Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Lets do an experiment. Pick a Meeting, any Meeting. Find a Monthly Meeting that dares to list its recorded members as a matter of public record, with or without other contact information. Have you found one yet? Take your time.
Time was, being public about one's membership was an act of courage. You might go to prison for it. The English church considered Quakers too subversive to be allowed to spread. Many left for the New World as a result of these persecutions, although it wasn't long before Quakers inter-bred with high society types and rose in stature, even inside their homeland. By 1790, being "Quaker" was consistent with being "well to do". Quakers did a lot to galvanize the so-called Industrial Revolution, even if their model, of a benign company town, friendly to workers, never caught on among more rapacious brands of capitalist.
In the US especially, a bellicose nation defined by its growing empire, questioning the prevailing code of conduct might get one in hot water somehow. Now that we only "register" for the draft, public declarations of one's Quakerism seem even less necessary than before. Better to play it safe then, and "come out" as Quaker mostly to one another, in the safe confines of some social hall.
Imagine a form a Quakerism in which "becoming a member" meant consenting to having one's name publicly listed on the Internet as such? That might require mentioning the Internet by name in Faith and Practice however, and introducing any technologies beyond the telephone is what many Meetings are loathe to do. Ours mentions the Yellow Pages ad our Meeting supposedly places each year. Oversight is in charge. Isn't that charming? I find it alarming.
We've recently started to hammer out some language that will mention post 1980s technologies, in the form of an Annex or Addendum to NPYM's Faith & Practice. It's a top-down process, more prescriptive than descriptive. Instead of polling the meetings about their own experiences, the document tends to lecture on why conference calls will trump more deliberative archived listserv discussions. Those most comfortable with the phone want to retain their role as "discerners". When it comes to "discernment", lets stick to the old ways. I'm skeptical of this position, but do welcome the debate.
Back to membership... We have a regional directory that's like pulling teeth to produce, with Meetings reluctantly sending their information, some refusing to do so by any electronic means. Fear and suspicion of the Internet runs high. In no way do "members" want their identities divulged in any "world readable" format. The directory goes out privately, with warnings to not spread the contents irresponsibly. Does anyone see the irony here?
I'd say no wonder the whole institution of membership is in question. What could it possibly mean if it's not a matter of public record and isn't the Web how we share with the public in this day and age? I'm for starting a new regional directory that's specifically geared to Friends who wish their affiliation to be made known. We'll make sure it's opt in, allowing the secretive to continue in their slinking around. I'd expect many who are not yet formal members to want their names broadcast in this way, perhaps with the caveat "not a member". Maybe non-members will outnumber members on some web pages? That'd be OK. At least they're willing to come forward. Takes guts.