March 13, 2013 Important Update Below
I was struck recently – quite favorably – by something written by Colin Saxton, General Secretary of Friends United Meeting (FUM). Unity was his topic:
“For all of our principled moral and doctrinal stands, however, I keep wondering, “Why is there almost never a principled stand for unity, at least among those who are followers of Christ?” In fact, in the face of our conflicts, it seems the prospect of unity is one of the first things we jettison as a possible outcome, rather than the last. Throughout the pages of the New Testament, the priority for unity is overwhelmingly clear. Key to this is the fact that Christ had already united all brothers and sisters in Him.”
Colin Saxton’s question made all the more striking – and jarring – an announcement for a subscription-based website from Barclay Press called knowingFriends.info. Its mission: “Gathering and strengthening the values and vision of young adults and youth in the Friends (Quaker) Church.”
What could be wrong with that? Surely we need to gather and strengthen young Friends. (I’m not sure that a $40 annual subscription website is what young Friends most need, however.)
What’s especially jarring is the narrowness of the site’s conception of Friends: the deliberate focus on some Friends and the deliberate excising of other Friends.
Disunity rather than unity among Friends is central to the effort.
For example, knowingFriends.info provides links to Quaker colleges, but only to some Quaker colleges rather than the full list of member colleges of the Friends Association for Higher Education. The site provides links to Quaker camps, but only to some Quaker camps rather than the full list of member camps of the Quaker Camping Network. There are links to Quaker Yearly Meetings, but only to some Yearly Meetings (those that are affiliated with the Evangelical Friends Church International and Friends United Meeting) rather than the full list of Yearly Meetings that are recognized by Friends World Committee for Consultation.
Overall, the links are to those organizations that are affiliated with EFCI and FUM.*** Cast into darkness are other Friends organizations, especially those affiliated with Friends General Conference, the three Conservative Yearly Meetings, and the unaffiliated Yearly Meetings, monthly meetings and churches.
The effort has about it the odor of further schism among Friends: divide and withdraw into narrow circles: connect only with those of congruent beliefs.
Colin Saxton’s call for unity was for unity “at least among those who are followers of Christ?” Could that explain the Barclay Press separating of the Quaker world into sheep and goats?
Not really. Conservative Friends consistently and conscientiously describe themselves as followers of Christ. And FGC meetings are much more plural than this simple, ugly line would suggest.
On its own website, Barclay Press makes clear its view of the world of Friends: “While some Quakers today do not share the evangelical convictions so evident among early Friends, Barclay Press is associated with Evangelical Friends Church, an alliance of Friends churches that seeks faithfully to witness in word and deed to the New Testament Christianity that George Fox sought to proclaim.” With no mention of FUM there, I find myself wondering whether amongFriends.org may not be an effort of some in the EFCI world to reach out to FUM to draw it into a future alliance** (realignment?), leaving FGC, Conservative and unaffiliated Friends to shift for themselves.
Barclay Press can be friends with whomever it chooses to befriend, and can leave aside those that it wants to dismiss. For our part, we can each decide whether Barclay Press has value for us in our spiritual journeys.
The more interesting question is what other Friends organizations make of the Barclay Press embrace. Do those colleges favored by the links to amongFriends.info want to accept the line that Barclay Press is drawing? Do the favored camps? The favored Yearly Meetings? How about FUM: will it accept the narrow hand of friendship?
Do these others want to sign on to this project of disunity?
** The EFCI website has links to Quaker camps and Quaker colleges, but lists only those sponsored by EFCI Yearly Meetings, not those sponsored by FUM Yearly meetings. The FUM website has links to ministries and publications it directly sponsors, but (so far as I can tell) no links to any schools, colleges or camps that are sponsored by its own member Yearly Meetings or by any others. On the FGC website I can find no links to Quaker camps, schools, or colleges.
The widest set of links to other Friends organizations (I believe) is provided by quaker.org (its motto: “Quakerism is a multifarious religion. Everything on these pages should be considered representative of some but not all Quaker thought.”).
***Update: Since first posting this, I’ve realized that the link to camps includes some but by no means all camps affiliated with FUM Yearly Meetings. Left off the list are camps associated with Baltimore Yearly Meeting (Catoctin, Shiloh and Opequon) and with New England Yearly Meeting (Friends Camp). Also missing is any link to Powell House, “the hub of youth gatherings across (New York) Yearly Meeting.” So the line drawn doesn’t just include all of the FUM YM’s youth ministries, but picks and chooses among them.