Saturday, September 22, 2007

Staying Together

"Only a strong authoritarian control could have prevented the separations (of the Society of Friends)..."

So says a Quaker blogger explaining why he doesn't "bemoan" the fractured nature of the Society, today.

I disagree. No strong authoritarian control could have prevented the separations. It was, rather, strong authoritarian control, or the aspiration to it, that actually caused the separations.

Another force, one more often associated, albeit mistakenly, with the Society, by both those inside and out of it, would have prevented these divisions: Love. Whether we call it love or charity or compassion--these divisions came to be and remain because of an absence of this fruit of the spirit, the absence of manifestation/testimony to this transformation of Friends from worldly to spirit.

The fact that these divisions occurred, and are maintained today, are a testimony that we are not what we claim(ed) to be; a people living in the power of the spirit. We are, rather, a worldly people, as stuck on ourselves and separate from and set against our neighbors as any other people on the earth.

I go farther with this. We are not only divided within the Society, we are spiritually separted from people outside it, and we are apparently as satisfied with that division as we are with the internal divisions.

"For you may be sure that separation neither restores any to love the Truth, neither gathers any to God, but rather scattereth and driveth away some that was gathered in love to Truth by the painful and faithful labourers that was truly sent of the Lord."

William Dewsbury to Edward Nightingale
Quoted in Braithewaite's "Second Period" p 477

"Question: But if I do not presently see that service in a thing that the rest of my brethren [sic] agree in? In this case what is my duty, and theirs?

"Answer. It is thy duty to wait upon God in silence and in patience, and as thou abide in the simplicity of Truth thou wilt receive an understanding with the rest of thy brethren [sic] about the thing doubted. And it is their duty, whilst thou behavest thyself in meekness, to bear with thee, and carry themselves tenderly and lovingly towards thee.

True Spiritual Liberty, William Penn, 1681
(condensed by Lewis Benson), Tract Association of Friends

"Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and
bearing one with another, and forgiving one another,
and not laying accusations one against another, and
helping one another up with a tender hand."

Isaac Penington,

"I was directed to His own perfect example. He never separated Himself from His people in all their opposition and enmity toward Him. He did not disown the Church of His Birthright, though it disowned Him."

Letter from Hannah Bean to P. Doncaster
January 4, 1900

"And now, as I write this, after years of reflection and observation of the effect of promulgating opinions and doctrines not essential in themselves, especially on the mission of Christ in that prepared body, I am confirmed in the belief that it tends to unprofitable discussion and controversy, and often to alienation of love for one another. Had love of God abounded in the heart, it would have been seen that obedience to Him in all things was the plan of salvation ordained by Him from the foundation of the world, and we should then have remained a united people of great influence in gathering the nations to the peaceable kingdom of Him who was ushered into the world with the anthem, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men!'

Rachel Hicks
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1880), p 39

"In a true community we will not choose our companions,
for our choices are so often limited by self-serving
motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us
by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our
settled view of self and world. In fact, we might
define true community as the place where the person
you least want to live with always lives."

Parker J. Palmer (1977)
Faith and Practice (10.19)
London Yearly Meeting

"We cannot love each other into wholeness unless we know each other well and have that knowledge anchored in God's love and truth."

Sandra Cronk
Gospel Order, p 31
Pendle Hill Pamphlet

"That which God aimed at in a covenant was to keep him and his people together."

Isaac Penington
Works, Vol II, p 36

(Quotations prove nothing. They only amplify my view and indicate to me that I am not the only person who is led to this understanding of right order.)


MartinK said...

Hi Timothy,
You take my quote out of context, which doesn't seem quite fair. I was looking at the separations from a more sociological perspective. As you know I'm doing more than my share to help promote communication and understanding among the distant family members of the Friends tradition, as well as share ourselves with the world. I hope and pray that this work is motivated by love.

I trust that nineteenth century Friends were struggling in deep faith to hold onto unity and love but found they had come into some irreconcilable opinions on the role and nature of the church in a quickly-changing society. Transportation, communication, education, the industrial revolution, etc., were all coming together to make it impossible to live out seventeenth century culture in the nineteenth: what pieces of Quaker faith were essential and which were open to adaptation?

In some places, notably Britain, a forced unity meant only one answer became acceptable and the whole yearly meeting followed a path more or less together. I find that these Friends now find it harder to adapt again as the world changes because of the lack of diversity--they have a smaller "gene pool" of Quaker resources to draw on. In America a liberal Friend like me can take a roadtrip to Barnesville or read the latest Lloyd Lee Wilson book or pop over to an Evangelical yearly meeting session or see what's cooking in Friends United Meeting. My post was talking about Ohio Friends in particular and Conservative Friends in general and I do find it helpful that they've maintained a communal knowledge of some of the older Quaker practices that the rest of the rest of us have dropped. I am grateful that they can share this knowledge and understanding and doubt they could have if they hadn't separated those many years ago.

Timothy Travis said...

Hello, Martin

I have never responded to a comment on any of my blogs before, mostly becuase I want to avoid contentiousness.

But I wanted to assure you that I am not indicting you personally--I have respect for your work among Friends.

I just don't agree with you that any measure of authoritarianism could have held Friends together and, as I said, that it was the spirit of authoritarianism--the necessity to control the beliefs and behavior or others--that led to the divisions.

I do not share your view that Friends in the 19th Century were struggling in great faith to hold on to unity and love, although some certainly were. I have read too much history--including too many letters and primary documents attendant to the divisons--to believe that Friends were living in the power of the Spirit when they held onto clerk's tables by force, jumped through windows, locked one another out of buildings, screamed to drown one another out during meetings of various sorts, and circulated snide, sarcastic and untrue charicatures of one another and of one another's beliefs. This, and more, happened. More than once. In more than once place. As Casey Stengel said, "You can look it up."

I think we need to look it up and to keep it before us as we work with one another, or deal with one another, or even talk about one another--whether that "one another" is inside our own domain of our fractured Society or in another domain or completely outside of it.

And while I think that most Friends would at least affirm the need to communicate and understand one another, across the divides in the Society, I do not believe that unity is on the agenda of very many Friends--outside of the separate unities within the various domains into which we are divided.

Maybe I'm wrong about the current situation.

But I don't think I am wrong about "then." The schisms were not just unfortunate situations in which Friends were overwhelmed by forces beyond their control. Friends were not in control of themselves--chose not control themselves--and the lack of that fruit of spirit had devastating reprecussions.

One of these: that which you find so enriching (and it is) in traveling among the varous domains of Friends can only be found by traveling into "alien" territory. How much better might it be for that to be available to all us in that domain (a single domain) in which we lived?