Friday, September 14, 2012

Following the Living Christ --Or a Committe?: A Response to IYM Proposal

I've resisted, of late, addressing any of what's going on in Indiana Yearly Meeting and its apparently impending separation. But after reading Chuck Fager and Stephen Angell's pieces in Quaker Theology and Doug Bennett's "Update on the Schism in Indiana," I feel led to add my voice to this issue. I commend their pieces and links there-in to all who wish a deeper understanding (or any understanding!) of what's going on there. 

First, let me say that I first came to Indiana (and Indiana Yearly Meeting) in late 1978.  I have served as the released minister of two congregations in IYM and was recorded as a Friends minister there in 1980.  I have a deep love for IYM and the people there -- many of whom have been instrumental in my spiritual growth over the years.  And that's people on both sides of the current issue.  My current membership in Western Yearly Meeting has not changed how much I care for IYM and the good people there.  It has, however, given me a different perspective allowed by both geographical and emotional distance.

Second, my concern is not with the good, kind, thoughtful, faithful people of IYM.  I know a good number of people serving on the task force.  I believe they have served well and faithfully.  They have labored long in an attempt to find a way forward that will speak to the conditions present among Friends in Indiana Yearly Meeting and its member congregations.  I am grateful to them for this work.

My concern is with is the task force's continued attempts at pushing for a solution.  This has nothing to do with my disagreement over the solution they propose.  The solution seem rational and well considered.  It makes sense in an intellectual way and offers a way to resolve many issues.  I trust that these good people offer it as coming from their best collective wisdom and after much prayer and worship.

Still, it seems, from the documents I've read (Angell and others) that there is no clear sense of unity among the ENTIRE membership of IYM about the way forward.  In the face of that, it seems (I humbly submit) that IYM task force should decline of offer a solution.

We Friends say we believe that Christ is our present teacher and the God's will can be known and obeyed -- in community.  Where is the trust that God will lead God's people Himself?   Why the persistence in asking one group of wise, seasoned Friends to come up with a solution?

Perhaps the task force should take another tack.  Maybe it's time for them to say, "We have labored faithfully at the task with which we were charged. You other good people across this Yearly Meeting all hear the tension and concern expressed by our members  on all sides of this matter. We, therefore, as servants of the living Christ, will not offer any more solutions/ideas. We have discharged our duties. We return the matter to the Yearly Meeting and its members. Let us endeavor to listen to the voice and will of God and labor until we have unity."

What would it be like, then, for the Yearly Meeting to commit every time it gathers over the next year (including Yearly Meeting) to sit as a people and labor together.  Everybody!  Let committees do their Christian education, evangelism and outreach, and more.  But let the times when people come together be set aside solely for worship and prayer together, listening for and to the voice of the Jesus we profess to love and follow.  That includes Representative Council and Yearly Meeting.  Clear the agenda.  Have no reports.  Gather in worship. Sing together.  Pray together.  Listen in love to each other. Trust Christ!

What greater spiritual exercise, and model of Christian discernment and faithfulness, could there be?

"'Have you anything to declare?' is a vital challenge to which every one of us is personally called to respond and is also a challenge that every meeting should consider of primary importance. it should lead us to define, with such clarity as we can reach, precisely what it is the Friends of this generation have to say that is not, as we believe, being said effectively by others. What, indeed, have we to declare to this generation that is of sufficient importance to justify our separate existence as part of the Christian fellowship?" -- Edgar Dunstan

Well, in this Friends humble (and I say that with all sincerity) opinion, the Quaker assertion that we are the Friends of Jesus is something we cannot truly declare if we are not willing to put all our trust as a community of faith in Christ's ability to lead us.  What have we to declare to a world that needs the peculiar proclamation of the Quaker message of immediate, personal encounter with the God who is present with us and leads us into truth and righteousness if we don't practice that ourselves?

With sadness and hope in my soul,


Bill said...

Is a "clear sense of unity among the entire membership" the standard God is calling us to?

A good case can be made from church history (Acts 15 for example) and Friends history that God doesn't expect this kind of unity. What we see more is a search for a unity of direction among elders of a community. Men and women are called by God to provide direction and leadership as they move forward with the community. This is a good but imperfect way of discernment, because even elders are good but imperfect people.

Unity among an entire membership is found most often in those congregations led by charismatic personalities with authoritarian leadership styles. It is an effective way to manage a church, but is not what God intends for us.

Stephen Angell's article does a good job of describing what IYM is working through and I thank him for it.

Brent Bill said...

Ah, I respectfully disagree, Bill. I think our history as Friends shows that when we pass discernment solely into the hands of select leaders, we easily lose a sense of communal responsibility for hearing the voice of Jesus and are headed for unhealthy schism -- not possible positive new direction.

And I still think it is because we don't dare really trust Christ to lead us together. If there is such a deep impasse, regardless of the best thinking of committed, kind, faithful leaders, why not try "following Christ, our exalted head"?

Unity does not equal agreement, necessarily. But it does mean that we have heard the voice of Jesus (even -- and maybe especially -- when it opposes my own) and are stepping out in faith, laying aside my opinions, biases, judgements to following the Everyliving Christ along with other members (which they all are at this point!) of my community. It means trusting that God can lead when committees, no matter how diligently they try, can only take us to unsatisfactory ends.

Friends have too long run rough-shod over each othter (in schisms past and present) instead of trusting God and listening carefully.

I am not against elders, leaders, ministers or seasoned Friends. I have many in my life and appreciate them all. But I do know how easy it is for me to try to be rational and problem-solving rather than trusting in God's wisdom alone.

If we really want to cede decisions solely to good, wise people, then what's the use of proclaiming that God speaks to us all and we each have the possibility of speaking Divine wisdom and following God's will? Why not devolve purely into some low-temperature Protestant denomination where leaders make the decisions, the people follow them, and we hope that the leaders have listened to God, because we don't have to nor do we have the right, as a member of the body of faith, to question their wisdom.

Yeah, that's worked well for us so far. We're growing by leaps and bounds because others see that we are deep spiritual communities concerned about them instead of theological/process wrangling. What a wonderful bit of "Good News" that is.

Barb said...

Having followed the issue loosely over the past must be almost two decades now, I do feel that IYM may be outrunning their Guide. Yes, they have been wrestling with this for a long time. But I question whether God is in as much of a rush to divide the body as those in power are: and I see it very much as people in power asserting that power. Holding us all in the LIGHT.