Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Who are the Quakers?

This blog normally focuses on genealogy, writing and travel, with some Quaker history thrown into those first two topics. This week, however, I felt a need to write about the Quaker present, the time in which I live.

I just got back from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Friends United Meeting). For non-Quakers, that's like an annual statewide conference. Saturday, we approved a vision statement. You probably have no idea how controversial this has been. One was proposed about five years ago and shot down. For one thing, Quakers don't have a creed - special words that you have to say to belong. For another thing, a group of people were at that meeting years ago who no longer believed in the Bible. Now, we still have debates among our members about accuracy and translations and such, but this was a very vocal, loud group that caused a lot of dissension. Their congregation left FUM the following year.

I'm pleased that we passed the statement and I want to explain why. Because the Religious Society of Friends doesn't have a creed, is a pretty tolerant group and wants to welcome everyone, and no longer "disowns" people, quite a variety of people now claim that faith. I knew that that variety included programmed and unprogrammed, congregations with pastors and those without, and those with liberal beliefs and those with conservative beliefs.

What I didn't know until recently (and it blew my mind) was about people who have become non-Christian Friends. How can people who have absolutely opposite beliefs claim to be part of the same group? Well, it's not like the word Quaker is copyrighted. Like any other denomination, if a group of people disagree with their church, they simply leave and start another church, often under a related name. And our terminology - words like the "Inner Light" and "listening within" - can easily be confused with Eastern or New Age teachings.

It's not just the atheists or Buddhists or others who are damaging the reputation of this Christian Protestant denomination, it's the propagation of that information by bloggers and tweeters who, innocently looking for information about Quakers, have found those sites and are shaking their heads and telling their readers that Quakers no longer believe in Christ.

Here I am, a Christian who happens to be a Quaker, and I go read another writer's blog and the author says that modern Quakers no longer believe in Christ. "I guess they've changed," she writes. I was stunned. I don't know how many people read her blog, but now they all think that, too.

In modern marketing terminology, Quakers have a serious branding problem.

At yearly meeting, some people stood up and expressed hesitations because they don't want a creed. Some stood up and wanted to add or change a word here and there. One stood up and asked, why did we need to do this in the first place? I stood up and told about my internet experience, implying that those of us who are debating about the right words, for years, are getting outpaced by individuals who are sending false generalizations out to the world.

When we finally approved it, there was unity - a sense of peace among everybody, with no after-the-meeting grumbling. I commend our clerk, Judy Ritter, for letting people speak their concerns and for discerning the sense of the meeting. Here is the vision statement - it's not a creed, but more of a goal, and there are some who would still disagree with a word here or there, but it tells the world that there's at least one group of Quakers, modern Quakers, who believe.

A Vision for Unity and Growth: North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends is a faithful, passionate, growing community of Christ-followers, drawn together by God's love and truth as continually revealed through the saving grace and the Light of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scripture. As Quakers, we seek God's leading, serve God's purpose, and go as God's people into the world to love, reconcile, and transform through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Hopefully this will go up on the NCYM website soon.

Friends United Meeting has had this on their website for several years: Our purpose is "to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord." I realize that FUM is just one group of the Religious Society of Friends around the world, but it's one of the largest, if not the largest.

If you want to know more, wikipedia gives a surprisingly good, generalized, account of modern Quakers and their various beliefs and practices (although I did notice an error in the "sacraments" paragraph).

And there are some good discussions going on at the quaker quaker blog (disclaimer: This is a really diverse group and I have not read the overwhelming number of posts), where Quakers of various beliefs and disciplines are talking to each other and people with similar beliefs are supporting each other through various forums. In the "beliefs" forum, Javaughn Fernanders, a "liberal Quaker," had the same "ouch" reaction that I did upon reading a website that proclaimed many liberal congregations as no longer Christian. A lot of people commented on Javaughn's post.

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