; though I think some still find the atmosphere hostile and discouraging.
The only advice I can give is to continue to be faithful and to reach out and to not be defensive. It's not ony the theological liberals who can sometimes become "reactionary" in Bill Samuels' sense (defined by what they're not rather than what they cherish and believe); sometimes we Christians, out of our own hurt, can come across as un-liberals rather than as disciples of a Liberator and Teacher. One of the best things we can do to avoid that fate is to connect with each other and encourage each other.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans (boomer, Christian, radical, Quaker)
Rich, you're right that it's not only what you call "the theological liberals" who can sometimes become reactionary. The environment often tends to make strongly Christian Friends tend to become reactionary too. I know that was true of me. It's one reason why I'm somewhat skeptical of the merits of strong Christians staying in meetings where there is no unity around the headship of Jesus Christ.
It's useful to connect with one another, but when you're coming from incompatible faith perspectives, I question the merits of trying to do that within the same faith community. It's much easier for me to have true dialogue with liberal Friends when I'm not in the meeting with them. Is it a witness to the Friends' testimony on integrity to maintain a fiction that we are part of a common faith community when in truth we don't hold a faith in common?
FWCC explicitly exists for consultation. Dialogue among the several types of Quakers is very useful and helpful in the FWCC arena. FWCC is not a faith community. A faith community needs to have some important faith elements which are a common basis of unity, even though each member may not see them quite the same way. Otherwise it tends to become a social group, not a faith group, which I think is a major reason why liberal Quaker meetings tend to be so homogeneous in socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural terms - which I think is a sickness in itself.