Tony Lowe: What Ifs, and trusting the Spirit Instead of Ourselves

Tony Lowe: What Ifs, and trusting the Spirit Instead of Ourselves. When I look at the history of the Society of Friends, I am always bothered by the great What If. What if Friends in 1827 had said ok, we have two somewhat different understandings of the basis of Quaker spirituality, so let’s find a way to continue to work together so that our witness to the Kingdom of God among us won’t be divided or compromised by our differences? What if the Wilburites and Gurneyites had been able to say, different strokes for different folks.

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Comment by William F Rushby on 7th mo. 22, 2010 at 1:20pm
Many Friends have advocated the ideal of a Quaker denomination without sub-denominations. It assumes that schism is a catastrophe, and that it could be avoided if Friends were more willing to dialogue concerning differences and exercise heroic toleration for others. This vision led to the merging of many yearly meetings that had previously split, and to the joint affiliation of others with both FUM and the FGC. We are living in the historical shadow of this style of Quaker ecumenism; it is an idea that has already been tried!

Many of these mergers and joint affiliations involved differences that had lost their sharp edge, and no longer mattered. Usually, there was a minority for whom the differences did matter, and the minority got pushed aside!

This “intra-Quaker ecumenism” is how the FGC got meetings with pastors, and how FUM got meetings where Christian faith is a moot point or even an unmentionable topic. This is how the Philadelphia Orthodox Friends virtually disappeared in what is now a sea of non-theism. This is how the Conservative yearly meetings in Canada and New England lost their spiritual and organizational integrity. This is how many devout Friends found themselves in an unacceptable religious environment, and became ex-Friends or unaffiliated Friends!

Please don't misunderstand me. I favor friendly dialogue with Friends of other religious traditions. What I find hard to accept is the idea that these differences can be dealt with by submerging them in a “common Quaker tradition” that probably doesn't exist.

My wife and I were members of a yearly meeting which in fact consists of two or three different religious groups pretending to be one. The existence of of diverse factions in the yearly meeting created a continuing power struggle and backroom manipulation which was more Machiavellian than Christian! Over the years many yearly meeting members dropped out because of all the toxic spiritual waste they were exposed to!

I believe that Friends would be better off if they sorted themselves out into relatively homogeneous groups, preferably based on faith and practice—not ethnic or socio-economic factors. This would allow each group to pursue its own vision, without wasting energy coping with “irreconcilable differences” in a badly divided meeting.

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