Christian unity among Friends: FUM occupies a central place in the world of Friends; as someone said at the February meeting of our General Board, FUM at its core is "unapologetically evangelical and authentically Quaker." Based on this identity, FUM is well-placed to work with Christian Friends from every corner of the Quaker world. During my time, we have collaborated with Friends General Conference on publications in Russian and with Evangelical Friends International on work in Ramallah and pastors' conferences in East Africa and Latin America. At one point, we had field staff working together in Palestine from Northwest, Iowa, North Carolina and Philadelphia Yearly Meetings. Eventually it will make sense for Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International to merge, but in the meantime, whenever collaboration allows us to be more faithful, we ought to jump at the chance.Concerning the merger of FUM and Evangelical Friends International: I think I've changed my mind.
At the time I wrote those words, I knew first-hand the enormous effort involved in the care and feeding of a Friends organization, particularly one with the comprehensive responsibilities of a (more or less) denomination. It just didn't make sense to me that two such organizations with similar core values but fairly small constituencies could justify operating in parallel. Surely a unified evangelical body would have more economies of scale. All that was necessary was for a new generation of leaders to come on the scene, leaders who perhaps weren't so personally invested in seeing the flaws in each other's organizations.
I also believed that the two bodies would strengthen each other. EFI and its mission arm, Evangelical Friends Mission, seemed to me to have a "why not?" energy and attitude towards new missions, whereas FUM seemed to be permanently oriented toward maintaining very mature (charitably stated) mission relationships, with no energy left for reaching people who'd never heard of us. Individual FUM yearly meetings, including some in Kenya, were becoming more active, but I don't think FUM could take credit for that.
If EFI could be seen as more mission-oriented, what would FUM bring to a merger? As a whole, FUM Friends seemed to me to be more committed to, and more patient with, Friends' traditions, especially in decisionmaking. I also felt, rightly or wrongly, that Friends in FUM were more accustomed to Christian diversity.
(I am now defining FUM as those Friends who actually value their FUM affiliation, not those who are in dual-affiliation Quaker bodies but not personally committed at all to FUM or to what earlier generations charmingly called "orthodox" Quakerism. Also note: Capital-E Evangelical Friends are part of EFI; small-e evangelical Friends also include those Friends in FUM who agree with FUM's purpose statement, and also include significant numbers of Friends in the so-called liberal and conservative yearly meetings. If this paragraph makes no sense at all to you, consider yourself fortunate!)
I've now been in an Evangelical Friends yearly meeting a year longer than I was head of the FUM staff, and I'm starting to make some comparisons. But those comparisons are not what led me to begin doubting the wisdom of merger. Despite some distressing innovations in a few parts of the EFI side (abandonment of monthly meetings, for example, and increased use of ceremony), and what looks to me like a decline in FUM's vitality, the similarities outweigh the differences. Instead, here's what leads me to doubt the wisdom of merging:
- I'm wondering more and more whether these organizations really need to exist at all. The mission departments (FUM Global Ministries and Evangelical Friends Mission) might be needed for their specific functions, but what else do the wider associations add? I first wrote that question as a rhetorical one, but maybe I should pose it seriously. What do they add?
Many Friends already cross the boundaries between the various Friends associations without any problems. Eliminating the boundaries would be irrelevant for them. But, within the associations, there are years of established patterns of social networks that would merge imperfectly, if at all. And why should they? After all, most Friends probably relate mostly to their own congregation, and beyond that, to the yearly meeting.
Friends have demonstrated remarkable and enduring irritability (for supposedly peaceable people!) in the FUM governance committees and bodies. There's less outward irritability, as far as I can tell, in EFI circles, but even so, EFI Friends are hardly placid. Northwest Yearly Meeting has its share of assertive Friends on both sides of several issues. Of course, some of the issues which periodically erupt among all kinds of Friends are genuinely important controversies, but I also think that some of us are perennially discontented. Why give us an even larger arena for our quarrels?
Ad hoc consultations, as needed, seem to go on all the time, and there's a wonderful, time-honored history of Friends groups collaborating on specific projects. I mentioned a couple of examples in my editorial. Why divert energy from those collaborations for the sake of tinkering with the organizational infrastructure?
The FUM Quaker identity and the EFI Quaker identity carry on (at least in my own mind, and arguably in Quaker periodicals and weblogs) an important conversation on what is most important about being Quaker. (Whether these identities require organizations with committees and boards to maintain them is another question.) Perhaps their very separateness keeps the mutual challenge sharp. If we were all one big organization, perhaps those sharp mutual challenges would degenerate into internal politics rather than being posed on their merits. Examples: Which deserves more energy, conversion or discipleship? Is the word "Quaker" too compromised for evangelical Friends to use prominently? Conversely, what does the label "Evangelical" add to our public message? When liberal Friends gain publicity for an action or position we don't agree with, do we respond with exasperation or with creativity?
Kafka Comes to America, and its author comes to Portland. (Thanks to Rachel Hampton for the news.)
Far from Moscow is a delightful blog on Russian contemporary music and culture.
Sean Guillory provided the above reference. His own outlet, Sean's Russia Blog, links to his recent eXile article examining the Nemtsov/Milov would-be expose of the Putin presidential era.
One more Russian link, utterly without political agenda: a Google-driven site to plan your Moscow city transportation online. (The site is building up a database for transportation between Russian cities as well.)
Goodbye to a courageous Iranian spiritual leader, Hassan Dehqani-Tafti.
Here's an amazing photo: the first time a camera has caught a spacecraft descending to the surface of another planet.
The Artis family enjoys playing blues, and we're invited to enjoy with them:
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