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Moving Forward Or Circling The Wagons?

By David Johns

We never resolve the question, “Who are we as the Religious Society of Friends?” Perhaps this is inevitable; perhaps it is even good and right. Keeping this query open means we never stop asking ourselves what it is God is calling us to be and do. If we stop pondering the query and claim to have settled the question, we slip into triumphalism or into the delusion we have arrived at the destination of all our hopes.

There are numerous occasions inviting us to examine our identity and our purpose. Many of these occasions spring from divisiveness and from Quakers’ incapacity to resolve internal conflict. The lack of resolution of inner turmoil is unfortunate because when we ask the question “What is God calling us to do and to be?” it ought to come from a deep engagement in the world and from knowing the joy and pain it holds. The question ought to emerge as a result of our mission, not as an exasperated effort to hold together an unraveling movement.

Quaker theologian Maurice Creasey notes prophetic faith gravitates to one of two religious extremes which derail it from approaching corporate identity in a life-giving manner. On one hand is assimilation where the group takes on the characteris­ tics and expectations of the religious world — its practices, its mythologies, its way of governance. Of course, when a group adapts in such a manner it will resemble religion-in-general sufficient to be recognizable in public. When Quakers gather at this extreme of assimilation they more easily blend into the religious landscape avoiding the bewildering stares of onlook­ers. Yet, if the motivation for this extreme springs principally from a desire to belong the spark of life in the movement is extinguished. The intention of belonging creates a crippling emotional dysfunction within the group. No group can thrive by simply blending in.

At the other extreme is what Creasey called identification. If assimilation typifies the tendency of some Friends, identification is the tendency of many, many more. Rather than becoming just like any other religious group, this extreme places its emphasis on being a peculiar people, a people separate and distinct, a people obsessed with distinctives and cryptic speech. Who is in and who is out and what make us distinctly us; these are the overarching preoccupations. Of course, groups like Quakers will be characterized by certain patterns of life. When these grow organically from worship and witness they can be life giving to the group and a sign of God’s activity to those they encounter. However, as often happens at this extreme, groups like Quakers place their hope and their corporate identity in peculiarities such as the costumes and customs of other centuries. Sooner or later they find themselves defending and protecting what may be the fruit of a life rather than living the kind of life that produces it.

Neither extreme is useful and neither provides space for the Spirit to move. All along the spectrum of Quakerism, from evangelical to liberal to everything in between and beyond, there is a dangerous conservative impulse at work which is crushing the movement. This has nothing to do with the old dichotomy of conservative verses liberal because even the most liberal Friends are conservative in this sense. This conserva­tive impulse recognizes there are precious inheritances which should be guarded and treasured — conserved — to enjoy now and to pass along to others. To a point this is good and even beautiful. However, as it exists among Friends along the entire spectrum, this impulse manifests a spiritual problem we are often not willing to face — the inability or unwillingness to let go of a moment of grace in time in order to follow the living Spirit of God into an unfolding future.

The transfiguration story in Luke chapter nine illustrates this point. After a peak religious experience where Jesus is met by Moses and Elijah, Peter’s response was to propose building shrines for each of the three to forever capture the power of that moment of graced experience. And why not? Quakers have created an entire industry of shrines commemorating such moments. Pilgrimages to “1652 country,” to the grave sites of Quaker saints, to historic meetinghouses in England, Kenya and the United States, and the list goes on. Luke does not record Jesus’ response to Peter but we read in the following verses they left the mountain of this experience and returned to the ministry of healing. Whether the shrine we build is to Elijah or whether it is to Mary Dyer, these mark moments in the past when grace moved in the life of a community. No residual energy is absorbed by touching where God moved yesterday.
The problem with monument building is the problem of the conservative impulse; the more we hold on, the more we must protect and defend; the more we protect and defend, the more we become protective and defensive (since we mostly become what we do). When the distinctive customs, practices or patterns of speech are the things which identify the group, all the fiercer is the defense, because one is not defending things but one’s very self. If they disappear, the group disap­pears. And so the conservative impulse becomes a struggle for life and death.

But it does not need to be so.

Consider for a moment the testimonies. They are, for Friends, a precious inheritance and a distinction that marks how the Society lives in the world. But they are not ours. In fact, saying “Quaker testimonies” over time may lead us to believe these convictions are possessions. They are not owned by anyone, certainly not by Quakers. The testimonies are Christ’s and they are of the Gospel; we assure our death as a movement when we claim them as our own. Our work never is to protect the testimonies, nor is it to promote them. Instead, our work is to embody them, enact them, to give them skin. Protecting them results in backward motion, circling the wagons and hunkering down around ideology and history. Promoting them suggests we have a proprietary interest in them. However, embodying them means we move as Christ calls us and enter the places where living these convictions takes us.

Our life together is scarred by the all-out struggle to defend ideas and practices when we structure our communities ac­cording to models that leave little room for the Spirit of God. Underlying many divisions within Quakerism, continuing to this very day, is the issue of authority. We are in serious trouble when leaders try to convince us they are in fact lead­ers by asserting rank, coercing, by diminishing diversity, and by squelching creative and prophetic voices.

The structure of our communities ought not grow from the extremes of assimilation and identification nor from the impulse to protect and defend. Creasey states it beautifully, “form and order are given, not from ‘above’ through the hier­ archy, nor from ‘behind’ though scrupulous imitation of New Testament norms, but rather ‘from the midst,’ from [Christ] to whom the scriptures bear witness but whom they must never supplant.”1 It makes sense for authority to emanate “from the midst”; that’s incarnational and the Church is from beginning to end Christ’s, not ours.

If these treasures are not ours to possess, protect or pro­mote, but rather to embody then perhaps queries can assist us. How does your life demonstrate your acceptance of Jesus’ call to discipleship? In what way does your life manifest faith, hope, and love? Does your message and ministry of reconcili­ation have credibility by being practiced among the members of your own community of faith (meeting, church, yearly meeting, association, and so on)? By regularly asking us how Church or how the testimonies are made real in our lives, the queries will not let us forget what faith requires of us and they will also remind us that whatever religious end may exist we have not attained it and therefore cannot claim to possess it.

What is God calling us to be and to do?

We may be called to discipleship; we may be called to be more Christ-like; we may be called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God; we may be called to invest our lives deeply in the human family; we may be called to love ourselves and our neighbor with the wild abandon of the Good Shepherd.

But one thing is certain: God is not calling us to be Quakers.

Make faith, hope and love real in the world; work to make these visible. When the goal is to make Quakerism itself vis­ible, or protect and promote an idealized and purified yearly meeting, then we will have missed the point of many things, including Quakerism itself. In fact, Quaker-ism as a thing we possess or a thing we are must die if the faith of Quakers is to live.

“What the world most deeply needs is more men and women who bear a family resemblance to Jesus.”2 Whether this family resemblance is glimpsed in Quakers or Sweden­borgians or Buddhists or Muslims or in the growing ranks of the Nones, does not matter. Jesus’ sheep know his voice even when they are not all of the same flock.3 The future is where we are moving if we turn toward it rather than toward the ideas and practices and structures we think we possess and we think define who we are. We may hold on to moments of grace that once were, or we can press into tomorrow, unclear as it may be, knowing there is more than enough when we follow the living Spirit of God.

______
1 Maurice Creasey, “Form and Freedom” in David Johns, editor, Collected Essays of Maurice Creasey (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011), 300.
2 Maurice Creasey, “Rethinking Quakerism,” in David Johns, editor, Collected Essays of Maurice Creasey (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2011), 415.
3 John 10:16. “Nones” are those claiming no religious affiliation.

David Johns is Associate Professor of Theology at the Earlham School of Religion, where he has taught since 2001. He is a recorded Friends minister and has served Friends meetings in both Ohio and Indiana. He is currently a member of First Friends Meeting of Richmond, IN.

Comments

  1. Chuck Fager said:

    “But one thing is certain: God is not calling us to be Quakers.”

    The “us” in that sentence definitely does NOT include me, or many Quakers I know, from various branches.

    “Quakers have created an entire industry of shrines commemorating such moments. Pilgrimages to ’1652 country,’ to the grave sites of Quaker saints, to historic meetinghouses in England, Kenya and the United States, and the list goes on. . . . Whether the shrine we build is to Elijah or whether it is to Mary Dyer, these mark moments in the past when grace moved in the life of a community. No residual energy is absorbed by touching where God moved yesterday.”

    I disagree strongly, and reject the argument here entirely.

    When I climbed Pendle Hill, it was an “uplifting” experience in more ways than one. When I later visited the dungeon in Lancaster Castle where Fox and others were imprisoned, it left a permanent impression. As I stood by the Mary Dyer statue on the ground of the Massachusetts statehouse, where her visage still gazes over the spot where she and three other Friends died for their faith, it was a profound moment.

    When I watched the plays that Carolina FUM Friends have crafted from their history of witness and travail in war and “peace,” with slaves and “free,” this witness came alive for me, and especially for my young granddaughter who sat rapt beside me. And 70 miles southeast, many time I passed the spot in Fayetteville where the first Quaker House peace project near Ft. Bragg was firebombed in 1970, and I never once failed to recall how its occupants refused to be burned out of their testimony.

    I have not been to Kenya, but I have no doubt there are numerous similarly inspirational sites in that country, past and present.

    What facile nonsense to dismiss and disrespect this rich, living history so. I repeat: the “us” caricatured above emphatically does not include me, many Friends like me, and many other Friends whose theology likely differs much from mine.

    God most definitely IS calling me, and many others, to be Quakers, the best Quakers we can be, and which we have by no means yet achieved. I hope to be able to stand up for that call against this kind of denigration.

  2. John Price said:

    “What the world most deeply needs is more men and women who bear a family resemblance to Jesus.”

    I believe we have this same goal. Where you and I depart is whether the act of “being Quakers” satisfies that goal. I have always argued that Quaker beliefs are important and need to be preserved. Preserved against what? And why? And what are those beliefs?

    Taking the last first, those beliefs are not the wearing of plain clothing, or the use of “Thee” and “Thou”. That seems to be the root of much confusion. Those who rail against “all that Quaker stuff” invariably seem to be caught up in the idea of belief as tradition, habit, and pageantry. To me, Quaker beliefs are embodied in the ideas behind those visible expressions of belief, both the outdated ones and the current ones. Wearing plain clothes was the historical expression of concern for people coerced into health destroying employment in the textile dying industry. It made sense in the day and age of toxic dyes and slave labor. It would make no sense in a society where dyes were not toxic and people were not forced into slave labor. To that extent, the criticism is valid. But the belief from which that outward expression arose exists today and is still valid. And while wearing un-dyed clothing today is considered an affectation with no practical meaning, wearing something other than $200 sneakers made with under paid child labor in Southeast Asia does make a valid statement. A simple test of this validity is to consider whether the act itself addresses an injustice, or whether the intent is to make an impression that enhances the moral status of the actor.

    Thus, the preservation of the Quaker values behind these various forms of perceivable expression of belief is important. “Ah”, you say, “but what is important about Quaker beliefs and values versus other beliefs and values?” The answer must directly address the idea of preservation and answer the question, “Preservation against what?”.

    To find this answer we must return to that most fundamental of Quaker discoveries and beliefs expressed most famously by George Fox, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition”. By this he meant Christ could speak directly to his condition and ours. This radical idea, that the priests and scholars of the day, and their interpretations of the Bible, did not speak for Christ and were unnecessary to one’s working out of his or her own salvation, is the foundational idea of Quakerism. It is the reason that Quakers eschew priests and consider the Bible as a secondary authority.

    Which brings us to the final question, “Preservation against what?”. The truth that Fox recognized, after consulting with all manner of scholars and priests, and listening to their ideas and interpretations of the Bible, was that these men, be they priests, scholars, or scribes invariably perverted the teachings of Christ, and could not address the condition of others. The impetus for them was always simplification and standardization, calling for outward appearances of piety, rituals, and customs that would prove to other men and women the admirable piety of those under public scrutiny. Their aim was the consolidation of power, so that the “correct” behavior could be forced upon every prospective believer. Out of this came baptism in water, physical communion, and other rituals in which the believer must participate in order to be accepted by other men and women as saved. Quakers recognized the futility of the symbol of belief taking the place of the actual belief, and for whom such symbols were meant. And therein lies the conflict over the preservation of Quaker beliefs.

    There is today a great body of accumulated “Christian” belief to which the generic Christian is generally obligated to subscribe. That body is composed largely of the power preserving, self-agrandizing, self-serving doctrine of 2000 years of human and church corruption. It has justified torture, genocide, war, rape, pillage, and murder. And yet, also today, there is great pressure for Quakers to gain acceptance by what we call “mainstream Christians”. Quakers without sufficient understanding of the foundations of Quakerism don’t understand why Quakers are different, peculiar, and even persecuted. They wish for a peaceful co-existence with other Christians, a harmony that the basic differences in belief cannot allow. And so the pressure increases in some quarters for Quakers to abandon their “outmoded” and “quirky” ways and join the comfortable ranks of modern day Christians who believe in just wars, ritual, and the supremacy and literal inerrancy of the Bible (as interpreted by the “authorities”), and the church as entertainment and validation of their comfortable consumerist lifestyles. Those Quakers who understand the basic beliefs that fueled the outward expressions of faith by early Quakers strongly oppose that pressure. That is the root of the present conflict in many Quaker yearly meetings. Whether it manifests as an argument over the acceptance of homosexuals or the top down authority of the yearly meeting over it member monthly meetings, that is the root of the conflict.

    In the end, the issue boils down to how we define the term “Quaker”. If we define it as wearing plain dress and using plain speech, or any of the other specific historical manifestations of Quaker belief then we are talking about something very different from the underlying beliefs as taught by Jesus Christ, and I suspect we will never reach an understanding. That being the case, we are faced with a choice of either educating ourselves about the basics of Quakerism and accepting those ideas as necessary to our belief system, or we really probably should go our own ways.

  3. paula said:

    Well, perhaps I was not called to be a Quaker per se, but when I first learned of Friends and their beliefs, my heart did leap for joy. I have learned of no other religion that calls us to obedience to God alone, or what has been called Primitive Christianity.

    Quakers exist because Christianity has been buried under many centuries of unessential or harmful dogma. Unless other branches of Christianity can come together and understand what humans are called to be by God, the Religious Society of Friends will need to be here to point its collective finger at Truth. And that includes honoring our shared history, without letting our history lead us into empty forms.

    • Paul Ricketts said:

      “The testimonies are Christ’s and they are of the Gospel; we assure our death as a movement when we claim them as our own. Our work never is to protect the testimonies, nor is it to promote them. Instead, our work is to embody them, enact them, to give them skin.”
      Ashé
      James Martineau (1805-1900), stated “The incarnation is true, not of Christ exclusively, but of Man ( humanity ) universally.
      With mystics of every age and tradition we affirm, God lives and speaks in each person. A perfect example but not exclusively was our elder brother Jesus. Because of his faithfulness he was able to embodied the testimonies, equality in particular in his skin. Jesus says, John 14 10
      “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.”
      I guess for me at the end of the day it’s not about being Quaker. Being faithful and being accountable to those who I walk with in discipleship.

  4. Scott Wagoner said:

    Wonderful article…timely and important…it’s message may be the one thing that saves Quakers today…that and obedience to the Living Christ.

    • David Johns said:

      Thanks much, Scott. Feel free to share it with others who might benefit from it as well.
      Cheers,
      David

  5. David Johns said:

    Thank you for your remarks concerning the article.

    A characteristic of Friends’ reading of scripture is to try to avoid a kind of idolatry of the text by reading the text in/through/and by the Spirit who inspired those who wrote them. The primary emphasis is on the Spirit, not the letter.

    I am making a similar claim, and I understand that some might find it to be a bit strong: we can read and live our tradition similarly. Following the tradition to the letter because it is the tradition (tradition qua tradition) seems to be a practice early Friends avoided. The Spirit that inspired early Friends is, one hopes, what we listen to in worship and follow in life.

    In making such a claim I am, without a doubt, privileging Spirit over tradition, but by doing so I am not by any means dismissing the tradition nor am I claiming Friends have not followed the Spirit faithfully. Of course there are characters and spaces which inspire. My point in the essay is that these are all testimonies (in brick and mortar and flesh and blood) of the powerful movement and presence of God….in other moments of history. The Spirit that made these possible is where our attention must be given, not in the particular historical manifestation.

    God calls us to follow and in faithfulness live the Gospel. We work this out in communities of trying-to-be-faithful people; some of these communities are Quaker, others are not. As I see it, the response to the call of God is to follow the Spirit, not a particular tradition.

  6. Jim Schultz said:

    Excellent article. Valid position.

    • David Johns said:

      Thank you very much. Send a link to the article to anyone you know who might also benefit from it.
      Best, David

  7. Jaggers said:

    If God is not calling us to be Quakers, why do you care so much about being Quaker? Why can’t you go serve Christ in a Methodist or Presbyterian congregation? They have their flaws, but they’re far more efficient most of the time than Friends.

  8. Walter Webb said:

    “We are in serious trouble when leaders try to convince us they are in fact lead­ers by asserting rank, coercing, by diminishing diversity, and by squelching creative and prophetic voices.” I like that. It’s a really good line. But I have to wonder just how much diversity and creativity you will be able to stand before you turn to rank coercion yourself? For example, are you welcoming and affirming of LGBT Friends in your meeting? Would you answer this question as clearly and strongly as you have written this article? I see that you are a Theology Professor at a Quaker university, so I could only expect you to speak Christian God Talk in the lingo to which you are accustomed. I wonder if you have ever considered expressing yourself this clearly without Bible references, God Talk, or even mentioning Jesus, just for once? Somehow, that might be more creative, diverse and prophetic. Thank you.

    • David Johns said:

      Walter Webb: Your remarks are as interesting as they are puzzling. I’m glad you resonated with the comment concerning leadership and diversity; however your speculation about the extent of my own diversity is what puzzled me. If it simply out of curiosity then by all means write to me, call me, or visit me. I would be glad to speak with you directly and will, I think, set your mind at ease about what may be an imagined disconnect between my words and my theological views in practice. I trust your curiosity about how far I can carry my words into life will not hinder you from befitting from the article as fully as is possible for you.

      All best,
      David

  9. Benjamin Pressley said:

    David,
    First of all, it always gives me a warm sense of nostalgia to read something by one of my former ESR professors. It takes me back to days in the Earlham archives reading old letters and new theology with Tom Hamm writing history in the next room. If that means I am clinging too much to the past in your estimation, then so be it! In any event, I agree with aspects of each comment on this board. I guess my overall comment would be that for me, the constant self-analysis by Quakers of what it means to be Quaker has reached almost soul-killing proportions at this juncture. I remember debating this endlessly when I was in Richmond, and looking back on it, it really did (and does) have the air of an in-group academic discussion almost Trotskyist vs. Stalinist in its ultimate irrelevance.

    Quakerism as a radical movement began in the 1640′s and ended in 1656 with the James Nayler incident. Quakerism as an institution essentially began with the Act of Toleration in the 1680′s, and has not been unified since 1827. Nor will it ever be. Those who think a reconciliation possible are simply well-intentioned people fooling themselves. Rufus Jones was able to unify Philadelphia Quakers because the two sides were not all that different. Indiana Quakers are not like Philadelphia Quakers and Philadelphia Quakers are certainly not like Kenyan Quakers. Who would want them to be? I empathize with those who want to engage in reaching across the Quaker aisles- I wish it were possible to envision a largescale movement of unified Quakers of the sort imagined by my beloved Thomas Kelly- but I decided I cannot join them in their attempt to “converge,” as it is simply unrealistic at this point.

    I am sure every generation of Quaker children who find themselves re-exploring the Faith and Practice of their forefathers and foremothers think they will somehow manage to singlehandedly revitalize Quakerism, but this seems to always degenerate into a reinvention of the wheel. Most Quaker evangelicals don’t want to hear about Wiccans or nontheists. Most liberal Quakers don’t want to be assaulted by Bible-wielding right-wingers. This is not going to change. The question is, what do we middle-ground people who were drawn to Quakerism because it’s the closest thing to actually trying to live like Jesus do, now that we don’t really have a unified movement.

    I am not, as the above poster suggested to you, interested in going back to the Methodism or Lutheranism of my upbringing. But I am also not sure of the way forward. For now, all I know is that I have a wonderful group of Friends at my conservative Quaker meeting here in North Carolina who are seeking Truth, as I am. And that’s just going to have to be good enough for now.

  10. Jeff Hunter said:

    I am deeply saddened that one Friend should respond to the words of another by referring to them as ‘facile nonsense’.

  11. Pat DeWitt Thomas said:

    David,
    First of all, thank you for speaking so strongly about something you care so deeply about.
    Second, your words speak my mind. There are just too many divisions in people of faith these days,
    and I believe if grieves the heart of God. In his final hours Jesus prayed we would all be one. That
    would tell me it was important to him, and to God. One, not necessarily the same but with one vision.
    I often used the story of Peter on the mountain of Transfiguration and it is a great lesson. Jesus did not
    answer Peter, but God did. “This is my Son. Listen to him”. I believe this is what you are saying.
    Thank you again.

    • David Johns said:

      Thank you, Pat Thomas, for your comments. I’m glad you mention “listen” from the transfiguration story. This is what, in our best selves, we try to do in worship. If we can be still enough to listen through/past ourselves and listen through/past our expectations we might be surprised what we hear.

  12. Jaggers said:

    Talk to me, Brother David. What makes the Religious Society so wonderful, so important? Friends have been fighting these battles with one another for nearly 200 years. Why not throw in the towel? I’ve worshiped with every kind of Quaker under the sun, and they are all flawed, fall short of the glory of God and the “glory of George Fox”. Go somewhere else. Join a community church and enjoy your Jesus as you will. Form a splinter group if you like. I’m sure if you renounced Quakerism your professorship would still be assured. George Fox University, another beloved Friends institution, has numerous professors who do not attend Meeting. Most of the seminary faculty are not Quaker. There’s even a seminary. Not merely a school of religion, but a blatant preacher factory.

    Benjamin Pressley — Let it be known that there are also Bible-wielding left-wingers under the EFI tent. We’re very loud sometimes, but we also know how to listen. If you have a boyfriend or smoke or drink we won’t burn you at the stake. We’re all sinners here, but homosexuality and drinking are not inherently sinful. Most of us aren’t into water baptism or sacramental crackers and juice.

  13. Walter Webb said:

    I sent an email to David Johns at his Earlham College address, just like he asked me to, and I queried as to his opinion on the coming expulsion of West Richmond Meeting from the Conservative fold. I received no response. I do not believe this Professor is able to make a clean statement on Marriage Equality, LGBT welcoming and inclusion, or employment equality in the FUM aligned meetings of Indiana that are now considering filing for divorce. I suspect his tenure at Earlham would be in some amount of jeopardy if he did. He is able to ramble on just fine in the good old academic style about this n’ that theory, sling some bible lines and even pull in some worldwide religious perspectives, but all the while ignoring the humongous elephant standing right there before him. So, David Johns, I will ask you one last time: where do you stand on Marriage Equality, full membership rights, and employment in FUM institutions for LGBT Friends? Make it plain. Make it simple. Do tell.

  14. David Johns said:

    Walter Webb: As I indicated in a post to you on another website, I am just now returning from leading a cross-cultural J-term course to Mexico. During my time away I concentrated on my students and did not consider as a top priority replying to what appear to be taunts baiting me into an argument or attempting to assess my orthodoxy. We’ve had enough of that on the conservative end of the spectrum here in Indiana; I’m not interested in encouraging it on the liberal end.

    To suggest my job at Earlham would be in jeopardy for embracing a progressive social/theological position demonstrates a lack of familiarity with both the college and the graduate school of religion. The seminary funded my attendance, participation, and representation at the international general conference of the Metropolitan Community Church in Mexico during the Summer of 2010. Representatives from the MCC visited our campus and approved us as a seminary for their ordination candidates (as several had already studied with us).

    I invite you to acquaint yourself with the details of the restructuring of Indiana Yearly Meeting. Quite a number of monthly meetings have chosen not to be part of that portion of the yearly meeting which sought to discipline WRF for its witness concerning LGBTQ persons. One of those meetings is my own, First Friends in Richmond, Indiana—and I am proud of our decision. During some of the deliberations I was a member of Ministry & Oversight and, on behalf of the meeting, framed several letters of deep concern addressed to IYM.

    This is plain and it is simple. AND, Walter Webb, it is as good as it gets as a response to an ultimatum (“I will ask you one last time…”).

    • Walter Webb said:

      Thank you David, and welcome back from your trip. I was wrong to assume you were not responding to me, when you were just busy. Please forgive me. Likewise, thinking you were ducking my questions, I made one last request which, I suppose, does sound like an ultimatum in the sense that I would then abandon you. I appreciate your work on Ministry and Oversight, and it sounds like you are working for non-censure from within. Still, there are all those Meetings who do choose seek to discipline WRG, and the matter is far from settled. I find your stance to be a step in the right direction: don’t censure, expel or discipline WRF. Now, will you go the next step and say something like, “I support Equality in Marriage, no discrimination related to employment in FUM, full membership rights in IYM, and endeavor to create an environment within Quakerism that is fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons?” Now, that would be clear and clean statement. Such a clarification would go a long way toward answering your original question, “Are we moving forward, or circling the wagons?”

      • Walter Webb said:

        I just noticed the departure, or expulsion, of seven meetings from Indiana Yearly Meeting, all over a welcoming statement to LGBT persons. I would say that IYM is definitely circling the wagons. David Johns, you may say that “…we may be called to love ourselves and our neighbor with the wild abandon of the Good Shepherd,” but not yet, not here.

  15. Becky Perry said:

    I want to live ever more joyfully and freely within the Spirit of God, whatever I conceive that to be. The Light is so much more, so far beyond any human organization or my conception of it! I will not cling to my Quakerism any more than I would cling to my other limiting beliefs and practices. The question is an individual one: am I growing into the Light or letting myself be held back? Part of the message of the resurrection is that dying/letting go allows new life to spring forth. What do I need to let go of? What disciplines, Quaker or otherwise, aid me in living more lovingly, more joyfully, more faithfully? What fears are holding me back?
    I believe that we all have that of God within us and that living in the truth is my way to live. I like the statement by David Johns that “We may hold on to moments of grace that once were, or we can press into tomorrow, unclear as it may be, knowing there is more than enough when we follow the living Spirit of God.” Divisions, defensiveness and fear do not come from the Spirit. To me, nurturing fear only holds me back from the grace that is always present, always enough…my task is to accept that loving presence and live it out.

    • David Johns said:

      Wonderful thoughts, Becky. You have me thinking about I John 4:18–”there is no fear in love; but perfect love drives out fear.” How much good could be done if we were to grow in love!

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