08 March 2007

FUM and symbolic politics

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.

Righteous links:

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":


quakerboy said...

Friend, well said! May the Holy Spirit light a fire in each of our hearts.

God's peace,

RichardM said...


You comment that the microcontroversy comes from a "small place" and in doing so criticize at least some of those involved for not setting aside their personal egos and letting the Spirit lead them. Since I was one involved by posting a comment on this I wanted to know whether you thought I was one of those guilty as well. It seemed to me at the time that I needed to say that to conflate opposition to the Richmond Declaration and the use of the Bible as a primary authority with secularism was false. I still think it is false and still think it needs to be said. Do you think I was being excessively confrontive or ego-driven by stating this?

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Richard. Thanks for pulling me up short a little bit (whether you intended to or not). I make a distinction between the larger context of the FUM struggle, about which I was venting with both sorrow and anger, and the very courteous and loving discussion that appeared on Will T's weblog. Some of my sorrow and anger is fueled by my long history in the very midst of these dynamics; the far more recent phenomenon of inter-Quaker discussions on the blogosphere is qualitatively different. Some of the writers actually do represent, at least in part, the "ancient factions" of the older controversies, but when they actually interact with each other in blog postings and comments, there's a genuine exchange and a willingness to acknowledge each other's insights that's very refreshing.

So, the short answer to your question is, no, I didn't have you or anyone else in mind. And I admit that by being so blunt about the disproportionate energy poured into defending or attacking important documents, I run the risk of painting the situation with an overly broad brush. However, the alternative (from my point of view) is to collude in letting Friends remain in denial about the price of fighting identity turf battles when the truly urgent Lamb's War is raging on other battlefields entirely. I can rely on others making these same points with greater subtlety than I am capable of, but the function of my words is to warn that this price will be very steep: stagnation or death.

My biggest grievance about the traditional factions that tear FUM apart (literally: after all, Friends Church Southwest left FUM in 1993 over related issues) is that I see neither love nor honesty in their battles. This may be a harsh and judgmental saying, and I am laying myself open to criticism and correction. I detest the use of our important teaching documents as crowbars to divide people while pretending to use them as sources of unity. I have been around some of those defenders of orthodoxy and I know what they have sometimes said in unguarded moments about liberals. I am equally upset by those who want to fix FUM to suit their hypersensitive tastes, no matter what the cost to FUM's core constituency, by removing or watering down the biblical principles that have been lovingly preserved and refined and reinterpreted for generations.

Some of the yearly meetings who want to "fix" FUM have cut their financial support of FUM, others have members campaigning to do so. What better evidence is there that the flourishing of FUM on terms recognizable to its historic core constituency is not a priority for these Friends? "Do as we say or lose funding" is more or less the way the USA treats the United Nations; I don't like seeing this in Friends.

It's interesting that FUM Friends do not go to Friends General Conference settings to try to change FGC. In fact, they would find it hard to do so, because FUM continues to be a genuine MEETING, not simply an agency or conference. (Correct me if I'm wrong on either count.)

I find myself feeling stubborn about the struggle to maintain FUM's integrity in the face of these perennial attacks and maladroit defenses. I do believe that FUM owes more accountability to its core constituency that truly identifies with its purpose statements and historic statements of faith (by "identifies" I mean "takes seriously" not "replaces its brains with"!) than it does to those Friends who essentially dislike, distrust, or don't understand FUM. In the latter category I also place those who love Quaker variety and therefore appreciate FUM as a face of this diversity, but who are indifferent to the evangelistic task that is at the heart of FUM.

But while I uphold FUM as an accountability structure, I also agree wholeheartedly with Bill Samuel that any Friend who DOES care about FUM's heart, no matter where that Friend is located on the Quaker map, should always receive the welcome that FUM traditionally gives. Such Friends have participated at every level of FUM--in constituent meetings, at Triennial business sessions, on the staff and the field staff, and so on. I remember at one point in my service at FUM, we had staff at Ramallah Friends Schools from FUM, FGC, and Evangelical Friends, all working together for the good of the schools. FUM worked together with Evangelical Friends on church planting conferences, Friends Ministers Conferences, concerts of prayer, and so on, while working with Friends General Conference on publishing materials in Russian.

I've accused the factions of lacking love, honesty, and humility. I recognize this is a risky statement--by fueling my rhetoric this way, I obscure the reality that many individual Friends will say that there is nothing BUT love in their attack or defense of FUM. Some of them may be right. To those Friends, I apologize for mischaracterizing them but persist in my warning: you may well kill the thing you love.

In the meantime, as I've said before, God's purposes will not be frustrated simply because Friends choose to quarrel rather than carry out an honest stewardship of our organizational lines and resources. While we fight and fade, and fail to inspire our young people, God's leadings will be honored by others; and crucial aspects of Quaker discipleship will continue to be adopted by others.

Bill Samuel said...

What has happened reflects the way humans tend to respond to this kind of identity battle. Feeling (legitimately) under attack by Friends who don't share their understanding of FUM's identity, they respond by upholding a symbol, in this case the Richmond Declaration of Faith. I share Johan's frustration over making the focal point of the tension a symbol rather than fulfilling FUM's purpose.

You can say that the Declaration is more than a symbol, but I think in this instance it is being used as a symbol. The Declaration was already an official faith statement of FUM. That had no expiration date; no need for reaffirmation. The reaffirmation was a reaction of frustration to the role the dually affiliated YMs have played in FUM for some time now. Without that, it is doubtful that Friends would have seen the need for such a reaffirmation.

Practically, I think it would be very helpful in FUM moving forward on its purpose if these YMs were no longer part of its governance. I have written about them leaving FUM. There might be a step a little less severe. Perhaps they could be in an associated role rather than full membership. They could send official observers but not be in decision making roles. Maybe this would make it easier to accept a change in status.

Note: Like Johan, I am speaking as someone with some history in FUM but without direct knowledge of recent events. So it's certainly possible I'm misunderstanding what has been happening.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Johan, you write, "It's interesting that FUM Friends do not go to Friends General Conference settings to try to change FGC."

Let me ask you a question to which I do not presently know the answer.

Do FGC Friends go to Friends United Meeting settings to try to change FUM? Or is it rather that FUM Friends who happen to be from dually-affiliated yearly meetings go to FUM settings to try to change FUM?

Ben said...

I have been a fan of your insightful and passionate commentary for a relatively short time. I have a simple thought to offer:

It seems that the controversies you write about have this in common: the written word. It is my experieince that when Friends become over-invested in positions related to written words of any kind, division is the result. God calls us relentlessly to the personal encounter, through which the Spirt can flow and heal (not that it always does - we must be open). This is why the monthly meeting has historically been the epicenter of Quaker spirtuality. It is where we are face to face most often.

May I suggest two words we might view with some suspicion? "Liberal" and "Conservative". These are secular words that reduce our complex Christian witness to sound-bite confusion and stereotypes. These two words carry hurt and mistrust. Let's go the extra mile to actually define what we mean when we want to use these words in connection to Friends, rather than assume anyone actually agrees on meanings for them.

I so grateful to be a Quaker, and to be connecting to Friends like you.

Johan Maurer said...

Marshall, I will try to give a brief answer to your question, Do FGC Friends go to Friends United Meeting settings to try to change FUM? Or is it rather that FUM Friends who happen to be from dually-affiliated yearly meetings go to FUM settings to try to change FUM?

First of all, I don't mean that the only reason any FGC Friend would go to an FUM setting is to change FUM; I'm referring to those Friends who appear to me to find FGC-oriented expressions of Quaker faith and practice to be broadly congenial, but who are under the FUM umbrella by virtue of their yearly meeting's dual affiliation, and who speak up specifically to oppose Christian or biblical language in FUM documents. Yes, such Friends are "FUM Friends," and are therefore entitled to participate in FUM governance, but I simply don't believe that they valued the FUM that existed before their involvement as much as they valued the vision they had of what FUM would be like with the irritants (such as the Richmond Declaration of Faith) removed.

Secondly, I really don't want to belabor what started out as a secondary point. If what I'm trying to say is not helpful, I would rather withdraw it than go into long explanations. The truth is, I don't want to set up a whole new subcategory of Friends; I have specific people in mind, who are vivid in my memory. In the context of my remark, I'm not faulting them for have a more universalist theology than the traditional FUM constituency that was broadly reflected by the old Uniform Discipline including the Richmond Declaration of Faith. I'm faulting them for attempting to change those aspects of FUM which were not in tune with their more universalist theology.

It's probably implied by all this that I believe the reunifications of Hicksite and Orthodox yearly meetings, in which the joy of reconciliation probably led to tacit agreements not to stir up theological controversies, were at best a mixed blessing. Perhaps they could have been a true blessing had the leadership permitted more honest conflict and dialogue.

For example: Long before the 1987 Triennial's attempt to reaffirm the Richmond Declaration of Faith, there was an initiative to affirm a much shorter and mellower expression of Christian unity, an attempt that originated (if I remember correctly) with California Yearly Meeting.

If my memory of the minutes of the Five Years Meeting (1955) serves me right, that initiative was referred to a committee, where it disappeared without a trace. Two years later, most of Nebraska Yearly Meeting left FUM (becoming Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting). California Friends stayed, made two more major attempts to get verbal reaffirmations of FUM's Christian identity, and left in 1993. To me, the failures were not necessarily the lack of unity in adopting or rejecting specific statements; the larger failures were the breakdowns in trust that preceded those exercises. However, the 1955 statement, in hindsight, was so much less complicated and fraught than the 1987 and 1991-92 agonies, that we would probably have been grateful to have had it back on the table on those later occasions.

In my fantasy parallel universe, the evangelical party would not have campaigned for a verbal statement, but for a nonviolent witness on military bases or a new holistic mission initiative in the explicit name of Jesus, or some other Spirit-led venture combining social witness and evangelism, so that the object would not have been to score points against the liberals but to model a vision of urgent Quaker purposefulness. Something like this did arise in connection with the New Call to Peacemaking, which was an initiative of Evangelical Friends, but within the ecology of FUM we seemed to be limited to maintaining unity on the surface, while underneath, relatively small groups of activists seethed with mutual suspicion.

Ben--you make good points. I don't use the word "conservative" at all in talking about Friends, except to identify those Friends who call themselves conservative, such as those Friends who are in yearly meetings that include that term in their name. As for "liberal," within the North American context I'm referring to Friends who identify with the spirituality and theologies that I associate with Friends General Conference, or who believe that those theologies are at least as valid as the beliefs of evangelical Friends. These words and categories are sometimes useful for discussion purposes, but I know they should never be allowed to overshadow the complicated realities of the actual human beings and human communities involved. I think it is impossible to conduct dialogue without categories, but I also think that challenging the adequacy of the categories is an important part of the dialogue.

RichardM said...


I didn't mean to bring you up short. I just meant that if you detected an ego-driven tone in what I wrote I wanted to know that so I could consider it carefully.

I appreciate your concerns about the larger context of this. The Society of Friends is in some danger of disintegrating. We should take this possibility seriously. After all, the Puritans no longer exist even though there are Congregationalist churches founded by Puritans. What has vanished is Puritan identity. Could Quaker identity similarly vanish? Yes, it could.

Let me expand on this a bit and put in a plug for the conservative Yearly Meetings, especially North Carolina conservative. We see ourselves as smack dab in the middle of the Quaker spectrum. "conservative" enough to be explicitly a Christian body but "liberal" enough to explicitly reject putting the Bible as primary authority equal to the Spirit. And, not coincidentally, rejecting paid ministers and pastors. My daughter has had more experience with evangelical and FUM Friends from her days at Guilford College and more experience with superliberal FGC Friends now that she resides in Boston. These two ends of the Quaker spectrum have a tendency to pull away from each other. Evangelical Quakers, she reports, tend to more strongly identify with other Bible-believing Christians than they do with Quakerism. They are, she thinks, often just ordinary American evangelical Christians who just happen to go to churches that once had a Quaker identity. (Remember what happened to the Puritans.) For their part there are FGC Quakers who consciously reject the Christian heritage of Quakers. They too have a rather weak sense of identity with traditional Quakerism. When such a Friend says they identify with being Quaker they mean a Quakerism that rejects Christianity. My own impression is that these extremes exist within pastoral Friends and withing FGC and that the extremes tend to be more vocal. I also think that there are a lot of moderates both within pastoral Friends and the liberal unprogrammed meetings who are attracted to the center of Quakerism--inclusive, progressive Christianity. I know that the conservative Yearly Meetings are small but I sense there are a lot of true conservatives out there. When my wife and I found Quakers it was in a liberal FGC Meeting. We liked it but when we moved to North Carolina over twenty years ago and found a living conservative tradition we knew we were "home." As long as this home exists there is hope that Quakerism will not disintegrate.

Bill Samuel said...

the center of Quakerism--inclusive, progressive Christianity (richardm)

The center of what Quakerism? To identify Quakerism with particular contemporary paradigms within Christianity would seem to me to badly distort what is precious within the Quaker tradition.

Part of the genius of Quakerism was that it stepped out of the common paradigms. The loss of Quaker identity in various segments of Friends is largely due to these segments stepping into common paradigms.

RichardM said...


I'm not entirely clear about what you are saying. I think we would agree that people who think of themselves as basically evangelical Christians who have more in common with Franklin Graham than with George Fox would be people who have lost their Quaker identity. Similarly people who think that Quakers are just nice politically liberal people who like to go to church but don't take any of that God stuff seriously have also lost their Quaker identity. I do think that this 1) correctly characterizes some people on the two wings of Quakerism and 2) would be a wicked caricature if intended to describe all or even most people with FUM and FGC.

I think most FUM Friends feel a pull towards something deeper and truer than standard order American evangelical Protestantism (though some of their pastors trained in seminaries run by other denominations feel no such pull). I also think that most FGC Friends do not think that all this God and Jesus talk is silly at best and offensive at worst. I think they feel a pull towards authentic Christianity.

Are we in disagreement about something or not?

Bill Samuel said...

I think "inclusive, progressive Christianity" is a phrase that a certain faction in current Christianity would own. And some Quakers are at that point. But it may represent one of the tendencies pulling against the particular strengths of traditional Quakerism.

You didn't really respond to anything in my post. I'm not sure to what degree we may disagree, and to what degree it is primarily a concern about terminology.

Johan Maurer said...

As a long-time fan of the conservative yearly meetings, from whom my Quaker mentor Deborah Haight came, I'm at least 50% with you, Richard.

My high view of biblical authority relies on its confirmation by the Holy Spirit and the testimonies of the canonizing councils, and on a practical level is implemented by prayerful reading individually and in community; it does not rely on making the Bible a fourth member of the Trinity. (I'm not going to comment on the Trinity today!) I think it is possible to affirm the Richmond Declaration of Faith on the Bible without putting the Bible on the same level as its Inspirer, and without worrying about precisely which words of Robert Barclay or others confirms my viewpoint. As I've said elsewhere, the Bible as a physical document is not magic; it was assembled and ratified by the Church, and nothing in the text of the Bible requires us to pretend otherwise.

Where I differ with conservative Friends is in the rejection of pastors. This is one of those cases where a group of Friends try to prevent abuses by prohibiting a whole category of service rather than dealing with the specific abuse. I've defended pastors elsewhere (here and here and at great length here) so I won't go into that yet again now. It's not that I think that conservative Friends should adopt the pastoral system. I simply think that those conservative Friends who assert that Quakerism without pastors is superior, are wrong.

Thanks to both Richard and Bill for continuing the conversation.


Marshall Massey said...

I would agree with Bill Samuel in his questioning of the phrase "inclusive, progressive Christianity" as a description of "the center of Quakerism".

Nowhere in the writings of the early Friends, the people who made
Quakerism what it was, have I seen them championing either inclusivity or progressivism. As to inclusivity, the early Quaker community was not designed to include everyone, the way the Church of England was; Ranters were subjected to Quaker discipline, and if they did not reform, they were disavowed and even driven out; the Quaker community was consciously developed as a separate, distinct community of the convinced. And as to progressivism, the goal of Friends was gospel order, not progress.

Liberal Friends today very much believe in both inclusivity and progressivism. But I am not at all sure that the folks practicing the other varieties of Quakerism would agree.

RichardM said...


The issue of pastors is a big one and I have to say I haven't tried to give it any really sustained thought. My experience with "the hireling ministry" has been largely negative and that surely colors my thought. Maybe someday soon we will get to discussing this seriously.

As for the Bible I think that modern scholarly methods, while they are no substitute for reading the Bible in a prayerful way, are a helpful adjunct to it. Maybe it's just my scholarly training but I find alternating between reading the Bible as a historical document and giving it a "close" reading with an eye for historical context etc. and then flipping to a prayerful attitude works best for me. It helps me separate the human chaff from the divine wheat.

About the words "inclusivism" and "progressivism". Yes, these concepts were not in the minds of early Friends. Fox and company were 17th century Englishmen and women and not even well-educated or intellectually sophisticated by the standards of that time. But does that mean that these words falsely describe what they were doing? No, of course it doesn't. I would argue that the reality of early Friends teachings is very aptly described in these terms even if the terms were foreign to them. Isn't insisting on full equality for women progressive? Isn't the opposition to war and slavery and class distinctions progressive? If these things aren't progressive then the word has no meaning at all. And remember that "inclusivism" doesn't mean relativism or rampant individualism. No, inclusivism means that there is truth and value in faith traditions other than Christianity. Were the early Friends inclusivist? Not explicitly because it could not be a live option for people living in a culture where they might never meet a nonchristian in their whole life. But the doctrines of early Friends were consistent with inclusivism and implicitly imply inclusivism in much the same way that the US Constitution implicitly implies things the framers didn't envision.

Marshall Massey said...

Friend RichardM writes, "About the words 'inclusivism' and 'progressivism'. Yes, these concepts were not in the minds of early Friends. Fox and company were 17th century Englishmen and women and not even well-educated or intellectually sophisticated by the standards of that time. But does that mean that these words falsely describe what they were doing? No, of course it doesn't. I would argue that the reality of early Friends teachings is very aptly described in these terms even if the terms were foreign to them. Isn't insisting on full equality for women progressive? Isn't the opposition to war and slavery and class distinctions progressive?"

That little paragraph covers a lot of ground, and I don't want to abuse Johan's patience with too long a reply. But briefly:

1) It's untrue to describe "Fox and company" as "not even well-educated or intellectually sophisticated by the standards of that time." Fox may have been an autodidact, but when he died he had a library of several hundred books, an astonishing collection by the standards of that time. His "company" included men like Samuel Fisher -- a pioneer of the "New Criticism" approach to the Bible -- Thomas Ellwood, who was the poet John Milton's private secretary, and Robert Barclay and William Penn, who had been thoroughly educated at very expensive universities in Scotland and France, respectively.

The theology of Barclay's Apology has never been formally refuted by the established church, for the simple reason that it is that well grounded in the Christian theology that preceded it. Barclay was at least as well-educated and intellectually sophisticated as any churchman in the England of his day.

2) To ascribe ways of thinking like "progressive" to people who lived before those ways of thinking arose, is what is called "anachronistic" -- like Shakespeare's characters in Julius Cæsar asking what o'clock it was. The myth of progress did not prevail in the seventeenth century. The mental time-line Friends lived within was not one of evolution lifting fishes out of the sea and turning them into men, and men rising out of brute savery and building a mighty civilization; it was the timeline laid out in the Bible, with a seven-day Creation, a Fall in Adam, a redeeming Incarnation and Crucifixion, and an anticipated Final Judgment.

3) The first Friends did not insist on full equality for women. Their position, well spelled out in their writings, was that as women come through convincement, out of the life of sin, they are restored from the curse laid on Eve to full innocency, and are thereafter no longer subordinated to men. But women who have not come through convincement are still under the curse. (One might wonder what this implies for members of liberal Friends meetings who have never actually gone through the process of convincement.)

4) The opposition to war was not based on an idea of progress, but on a commitment to obedience to Christ, who commanded Peter to put up his sword, and said his servants don't fight. The opposition to class distinctions was similarly based on James's doctrine.

5) There was not opposition to slavery in the time of the first Friends. That opposition did not arise until the second generation, and did not catch on among Friends generally until well into the eighteenth century. And when it caught on, it was originally based, not on an idea of progress, but on a realization that slavery in the New World was not following the Christian pattern of Philemon and the gentleness of servitude in England. I treat that matter in more depth in my essay series on the subject in my own blog.

Richard, I'll limit my response to your remarks on inclusivism to the observation that you're being similarly anachronistic there.

Johan Maurer said...

My patience is not an issue--I just hope this good discussion is continued, linked, or duplicated elsewhere. It deserves wider exposure than the fourteenth and fifteenth comments on a week-old post.

RichardM said...

Marshall, we disagree about the meaning of anachronistic. It is not anachronistic to use a modern term when that term accurately picks out the concept used by people of another time. To be anachronistic is to attribute concepts to people of another time which they lacked. Second, I did not say, and explicitly denied that early Friends had the concept of progress. After all "progress" is an Enlightenment concept foreign to Quakerism. But bats can be nocturnal even though bats lack the concept "nocturnal." It's not anachronistic to call bats nocturnal. I don't think I need to say anything more about whether their views would be accurately described by the modern concept of progress.

Barclay was indeed intellectually sophisticated and other mostly second generation Quakers were not rural country folk like Fox. But the initial burst of insight came from relatively uneducated people. But even if we include highly educated people like Barclay he is still a 17th century man for whom Buddhism and Hinduism would be mere names and not any kind of living option. Since 17th century people were not in a cultural position to even consider their attitude towards faith traditions outside the Judeo-Christian orbit they could not even have entertained the idea of inclusivism. Hence they not only could not have agreed with it they could not have disagreed with it either. Therefore it is up to us to work out the implications for inclusivism from what they did think.

Marshall Massey said...

Well, if I'm not abusing your patience, friend Johan, then I will add this:

RichardM's argument seems to me to be based on the idea that since a handful of features of early Quakerism -- equal rights for women within the Church, and opposition to war and slavery and class distinctions -- can be retroactively interpreted in terms of progressivism, therefore progressivism dwells at the "center" of the Quaker religion. This is a fallacy on multiple levels, and it may perhaps be worth our while to consider the levels involved.

At the purely logical level, it involves the fallacy of pro hoc, ergo propter hoc, which confuses results -- modern Quaker progressivism is in many respects a result of stands that early Friends took on gender, war, slavery and class -- with causes -- progressivism was not the cause of those stands. Since progressivism was not the cause of those stands, indeed was not even present in the early Quaker world, it comes as no surprise to find that there are corners of the Quaker world where Quakerism has evolved into forms that contain no progressivism at all.

At the methodological level, it may involve what David Hackett Fischer, in his book Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (HarperPerennial, 1970), has called the pragmatic fallacy (pp. 82-87) -- an exceedingly common error which involves focusing on those facts that suit the interpreter's own agenda while discounting or ignoring the facts that don't suit it. I say this because it seems to me that friend RichardM is focusing selectively on elements that he likes in modern liberal Quakerism, while discounting things that point in a very different direction elsewhere in the modern Quaker world, such as FUM's exclusion of gays and universalists from the pastorate, and the strong tendency of Conservative and pastoral Friends to take a biblical rather than a progressive view of human history. This exclusion of people regarded as sinners and heretics, and this biblical view of human history, are every bit as traceable to roots in early Quakerism, and hence every bit as arguably central to Quakerism, as Richard's progressivism and inclusivism.

And at the symptomatic level, Richard's argument involves the fallacy of anachronism, as I've already noted.

Richard, in his latest comment, asserts in his own defense that "it is not anachronistic to use a modern term when that term accurately picks out the concept used by people of another time", and argues that early Friends were somehow "progressive" in the same sense that bats are nocturnal, because "their views would be accurately described by the modern concept of progress." This assertion ignores the plain fact that the early Friends' views were not at all describable by the modern concept of progress -- in their views, as one may clearly see by the simple expedient of reading what they wrote, they were trying not to move forward and upward to new heights of achievement, but to go backward to a lost prelapsarian state of unity with God. (Here for example is Fox, describing his own condition after convincement: "I knew nothing but pureness, and innocency, and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus, so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell." -- Journal, entry for 1648; emphases mine.)

Conceivably the early Friends' actions -- not their views -- could be cited as facilitating "progress" toward what the world has become today. But the claim that Quakerism is "progressive" at its center, merely because what early Friends did helped to create some features of the modern world that modern progressives tend to like, is what the worthy David Hackett Fischer calls the fallacy of presentism, "in which the antecedent in a narrative series is falsified by being defined or interpreted in terms of the consequent" (p. 135). Fischer's illustration of this fallacy, in which (pp. 136-37) he contrasts the work of John Herman Randall with that of Thomas S. Kuhn, would well repay friend Richard's (or any reader's) attention.

In truth, there were elements of early Quakerism that I think are quite central to what Quakerism is, that are highly subversive to progressive assumptions. I would single out, as examples of such, the Quaker hostility toward evolutionary changes in Christendom subsequent to the apostolic era as examples of "apostasy" rather than "progress", and the Quaker reliance on the story of the Fall to explain the human condition. These two ideas remain very strongly present in much of modern Quakerism.

There are also ideas in modern progressivism that are subversive to the core ideas of the original Quakerism, such as the progressives' idea that the general run of liberalizing human achievements are somehow a form of progress, and their idea that new religious truths can discredit old ones. The former idea is strongly rejected in some Quaker quarters, and the latter in most Quaker quarters, and the reason for these rejections is very likely connected to the survival of early Quaker convictions.

Let me turn, in closing, to RichardM's latest comments on the "intellectual sophistication" of early Friends. The most careful survey of data I've seen -- a detailed analysis of hearth-tax returns during the 1650s and 1660s for Friends vs. Englishmen in general by Barry Reay, in The Quakers and the English Revolution (London: Temple Smith, 1985) -- indicates that the early Quaker movement "mainly drew its membership from what were known as the 'middling sort of people': wholesale and retail traders, artisans, yeomen, husbandmen. These, with the exceptions of Quaker women and husbandmen, [were] from the more literate -- or rather less illiterate -- sections of the population." (p. 20) Do notice that bit about literacy. When Richard states that "the initial burst of insight came from relatively uneducated people," he is at odds with the established facts.

Bill Samuel said...

1. The peace testimony would not be accepted by most who call themselves progressives, so that is simply a false association. Pacifists tend to be typed in each period according to whomever the military "enemy" is during that period, e.g., pacifists (in the Allied countries) were assumed to be sympathetic to nazism in WW II and "progressives" at that time were bitterly hostile to peace folks.

2. Marshall, you are wrong that FUM excludes gays and universalists from being pastors. FUM has no control over who are pastors. An there are very prominent universalist apologists who are FUM pastors (Philip Gulley and James Mulholland). And FUM's own employment policy explicits prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Bill -- nice to hear from you directly!

I should probably have been more specific in my reference to "FUM", since the gay issue is specific to the organization and not its component YMs (although informally supported by the African YMs), and the universalist issue is specific to Western YM (though, I believe, informally supported by the leaders of the African YMs).

Maybe "pastorate" was the wrong word for the FUM policy on gays. But I think the positions from which gays are banned (leadership and paid staff positions) can be fairly described as collectively comprising its pastorate.

As regards universalists, I was under the impression, as a result of conversations I had with Western YM Friends last summer, that Gulley was de-recorded as a minister because of his universalism, and that this expressed a more general Western YM policy position on the matter. If this was a misunderstanding, I welcome the correction.

Finally, as regards the peace testimony -- I can't speak for RichardM, but I note that the term he used was not "pacifism" (refusal to fight) but "opposition to war". It would be fair to say that opposition to war has been a progressivist stance for at least the last ninety years. The League of Nations and the UN were both founded by progressives to try to prevent wars.

Looking back at the "Declaration of 1660", I note that it opposed both wars (RichardM's concern) and fighting, "for any end or under any pretence whatsoever". I also note that the League of Nations concept was anticipated by William Penn, who was indisputably the closest thing to a progressive among prominent second-generation Friends.

Marshall Massey said...

A postscript -- dear Bill, yes, I know, FUM's employment policy explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But the policy also forbids hiring anyone who engages in sex outside of marriage, and this is combined with a refusal to recognize same-sex marriage, on the grounds that homosexuality is intrinsically sinful.

The effect of this combination of rules is to ban any active homosexual from leadership or employment. There is not a similar ban on any active heterosexual. And as we have seen in the recent scandals of the Roman Catholic church -- and as Martin Luther quite openly recognized when he made his decision permitting the clergy to marry -- a requirement of celibacy is just not sustainable for most normal human beings.

Thus, a statement that FUM's employment policy, in its majestic equality, forbids anyone to have sex outside of a heterosexual marriage, straights as well as gays, is quite truthful, and I do understand and respect the biblical idealism that inspired it. I have begged gays and lesbians more than once to try and remember that idealism. But when you get right down to it, it follows the same fundamental logic as Anatole France's famous observation that "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids all men to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread -- the rich as well as the poor." And that is the logic by which a person excuses heartlessness.

Johan Maurer said...

Marshall--a few more corrections or at least clarifications: When you say, "But I think the positions from which gays are banned (leadership and paid staff positions) can be fairly described as collectively comprising its pastorate," are you using "pastorate" literally? Those twelve staff positions in Richmond, Indiana, and the similar number in other locations don't comprise a pastorate any more than the paid staff of Friends General Conference comprise FGC's pastorate. The FUM policies relate only to FUM as an "agency," not FUM as an association. Whether those policies should extend more widely is another matter. However, as Bill pointed out, FUM does not presently have policies for pastors or monthly meeting clerks or yearly meeting leaders.

You say there is a no ban on active heterosexuals comparable to the ban on active homosexuals. This is true theoretically, but in reality the ban on sexual activity outside of marriage has wide functional application, since adultery is a huge phenomenon, even in evangelical circles, and polyamory is not unheard of among Friends. I am NOT equating homosexuality with adultery, but I AM asserting that the policy cuts more deeply than one might at first assume. Several of those who campaigned against the policy were in situations that would traditionally be described as adulterous.

You say that the policy's motive is based "on the grounds that homosexuality is intrinsically sinful." That language appears nowhere in the policy; the FUM board meeting (at which I was present as an FWCC observer) would not have been able to unify on a policy with such language. I believe that the original policy had a phrase that stated that Friends were not unified on the subject. The policy statement that appeared in the personnel manual when I was at FUM went on simply to say,

Friends United Meeting holds to the traditional Friends testimonies of peace (nonviolence), simplicity, truth speaking, community, gender and racial equality, chastity, and fidelity in marriage. It is expected that the lifestyle of all staff and volunteer appointees of Friends United Meeting will be in accordance with these testimonies.

Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments and promotions are made without regard to sex, race, national origin, age, physical disability, or sexual orientation. It is expected that intimate sexual behavior should be confined to marriage, understood to be between one man and one woman.

You'd probably be right to say that the restrictive end of the spectrum within FUM bases its position on a belief that homosexuality is intrinsically sinful, but that is not the stated basis of the FUM policy. Those who adopted the policy correctly understood that, in light of the diversity in the constituency on this matter (granting that there is probably dissent, as well as adultery, even in the most evangelical of yearly meetings), any policy that was more "liberal" would lead to the destruction of FUM. The policy as stated above was already more liberal than many Friends were comfortable with, and it was a credit to the tenderness of the board participants back at that meeting that a measure of unity was achieved. They did what they could in good order at the FUM level; the important dialogues must take place within the constituency, rather than continuing the unedifying (but emotionally satisfying to some) practice of using FUM's board and staff as a proxy battlefield. I believe this exchange is a good example of that wider dialogue, though none of us are presently in FUM meetings! (I'm still on the field staff.)

You did NOT say that the revocation of Phil Gulley's recording would mean that he could not serve as a pastor, but a reader unfamiliar with the recording process might infer that, so let me just say that, historically, the recording of ministers and the calling and dismissing of pastors are separate processes.

Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Johan --

Okay, it does appear that I was wrongly loose in my language, both from Bill's perspective and from your own. It wasn't my intention to be that way, so I apologize to you both, and to anyone else who might have been distressed.

I used the term "pastorate" functionally, with reference to all who do the work of feeding and tending Christ's sheep as he commanded. As far as I can tell, that is what Christ is concerned about -- the real feeding and tending, and not just the possession or use of the title "pastor". Those who have the title and don't do the work, are not truly part of the pastorate in Christ's eyes; those who do the work without the title, are nevertheless the real thing. Do you think I am wrong about that?

I agree that the idea that homosexuality is intrinsically sinful is not expressly stated in FUM's policy. It doesn't have to be expressly stated, though, in order to have a reality and a real controlling force. And the fact that not everyone shares that conviction does not alter the fact that it controls the situation at this present time.

Frankly, I think that leaving the idea unspoken probably does more harm than good; I believe it would be better to say out loud, "a majority of us, or at least a crucial minority, believe this, and the rest of us are agreed to honor their belief." At least by saying it aloud we make a discussion possible.

I thank you for clarifying the distinction between de-recording ministers and dismissing pastors.

Bill Samuel said...

Now the first shoe has fallen. Southeastern YM has suspended their membership in FUM for 2 years, after which it is automatically terminated unless action is taken to the contrary before that time.

That their action is first is in no small part due to the time of their YM sessions (which is tied to Easter). The other 4 YMs don't have their annual sessions until late summer. But it is also true that they have the weakest associations with FUM of the 5 YMs.

It will be interesting to see how the other YMs proceed.

Anonymous said...

Johan, for all of us out here in Quakerdom, would you please explain exactly what is "the recording of ministers" and the "calling or recalling of pastors"? Thank you.Lisa

Johan said...

Reviewing this thread much later, I see that I forgot to put a note here indicating that I fulfilled Lisa's request here.