25 December 2008

Christmas shorts (and a midlength bit on FUM)

Winter gains a
foothold on
Mir Street
My Western-calendar Christmas has been just about like any other day--I went to several stores, scanned a document, took the resulting disk of data to a friend, taught a class, made a lot of phone calls, worked on a spreadsheet, had tea with teachers, took a bus from Sovetskaya Street to Yalagin Street, walked a lot (and crunched through a lot of snow), read, and, finally, began these notes.

Underneath it all, though, was the thought that almost everyone I know outside of Russia is celebrating Christmas today--a thought confirmed by lots of e-mails and Facebook statuses. Here, Christmas (January 7) is a quieter holiday, in the shadow of its boisterous secular calendarmate, New Year. Although Christmas's demotion in popular culture is related to the Bolshevik decision to disestablish Christianity, a decision enforced at times with ferocious cruelty, I find that I actually like the way it has now turned out--letting Christmas be a spiritual celebration rather than a binge of consumerism.

My favorite "Christmas text" from Quaker sources, once again:
We must not have Christ Jesus, the Lord of Life, put any more in the stable amongst the horses and asses, but he must now have the best chamber, the heart, and the rude, debauched spirit must be turned out. Therefore let him reign, whose right it is, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, by which Holy Ghost you call him Lord, in which Holy Ghost you pray, and by which Holy Ghost you have comfort and fellowship with the Son and with the Father. Therefore know the triumph in the Seed, which is first and last, the beginning and ending, the top and cornerstone. --George Fox, 1657

PhotobucketMy favorite Christmas/New Year card for this year is the cover of the December 22 issue of The New Times. Cover title: "2009: Expecting a thaw." I've been fascinated by the warmth and goodwill I've seen here, both among the people we know and in the mass media, towards Barack Obama and the prospect of his presidency.

By the way, here's the original and a Google translation of this magazine's review of the U.S. presidential campaign of 2008.

For several weeks, a letter from several Orthodox yearly meeting superintendents addressed to the Friends United Meeting's presiding clerk has been circulating among Friends. This letter asks for FUM's urgent attention to the organization's dysfunctions. The core of the letter:
We believe that the current composition and structure of FUM is not working. We share a strong conviction that we can and must do better. Our dually-affiliated yearly meetings suffer from painful conflict connected to their relationship with FUM; conflict that eats up valuable time and energy. The five yearly meetings that we represent [Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Western, and Wilmington] likewise often face painful division among our own meetings concerning our relationship with FUM and share the frustration of being yoked together with Friends who do not share a common sense of identity or a common vision for ministry. We observe that the FUM staff struggles to lead an organization divided by competing theologies and priorities. The most tragic result of this is that the work of FUM around the world suffers.
The letter goes on to ask that "the FUM General Board Executive Committee immediately assume the task of searching for options that would address these concerns and that specific strategies be presented at our next meeting of the FUM General Board in February 2009."

Ever since I first heard about this initiative from the superintendents, I've had conflicting thoughts. My first reaction to their alarm signal was "Well, duh." It's impossible for me to argue with their diagnosis. The good news is that the issue has once again been posed with urgency, as in the days of the realignment controversy of the early 1990's (proposing that FUM realign itself so that its essentially evangelical membership unite with Evangelical Friends and its essentially liberal membership unite with the more liberal branch of Friends in North America, Friends General Conference). In my opinion, the earlier realignment initiative failed more because of faulty process than merit; this time, a perhaps similar vision is being pursued with directness and transparency, and with openness to other alternatives that could overcome FUM's real problems.

However, on the negative side, I wonder how many of FUM's critics realize that FUM is not itself the fundamental problem among Friends. We still resist abandonment to divine providence; we still settle for secondary controversies, timid programs, reactionary dispute styles, rather than a bold, warmhearted. all-out search for a vision of Quaker vocation in a world that barely, BARELY knows we exist! Our resistance to revival takes many forms and excuses, depending on whether we're liberal or evangelical and any number of other historical and cultural factors. I hear the superintendents saying that their constituencies are tired of being slowed down by FUM-related irritations, and from my own experience I think their complaint is accurate. I just wonder what other excuses for avoiding radical discipleship would appear were FUM no longer a factor.

With all my heart, I wish FUM a fruitful 2009. Most of all, I hope that the decisions needed to respond faithfully to this latest challenge not be avoided (least of all by attempts to belittle the sources of the challenge) but be confronted head-on. How many more chances will FUM get to avoid de facto dissolution?

(My too-many posts on FUM.)

Here's where I'd be this Saturday if I weren't in Elektrostal--at a Christmas concert in Portland postponed by snow. The Sons of Day perform December 27th at New Beginnings Church, 3300 NE 172nd Pl, Portland, Oregon 97230, 7:00pm. Tickets: $10 at door. I loved hearing them at Reedwood a couple of years ago. (See this page, scroll down.)

I have no temptation to weigh in on the controversy over Rick Warren and the Obama inauguration, except this: Why not simply take Obama at his word? So much of the over-analysis from all directions of his invitation to Warren seems inspired by cynicism. I enjoyed this widely circulated comment from Melissa Etheridge.

Wonderful archival material from the remarkable joint television appearance, back in 1983, by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert King:

For more, see the poster's YouTube page.


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

Well, here we go again.

I certainly do agree with you, Johan, that what is needed is "abandonment to divine providence" and discipleship. (I'm not fully convinced that discipleship has to be radical.) But I also have some other thoughts.

Didn't Paul say something about love being patient, and not being provocable, and enduring all things? (I Corinthians 13:4-6.) Is this complaint that working things out with our neighbors "eats up valuable time", an expression of such patient, unprovocable, enduring love? How about the complaint of feeling "frustration"?

If the dually-affiliated meetings aren't Christian enough, that raises a further question. These five meetings (Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Western, and Wilmington) are saying that the work of FUM around the world suffers. But what about the duty of Christians to preach Christ everywhere, including right here at home, if that is where Christ is forgotten? (I Peter 3:15; II Timothy 4:2-5.) What is that work suffering from?

These meetings see Baltimore sending them visitors, but why do they not send visitors in return — visitors prepared to re-teach a forgotten faith — not only to Baltimore, but to all the YMs wavering in their faith?

Is anyone asking these questions to their faces?

Am I missing something obvious here?

Johan said...

Love is crucial, but is love best expressed by preserving a dysfunctional structure and demanding loyalty from an uncertain and unwilling constituency?

Cannot love be expressed through a willingness to question old certainties and test whether the covenants formed a century ago are still real and sustainable?

If you are proposing that a primary and worthwhile purpose of FUM is to be a witness of Christ among its own members, then surely it's legitimate to ask whether others agree that this is the purpose of FUM. Such a purpose could also be carried out by a ministry of visitation under the care of the meetings or yearly meetings with that concern; it doesn't require a structure that has clearly been crippled by the constant demand of some that others change. (This indictment goes in both directions!)

I still believe in FUM's vision, and further believe that FUM can carry out this vision best by drawing upon the full range of gifts within the body as presently constituted. But if Friends in the "Orthodox" constituency disagree with this assessment, after a conscientious process, who am I to try to deny them? And what does FUM offer to the yearly meeting whose own fabric is rent by disagreements about FUM? Doesn't that yearly meeting have both the right and the duty to attend to its own health rather than possibly sacrificing that health for the theoretical benefits of a wider structure?

I'm posing these questions in the edgiest way I know how, because only if such questions are directly answered, rather than sidestepped by impugning the questioners or other traditional diversionary tactics, does FUM have a chance to survive intact. One vision that won't sustain FUM is simply to satisfy those Friends who love variety. (I don't think you have to choose, but the issue is not up to me!)

Carol said...

Both the purpose statement of FUM and the pamphlet "The Christian Faith of Friends" have been affirmed recently by the representatives to the FUM general board. (And, yes, that includes the representatives from the reunited yearly meetings.)

I need help with specific examples of what in the structure of FUM is dysfunctional. It's a term that's being used a lot and I'm having trouble getting a grip on it. Mind you, that's not a veiled way of implying that there isn't dysfunction--but I need it to be named so I can be part of fixing it, if that's possible.

The question of process is another matter. The letter came from six individuals who happen to be superintendents of their yearly meetings. They gathered, prayed, and discerned together among themselves. It came from their experience as being leaders in their yearly meetings, but it did not go through a discernment process within their five yearly meetings. I don't doubt that the six individuals engaged in a sincere and conscientious process among themselves. But it can't be said that the letter was the result of a conscientious process engaged in by the five Orthodox yearly meetings. I don't meant to be an Orthopractic stickler, but I do think that makes a difference. I think there's a difference between saying "the five Orthodox yearly meetings" see it this way and saying "the superintendents of the five Orthodox yearly meetings" see it this way.

It is my understanding that much of the rest of the Orthodox yearly meetings' leaders (clerks, yearly meeting ministry and counsels) were taken by surprise when they learned of the superintendents' letter.

I repeat that I think this matters.

But beyond all this, the more immediate question is: How will the Kenyan board respond to the letter when it meets in January, and how will the North American board respond to both the letter and the Kenyan board's response when it meets in February?

Is global partnership possible? The example of the Anglican Communion in recent days doesn't offer much hope.

Martin Kelley said...

I don't think that my yearly meeting is any more functional, mission-driven, or theologically united than any other and we don't have the excuse of dual affiliation to blame. If the "FUM Problem" suddenly went away I assume things would look pretty much the same way they do now.

Things suck up time when we let them suck up time. Work we're doing suffers when we let it suffer. Why do we take our Quaker institutions so seriously? We spend a lot of time squabbling and politicking and schmoozing while the real work that Christ is calling us to goes undone. If we could just accept that FUM is what it is, then we could move on: use it as possible to advance Christ's Kingdom but be flexible and open to other mechanisms when necessary. Any way you slice and dice American and/or worldwide Quakerism is going to produce internal contradictions. At the same time any individual ministry is going to have reason to unite with work happening outside it's parochial border. FUM's an imperfect tool and always will be, but yes, "well, duh." Is Christ's work going to be advanced by pouring all of our attention into the endless and impossible task of human-willed unity?

Johan: I always thought my Ukrainian friends growing up were geniuses for having a late Christmas, as they were able to wait for the After [Western] Christmas sales to shop!

Johan said...

I'm really grateful to both Marshall and Carol for their thoughtful responses to my comments. (And as I've been writing this, I see Martin has also commented!) It's just the kind of conversation that I would like to see happening in a larger forum than one private blog. If it IS happening, I'd love to know about it.

I appreciate the superintendents' letter simply because it asks for concrete action. Many of us are tired of seeing the theological and cultural factions of FUM questioning each others' faith and authenticity as Friends (and as Christians), and we're tired of the related proxy wars that go on at FUM's expense over controversies that are unresolved locally. Concerns about sexual standards in hiring, and about the membership in FUM of Friends' yearly meetings that are not wholeheartedly Christ-centered, are perennial sparkplugs igniting these arguments. Can it be any coincidence that FUM does not feel able to expand its fields of service, and has shrunk its staff to about a third of its size twenty years ago?

Carol is right--the letter from the superintendents, as it stands now, is simply an expression of concern from six individuals. However, nothing is gained by minimizing the letter because of that fact. Those six individuals have important leadership and stewardship responsibilities for their yearly meetings, and their observation points within their yearly meetings give them the ability to see what disputes about FUM are costing Friends in their constituencies. The fact that they brought their concern to the FUM executive committee before circulating it widely among their yearly meetings cannot serve as a pretext to minimize their concerns. However, it may mean that the FUM response should include a wide consultation within the yearly meetings. Nobody is saying that this step should be left out.

What the superintendents' letter does is summarize concerns that are publicly verifiable and of long standing. I have traveled a lot in each of their yearly meetings, and I can vouch for the deep divisions over FUM in each one. Yes, the yearly meetings themselves should play a role in responding to the superintendents' letter, but in at least some of them, that consultation will be painful.

I can't even begin to guess why the superintendents decided to approach FUM's clerk and executive committee before laying their concerns before their yearly meetings, but it's a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. The advantage of the course they took is that FUM's leadership now has a chance to present the issue to the whole body (including the Kenyan board), framed in the best possible way for fruitful consideration. This is a chance for FUM's leadership to issue a new call for genuine, functional unity, and ask whether Friends are ready to ratify that call. In any case, FUM cannot ward off inevitable change by saying to dissatisfied constituents, "Sorry, you're trapped in a relationship, and we'll always use tradition and 'Orthopraxy' to keep you there." Among the possible awful results of such a stance would be an FUM devoid of its Orthodox yearly meetings, or perhaps even worse, yearly meetings that grant its members (as Iowa did about a decade ago and Baltimore much earlier) the right to remain in the YM without being in FUM. Would FUM possibly decide to be so jealous of its facade of unity that it would rather permit such fragmentation than face the wholesale reform and re-covenanting that might give it new birth?

To put the whole issue another way, rather than asking whether those superintendents had a right to issue the letter, the more important question is to ask whether their diagnosis is correct. How will we know? And if they are, what will we do about it?

Finally, I do think that global partnership is possible, whatever happens to the old denominational structures. Within all the branches of Friends, there are people who are getting to know each other across the existing lines and who absolutely defy traditional categories of "evangelical," "Orthodox," and "liberal." The old denominational gatekeepers are increasingly powerless to keep them apart. I have deep misgivings about the ability of such ad hoc partnerships to provide the kind of eldership and mutual accountability that the older structures were supposed to provide, but when those older structures seem to have lost their legitimacy for that purpose, maybe we will need to endure a season of creative chaos before the new patterns of the future emerge.

Johan said...

Two PS's:

One, to Carol: I'm not saying that FUM's program or even its administration is dysfunctional, rather its structure. The formal description and the underlying reality don't match--at least not for the "Orthodox" yearly meetings. One symptom is the distance, alienation, or outright ignorance in many Friends' relationship with FUM. My biggest concern isn't whose fault it is, although that's an important topic. My concern is what we do about it.

Two, about those distant or alienated Friends. I've met quite a lot of them in my time. Some of them are not apparently interested in knowing anything good about FUM. Some of them are operating from hearsay or ancient history. "To their zeal for God I can testify, but it is an ill-informed zeal." Some of them aren't even terribly interested in relating to their own yearly meetings. We're probably never going to win them over, and we shouldn't contort ourselves beyond recognition trying.

But some of FUM's challengers are among the most interesting and energetic people in their yearly meetings. They are sometimes the sort of people who give me hope that the label "evangelical" can be redeemed. They are among those who really seem to believe that prayer makes a difference, and that a new day has come for evangelism. They're exactly the sort of people whom I'd have hoped would support rather than oppose FUM, because that was truly the mood among the FUM staff during most of the time I was there.

And let me risk a few words about FUM's supporters in those same yearly meetings. Of course many of them are people I deeply admire and respect and love. They've been holding up the FUM banner for years in the face of outright hostility in yearly meeting sessions, as I've witnessed more than once. But some supporters of FUM seem to be living in the past, and I can think of a few who seem much more interested in Quakerishness than in Christian discipleship, thus reinforcing the suspicions of the anti-FUM members of their yearly meetings. I despise the easy correlation of "liberal=FUM supporter" and "evangelical=FUM skeptic"--it's a glib, destructive, mean, cheap analysis that unfortunately has a bit of truth! If we're going to use this present challenge as an opportunity to build a stronger FUM, we're going to have to speak publicly at this level of frankness, and we're going to have to ask God for miraculous power to overcome deep cultural habits that constantly frustrate our search for common ground.

In the final analysis, our efforts must be grounded in God, anyway, not in yet another round of dialogues and consultations around the same old irritations. Remember, part of the cultural gap that frustrates us is that some of those who want to preserve FUM seem to love to scratch these itches--that is, talking about variety, about unity and diversity and so on--while much of the opposition to FUM is composed of people who experience those endless discussions as a diversion rather than a blessing. A courageous, engaging call to deeper commitment might have a chance to undercut these cultural barriers.

Lorcan said...

Well, I have, for many years, studied the dysfunctions of religious and political orthodoxies. Now, I must begin by saying, that liberal, inclusive forms of social organization suffer from a host of dysfunctions as well. The difference, is that the true free thinking social structures, accept that dysfunction is a part of God's plan, or in the case of free thinking, atheists (the ones who are not completely orthodox in their following their light or lack thereof...) part of the human equation. In short, diversity is built into our being.

Orthodoxy by its definition is subject to dysfunction when confronted by the reality that diversity is the human condition. A guest is expected in four minutes so I will end here, likely to return and flesh this out to offend less... I hope...
Thine ever dearly in the light

Carol said...

The formal description and the underlying reality don't match--at least not for the "Orthodox" yearly meetings. Johan, I don't know what you mean here. Can you help me understand what you're saying?

As to minimizing, well, yes and no, Johan.

Yes, of course six individuals can write a letter diagnosing problems and calling for realignment. Of course they can.

But a letter from six individual superintendents calling for realignment at a time when the dually affiliated yearly meetings are engaged in yearly-meeting-wide efforts--with some progress evident--at renewing and deepening their commitment to FUM has a different significance for me than a letter calling for realignment would that was the result of comparable yearly-meeting-wide discernment from the five Orthodox yearly meetings.

(That's a long sentence, but I hope it's clear.)

Marshall Massey said...

Johan, I'm responding to your first comment, which appears to have been a response to mine. You wrote, "Love is crucial, but is love best expressed by preserving a dysfunctional structure and demanding loyalty from an uncertain and unwilling constituency? Cannot love be expressed through a willingness to question old certainties and test whether the covenants formed a century ago are still real and sustainable?"

Would not the best response be to refer to the teachings of Christ? He held up the good Samaritan, treating the wounded traveler as if that traveler was himself, as an example of how God's will should be fulfilled. This was not dumping a covenant formed a century ago, but restoring a covenant that had included Jews and Samaritans together before the Babylonian exile. His spirit moved in the opposite direction from the spirit of these six superintendents.

We could also refer to Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. It opens with a discussion of how Paul has heard of divisions in the church, that are tearing the church apart. Does he advise the Corinthians to handle the problem by splitting into separate denominations? You know the answer as well as I.

No, I am not "proposing that a primary and worthwhile purpose of FUM is to be a witness of Christ among its own members". I don't need to propose this, because it is a teaching that far predates me, far predates FUM. Barclay wrote in his Apology, Prop. X §3, regarding the purpose of the church, that it is to be a "fellowship" in which the members "do each of them watch over, teach, instruct, and care for one another, according to their several measures and attainments: such were the churches of the primitive times gathered by the apostles...."

Had Friends stuck to being a church that did as Barclay said a church does from the beginning of the nineteenth century onward, I think we would still be one happily undivided Society. It is only because we stopped watching over, teaching, and caring for, and began instead watching, criticizing, and rejecting, that we divided.

And are we stronger for being divided? Do the superintendents of these six yearly meetings expect any better results from watching, criticizing, and rejecting this time around?

You describe what the superintendents have followed as a "conscientious process". I am mindful of the fact that there are many voices that speak in our consciences besides the voice of Christ. The voice of Christ in the conscience teaches doing as the good Samaritan did. You ask whether the yearly meeting "whose own fabric is rent by disagreements about FUM" does not "have both the right and the duty to attend to its own health rather than possibly sacrificing that health...." I am mindful that Christ taught sacrificing our health, and all else, for his sake.

You conclude by saying, "I'm posing these questions in the edgiest way I know how, because only if such questions are directly answered...." I hope I have responded with sufficient directness, even if my answers do not entirely please you.

You must know that you and FUM are in my prayers.

Laurie Kruczek said...

I just have to add here that both Martin and Lorcan are my Quaker heroes these days, and speaking to my condition so much more than they know. Accepting there is going to be difference and imperfections as part of God's design is hitting the Quaker nail on the head. We have so many more wonderful good works to attempt, and to share, and maintaining hope for those who need that help is really where it is at anymore.

Thank you for both reaching that conclusion in plain language that makes my heart hopeful.

Zach Alexander said...

I partly agree with what you're saying about process, but I also want to point out that that seems like a rather liberal (or perhaps unprogrammed) attitude, while the five yearly meetings in question are programmed. I couldn't immediately find a section on the role of the superintendent in their F&Ps, but I suspect these YMs authorize their superintendents (note the title isn't "clerk") to speak and act on their behalf to an extent that liberal YM don't.

Carol said...

Sidebar here: Zach, the Orthodox yearly meetings have both superintendents and clerks (and clerks of ministry and counsel).

As Johan said, the superintendents speak from the vantage point of knowing what's going on in their yearly meetings--but in this case they were not speaking for their yearly meetings.(Indeed, as I understand it, some of the yearly meeting clerks were startled by the letter. And some were not easy with it.)

The superintendents were speaking about problems within their yearly meetings caused by a) monthly meetings who are pressuring their yearly meetings to pull out of FUM because they don't want to be associated with Friends who don't identify as Christians and who don't accept the Richmond Declaration as the foundation of their faith, and b) monthly meetings who seek to be welcoming congregations and want to be rid of FUM's personnel policy.

Johan said...

Marshall, I have no quarrel with your description of the imperatives of Christian fellowship. But I really don't think it is self-evident that FUM is the best channel or structure through which to carry out those imperatives. The logical extreme of your viewpoint seems to me to be that no religious organization can ever be changed or laid down or quit. It is always possible, theoretically, to exercise yet more love or forbearance in any organization, but isn't it possible to question whether an organization is adequate to the task? Isn't it possible for some members to question their future in an organization that always seems to provide more pain than gain, and seek other structures to carry out the same Gospel imperatives?

I am not now saying that FUM is fatally flawed--not at all! But the question of FUM's adequacy in its present form must be raised openly and honestly, and that is the service that is being rendered by the superintendents. The outcome of the process might be that the body of FUM doesn't agree with those superintendents, but to rule them out of order makes no sense to me at all. They accurately report realities that I, too, can vouch for. Let's figure out whether they're right.

The superintendents are not "watching, criticizing, and rejecting...." They are making an urgent report and request. I know these people--they are not cranks or idiots or professional gadflies. They have collectively given many hours of service to FUM (and in at least one case to FWCC as well, and in another case to FCNL--and there may be more such examples than I know). Doug Shoemaker of Indiana YM was an invaluable part of the planning of last year's identity retreat for FUM, at which we asked Friends to replace old patterns of fighting with clear, adult requests of each other, and I see the superintendents' letter as an example of doing this.

As for splitting into denominations, it is far too late to prevent this from happening among Friends, as any historian of our mostly lamentable Quaker divisions will attest. The overlap yearly meetings within FUM are mostly composed of once-divided yearly meetings that reunited. It is possible that in the euphoria of those reunions, tacit agreements were made by leaders to overlook important differences that continue to irritate us at the grassroots. I don't insist on this interpretation; I'm just saying that you can't impose unity by fiat or arguing precedence or impugning the motives of those who point out that the unity doesn't really exist, much as we would like it to.

Most of Evangelical Friends International, at least in North America, is composed of yearly meetings or parts of yearly meetings once in FUM. Their separation from FUM has not prevented much creative collaboration between FUM and EFI Friends (and, at times, among even more diverse groupings).

Carol, the superintendents may seem to be suggesting realignment, but they are far from demanding it. Why not take them at their word? They've asked for strategies to deal with the problems they report. The outcome may, with God's help, be very different from what we might understand as realignment. And if Friends feel that yearly-meeting-wide discernment within each of those five yearly meetings must happen first, before FUM decides on a strategy, then I'm afraid you're likely to get a very ugly scene in some of those yearly meetings. I vividly remember attending Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) sessions the last time their relationship with FUM was on the agenda. The only way the yearly meeting at that time could agree to stay within FUM was to agree to let individual meetings NOT stay within FUM.

Here's what I mean about the formal and the real not matching: The formal descriptions of FUM include the purpose statement and foundational documents such as the Richmond Declaration of Faith. The purpose statement is unambiguously Christ-centered, and moreover it is unambiguously evangelistic. It is no secret that the dual-affiliation yearly meetings are fundamentally out of unity with these statements. As yearly meetings, they engage in a willing suspension of disbelief in order to stay as yearly meetings within FUM. In effect, they say that "we will tolerate being in an organization with such self-understandings for the sake of those of our members who share those same beliefs, and for those who appreciate the fellowship despite their disagreement with those beliefs." This may be a tolerable state of affairs for liberal Friends, but to some Orthodox Friends, this is not a true covenant of spiritual unity, and that lack of spiritual unity is, whether we like it or not, a standing and debilitating scandal. No matter how hard those overlap yearly meetings work to increase their genuine and undeniable care for FUM (including reversing the threats to withhold money, reducing the attacks on the personnel policy, and promoting FUM at the yearly meetings' grassroots), I can't see how you can overcome this scandal--certainly not by telling those on the right wing that they just don't have an adequate understanding of diversity.

Lor: It is true that different religious cultures approach issues of diversity and ambiguity differently. Yes, diversity is part of human reality, but to tell the "Orthodox" yearly meetings that they must stay within FUM because their dissident meetings and their superintendents lack the ability to deal with diversity as well as liberal Friends do, would strike some people as condescending or insulting. (That's not what I hear you arguing, but sometimes I think that argument is being made.)

Dear Friends, I want FUM to succeed! I don't want it divided up, weakened, fragmented; I don't want anybody to leave!! But FUM will in fact fragment if the realities described by the superintendents are not confronted. I see these possible outcomes:

1) Status quo and ongoing deterioration: FUM's "defenders" win the procedural conflicts, and increasing numbers of local meetings either leave FUM or leave their FUM-affiliated yearly meetings. FUM funding and programming continue to decline.

2) Some form of mutually agreed, peaceful, creative realignment: FUM undergoes one or more divisions, leaving the "Orthodox" core intact, with the overlap yearly meetings deciding together or individually that they honestly don't identify with FUM as yearly meetings. This doesn't mean an end to relationships--for example I could see forming a fellowship or affiliation for those outside FUM (especially in the liberal meetings), maybe along the model of the Western Association of Friends, so that like-spirited Friends can continue to participate. FWCC continues to serve as a wider circle of relationship for potentially all Friends.

3) A less peaceful, more disruptive realignment: perhaps a withdrawal by the Orthodox yearly meetings from FUM, whether to join Evangelical Friends International or to re-establish their own FUM on the basis of a more unified vision. The "old" FUM would then consist only of dually-affiliated yearly meetings.

4) Renewal: FUM's response to the superintendents' letter is to wake up to the opportunities latent in this crisis, taking into account the fact that the world around us is suffering from agonies and bondages that the Christian Quaker witness can address directly, once we are no longer stuck in our parochial controversies. We commit to following Jesus Christ according to our spiritual gifts and corporate leadings (some to be apostles, some prophets, some teachers, some pastors, some evangelists, some administrators, some withholders of war taxes, and so on, using our diversity in mutual collaboration for the Lamb's War). Those who are not ready for such a Christian commitment must make a decision as to whether to stay in FUM, but FUM as a whole enters a new era of spiritual unity even as the expressions of that unity become ever more diverse.

5) We're all wrong! FUM needs to do nothing, the perceived entropy is just in our heads, and we all live happily ever after.

Carol said...

What is spiritual unity?

Is it the same as theological unity?

(More after I eat some dinner.)

Tom Smith said...

I am someone who has been involved in Indiana YM (Clerk of a Mnthly & Qrtrly Mtg), Jamaica YM (missionary's son), East Africa YM (at its formation and aware of the many divisions since then), pastor in Wilmington YM, recorded minister in NY YM, campus minister in Iowa YM, Clerk of Worship and Ministry in a major meeting in Phil YM, have a good friend and Friends minister in NW YM (EFI), strong affinity to Conservative Friends. All of this, and more, has been over 50 years.

I have some observations from thee experiences:
1) Quaker Institution is an oxymoron.
2) Early Friends did not seem to be involved any forming any "institution."
3) Essentially any institution in Friends History has become involved in "authority" issues which has led to serious disagreement and denial of the "other side."
4) Friends Divisions have mostly led to more "authoritarian" groups (That is: the adoption of Declaration or Mission statements with more restrictive definitions, and generally more exclusivity)
5) The Early Friends seemed to have some fairly firm beliefs that they were willing to stake their lives on, but generally disagreements seemed to be with non-Friends.

I do not know what lies ahead for FUM, but the "defections," and major dissensions/disagreements which continue to be discussed/studied in Yearly Meetings would indicate that the splintering will continue. Which I suspect would lead to even further "no notice" by the world.

A new "inclusive institution" might be established or more "trust" in the FWCC which is about as minimally exclusive as can be.

The convergent/emergent/? Friends movement may have an effect but as soon as it becomes institutionalized ... ?

I have been relatively brief and as direct as I "can" be, but am trusting that I am promoting dialogue not stifling or throwing cold water on a vital discussion.

Zach Alexander said...

Carol, I know they have clerks too :) My point was just that while clerks have no business speaking on behalf of a body (except as directed by its business meeting's minutes), that seems like part of the job description of a superintendent. "The superintendent says" shouldn't be taken as seriously as "the meeting as a whole says," but it's also more than "some individual Friend says." (I may be entirely wrong about what a superintendent does.)

(BTW all, my usually-opinionated self is saying nothing about the bigger issues because I've stopped having strong opinions about it... all of Johan's options except 1 sound great to me in different ways :)

Johan said...

Carol--your last question of course points to a huge and mostly untouched area of discussion. I have basically argued that we need to take the alienation in FUM and its Orthodox yearly meetings very seriously, and address it directly rather than only trying to say what is wrong with the messengers' method of ringing the alarm. However, I have often found that FUM's critics on all sides expect higher standards of FUM, its staff, its board, and so on, than they expect of themselves. None of the Orthodox yearly meetings have perfect unity, and they certainly can't blame all their own internal weaknesses on FUM!

So: You can't shame people into loyalty to FUM--you have to acknowledge the alienation that truly exists, and deal with it. However, it's totally legitimate to challenge people concerning whether their criticism of FUM is itself a way of avoiding urgent local issues of discipleship or unity or good order. But don't use that challenge in order to "save" FUM by one-upping its critics. When all is said and done, FUM must still inspire support, rather than coerce that support through appeals to piety or tradition or process.

Martin Kelley said...

Johan: thanks for the list of ways FUM could go. I'm wondering if there's sort of a different direction, though let me warn I'm going to be terribly impractical here, my typical too-idealistic-for-reality self.

I'm spending way too much time in cyber communities--partly professionally, thank goodness. What I'm seeing is a lot of what we might call fuzzy communities. There's no exact membership, no formal statements and a kind of ebb and flow to participation. There are people I communicate with once a day, others once a week or month or year. Some people I know more by reputation or as a friend of a friend. If one of this extended network gets involved with a project that excites a large number of people, a new fuzzy community can form around that. With this set up I can be friends with people I disagree with, or at least stay in touch with them or know what they're up to. We can come together for workshops or gatherings or community emergencies like the Tom Fox kidnapping.

Contrast that with the membership institutions we have. Most people don't have much choice in what Quaker meeting or church they belong to--they join the one that's closest. That means they're automatically enrolled in yearly meetings and denominational structures they may not agree with or even understand. When what politicos call a wedge issue comes up (evolution, biblical criticism, same-sex marriage) we go into spasms of dissensions because we're not able to wait for the ebb and flow of change to percolate and we are unable to imagine unity with someone who disagrees on such a fundamental issue. No matter what we think, we're all formally involved in institutions that have a large number of members who think some core piece of our faith understanding is wrong.

So what if Friends started organizing in a more fuzzy manner? What would FUM, FGC, EFI and the yearly meetings look like? This is a terribly impractical question, as there's no money in fuzziness and there are a lot of people strongly invested in the status quo (I'm thinking less of the paid staff than of all the many people who derive some sense of identity with their affiliation and volunteer service with an institution). It's not that FUM would "go fuzzy", but that Friends would organize more projects in a semi-independent but connected way. Maybe thirty years from now, FUM would be a more modest, mission-driven institution that didn't engender such passions. How we get from here to there is a diplomatically loaded question that requires a certain kind of big picture leadership.

I too wish that this was part of a larger conversation and not a string of comments from a predictable crowd. One of the superintendents in question once left a very heartfelt comment on Quaker Ranter about FUM and dissension and youth alienation and about wanting to find a new way of talking about it, but that comment never translated into regular participation. It seems that few paid staffers or committee Friends participate in online communities, yet it does seem this is a useful "back channel" way of publicly airing issues and getting feedback from a more representative cross-section of Friends than we find in most formal structures (you want to talk dysfunction: nominating committees, but that's another rant).

I appreciate the superintendents' call for more clear dialog and a more adult airing of differences. It seems to me that this kind of leadership should be part of their mandate--indeed part of the mandate of all Quaker leaders. But it seems like a formal group letter (that may not even be authorized to be reprinted on blogs?) is just a baby step toward more introspective dialog.

Here's a question then: how can we get every superintendent reading "Can You Believe?" and comfortable enough to comment freely?

Marshall Massey said...

Johan, reading your latest, it sounds like you are asking me, and all of your readers here, and Friends generally, for an ecclesiology, a doctrine of the Church, that actually helps us understand how we should handle such things.

We Friends don't really have such a doctrine — note to any budding Barclays out there: we could use one! — but there are general principles that I think seasoned Friends should be able to agree on, and that would be the best place to start.

The first is that we are not called to have an "organization". The term for what Christ called us to have is ekklesia, which Barclay defined as "the society, gathering, or company of such as God hath called out of the world, and worldly spirit, to walk in his Light and Life." Note the language: Barclay says "society, gathering or company", which is ever so much more informal, familial, and unforced than "organization".

"The church," Barclay elaborates, "then so defined is to be considered, as it comprehends all that are thus called and gathered truly by God ... which together do make up the one catholic church.... Out of which church we freely acknowledge there can be no salvation; because under this church and its denominations are comprehended all, and as many, of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people they be, though outwardly strangers, and remote from those who profess Christ and Christianity in words, and have the benefit of the scriptures, as become obedient to the holy light and testimony of God in their hearts, so as to become sanctified by it, and cleansed from the evils of their ways. ... There may be members therefore of this catholic church both among heathens, Turks, Jews, and all the several sorts of Christians, men and women of integrity and simplicity of heart, who though blinded in some things in their understanding, and perhaps burdened with the superstitions and formality of the several sects in which they are engrossed, yet being upright in their hearts before the Lord, chiefly aiming and labouring to be delivered from iniquity, and loving to follow righteousness, are by the secret touches of this holy light in their souls enlivened and quickened, thereby secretly united with God, and there-through become true members of this catholic church." (Apology, Prop. X §2; emphases as in the stereotype edition of 1827.)

So whatever organization we impose on top of this "society, gathering, or company" is, like our scheduled times for worship, what Barclay would have called a "conveniency", not an ordinance of God, and we are free to modify such conveniencies as we please.

And this would seem to me to affirm your argument in the first paragraph of your latest comment.

BUT. The flip side is that the gathering or assembly itself is indeed an ordinance of the God of Christ, and not for us to fiddle around with. We may not deny, or set barriers between ourselves and, the other members of that assembly, such as the "heathens, Turks, Jews, and [other] sorts of Christians [than ourselves], men and women of integrity and simplicity of heart, who though blinded in some things ... [are] yet ... upright in their hearts before the Lord...."

You write that "The superintendents are not 'watching, criticizing, and rejecting....'" I am going to contradict you and say that the comment they make, in the passage you quoted, about "the frustration of being yoked together with Friends who do not share a common sense of identity or a common vision for ministry" shows very clearly that they are. The observation they make in that passage comes from watching. The observation itself embodies a criticism. And it is quite apparent that they want the yoke, which you have elsewhere in your posting described as a "covenant", removed, which is a rejection.

Don't think I don't understand their frustration. I experience a similar frustration myself. But their response to the sense of frustration is to resist evil, which Christ explicitly commanded us not to do.

So the conclusion I would draw is that we are allowed to restructure, yes, you are totally right about that — just not in a way that comes across as a rejection or exclusion of the heathens, Turks, Jews, etc., who are called to our assemblies.

And that is going to mean that the solution has to be worked out by all sides together, rather than by one or two sides excluding all the others.

The six superintendents, and wishy-washy liberals of the dually-affiliated meetings, and all the other interested parties, are going to have to come to the table wanting to work out an arrangement that truly works for everybody.

And if that takes forty more years, so be it. Our first assignment is not to preserve the organization but to find our way to the patience, longsuffering, Christian maturity, and all the other manifestations of the love by which we are saved. For this path is not about our making things comfortable for ourselves, but about us taking up the cross. If we save the organization, a mere human creation, but do not walk the path by which we ourselves are saved, what is that worth?

And this in turn means that the yearly meetings, and monthly meetings, and individuals, who say "We're going to leave if those others don't leave," have to be confronted — if need be, with all the power that ministry possesses when it is grounded in total obedience to Christ. I realize that we are not used to doing this. But if Paul could do it, we can, too.

I note that this is a prescription not far different from your "4) Renewal" option. You and I are actually not far apart. I'm just saying that no act that excludes or sets up barriers to others who have been called into the ekklesia can be considered part of the renewal, any more than, say, the long-ago split between my own yearly meeting and Iowa (FUM) could have been.

You remain, dear Friend, in my prayers.

Carol said...

Well, I had supper. Now I'm mired in deadlines. But I love this conversation. Fuzzy communities! Ecclesiology! And a huge and mostly untouched area of discussion.

I'll catch up eventually.

Meanwhile, I apologize, Zach, for not understanding what you were saying about clerks and superintendents.

Carol said...

Well, goodness, a lot of very rich stuff has been said and there is much to absorb, but I'd like to go back to the beginning and pick up on this comment of yours, Johan.

My first reaction to their alarm signal was "Well, duh." It's impossible for me to argue with their diagnosis.

I do argue with the diagnosis, Friends. I believe it's wrong.

I've been a member of the FUM board since October 2002, just after the triennial in Nairobi. This summer, as my term limit representing New York Yearly Meeting expired, I was asked to stay on for three more years as recording clerk for the North American board.

Here's what I think is going on.If you approach FUM with memories of what was twenty or thirty years ago, yes, you're going to be alarmed. This isn't the FUM you knew. (Any more than your yearly meeting is the one you knew thirty years ago.)

That world is gone and it's not coming back.

As someone arriving on the board in 2002, I have no memories of those days. What I've experienced on the board is an operational restructuring that was an attempt to bring the international work of FUM into parity with the North American work. All "missions" work was brought under Global Ministries (North America being merely one more part of the globe). Before this restructuring, there had been a North American Ministry office and a Global Ministry office. Global Ministry was elevated, and North American became a subdivision of Global.

At the same triennial where this was approved, Ben Richmond (director of North American Ministries) took early retirement and Retha resigned.

In October 2005, following that triennial (at a board meeting I was unable to attend), the financial crisis the organization was in came to the fore. Financial management is not one of the gifts I bring to board service. I can't explain what the crisis was about, but my sense is that it had to do with long-term debt and with a diminishing endowment and not with the annual contribution that Baltimore Yearly Meeting was withholding.

From what I can make out, financial support for FUM had been dwindling across all the yearly meetings for many years. (Now that I mention it, it would be good to look at those patterns of support. And I suspect that Sylvia Graves will be doing that--if she hasn't already started it.)

It was in fall 2005 through June 2006, after Ben and Retha had left--with no viable candidate to replace her--and the staff had been put on a 4-day work week, that this discussion of FUM almost became moot. Will we ever know how close the organization came to total collapse?

No director. No director of North American Ministries. No director of Global Ministries. (He'd resigned in December 2005 and there was no funding to replace him.) The senior staff person of FUM was the editor of Quaker Life--which had been cut back from 12 to 6 issues a year, in no small part because one of the Orthodox yearly meetings (Western? Indiana?) had been paying to supply each of its members with a subscription and in order to save money on its budget had discontinued that practice.

It was in late May 2006 that Sylvia Graves agreed to serve as an interim director.

Have you heard me mention "personnel policy" or "our theological differences"?

Neither of these were involved in the decision to restructure that resulted in Ben Richmond's retirement and in the collapse of a full-time North American ministries office.

Yes, FUM is financially challenged. But so are its constituent yearly meetings. Canadian Yearly Meeting is making no contribution currently to FUM. It is also making no contribution to FGC. New York cut its contributions to FUM this year by the same percentage it cut its contributions to FGC.

We're all struggling.

Johan has spoken of FUM as being a proxy battleground for issues of internal diversity unresolved within each constituent yearly meeting. A standard of conformity and consistency gets demanded of FUM that the constituent yearly meetings can't meet.

I'm coming to believe that the "personnel policy" and "our theological differences" are proxy scapegoats.

Johan and I first met at a snowbound Call to Renewal conference in Washington, D.C. Jim Wallis was calling those together who wanted to focus on what Jesus said about the poor, the needy, and the homeless. There was every variety of Christian there. We agreed that abortion and gay issues were off the table. We were free, of course, to work on those as we were led in the world through our own faith communities. But Call to Renewal work was focused on social justice for the poor, the needy, the homeless.

I can answer my own question now. Jim Wallis is demonstrating leadership through spiritual unity rather than through theological unity.

Friends, be of good cheer. The dually affilated yearly meetings are much less interested in Ranterism than they were even ten years ago. (See some of the blogging that Martin, Cat Chapin-Bishop, Lizz Opp, and Will Taber have been doing.)The dual affiliates want to do international work. They understand that FUM is a Quaker vehicle for that. Many believe the personnel policy is misguided, but there is a growing acceptance and understanding that it was arrived at through a Spirit-led process. It's where God has brought "the whole community" to at this time. Sylvia has done heroic work traveling among East Coast Friends. She gets us. She really does, while remaining authentically a daughter of Western Yearly Meeting. She's a good translator. The staff of FUM is astounding! Don't be turned off by that fund-raising material they send out about being united. BELIEVE IT! They mean it. It's their campaign. They love one another. They serve Friends United Meeting wholeheartedly. Send them some money now! They often can't make payroll.

I can't even begin to speak of the work itself. Of the Graces in Kenya, supporting John Muhanji. John is evangelizing in the Congo, Friends. They're asking him to come. Turkana needs wells. They're thirsty. Send them some water, Friends. Make a contribution. A young family is going to Belize to help boys who have no other direction or support. God willing we will be establishing a Friends meeting in that country, too.

Do I sound like someone who is bothered because I am unequally yoked to Friends who don't share my form of worship or my beliefs about the personnel policy? I do argue with the diagnosis, Johan. I most profoundly do.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Whoa. My ears are burning... When I posted the link to Johan's post here from my own blog, I believe some of these comments had not yet been posted. Certainly, I had not read all of them.

My post--visible under "Links to this post" is a pointer to an article on the controversy over same-sex relationships... within the Episcopal Church, not FUM. I mention it here only because, in the context of this discussion, I would instead be more likely to say that I have been working hard to learn how much more than a personnel policy FUM is--though I suspect that Spirit is not done with FUM on that score.

But I also think Spirit is not done with any of us, and I know that I not infrequently feel Her workings among us most clearly when I am being challenged by acknowledging fuzzy community with those whose theologies seem quite strange to me. Perhaps that is true for others as it is for myself, and perhaps being willing to be open to surprise, and to finding ourselves in that assembly Marshall speaks of, against all our expectations... perhaps that is what is going ultimately to guide us toward doing what we're meant to be doing in the world, rather than imposing our human certainties for what God's priorities' list should be, based on our own wisdom.

In any case, I actively enjoy being surprised by love and the power of Spirit as I encounter it among Friends who are often very, very unlike me. It's one of my favorite things about being Quaker, and it's one of my favorite things about being part of FUM.

Sorry if I'm pompous or wordy here. It's late, and I'm a bit off balance by seeing my name in such a weighty discussion. But each of the writers here is in my heart just now.

Johan said...

Hi, Carol (and everyone else)--thanks for everything you've written. I'm singling you out, Carol, because (as Martin has noted) not many who are involved "officially" with leadership in our structures participate in these Web-based discussions.

I don't think I disagree with any of what you said. However, none of those excellent attributes and areas of service of Friends United Meeting relate to the main point that the superintendents were making.

You may be contradicting their conclusion that "The most tragic result of this is that the work of FUM around the world suffers." It's hard to know whether they're right, because we don't know how effective a less conflicted FUM would be. But that there is deep alienation from FUM in their yearly meetings is undeniable. It was there during my time on the FUM staff, and, from what I hear, it is not better now.

We cannot simply blame those upset Friends for not knowing about John Muhanji's work or not valuing it sufficiently; we cannot find our way out of this challenge simply by assigning blame (though full accountability does include pointing out when board members don't adequately carry out their two-way liaison responsibilities).

So, I persist in urging FUM Friends to avoid the temptation to take the easy way out in responding to the superintendents' letter. The easy way out is to try to contain the damage--to criticize the letter and its authors in as small a forum as possible. This is part of the shadow side of FUM, an ancient pattern that contributed (I believe) to several previous crises in FUM, as for example in the departure of most of Nebraska Yearly Meeting in the 1950's.

Instead, the basic question remains: Are the superintendents right? How do we find out? And if they are right, what are we going to do about it? If the "scandal" I mentioned previously (the absence of spiritual unity around Jesus and the Bible) is not really true, or is true but not a scandal, and if FUM has the capacity to galvanize their yearly meetings in ways they have not yet comprehended, can't we make an effort to communicate these things?

Not that the points you've made, Carol, aren't immediately relevant. They are; what you've done in expressing them eloquently is a wonderful example of something that needs to be done far more and far better, day in and day out: making the case for FUM not by constantly puffing FUM itself and the theoretical virtues of supporting its structure, but by asking the old Quaker question, "Does Truth prosper?"--and then following up with a vision for publishing Truth in Congo, Chicago, rural Iowa, wherever we are led as a community. FUM must position itself in a completely new way for those skeptics--as a natural and obvious channel for their missional energy.

I think it is that energy, that potential among thousands of local Friends that is crucial not only to the survival of a worthy FUM, but also to the survival of the yearly meetings. Meta-discussions about FUM itself are important, but totally without persuasive power to those who are alienated by the perceived lack of an outlet in FUM for these top-priority concerns.

Here's a fantasy: what if a small team of Friends, made up of people from a variety of yearly meetings, began an intensive renewal/revival tour among our yearly meetings, bringing an urgent message uniting personal discipleship and support for missions? What if their presentations included personal stories of conversion and transformation? We have utterly transformative things going on in eastern and central Africa, in Christian Peacemaker Teams service, and in countless local settings; I'm sure there is no lack of material, but a lack of vision for communicating that material and for extending its significance in a new call for a Quaker impact on the world. There would be no need to make FUM itself the message; that wouldn't make the heart race and the hands go up. But FUM must far more often be seen as the default channel for such clear calls to commitment.

Too often, now, FUM is experienced among Orthodox Friends as an arena where dialogs about identity dominate, dialogs that so quickly become divisive even as the liberal participants seek to be utterly fair to everyone. Some of that identity work must always go on, of course; it's a central part of a religious organization's stewardship responsibilities. But FUM's first and foremost responsibility to its yearly meetings is to persistently pose the question "Does Truth prosper?" and help Friends respond.

To sum up: the defenses of FUM that I see here seem to be roughly these:

1) FUM is doing far more than it is given credit for.

2) Its critics are not sufficiently loving or patient or fair.

Both may in fact be true. That doesn't make the objective crisis pointed out by the superintendents' letter any less serious. To put it bluntly: they have the power to deepen FUM's crisis. FUM's critics in each of their yearly meetings also have that power. If we're going to deal with the challenge of the superintendents' letter simply as a power issue, a problem of political containment, FUM cannot win in the long run. FUM is already known in those skeptical circles as an organization that doesn't ask, "Does Truth prosper?" but instead has interminable discussions about what Truth is. Let's not abandon those discussions--we have many Friends who are gifted for that conversation; but let's do SOMETHING for those who are quite clear (and accurate from the perspective of Quaker history) on what Truth is, and whose enthusiasm is essential for the flourishing of their yearly meetings. And let's be clear: if eventually those yearly meetings perceive that they are more likely to flourish outside FUM, all the theory and one-upsmanship in the world won't keep them in, and shouldn't.

Of course, if all along they've used the FUM controversy to hide local spiritual poverty, the day of reckoning will be at hand. But now is the time to speak openly about everything.

Marshall Massey said...

Carol, I greatly appreciated your latest comment here — although your take on matters is so different from that of the complaining superintendents that I wonder whether they will be able to accept what you are saying. I feel fairly certain that a lot of people in Iowa (FUM) would not be able to accept it, or even sit still and listen while you said it.

I also wonder at your citing Cat Chapin-Bishop and Liz Opp as examples. I suspect many of the folks in FUM would not be able to get past the fact that the former is an outspoken pagan, and the latter an active homosexual who said just last Friday on her blog that she does not believe in Christ Jesus. Nor is Liz a member of a dually affiliated yearly meeting; her meeting belongs to Northern YM (FGC only), and her worship group is exploring affiliation with Iowa YM (Conservative).

If the concerns expressed by the superintendents are to be addressed successfully, they need to be addressed in some better way than by referring to examples that are immediately rejected.

Johan, I appreciated your reply to Carol, although I wonder whether you really heard her. I agree with everything you say about the deep alienation. But if I'm not mistaken, part of what Carol is saying is that you appear to be catering to that alienation, and that catering is a mistake. (Carol, am I right?)

I like your focus on the question "Does Truth prosper?" and I like your fantasy. I also like Friend Micah Bales's idea of a "bicycle ministry" visiting local Friends communities and preaching the Gospel. Micah's strikes me as a bit too fragile and individualistic, whereas yours seems a bit too pre-packaged and institutional. But something in between, by way of evangelical intervisitation, might be just the ticket.

It also wouldn't hurt to go back and re-read Joseph Pike, and consider how he and his team revitalized Irish Quakerism when it was in trouble!

A final point. I was not recommending "deal[ing] with the challenge of the superintendents' letter simply as a power issue, a problem of political containment". If that's what you heard, Johan, I failed to communicate.

All the best,

Mary Kay Rehard said...

Behold I am doing a new thing!

Forget all the hairsplitting, let's get out there and move beyond the old structures! (BTW, that's what you're doing, Johan.) blah, blah. Not to be too irreverent, but the above posts sound like a lot of eulogizing to me...

The future of Christianity is in a lot of lowercase words... (not uppercase denominiational designations like Religious Society of Friends or Quaker): ecumenism and unity, peacebuiliding and working for justice, multiculturalism, diversity, discipleship, dreams, visions, faithfulness, and working together to address human suffering in light of the Gospel. Creating communities geared toward making the world beautiful for those entrusted to us, a better place with the power of Jesus Christ. You know, Mt 25. Like, what Jesus said? hello!

The global south is gonna leave us behind on all counts. Maybe already has... let's wake up, people of the north. Get off your uppercase high horses, get down here with the riff raff, and roll up your sleeves. Let's get to work! The harvest is plenty, the workers are few.

And they are not going to come to you, you have got to get out there in the way!

If we spend too much time defining ourselves, we might find ourselves on Judgment Day with NTR (nothing to report). That would be bad! (And sad!)

My current dream is: campus ministry and urban youth outreach in Cincinnati, rooted in the Gospel and centered on peacebuilding, leadership, and hospitality, listening, small discipleship groups.

I don't believe Quakers alone are capable of mobilizing any sort of worthy force to meet that challenge. So I'm looking to network with the other, historic peace churches to see what might be possible if together we listen to that still, small voice.

It might even (gasp!) require crossing religious boundaries and Christians taking hands with Muslims and Jews and Buddhists, to find enough souls willing to put shoulders to the wheel and push together for peace & a future with hope for young people here. Add interreligious dialogue and collaboration to that list of lowercase imperatives, please.

I'm not interested in a church looking inward, backwards. I want to look forward, outward. I'm 100% comfortable with change. Life is change.

I want to be in solidarity with the lost, the broken, the lonely, the homeless, the marginalized, the imprisoned, the recently released, the drug-addicted, and the oppressed... right here in my city and around the globe.

Give me a church--any church--that cares more about discipleship and mentoring than identity.

Let us see what Christ can do in 2009! If only we could get out of the way, and work with him.

Mary Kay

Bill Samuel said...

1. The letter is signed by all of the present Superintendents of North American FUM-only yearly meetings. That is significant, and is very different from the way the early-90's realignment controversy started.

2. It is interesting that the Superintendents don't propose a solution, but ask that the Exec. Comm. find one. Finding an organizational solution is indeed extremely difficult in a circumstance like this.

3. The key to me has always been the Purpose of FUM. As Johan has suggested, that Purpose does not have wide support in the dually affiliated YMs. That indeed is the critical issue - lack of a common purpose and faith, as is highlighted by the Superintendents. The dually affiliated YMs have often seemed to want to make the main topic same-sex relationships. It's not just that there is disagreement on the issue, but that it appears a distraction from the purpose of FUM. I do believe that useful dialogue on that topic would be easier if there was a common basis of faith and purpose among those in dialogue. But what I think is key is unity on the purpose, and its lack is a real problem.

4. Many Friends seem to want to make a main purpose of FUM to be dialogue among widely divergent views of Friends. That dialogue is valuable, but it is not FUM's purpose, and there is no good reason for it to be. There is an organization with that purpose, FWCC.

5. It's not fundamentally about organization, but ministries do require some sort of organization. Maybe it doesn't need to look like FUM, but we do need to organize to support valuable ministries. I think creative ideas of organization that don't look a lot like what we've had are worth exploring, including ones that look a lot less denominational. Is the most important thing being "Quaker" or being part of God's work here on earth?

6. Realignment in some form or other is not going away. It has been happening in various ways, and will continue to be a major topic. History alone is not a good enough reason for groupings and structures. How that will shake out over the long term I don't know.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Marshall, you write, "I feel fairly certain that a lot of people in Iowa (FUM) would not be able to...even sit still and listen while you said it."

This, surely, is as likely a place for revival among Friends to begin as any? I am hardly an expert in matters Biblical (as anyone who knows me can show) but a line from 1 Corinthians comes to me: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal."

There are the outward words for the Gospel. But perhaps we could all use a little nudge toward the Truth behind the words--yes, myself included. God's not done with me yet...

Johan said...

Relaying a comment from Carol:

Aaargh! My New Year's Eve consisted of rushing my laptop to the Geek Squad after it crashed for the second time in 21 days. I'm now using a dial-up connection on 9-year-old laptop. Could you relay to the conversation that God, in his infinite wisdom, has placed me in a position where I can read "Can You Believe," but I can't post! The Comment Form won't open on this set-up.

And cyberlight for the health of my faithful laptop and for the expertise of the Geeks working on it would be welcome. (They're thinking it's an overheating issue.) Earliest I can have faithful laptop back is Saturday. Going cold turkey, here!

Carol said...

Thanks to Johan for relaying my computer woes. The crisis has somewhat abated, and at least I'm back on broadband.

There are so many threads I want to gather up, if Friends still have the interest in continuing. For now, let me focus on this one:

your take on matters is so different from that of the complaining superintendents that I wonder whether they will be able to accept what you are saying. I feel fairly certain that a lot of people in Iowa (FUM) would not be able to accept it, or even sit still and listen while you said it.

First, Marshall, can you be specific about what I said in my comment that people in Iowa would not be able to accept? (I'm not rhetorically arguing. I'm clueless.)

And to clarify, I wasn't suggesting that Iowans would take comfort in reading the bloggers I cited. I'm saying that I take comfort in them. They give me encouragement that East Coast Friends are moving away from the 'it's-all-about-me' and the 'I-can-do-what-I-want-because-the-Light-told-me-I-could-and-who-are-you-to-tell-me-I-can't' school of Quakerism of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Second, I'm putting forward that there is a shift taking place in the dual-affiliate yearly meetings. The Christocentric/Universalist tensions seem to be lessening in the meetings I travel among. The dual affiliates are experiencing a little growth. And they are very interested in the new British method of evangelizing known as Quaker Quest and being introduced into the U.S. by FGC. Given these shifts, and combining them with the impact of the rising ministry of Friends in their twenties and thirties, I question how deeply and scandalously (to use Johan's concept) out of unity with the purpose statement the overlap yearly meetings really are--as we enter 2009.

(I don't argue with Johan's analysis of what was. Once.)

Finally, Johan, let's say I'm overly optimistic and that the dual affiliates are currently as alienated as you see them to be. Do you want us to withdraw from FUM? Would FUM be better without us?

Bill Samuel said...

Regarding the question whether the dually affiliated YMs should disaffiliate from FUM. I think they are trying to make it more like FGC, and that is a serious problem. They have their association, and I think they should stick with it. The alternative would be for them to let FUM be what it is, and I can't see unity on that in any of the dually affiliated meetings.

There is the question of whether the FUM-onlys are complaining about the duals & covering up their own shortcomings. Test that out in the real world. It won't be any picnic for FUM after the duals leave, if they do. But the challenge of trying to work it out without the foil of the duals would be worth it.

I honestly don't know how FUM would do. There are clearly problems and challenges with FUM that don't have much to do with the question of the FGC YMs.

I have long wondered whether FUM is viable in the long term. I think we would get a clearer picture of that, and of possible Friends organizational alternatives, if the issue of those FGCers trying to change FUM was absent.

Maybe the FGC YMs could agree to suspend their memberships simultaneously for a 5-year period. Then we could see where things were. We might have an idea whether FUM was better off with or without those YMs.

Marshall Massey said...

Carol asks, "Marshall, can you be specific about what I said in my comment that people in Iowa would not be able to accept? (I'm not rhetorically arguing. I'm clueless.)"

— "We agreed that abortion and gay issues were off the table." (They are most certainly not off-the-table in conservative-to-evangelical Protestant circles here in Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado. Abortion especially. Democrats running for office hereabouts make their campaigns viable by running against abortion.)

— "Jim Wallis is demonstrating leadership through spiritual unity rather than through theological unity." (One of the Seven Warning Signs of the Tempter is an emphasis on "spiritual" rather than "theological".)

— "Friends, be of good cheer. The dually affilated yearly meetings are much less interested in Ranterism than they were even ten years ago. ... Many believe the personnel policy is misguided, but there is a growing acceptance and understanding that it was arrived at through a Spirit-led process." (At least three problems here, of varying degrees of gravity. [1]"Ranterism" is something liberal Friends talk about, because it is a sign of the sickness their gatherings suffer from. Even if "Ranterism" isn't presently a problem, no conservative Christian really believes the liberal Quaker culture is over it. [2] A willingness to accept people who believe the personnel policy is misguided is more or less fatal. [3] Being asked to be of good cheer about the fact that you are unequally yoked with people who believe the peronnel policy is misguided is a fairly major put-off.)

All the best,

Carol said...

Thank you, Marshall, very helpful.

My sentence about abortion and gay issues being off the table referred to Jim Wallis and the Call to Renewal--not FUM.

As to Jim demonstrating leadership through spiritual unity--would that mean that Johan's pleas for spiritual unity for FUM are the work of the Tempter? (And where are these Seven Signs to be found?)

[1] Ranterism is a sign of the sickness our gatherings suffer from. Agreed.

[2] "Tolerance" is being searchingly discussed on another blog at the moment. Which one?

[3] Is there any way to mediate between Paul's injunction against being unequally yoked with Jesus's instruction to leave the tares in the wheatfield?

Marshall Massey said...

Hi, Carol.

I am aware that your words about abortion and gay issues referred to Wallis and the Call to Renewal. It's the fact that you apparently agreed they should be off the table that is problematic.

I don't know what the right wing of FUM thinks of Johan's pleas. Perhaps they could tell you. Or (if he is so inclined) he could.

My phrase about the Seven Signs was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a reference to things like the Seven Warning Signs of Lung Cancer or Heart Disease.

I don't know which blog is discussing tolerance "searchingly" at the moment. "Tolerance" is a liberal thing; I'm a Conservative Friend, and quite frankly I have other concerns.

Mediating is not what the arch-conservative-Protestant or evangelical-Protestant mind is about. Such a mind has decided that only a certain pure extreme is right; anything else, like mediating, would be a soul-imperiling compromise.

There is also the fact that the advice to leave the tares is from Christ, not Paul. Ever since Luther, the conservative end of the Protestant movement has been more inclined to listen to Paul than to Christ. There is a sense that, in some manner, Christ's teachings were for the disciples while Christ was alive, but Paul's were for the faithful after Christ was risen.

Personally, I believe that when Paul warned about being unequally yoked, he was not necessarily talking about situations such as the one FUM finds itself in — the fact that his warning appears in the context of other advices to the Corinthians about settling their differences with each other, proves that in my mind.

I also believe that Christ was speaking against such judgmentalism as now divides FUM when he held up the good Samaritan as an example of someone following the true path to salvation — a Samaritan, and not a disciple of Jesus!!

— Not to mention all the advice about working out one's differences with one's fellows in Matthew 18, clear up to forgiving them their trespasses "seventy times seven".

But in dragging up the Samaritan and Matthew 18, I depart (as you do) to some extent from the Lutheran-Calvinist pattern. And you must understand, Carol, that Quakerism is a splinter branch of Calvinism. The liberals have largely forgotten that truth, but the Calvinist pattern goes clear down to the DNA level in much of the pastoral Quaker world.

And so the arch-conservative Protestant or evangelical Protestant, even in the Quaker world, has a different conception of salvation from mine. His is much closer to the mentality of Leviticus — do not mix categories, or cross categorical boundaries, or you will be under God's curse. And so his bias is toward categorically excluding the impure, where the liberal bias is toward categorically including them.

Carol said...

Christ's teachings were for the disciples while Christ was alive, but Paul's were for the faithful after Christ was risen.

So . . . then . . . the risen Christ is not alive?

Marshall Massey said...

If you understand that, Carol, then why do you not follow his teachings as fully as if he were still present in the flesh and you were one of the Twelve?

Marshall Massey said...

I should add, I think, that the above was not a holier-than-thou comment. I think it's pretty easy to prove than no one today follows Christ's teachings all that well, and that's my real point here. One person veers off in one direction, another in another; each of us forgives and agrees to overlook our own strayings while having problems with the other person's. That is exactly why FUM is torn.

Let us bear in mind that when the Lutheran/Calvinist type focuses on Paul more than Christ, he does not understand himself as departing from Christ in so doing. To him, Paul showed the ordinary person how to follow Christ in the aftermath of the Atonement. That was no small matter.

Carol said...

Because I am still growing into perfection, Marshall. Jesus and I are still working on it. (Is that not your answer, too?)

But to come back to your very helpful remarks above, are you saying the conservative end of the Protestant movement values Paul over Christ because Christ was for the disciples and when he rose, he withdrew from the rest of us? Christ is distant, and Paul is more immediate?

Am I following this?

And does all of this--all of it--mean that FUM is caught up in sorting out the Protestant Reformation?

Marshall Massey said...

I think "because I am still growing into perfection" is a very good answer, but it would not be my own. My own answer, to be honest, would also have to include, "because, in matters where I am tempted, I sometimes yield."

The reality of the human propensity to sin is thus a very important part of my understanding. It is also a very important part of the understanding of the Christian right, including the right wing of FUM. For that matter, it is part of what that old Quaker term "convincement" is all about: to be a "convinced Friend" meant, per Christ at the Last Supper, to be convinced "of sin, and righteousness, and judgment." (John 16:8) And this has a direct bearing on the debate between the left and right wings of FUM.

The position of the Orthodox Friends has certainly never been that Christ is more distant than Paul. But it has always been their understanding that we may recognize the particular voice that is Christ's in our conscience because it is the voice that affirms the teachings of Christ in the Bible — including, in the view of FUM's right wing, Christ's teachings through his servant Paul. Christ's Spirit today will not contradict Paul in the Bible. And Paul, to a far greater degree than the Christ of the Gospels, addressed himself to the questions of how the faithful should live within the church and in relation to unbelievers.

As to your final question, sure, I would say that FUM is caught up in sorting out the Protestant Reformation. So are the gays in Baltimore YM, the Wiccans in New England YM, and the nontheists in New York YM. So are you, or you wouldn't be having this conversation with me. And so am I.

Robin M. said...

I am struck by the question, "Is FUM sorting out the Protestant Reformation?" That's a 500 year old argument. Perhaps we are actually facing a new argument that is just forming, and coming to the forefront. I just read Phyllis Tickle's new book, The Great Emergence, which isn't going to appeal to people who still want to argue about the Reformation, but suggests precisely that we are in the labor pains of a new 500 year argument.

Bill Samuel said...

Yes, Robin, although the emerging conversation much prefers dialogue to argument, one of the characteristics that separates it from many earlier movements, including the early Quakers. I haven't yet read Phyllis' book, so I can't comment on its content, but it comes from the part of the Christian church with which I most identify today.

The emerging church tends not to be rejectionist in the way of earlier movements. We (this is where I hang my hat today) view ourselves as part of a story that includes all of the Bible and the many strains of Christianity through the ages. We draw from the strengths of the various strains in Christianity, and try to avoid the areas of weakness.

Many of us have little interest in the old Protestant Reformation argument. It just doesn't seem terribly relevant to living as disciples of Jesus Christ here an now.

I do think Quakers often argue over issues from the past in ways that are not helpful to moving forward today.

Marshall Massey said...

Dialogue is excellent, yes, and far more helpful than quarreling. Argument is something in between dialogue and quarreling: it develops a line of thinking in a more systematic way than dialogue, without necessarily quarreling in any way at all.

We say, "The basic argument of this book is...", and when we do so, we are not putting down the book, but summarizing and explaining it. We can talk in this way about "Paul's basic argument in his letter to the Galatians", or "Barclay's argument in his Apology". Arguing, in this sense, is not bad at all; it helps us see more clearly, discern more deeply, recognize our own shortcomings and grow.

My personal view is that the emerging-church phenomenon is simply another way of trying to "sort out the Reformation". It's not even that original a way: the same thing happened in the Restorationist movement of the nineteenth century, and in the ecumenical movement of the twentieth. Having been tried both those times, it is not exactly a quantity with an unknown potential today.

The Reformers raised some very basic questions: about the relationship of faith and works, about the nature of sin and the nature of salvation, about the relationship between the ill-educated, semi-religious ordinary churchgoer and the deeply fervent, intensely educated priesthood. As any student of Christian theology can attest, these questions were much the same ones that Paul and other early Christians wrestled with, and that Augustine and other end-of-Antiquity Christians were still wrestling with. And emergent churches notwithstanding, they are still questions many Christians are troubled by today, and need to wrestle with, and want to make up their minds about.

To the degree that the emergent church represents a triumph of dialogue over quarreling, it feels good to me. But to the degree that it represents a sort of know-nothingism toward the issues that have made the world what it is, and that continue to shape it today, I do not think it is helpful.

Sorting out the Reformation, through dialogue and yes, even argument, rather than quarreling, is a good thing, in my personal estimation.