Saturday, May 15, 2010

Myth of Midwestern Quakerism

I have uncovered some older writings that I will post occasionally as a "track record" of my own search.

This was written and read in 1969, at the age of 25, when I was Clerk of West Branch Quarterly Meeting in Indiana Yearly Meeting. IYM was reorganizing from Quarterly to Regional Meetings and this was the last Meeting of West Branch QM. Most of my views are remarkably similar 40 years later. This also appeared in Quaker Life.

"As a young person, for I still consider myself young, who has been involved in many ways and at many levels in the phenomenon known as midwestern Quakerism, I would like to give some thoughts as to the past and the future of this organization, denomination, or movement, as the case may be.
It seems to me that with the reorganization we admitted that we are no longer a Society of Friends but rather just another Protestant denomination with almost no uniqueness except we still have the nerve to call ourselves Quakers. I do not fault the reorganization since it may serve Indiana Yearly Meeting faithfully and well, nor do I pretend to say that Quakerism should stagnate and not change. Nevertheless, I feel there are basic fundamentals of Quakerism which have been compromised. Among these is the belief that there can be no reliance on organization or structure to solve our problems or to serve Christ. This and other areas have been well stated in much better fashion by other students of Quakerism, but I will briefly suggest a few relevant examples.
One of the most important and valuable beliefs is in the priesthood of every believer coupled with the seeking of direct communication with God. Our meetings are pastoral meetings where the use of silent or individual worship of God has been said to have no place. The preacher often rushes through the program like clockwork so his sermon will not be disturbed. We do have clergy not just ministers. We rely on these preachers or priests to do most of our thinking and speaking for us rather than ones who are ministers among ministers with various gifts and thoughts. We also seem concerned about our church or chapel more as a place where we worship and show our religion rather than our meetinghouses only as the center where all members share experiences and guidance so they may follow the ONE teacher to go forth and do the works 9f Christ worshiping God in all places at all times.
Among the other fundamentals which we seem to have deserted is the belief in that of God in every man. If we truly believed this then we would treat each all people, the thief on the cross, the North Vietnamese and black power radicals. The peace testimony of Friends grew from this faith in the love of Christ which overcomes evil led him to die for all. We prize our Quaker name but try to refuse its use to those who attempt to follow Christ's command "do good to those who harm you." We treasure our Quaker heritage but know little of John Woolman who led the fight against slavery and discrimination yet our Yearly Meeting is among the most segregated groups anywhere.
We are amused by the old gray uniform of early Quakers, and well we should be, but as I
was so kindly eldered earlier this year we find only a small opposition to credit and borrowing money above our resources to meet demands for luxury. We have lost the concept of simplicity when we see unpaid debts and extras on our cars and in our homes. We have now taken on the uniform of our society and are dangerously close to reversing the command, "be ye not conformed to this world but be ye transformed." Those who insist that this is only spiritual and does not refer to the physical realm seem to neglect that it was the early Christians who were accused of "turning the world upside down" almost literally as well as figuratively. We are freed from commitment to this world by having no fear of what it can do to us but we are not freed to ignore it and live for the world to come, because Christ HAS COME and is here and is working among us now.
In considering these thoughts it would seem there are two choices before us, either continue, which may be the easiest route, but be honest enough to change our name, or accept the poor mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peacemaking, reviled and persecuted by men existence of the prophets called for by Christ and George Fox.

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