I was looking at a news photo showing the arrest of artist/activist Pyotr Verzilov as he attempted to disrupt the Moscow trial of two artists accused of religious incitement. On the left side of the photo is a man holding a cross and wearing a shirt that, at the top, says "Orthodoxy or death."
The photo is heavy with ironies, but no serious and sympathetic observer would charge Russian Orthodoxy as a whole with approving the slogan on that shirt. The current Patriarch's predecessor, the late Aleksii II, did his best to confront anti-semitism and extreme nationalism in his church, but it's obvious that they persist.
If a hierarchical structure such as the Moscow Patriarchate cannot enforce a coherent presentation of Jesus's loving and reconciling gospel, what chance do we Friends have? (Not that any group of Quakers I know is printing t-shirts asserting "Quakers or death"!)
On the one hand, many Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting are pleased at the publicity they've earned as the first prominent British denomination to celebrate same-sex marriages. In Britain, many Friends describe themselves as non-Christian or post-Christian, and the yearly meeting as a whole requires no explicit Christian commitment for membership. "In fact, you don't actually have to believe in God to be a Quaker."
On the other hand, most members of the worldwide Quaker family would not recognize themselves in a British description of Friends. For us, a Christian commitment is absolutely central to Quaker identity; in fact, to many of us, the word "Quaker" simply stands for a set of teachings, practices, and historical experiences of Christian discipleship. Our movement began as an intensification of--not a relativization of--Christianity. We confronted nominal Christendom with the challenge, with huge theological and political ramifications, that "Christ has come to teach his people himself." Ever since then, we gather at least weekly to wait on the Holy Spirit to keep that promise, and we try to work out its implications in our daily lives.
Those who approve post-Christian redefinitions of Friends sometimes argue that early Friends didn't know better than to use Christian language for their insights and mystical experiences, since Christian references were all that was available to them. This is historically inaccurate; it insufficiently accounts for their prophetic stance against much of the church establishment of their time; and it seems to rule out the logical possibility that their teachings and insights were nevertheless valid!
Besides, why would one want to belong to a movement founded by people whose passionate and often counter-cultural proclamations were apparently embarrassingly inadequate and limited by their narrow horizons? Is it possible that the pervasive skepticism and post-Christian assertions of much of modern liberal Quakerism reflect today's limited horizons, namely the prevailing orthodoxies of their larger social sphere?
All of us, of course, could probably stand to ask ourselves occasionally how much of our religious behavior is influenced by our need for the approval of those around us. (I seem to remember John Punshon writing somewhere that his Christian conversion cost him 20 years of liberal cool.) To be honest, if we evangelical Quakers are ever asked about what happened to our prophetic voice--that which made us so obnoxious to the religious and political powers of our founding era--we'd have a lot to answer for. Friends in many parts of the world have settled for what's respectable, what's acceptable. Is it a coincidence that evangelical Friends flourish where the wider social context allows middle-class people to be evangelical, and liberal Friends flourish in pervasively secular contexts? (Honest question: is this a valid correlation?) It was precisely in our most evangelistic era that our witness for the equality of men and women in spiritual leadership, and our refusal to participate in war, was most costly. Now, to risk a generalization, liberal Friends use these distinctives to show how wonderful we are, and too many evangelical Friends neglect these dimensions of Jesus-centered discipleship--but in either case, there's not much in the way of sacrifice.
The question of wanting others' approval becomes especially acute when we're dealing with wounded people (which probably means most of us). As I've said before, when we become codependent to wounded people, seeking their approval rather than their healing, those people end up exercising emotional veto power over us. Can't say anything that might offend them!!
The radical hospitality implied by Jesus coming to teach his people himself also requires us to confront our temperamental biases. What right do some Friends have to drive away anyone who is ready to make a strong and enthusiastic commitment to the living God, rather than only a nuanced and conditional commitment to personal exploration? Elitism, unconfronted, guarantees our permanent marginalization.
I'm going to come out and say it: Quakerism without Jesus at the very center is a tangent. However, to those who don't agree with me, I want to say a bit more: I know in the world as it really is, even with our preponderance of numbers we evangelicals don't own the Quaker brand. Furthermore, we need your ethical zeal. In this world of spiritual, political, and social bondage, there is a lot we can do together without compromising what we know to be true. And to my evangelical brothers and sisters: an evangelical faith that simply aims to please the wider evangelical establishment is, well, not necessarily Jesus-centered either!
A related post: on worship seeking more understanding (and on confronting my inner curmudgeon).
Write to me for the original poster in PDF format. (Thanks, Debbie Headley.)
(Russian) Interfax-Religion: Over 80% of alternative-service conscientious objectors base their service on religious grounds.
Most of the young conscripts who stated a preference for alternative civilian service, say that did this for religious reasons.More on faith and social context: Pew Research Center documents "Widespread support for banning full Islamic veil in Western Europe." I was intrigued that, in this survey, Americans don't line up with the European majorities supporting the ban. What prior experiences in the USA might have predisposed us this way?
80% of these alternative-service conscripts were assigned for religious reasons; about 3% because they belonged to indigenous peoples; and the rest had other reasons, Alexei Vovchenko, deputy head of the Federal Service for Labour and Employment, said Wednesday in a statement distributed at an Interfax press conference.
Jurist: Kyrgyzstan establishes commission to probe ethnic violence.
A Musing Environment has a question for you: Whom do you trust on climate change?
Another brand identity puzzle: who defines Islam? Max Carter says, "Don't define Muslims by the violent actions of a few." However, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite explains "Why telling Muslims what they believe is a bad idea." Finally, a repost of a link to a useful PDF-format article, "Getting Real about Christian-Muslim Dialogue."
"The Inseparable Bond of Technology and Mission."
More from Grace Potter. "Nothing But the Water."
... "I have fallen so many times for Satan's sweet cunning rhymes..."