Recently I have read several contemporary Friends' writings that tries to align themselves with early Friends. I also have witnessed numerous occasions during discussions early Friends being brought up and used against others to bolster claims of un-Quakerly acts and thoughts. Are we listening to God or to our egos when we enlist early Friends to support our claims? These holier-than-thou statements help to reinforce deep divisions within Quakerism and drive people away.
For a long while, I have been frustrated with this problem of Holier-than-thou stances made by some Friends, but I have not been able to articulate my concern. As I have thought about this more, I realized that I had this same frustration for a long time with Christianity in general. I believe that the roots of Quakerism are fundamental to our faith, but Quakerism should not be fundamental towards the roots, because we are a faith of continuing revelations, which is a similar view I currently hold of Christianity. This is why we as Friends still gather each week in our communities to hear the continuing revelations from God. If we believe that early Friends really figured it all out, why should we still gather for waiting worship? Maybe we should then just study early Friends' writings for an hour, instead of having meeting for worship.
Personally I don't want to be an early Friend. I am a 21st Century Friend. I do indulge responsibly in the tavern culture, I like to date non-Quaker women, I enjoy listening to sermons at other churches on Sunday and several other things that early Friends frown upon.
Even with that statement, I do recognize the roots of Quakerism came from these valiant Friends, who under threats of jail and death, continue to speak out their convictions. They carried forth a powerful, revolutionary messages of peace, of continuing revelations, and of being able to have a personal relationship with the Lord without the need for an intermediary, all of which are still very relevant in today's world. They successfully sought to have equality in spoken language. I am grateful that I can trace my beliefs back to these roots, but my beliefs are updated to current day. I do not have to reconcile if I am willing to be hung in Boston Commons for what I believe, like Friends who first came to the New World, but I do consider how to maintain integrity while I am on the internet.
Quakerism today is very diverse and looks different than it did in 1660 or even 1850, just like the whole world has changed in the last 350 years. Quakerism has changed as the world has changed. As I look at the branches of Quakerism and reflect on my vast experiences with the different branches, I am amazed at how diverse our faith is and how thankful I have been to be able to worship with fellow Friends from all of the branches. Each branch have retained the essence of the roots, but each branch chooses different ways to live out the Quaker faith. We may disagree, but lets not forget that we are all related in this continued discernment.
These debates about who is truer to Early Friends turn people off to Quakerism and they are not relevant. For me, I am more interested in questions, like: What is God calling us to do today in this time? Our religion does have standards for accountability within the community by using Faith and Practice and the Bible as guides, so we do not need to hold ourselves accountable to people who died 300 years ago. For myself, I am attracted to monthly meetings and churches that are alive with the Holy Spirit, not ones trying to live according by 1600s standards. If I was, I would be Amish.
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