Unity and Diversity in Indiana Yearly Meeting

February 10, 2012

We know God calls us to be unified with one another.  Paul reminds us so in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, urging us not to quarrel, and asking, “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”  I am reminded of this teaching as the two draft sketches alternative yearly meetings are now posted on this IYM Facebook page.

And this in turn reminds me of IYM entry on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiana_Yearly_Meeting), which says “While many Quaker yearly meetings have suffered serious divisions in their history, Indiana Yearly Meeting has suffered no serious fractures and only three minor divisions in its history. In the nineteenth century, this gave the yearly meeting a reputation for being both moderate and evangelical. As such, it was Indiana Yearly Meeting that led the call for more centralization among Orthodox Gurneyite Friends, leading to the calling of the Friends Conference of 1887 and the Richmond Declaration.”

Indiana Yearly Meeting has avoided serious division over nearly two centuries by accepting a good deal of variety in liturgy and theology and much else.

So how far does Paul’s call for unity extend?  Does God want us all to be the same in all matters?  To think and act the same – uniformly – in all matters, or only on the ones those matters that truly matter: avoiding sin, loving God and loving one another?  Put another way, does God love difference and variety as well as unity in mind and thought?

In addition to calling us to unity, Paul also asks to appreciate and value the variety among us.  He says in Romans 12: 3-8, “3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with yourfaith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11: 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”

We can and often do insist on too much uniformity.  Look around at God’s marvelous creation: see the extraordinary diversity and variety that God in His pleasure has called into being.  (“Then God commanded, ‘Let the earth produce all kinds of animal life; domestic and wild, large and small, and it was done. So God made them all, and He was pleased with what He saw.” Genesis 1:24, 25)

Time after time, human beings have reacted badly to difference, thinking that those not like themselves in all ways (skin color, food habits, ways of celebrating) are wrong or bad.  For no reason except prejudice and close-mindedness, we turn difference into ascription of sin.  We fail to appreciate God’s love of abundant variety.

One of my favorite poets is Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), a shy monk who published little in his lifetime and yet is now recognized as one of the greatest poets of the English language.  “Pied Beauty” speaks lovingly of God’s love of variety:

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Can we find it in our hearts to love the diversity that God has called forth?



About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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