Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement: Outreach & Inreach

July 17, 2015 § 2 Comments

Outreach and Inreach

Quaker renewal depends on “advancement”, on advancing Quakerism—reaching people who hunger for what we have to offer, but haven’t found us yet, and being ready for them when they come. Thus there is both an outreach and an inreach dimension to Quaker advancement.

A lot of the posts in this Quaker-pocalypse series so far have been about inreach, the project of deepening the spiritual life of the meeting into maturity so that we are ready when seekers come.

But now I want to turn to outreach. Or really, to the bridge we must inevitably build between the two—how we present our faith and practice to these seekers when they ask—what do Quakers believe?

For very often, this is the first thing seekers ask us.

When people ask us this question, we often stumble in our answer. We often start with a bunch of disclaimers about how diverse our theologies are, and how we can’t really speak for all Friends, and really, I can only speak for myself . . .

Then we are likely to start by saying that we believe that there is that of God in everyone—which isn’t true! “We” don’t believe this; only some liberal Friends do. And, while it may be true that many, or even most, liberal Friends believe there is that of God in everyone, this turns what George Fox meant by this phrase on its head and has only been used by us this way since Rufus Jones started it around the turn of the twentieth century.

And anyway, just what does it mean to say that there is that of God in everyone? What does “that of” mean? What do we mean by “God” when we use the word this way? And how do we know there is that of God in other people? Are all of the Friends who profess a belief in “that of God” in other people so psychic that they have actually experienced the “that of God” in someone else? Or do we just believe it because we believe it of ourselves?

After perching all 350 years of our exceedingly rich, centuries-old tradition on this one slender, 100-year-old notional pedestal, we then go on to say, maybe, that we believe in “the testimonies”. But we don’t “believe in” the testimonies; we hold them as truths that have been consistently revealed to us over the centuries, but what we “believe in” is the guiding and strengthening power of the Light and a G*d who breaks into the community’s life with new truth about how to live when we turn toward the Light in our individual and collective discernment.

We need more of an answer than this when people ask us what we believe. What canst we say?

I have been working on an answer to this question of what we believe for decades. I received an answer in 1991 and I’ve been trying to refine it ever since. I now have several versions, and I want to publish them here, but most are quite long, so I will have to publish them as downloadable pdf files. And, as usual, now that I look at them again after some time away, I find I have some things to add and some things to change, so they’re not ready yet.

My latest effort, however, is fairly short and designed to be easier to read online. I will publish it next. But first, I want to provide a resource, a set of links to how various Quaker organizations present the essentials of Quaker faith and practice.

Various Quaker answers to the question, what do we believe?

 

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§ 2 Responses to Quaker-pocalypse—Advancement: Outreach & Inreach

  • barbarakay1 says:

    Thank you for the nice listing of available resources.

  • Thank you so much, Steven, for giving the “that of God in everyone” formula the sharp and thorough querying it asks for. To hear Friends seem to hold it up as an article of faith, and then state or imply that ours is not a creedal but an experiential religion, makes me think of Margaret Fell’s “we are all thieves.”

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