Saturday, June 2, 2007

lions, tigers, and nontheist quakers -Oh My!

As you can tell, it is a very slow day at work. While taking a break from reading work-related literature, I found myself staring at various items concerning the idea of "Convergent Friends." Indeed, the blog of my fellow GR Friends member Kim states that she is a convergent Friend. Since I am sojourning at Earlham School of Religion, I have not been dutiful in keeping up with Kim's theology, and I can't quite get a grasp yet what convergent friends represent. Through some research, however, I came across a "mythbusters" page and two of the things that caught my eye were 1) the idea that liberal, conservative and evangelical Friends could reach unity, and 2) the accusation that non-theist Friends were somehow unwelcome in convergent Friends circles.

Now, I want to make it perfectly clear, again, that I know nothing about the Convergent Friends "movement," and that the opinions expressed in this blog are not in anyway a comment on any such movement. I was simply intrigued by the two thoughts mentioned above.

As for non-theist Friends, and we were just talking about this a few weeks ago at ESR, I simply don't know why they would call themselves Quakers. Of course, it seems that anyone these days can apply the Friends label to themselves, and indeed, claim faithfulness to the ongoing Quaker narrative that began in the 1640's. Yet, I somehow don't see how non-theism and Quakerism can be appropriately aligned withing the context of a "Religious Society."

Does this mean that non-theists should be rooted out and burned at the stake? No, though the idea of persecution might provide a focus for Quakers to unify around. I do think, however, that it is important that Friends resist the continuing trend toward accommodating non-theist and pluralist or sychronist views by altering the language of our faith to reflect such attitudes among worshippers. I firmly believe that if we lose sight of our Christ-centeredness, our firm rootedness in the early Friends belief in the saving work of God through Jesus Christ, then we will lose our identity as Quakers as well. Without the language of Jesus Christ, as expressed by early Friends, we will become a people without a history.

This denial of history, the denial of responsibility for, or the our benefit from, our past as a people, is troubling. We do as much, especially by erasing from the Christ language of early Friends while retaining other peculiarities that we find more comfortable, such as waiting worship. A denial of Christ-centerdness is a denial of our family, and while we can certainly change our supposed destiny, we should never distance ourselves from roots.

An example of such distancing is found in the modern way in which many European-Americans deny any complicity with the institution of slavery. "I never owned any slaves" is the popular modern refrain. The fact is, however, that many white folks continue to benefit from years of the suppression of economic and social opportunities for a people who built much of this nation without proper compensation. To deny our complicity in fact is a denial of responsibility to redeem and reconcile relationships that were expressions of racial dominance and injustice.

Many Friends come to Quakerism as "refugees" from Christianity, and I can understand that many have been hurt by the tradition. I also understand that Christianity is responsible for underwriting unjust and oppressive relationships throughout history. Both early and contemporary Friends try to address such issues. But if we lose our history in the process of reconciliation, we forget all of the harm of the past. The past cannot be rejected in favor of something more palatable for the future. If we forget our role as the oppressor, we are doomed to allow it to happen again.

George Fox and his cronies saw real problems in the Christian Church, and sought to correct them. They did not, however, throw out the narrative that gave them their identity. they worked within the narrative to offer an alternative to the apostasy that had overrun established religion. They new who they were, and they operated within the framework of an ongoing identity that gave them an accountability to the tradition.

Oh my goodness, I'm rambling, What in the world does all of this have to do with non-theist Friends. Paul Buckley stated in class that it is one thing to accept a fish out of water. but if that fish is smart, he or she will flood the environment for its own benefit, at a great cost to those who cannot otherwise thrive.


Kim Ranger said...

Well, Scot, if you had insisted on this non-acceptance of non-theists when I sought to become a member, I wouldn't have passed clearness! Aren't you glad GR Friends accepted me where I was?...and look where I am now!
--thy sister in Christ

Mikhal-Sarah Gordon said...

I am fascinated by this because while I was Fellowshipping with Quakers I found myself watching much of what you espressed so wittily about the fish out of water flooding the land.

I found that wherever the universalist, non-theist and Liberal Friends were welcomed into Convergent Circles, a party of them (not all) would attempt to "flood the land" and turn the new environment into a LQ one. This was the sheer tide of them to some extent but it was also done by aggressive means and constant critical or snarky commentary.

I became the one standing up to complain loudly about the treatment Christians (particularly young women) were receiving, even though I was, and am still not, Christian. There are those who can successfully fellowship with Christians, Conservative Friends and Convergent Friends without asking for them to change, but I would recommend groups take much greater care with who they admit. Perhaps they should be welcome guests, or associate members, but not full ones. Good fences make good neighbours.

It's a struggle that goes on everywhere with traditional religion and in the wider society as well.