What do Quakers say about post-denominationalism?
It depends on what branch of the Quaker tree you ask, or who. It seems as if Quaker’s are only just beginning to discover the other branches of their own tree. I will speak out of the context of the liberal Quaker branch, which is left leaning politically, and with a good dose of universalism and secular humanist views. If the “power in the pews” is a major feature of post-denominationalism, then Quakerism will affirm this position, as it largely views ministry as everyone’s shared responsibility. Quakers dispensed with the laity, not the priesthood, remember?
If theological diversity is another feature of comparison, then my assessment of Quakerism falls short in this category. For although we affirm diversity of theological thought, we seem to stick closest with those whose god-talk sounds the most like our own. Liberal Quakerism demonstrates a wide range of levels of tolerance for biblical and traditional Christian language, but mere toleration is a liability through a post-denominational lens, in my view. We need to move from toleration to embrace. As a denomination, the Quaker movement represents a particular way of understanding and witnessing the Christian story. Since the Reformation, the many subsequent fragments of the Christian Church have focused their denominational vision on their particular “brand,” often to the exclusion of the Light that has, and is, being revealed on the entire Christian (and non-Christian) landscape. When the entire spectrum of Christ’s Light is shadowed by the often narrow particularities of denominationalism, “one’s perception is distorted and proclamations offered from this perception are misrepresentational.”1
Although Quakerism lacks the doctrinal cohesion of more top down church structures, our Society doesn’t lack an abundance of prophetic witnesses. Maurice Creasy was a british Quaker theologian and visionary ecumenical thinker. In Beyond Quaker Self-Referentiality: Maurice Creasy’s Vision of Ecumenism, David L. Johns explores Creasy’s thesis that ecclesiology and ecumenism are hinged together. Creasy offers a vision that places the Church “decidedly in the world,” and his ecclesiology is “incarnational both in terms of its Christological foundation and in terms of the locus of ecclesial authority.”2 In my view, rather than a church-based ecclesiology, an incarnational one is decidedly a post-denominational turn. Why? Because freedom to engage the world and creation as communities of Being means unshackling ourselves from the guarded, sectarian exclusiveness that has constricted Quakers, and the wider Church, from within.
"As I see it, the choice before us as a Society is whether, in pursuit of security or from a belief that we alone have the truth, we will determine to hold ourselves aloof, or whether we will recognize and act upon our involvement, with all its hazards, and at all levels, in the quest of the Christian church for renewal into unity."3
And this quest for renewal and unity in the Church is at the heart of what I believe post-denominationalism is all about. In terms of whether or not the Religious Society of Friends will shift from our unique particulars into to broader expanses of the Christian story of worship and witness remains to be seen. Our numbers are dwindling, and many of our bodies are on the endangered species list. This is a moment for replanting. Cuttings are one way to propagate new plants. So is grafting. Our tree has many branches. I hope that by taking the best of what Quakerism has to offer, I might entreat the Creator to help plant the garden with a new hybrid that really has the legs to “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”4
1. Johns, David L. "Beyond Quaker Self-Referentiality: Maurice Creasey’s Vision of Ecumenism." Quaker Religious Thought, no. 119 (October 2012). Pg 54.