Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I would like to acknowledge that I have seen what thee has written, and to say that I would like to respond, but can't just at the moment as my daughter is ill and I must attend to her. It may be a couple of days before I can get back to this. I didn't want to appear to be ignoring thee.
I have had similar thoughts about the differences in how the schisms played out in the U.S. vs. Brittain. I suspect that part of the reason for the deeper divisions in the U.S. is that the U.S. is more aligned with rugged individualism and this undermines the valuing of community and society which you pointed to. Another aspect, perhaps, is simple geography. In the U.S. people caught up in schisms could literally move on to another location. I think of how the Beans ended up in California as an example of this. In England moving away wasn't quite as easy an option and so there was a tendency to see it through.
Regarding regathering of Quakers: I think the starting point has to be an acceptance of different forms as equally valid. This was my experience with Korean Buddhism; that they accepted that different people would be attracted to different forms. And this might shift during one's life. In a Quaker context, the form of silent worship (my personal choice) is not necessarily superior to the singing of hymns in grateful worship. Or to the preaching of the Gospel. Or to the study of early Quaker writings. If any of these assist a practitioner in awakening to the light within, then who can complain?
Another way of looking at this is to focus on what all Quakers have in common. Primarily what they have in common is their heritage; people like George Fox and all of the early Quakers. This is a significant foundation on which to build. It is not a theological foundation. It is more like a family heritage. I and my cousins share common grandparents, and we recognize that heritage as significant and as in some sense binding us together even when we disagree about many things.
Just a few thoughts,
Thy Friend Jim
Chuck Fager once expanded on the very old concept of Friends as a chosen people.
As with that better-known 'chosen people' (who seem to be going through similar searchings re 'what does it, what should it, mean to be "one of us"?') there's a potential for many different subgroups with different styles of practice, different ranges of theological conceptions, members with varying degrees of devotional attunement. A 'people' is a roomy sort of category.
And it doesn't link people all that closely, normally. Doesn't need to mean much. Even less than belonging to 'a church' still means.
But I 'joined up' with this people because of what we used to stand for, not for what most of us stand for these days. Much of what we've come to stand for is generally good; it just isn't what matters to me, or what I'd thought I was joining.
The Quaker way means ~ 'continually seeking to know God and do God's will' -- or it becomes merely another venue for idolatry.
As a matter of fact, Britian did schism, though nowhere near as dramatically as US Friends. Fritchley Friends broke off in ?1868 and remained separate for about 100 years as a Conservative branch. But more tellingly, Britain picked and chose among US yearly meetings who to accept and who to reject, and their acceptance and rejection exacerbated the schisms Joseph John Gurney and, later, his widow Eliza helped bring about (http://www.quaker-chronicle.info/pdfs/pp40-41.pdf). Their umbrella was not large enough for all Friends. (http://www.snowcamp.org/shocf/shocframes.html)
"When London Yearly Meeting received epistles from two Ohio Yearly Meetings in 1855, it spent nearly three days deciding which Yearly Meeting to acknowledge. Though the Yearly Meeting was strongly Gurneyite, it recognized that the Gurneyite party had been out of order in appointing a new clerk. Allegiance finally won out over procedure, and the "Binns" Yearly Meeting was recognized. London Yearly Meeting's authority among Orthodox Friends guaranteed that most other Orthodox Yearly Meetings would follow suit."
It is interesting to me how many Friends seem to feel the separations are proof that Friends were faithless, and personally have a longing for reunification. But as a member of a branch that separated from other branches, what would thee have? That my branch not exist? That the EFCI and FUM branches not exist? Which culture of Quakerism would thee have us all be under? I assure thee the universalist Friends culture is not a comfortable place for all Friends, nor is the Conservative, nor is EFCI or FUM. Who should give up their solace to bring Friends into unity? We have a bigger umbrella by allowing differing worldviews to explore the Quaker insights than if we unified and only expressed one worldview.
I am afraid this longing for a unified Quakerism is born not of insight into what Friends need, but out of a need within particular individuals for Friends to have been pure and unsullied by division and strife. Saints, not ordinary human beings, flawed, sinful, trying to do the best they can to be faithful in the circumstances they find themselves in. Do I want Friends of disparate branches to have more respect for one another? Yes. Do I want them to unite? No. I admire the strengths of each branch, and acknowledge each has weaknesses as well. I think the anonymous historian who wrote a history of conservative friends (http://www.snowcamp.org/shocf/shocframes.html) was right about unification:
"The disappearance of these Yearly Meetings as distinct Conservative bodies left three surviving Conservative Yearly Meetings: Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina. Though Kansas and Western Yearly Meetings died out for lack of numbers, New England' Canada, and Philadelphia were viable Yearly Meetings when they reunited with other Friends bodies. In all three cases, the reunions had been preceded by a long period of increasing closeness and work toward reunification. The bodies involved had come to feel that the differences between them had narrowed since their original separation, or at least that these differences were not as important as they had once thought. The near-disappearance of the plain life among Conservative Friends undoubtedly played a role: Friends could no longer point to outward differences in their ways of life as justifications for continued separation." (emphasis mine)
"In New England and Canadian Yearly Meetings, the effect of the reunions was straightforward: the rapid disappearance of the Conservative witness, as if the Conservative Yearly Meetings that entered into reunion had been swallowed without a trace. The Conservative Yearly Meetings were substantially smaller than those that they joined - in New England, Conservative members were outnumbered by about thirty to one. Conservative Friends, characteristically slow and deliberate in their approach to decision-making, tend to be overrun by the relatively "fast" methods of other Friends. We need also to acknowledge that the Conservative Yearly Meetings had undergone substantial assimilation before reunion - and that this assimilation in large measure made reunion possible." (emphasis mine)
I think reunification was possible not because a desire to set aside differences led to love and understanding, but because essential differences had melted away over time.