Negative Reactions to Jesus and Christianity

January 17, 2021 § 7 Comments

A Friend of mine recently shared that some other Friends in his meeting experience “negative reactions—even visceral ones—when reference is made to Jesus or Christianity during worship”. I’ve been one of these people, actively hostile to Christianity and the Bible, in vocal ministry, in First Day School curriculum, and so on. I’ve changed my mind since then. So I have a tenderness for Friends who feel this way, on the one hand, and a convert’s zeal for pushing back, on the other.

As a result of this transformation, and because I’m a theologian by calling, I have labored a long time and very deeply with how I now identify regarding my own Christianity. I like the response Friend Don Badgley uses when asked whether he is a Christian: What do you mean by “Christian”? But actually, almost no matter how someone might define being Christian, my answer will be no. The main reason is that I have never felt directly called by him into his discipleship.

However, clearly, many, many people have felt so called, some of whom I know intimately and personally, and some of whom, like Fox, have convinced me of the genuineness of their experience through their powerful testimony. Because I respect and trust their testimony, I therefore believe as an article of faith that there is a spirit of Christ who calls some people into his discipleship and who, according to the testimony of the first Friends, originally gathered Friends as a peculiar people of God and has guided the movement for most of its history.

Thus I consider myself a guest in the house that Christ built. I believe he is real and the house is his. Thus, I believe the Religious Society of Friends to be a Christian religious movement. Which is not the same as feeling free to answer unequivocally that Quakers are Christians. The majority of us are Christians, by far. We have been so for most of our history, by far. 

And even those Quaker communities in which some members are deeply uncomfortable identifying as Christian—none of these meetings have, to my knowledge, ever tested their identity in a meeting for worship with attention to the life of the meeting and then declared, by a sense of the meeting gathered under the guidance of the Spirit, that they are no longer Christian. Technically, then, according to “Quaker process”, those meetings retain their ancient historical testimony as Christians until they discover themselves otherwise in a gathered meeting.

Meanwhile, I would describe many meetings in my experience in the liberal branch as post-Christian. They may not have formally declared themselves post-Christian, but most of the members don’t identify as Christian and their testimony—their vocal ministry, their witness, and culture—do not express a Christian worldview, however you might define that. Post-Christians have moved into the master bedroom and Christ has been thrown out onto the living room couch—or out of the house altogether. 

I don’t feel that way, and I can’t act that way anymore. I feel grateful to be included in the Quaker fold as a lamb who has been invited in, and I gladly sleep on the couch in Christ’s gracious big-tent tabernacle. This means two things, a negative and a positive: I do not (any longer) persecute those who testify to their Teacher, and I actively welcome, desire, pray for, Christian and biblical vocal ministry and the other ways in which my Christian Friends testify to their Guide. They are at home in the house he built—or should be.

It is quite weird to be a member of a Christian movement and not be a Christian myself. This paradox has defined my religious life ever since I became a Friend. The only thing that mutes the dissonance this creates is the fact that the meetings I have belonged to and participated in have all been (non-declared) post-Christian in their culture. Which means that they are comfortable with my non-Christian-ness (though they sometimes act surprised when I sound like a Christian).

On the other hand, however, I will not countenance anti-Christian behavior in any meeting I am a part of. Someone should have eldered me when I did that, and Friends who act that way can expect me to ask some questions.

§ 7 Responses to Negative Reactions to Jesus and Christianity

  • Roger Dreisbach-Williams says:

    Are “Post-Christians” too comfortable to be plain Christians? And where is The Kingdom of God that Jesus (and early Quakers) proclaimed?

  • Roger Dreisbach-Williams says:

    Friend Badgley’s question is a good one, because Quakers have claim to an understanding of the Gospel that includes John Wycliffe (who inspired Jon Huss and the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, which led to his martyrdom) and an incident recorded in “The Life … of Richard Davies” where he asked a fellow Welshman who was making life difficult for Friends (in Welsh) “Why are you, who are of the people who first received the Gospel, persecuting those who have received it in these latter day?” [The official replied, “Because your people voted against our candidates in the last election.”]
    I was not a Christian when I applied for membership in the Religious Society of Friends but during the Clearance process I acknowledged that if there were ever a dispute in the Meeting, that Christians would have the last word. I also made a secret commitment to read the Bible (the first time it took 10 years).
    I have had multiple experiences of Christ’s presence (few of them comfortable, but all quite real and leading me to greater Truth). We are a separate Society, largely due to our understanding of Christ that differs from that of Protestant, Evangelical, Roman, and Orthodox understandings (though there are places in each of those traditions where we agree, and various times eminent Friends have stretched our doctrine to accommodate an important relationship, such as Fox’s Letter to the Governor of Barbados which is better in its totality than in some “condensed” forms that have been published.)

  • Howard Brod says:

    Steve, there is now actually an eager willingness within many liberal Quaker meetings to invite Christians to speak their truth just as everyone else is welcomed to do within our meetings.

    Although I do not consider myself a Christian, I am aware and grateful that Quakerism is solidly based on the teachings of Jesus. Our premier “doctrine” is the inner Light introduced to the world by Jesus and his early followers, And Jesus’ teachings on compassion, love, and forgiveness are the foundation of our Quaker testimonies. So to say or indicate that Christian language is not welcome in a Quaker meeting is simply absurd; and it demonstrates much ignorance about the origin of our faith and the reality of its substance. Many, many decades ago, it was devout Quaker Christians who first welcomed people of all faiths to come worship with them in Quaker meeting’s that they were the majority. How cruel for those who accepted that invitation to now turn on those who invited them.

    My liberal meeting has had an influx of Christians to join us over the last 10 years BECAUSE these Christians observed that we faithfully live the teachings of Jesus even though many of us are not Christians. Because we are 100% non-exclusive theologically, politically, racially, and every other kind of way, these Christians have been drawn to us because they observed the spirit of Christ was also drawn to us. As a result of the love and light brought to our meeting by all of these diverse Friends (Christian or not), our meeting has grown spiritually by leaps and bounds, and has become well-known in our suburban community as a place of Light. We actively share our meetinghouse and wooded grounds with all non-profit groups in the community free of charge. And we operate a non-profit thrift store in the heart of the village that donates upwards of $50,000 each year to different local charities. We use that thrift store as a commercial center to promote Light in our world.- both through words and actions.

    Our egalitarian liberal Quaker meeting does not shy away from welcoming all to practice Love and Light together at our meetinghouse and grounds, and we support all to do so as the Spirit moves them.

  • Bravo, and thank you, Steve! Though you “have never [yet] felt directly called by him into his discipleship,” I feel as though you speak and act very much like one of His members, who has entered in at the strait gate, to use Jesus’ metaphor (Luke 13:24-30) and will sit down in the kingdom with Abraham, Sarah, and all the Prophets, while many who call themselves Christians but unrepentantly work iniquity will find themselves thrust out. But it’s really for Christ to say who His people are. Ever since I prayed to be sent to His people, twenty years ago, and got unmistakably sent to His people the Bahá’ís, I try to approach people with no preconceptions about whether they’re in His in-group or His out-group!

  • Martha Bush says:

    Steve, thank you for sharing. I did now know this about you and value knowing who you are on your journey! Martha B

  • Lee Garner says:

    Thank you, Steve. Pretty much my thoughts as well !

    Sent from my iPhone


  • Lee Garner says:

    This msg speaks my mind as well , Steve, as I have always identified as athiest, and frequently as post-Christian (good term), but always comfortable among avowed Christians/Quakers.

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