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Peter Meets a Liberal Christian with Balls

Metaphorically, at least.

Yesterday, Cat and I drove to Boston to hear the annual Weed Memorial Lecture at Beacon Hill Friends Meeting. The speaker was Peggy Senger Parsons, the pastor of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Oregon, and for the second time this spring I've met someone and think, If I'd known someone like that when I was 22, It's possible I'd still be Christian.

I picked up a copy of FFC's Faith and Practice while I was there. (For the non-Quakers in the audience, F&P is sort of equivalent to a catechism or a Book of Common Prayer.) There's a passage that she read aloud in response to a question from someone in the audience. I'm just going to quote it here for now. I'll get much more in depth about what it means to me over the course of the summer as I write my spiritual journey.
We renounce the intolerance of religious fundamentalism in all its forms. Free Christians need only to live according to Gospel Order and hold up Christ, in order to fulfill The Great Commission. We believe that God calls human souls in more ways than we can imagine, and that God abides with anyone who seeks God in spirit and in truth, regardless of how they name God. We can and will make clear the truth and power that has been given to us, our Gospel path, but in no way do we think that we possess the whole, or only, truth. We prefer to live in relationship to the Truth. We believe it to be blasphemous for a human, or human group, to claim to hold the whole truth.

In our experience, Fundamentalism, which we define as asserting the absolute truth and completeness of one's own beliefs and practices to the deliberate exclusion of possible truth in other beliefs and practices, often leads to pride, judgmentalism, strife, rancor, and in the extreme, to hatred and violence. We believe that religious fundamentalism is incompatible with holy living and grace, and we renounce it as sin.
It comes a bit late for me. I've found other paths to God, first as a Wiccan and Pagan, and more recently as a liberal, non-Christian Quaker. But it's surprising how powerful I still find that renunciation. And how angry it makes me, even today, that no one anywhere in the Christian Church had the balls to say that in 1981.

Prologue I: Peter In Kenya
Prologue II: A Liberal Christian With Balls
Part I: A Refugee Looks Back
Part II: Leaving Home
Part III: Who Am I?
Part IV: Learning About Race and Gender
Part V: Watching My Students Drown
Part VI: Animal Bones


Jo said…
Wow. I'm going to have to re-read that a bunch -- it feels like it has weight. Thank you.

Can I ask for a clarification? Is the F&P something that each congregation can come up with for themselves? I see you comparing it to the Book of Common Prayer and instinctively thought of it as Quaker-wide, but that doesn't seem to be true in context.
Jo, a Faith and Practice is normally set at the level of a Yearly Meeting--which is something analogous to a diocese in more conventional churches--there are usually dozens of "monthly meetings" (the level of individual churches) within any given Yearly Meeting.

Freedom Friends Church is something unusual in the world of Quakers--it is an unaffiliated Quaker church that is in an area covered by two Yearly Meetings--one socially conservative and explicitly Christ-centered (and programmed--ie, with pastors as a rule) and the other socially liberal and "universalist"-- and also "unprogrammed" in the silent waiting worship form familiar to Quakers in Friends General Conference. "Liberal Quakers" as they say.

Freedom Friends Church is unaffiliated because it straddles the gap between the other two local Yearly Meetings, as a socially liberal, yet somewhat pastoral/semi-programmed and explicitly Christ-centered Quaker meeting. They're sort of happy orphans, in a way, and though they get along very well with members of both local YMs, they are their own thing.

Which is why they have their own Faith and Practice.

A Faith and Practice is unlike a Book of Common Prayer in a lot of ways, too--for instance, most yearly meetings do not use their F&P as a litmus test for membership; how individuals relate to the document does vary. But by reading the F&P of a variety of Quaker meetings, you can get a real sense of the diversity of belief and practice out there in the Quaker world. We're a confusing bunch!
Anonymous said…
That is amazing...I'm going to have to share this on my blog. I am a bit angry too that no one had the balls to say this so bluntly back in the 90s for myself, and for that matter, so few are so blunt about it now.

Bravo to the Free Christian Friends!

Jo, F&P are written by the Yearly Meeting which is the compilation of Quaterly Meetings which are made up of Monthly Meetings (Meetings for Worship).

Think of a Yearly Meeting like a diocese (I think?) with each congregation like a Monthly Meeting and a Quartly Meeting being whatever is inbetween.
Alyss said…
I need to get myself down to Freedom Friends one of these days. My meeting and FFC have many long standing connections. They seem like amazing, amazing people :)
Hystery said…
My father (who actually does have balls although I think I should probably point out the inherent sexism of the equation of testicles to courage!) was always like that which is why I'm so Christian-friendly. Oddly enough, he is no longer Christian friendly. The intellectual inconsistencies and built-in organizational and theological crappiness has outweighed his willingness to seek out examples of Christianity-done-right.

I maintain that the good stuff, the open-minded, deeply compassionate stuff is still there if one isn't too bummed out to look for it. I've found so many examples of this kind of liberal/radical approach to Christianity that I sometimes think maybe I could have stayed Christian too. However, I'm glad I learned what I have learned from being a Pagan and, personally, I'm glad you became a Pagan too. I think you offer great insight from that perspective for which I am thankful.
Peter Bishop said…
I, too, am very happy with what I learned in twenty years as a Pagan and Wiccan. It's a spiritual path that led me fully into adulthood, brought me and Cat together, and ultimately made it possible for me to become Quaker. But walking away from Christianity at the time hurt like a sonuva*****, and I went through years of quite literal Hell first.

Like I said, it's surprising to me how angry I can still feel over wounds that are so old.

The "good stuff, the open-minded, deeply compassionate stuff" is definitely still there. Always has been.


Talking about why I had to leave often feels like trying to map out a paradox on neatly lined grid paper. (If you could do that, it wouldn't be a paradox, would it?)

More later. Thanks, each of you, for your comments.
Tom Smith said…
There have been some speaking up for decades, but often the "prophetic" voice is not so well accepted. The price of such speaking up can be and has been relatively high.
Stuart Masters said…
I really like the Freedom Friends experiment and very much appreciate their Faith and Practice. However, I think that it's important to say that while they may be socially inclusive (what I think you mean by Liberal)their brand of Quaker Christian theology is quite orthodox. I am pretty comfortable with that.
Peter Bishop said…
@ Stuart: Yeah. I positively LIKE that they've been able to grasp both horns of the contradiction: "Passionately Christ-Centered ... Passionately Inclusive."

Liberal should not mean nice-but-wishy-washy. Liberal should not mean shrugging your shoulders and saying yeah, whatever. I think Peggy said in her talk something like, "Respecting all; going deep with one."
I remember one comment made after the lecture, was citing the idea of "spiritual monogamy" as an approach to that whole, "respecting all, going deep into one" thing.

Of course, that leaves me--what? A spiritual bigamist, I guess, happily married to two husbands?

Ah, tis a comfort to me in my advanced age, still to be able to be a scandal and a disgrace...

George fan said…
George Fox said it all in his journal so many years ago. Sometimes there is nothing new under the sun...
Anonymous said…
I had the same reaction, and I grew up with no religious education of any sort until I found Friends two years ago. I was so pleased with the lecture, and amused that I had to go from Portland, OR to Boston, MA to meet the dynamic pastor from Salem, OR!
Anonymous said…
I had the same reaction, and I grew up with no religious education of any sort until I found Friends two years ago. I was so pleased with the lecture, and amused that I had to go from Portland, OR to Boston, MA to meet the dynamic pastor from Salem, OR!
My dear Mr. Bishop

I don't get accused of having boy bits EVERY week. But Thanks, I'll own those spiritual cajones with pride.

I am grateful for your anger. It shows that your barometer for injustice is functional. But you do know that you weren't actually supposed to HOLD that anger long term, right? I am sure that you don't dwell on it, your spirit, from my observation is way too shiny.

For my part, I am glad you aren't a Christian, even cool Christians are a dime a dozen if you look for them. But a Jesus Friendly Quaker Pagan? now that's a treat. Thanks for being faithful to your path.

Let's keep talking
Anonymous said…
please explain to me what exactly is a pagan quaker ? what is the belief structure , is it polythiestic , douothiestic. please explian , so i can understand where your coming from ?you can email me at or reply here . i'm a druid and just want to understand another part of the diverse pagan community thank you Kilm
Anonymous said…
I'm sure Cat and Peter can answer your question far better than I can...but I'll give my two cents:

I am a Polytheist Quaker. Who I worship is polytheistic (in my case primarily Roman). How I worship is Liberal Quaker.

I worship the Gods in silence, waiting for Their relvations and messages. I believe in the Testimonies: Simplicity, Stewardship, Integrity, Peace, Equality (SPICE).

Each of us has that Inner Light, Inner Teacher, Inner Christ that if we listen to its promptings will lead us to live better and more loving lives.
Hi, Kilm,
Quaker Pagan (you'll also hear folks call themselves Pagan Quakers, Quagans, or Quiccans, depending on how whimsical they're feeling about labels) is not a term that has any one set definition.

It's not like the terms "Gardnerian Wicca," or "Vanatru," or saying someone is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Those of us who call ourselves Quaker Pagans have different Pagan theologies, and may have come to Paganism after being Quaker, or vice versa. The label is a personal one, and describes how we feel our practices and beliefs are a combination of both sets of beliefs and practices... but the individual ways that blend is expressed can vary a great deal.

For instance, in Quaker meeting itself, you'd have a hard time noticing anything different about my practice: what I look like and what I do among Friends is very much what other liberal Quakers do. At home, I still pull out my Tarot cards or do an occasional piece of trance work or candle magic... or I might sit in very ordinary looking Quaker silent worship or prayer. I still love and reverence Herne, the god of the wild things and the aspect of the goddess I've worked with for twenty years; I also love and trust the Spirit of peace and mercy I've come to know among Friends. I think of that Spirit as being Source and Ground of Being, as the Sea of Limitless Light... but that is very much my own individual interpretation of my experiences as a Quaker and a Pagan, and how they interrelate.

Other Quaker Pagans may have very different ideas entirely.

If you are interested, we have written some other material on the topic elsewhere on the site. There are also links to other Quaker Pagans on the sidebar on the blog, if you'd like to explore some other points of view.
Hi, Cora! I think our replies crossed in the aether!

I like your answer to Kilm very much. Short, sweet, and to the point. Thanks!

(Also, by the way, a good example of the variety I was talking about. Cora worships the gods--plural--in Quaker meeting. I worship the Light, which I'm pretty sure is the same Light Christian Friends call Christ, in Quaker meeting. But the Pagan gods are also still family to me, and we do spend time together even now... just not usually on First Days at meeting. *grin*)
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Cat!

I see the Light as the Universe...that great, powerful, full of Love, and yet un-named Being that embraces us all. That's usually what I try to focus on during Meeting, but prayers to Hestia happen too ;-)

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