Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here They Go Again -- and So Here I Go Again

Well, it's been an interesting day. I was invited to give the morning sermon at a lovely little Meeting just around the corner from the farm. That went pretty well (considering the quality of the preacher) and we had a nice visit over lunch with a couple of F(f)riends from there. As we ate lunch at a local eatery, another Friends pastor walked in -- one who has had some controversy about him. One of the friends we were with is clerk of the Yearly Meeting committee that has been charged with (hmmmm, will try to choose my words wisely here) um, "visiting" with this Friend to ascertain his "fitness" for continuing as a Quaker minister.

Hogwash. The fellow in question's congregation is growing, people are coming to hear about God and faithful living, he is growing spiritually and certain factions want to quibble about nuances of theology? Which, frankly, Quakers have never had as their long-suit. Just try to pin down George Fox or William Penn or Mary Dyer about the subtleties of theological belief. Can't be done.

But anyhoo, I soon learned that this was a big topic of discussion at the local Yearly Meeting's board meetings yesterday. And I was reminded of a response to a post I had made concerning Quakers and the Pastoral System.

In part, the writer said, "Also, the pastoral system itself, of having a paid staff member, seems to tend to cause a Yearly Meeting to move more toward typical Protestant ways. ... In my experience and reading, it would seem that the pastoral system usually leads Yearly Meetings to move away from the testimonies and toward typical Protestant forms, theology and ethical views. And though Friends pastors are called recorded ministers and are supposed to be different from ordained clergy, in day-to-day relations with the members of the Meeting I couldn't see any difference from the ordained ministers in other denominations.I don't think it has to be this way, but a paid staff does seem to lead to such changes."

Well, this seemed a little harsh at the time to me, but after conversations today, I'm beginning to think, regretfully, that perhaps this is too true. Especially at the Yearly Meeting that is located closest to me.

The setting up of a pastoral system is fraught with the potential for abuse and power-grabbing, unless the pastors are wise and able. And the setting up of Yearly Meeting staff (he says, as a former Yearly Meeting staff person) is even more fraught. If, as the conservative Friends warned over 100 years ago that the pastoral system would lead (gasp!) to a seminary, then Yearly Meeting staff could lead to a Pope. Well, at least a Bishop. Or people who think they are bishops and somehow appointed to protect the purity of ... Of what? Does God need protecting? Does thinking about God and how God works in this world and with God's people need parameters placed around it to keep bad theology (as decided by us) out and good theology nice and safe? Do we need protection from the Holy Spirit moving among Friends and possibly calling us to actually live the Gospel message?

The nation and world is in the midst of one of the darkest times in human history. Economics are a mess. Terrorists, in the name of religion, abound. War is everywhere. Incivility is rampant. And many people are calling for Good News -- hmmm, Gospel?

What will they get from us? Assurance that we have, via the Quaker Inquisition, rid ourselves of heretics who claim that God loves everybody as much as God loves us? Is that what they are asking for? Or are they instead hoping to hear a voice, shorn of theological hairsplitting, that is
that of Jesus, softly and tenderly calling, "Come Home."

Would that we would dare move from righteous wrangling to actually being the people of God that Quakers are called to be.

-- Brent


Brent Bill said...

And, before someone begins quoting the Bible at me in favor of orthodoxy -- "The Bible is the deposit of a long series of controversies between rival views of religion. The sobering thing is that in nearly every case the people shown by the Bible to be wrong had every reason to think they were in the right, and like us they did so. Complacent orthodoxy is the recurrent villain in the story from first to last and the hero is the challenger, like Job, the prophets, Jesus and Paul." Henry J Cadbury

Tom Smith said...

I am reminded of what I read in a history of Kansas YM when the "Yearly Meeting" indicated that in allowing paid pastors it was "easier to give them what they wanted than to teach them to be Friends."

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Good post. I definitely joined you in prayer as I read your final sentence.

Nate Swift said...

Indeed. I join you and Marshall in that prayer. I especially like Tom's quote and think it goes along well with my feeling that any Friends' pastor ought to have as a primary objective to teach himself out of a job.
In His Love,
Nate Swift