On the floor of New England Yearly Meeting Sessions, in the middle of a discussion of the ongoing controversy over NEYM’s affiliation with Friends United Meeting, someone rose and read a passage from the Richmond Declaration of Faith, written in 1887 and recently reaffirmed by FUM. It included the line, “We disavow all professed illumination or spirituality that is divorced from faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” The speaker pointed out how this directly contradicts the Quaker testimony of continuing revelation. He urged NEYM to make a complete split with FUM, saying that we could continue to engage with them as we would with any other Protestant church, but they are not really Quaker. The comment was hurtful to a lot of people in the meeting who are Christ-centered and identify with FUM and also consider themselves very much Quaker.
The same day, a commenter on this blog told me that “Quakerism is founded in Christ. … With respect, you can no more be a pagan quaker than a virgin mother (with one notable exception!)”
The light of God is in all of us, and if we listen, the light of God can speak through any of us. Two years ago, I’d have broken out in hives over these doctrinal statements by people who seem like they want to shove each other out of the boat. This year, I’ve found myself much more at peace with the fallen and fragmented language we use to describe our spirituality. The language matters, but it matters so much less than the willingness to sit together in the presence of the divine and experience the light of spirit within each other.
When the violence erupted in Kenya last fall, we lit a candle for peace next to the statue of Athena on the Pagan alter in our living room, and we put in front of it a picture of our friends Eden and Jim Grace, who are Christ-centered FUM missionaries in Kenya. The Graces are at the extreme opposite end of the theological spectrum from the Cat and me, and yet our friendship is grounded on our shared experience of faithfulness to the Divine. As Eden put it, “We’ll just keep loving each other until someone tells us to stop.”
Sessions as a whole did not do so well at staying grounded in that kind of love this year. Meeting for worship for business became quite rancorous last night, as discussion of the budget exploded into debate over NEYM’s affiliation with FUM. I am sad and exhausted this morning, and struggling with some very harsh judgments I’m feeling towards people who did not hold one another tenderly last night. I’m waiting for a leading on what to do with that, but I have so much more faith than I did two years ago, that the Spirit will be patient, and that we are led by more than our own wisdom.