The recent microcontroversy about the Friends United Meeting board meetings last month in Kenya strike me as coming from a small place, not a place of revival and abundant life.
According to Will T's report, the controversy ignited in part over the proposal to reaffirm the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Support and objections came from boringly predictable quarters: representatives of the yearly meetings that are not dually affiliated also with Friends General Conference were generally in favor; those from dually-affiliated yearly meetings were mostly opposed. Background and commentary on both positions (particularly on the role played by concepts of scriptural authority) can be found in Will's post and the subsequent comments, and on the more recent post by Ron Bryan of Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) on Will's blog.
I was very interested in Ron Bryan's observations. He is not just speaking for himself; in his words I see an accurate reflection of a huge segment of Friends United Meeting--the very segment that many liberal Friends seem to feel is completely disposable. At the same time, his statement reveals how artificial this Richmond Declaration controversy is.
Some liberal Friends treat FUM's Christian identity and biblical roots as optional modules to be challenged opportunistically at least once every generation. However, to my utter frustration, over and over, I've also seen evangelical Friends (my tribe: small-e evangelical, i.e., the majority of FUM) choose to confront liberals by demanding the affirmation of some verbal formula. I'm not arguing here about the merits of the formula--I happen to think that the Richmond Declaration of Faith is as good as any collection of basic Quaker principles that has been ratified by a legitimate, worshipping fellowship of Friends. However, as a friend of mine, a long-time observer of FUM, said the other day, what was so urgent about re-ratifying the Richmond Declaration yet again?
According to Ron Bryan, African Friends complained that "You came to us 100 years ago and told us about the Bible and Jesus Christ using the Declaration of Faith as a guiding document, we believed, and now you want to take it away from us." Most FUM-only yearly meetings, and most Evangelical Friends International yearly meetings (at least in North America) include the Richmond Declaration among their foundational writings--nobody has the power to take that document away from them and their yearly meetings, least of all FUM. This is symbolic politics at its stupidest.
As my friend suggested, it's almost as if a small group of North Americans, hoping that the dual-affiliation yearly meetings will finally get fed up with FUM and leave, promoted the reaffirmation of the Declaration as a sure-fire way to irritate liberals, who of course can usually be counted on to swallow the bait without hesitation. There is much in the Richmond Declaration that is congenial to classic liberal concerns, but the imposition of a normative statement was apparently too much for some of the liberals to bear, even for the sake of unity, and so events (I say glibly, not having been there) took their predictable path. What if the liberals had said, "OK, if this document is so precious to you, we won't stand in the way; now what is the next item on the agenda? Hopefully it is more related to the needs of those perishing while we squabble."
Yes, people are perishing, and languishing under political, social, and spiritual oppression while the liberals work out their fastidious opposition to normative doctrines, and evangelicals insist on yet another round of verbal uniformity. People need neither subtle quakerishness nor formula evangelicalism. We need the Holy Spirit, and we need her NOW. What if we stopped acting as the heroic representatives of our ancient factions and humbly begged for the Holy Spirit to cover our gatherings, and we didn't move until we had clarity on our mission for the world, starting with our own neighborhoods, our own misguided politicians, our misused and deceived soldiers, our poorly served immigrants, our trashed planet, and wherever love pulls us to pray and act?
I don't intend to marginalize doctrines and the theologians who lovingly craft them on behalf of the church and humbly seek the church's ratification. But I see little love and less humility in the current drives to uphold or criticize the Richmond Declaration of Faith. Friends are in desperate need of revival, and revival is a matter of prayer and healing and commitment, not of symbolic politics.
Friends United Meeting's report on the recent board meetings appears here.
Bill Samuel provides a thoughtful comment on the FUM situation in response to one of my earlier posts.
Aj Schwanz may or may not have anything to say about FUM's quarrels, but her recent blog entries, "My tradition's distinctives: plaques or tools?" and "Conflicted," seem to me to come from the deep place where issues of revival or death are decided.
Robert Fisk in The Independent: How easy it is to put hatred on the map. (Thanks to Samia Zaru for the reference.)
Thanks to Ekklesia (see their overhauled Web site), I now have a new source for thoughtful movie reviews.
Friday PS: As Sean's Russia Blog pointed out, yesterday was both International Women's Day and the 90th anniversary of the first Russian Revolution of 1917.
Two items from Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq: #1: Should CPT remain in Iraq? and #2: Tom Fox remembrance: Lectionary for today, March 9, the third Friday in Lent.
The Christian Peace Witness for Iraq campaign (March 16) has five themes: "End the occupation; support the troops--bring them home; commit to rebuild Iraq; say 'no' to torture; say 'yes' to justice." (Thanks to FUM's weekly prayer bulletin.)
Buddy Guy performs "Five Long Years":