Why did the testimonies weaken among orthodox and evangelical Friends?

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Johan Maurer

Feb 17, 2013, 10:32:30 AM2/17/13
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June 25 2004 at 9:20 AM Johan   (no login)
The exchange that follows (crossposted with permission of Kent Walkemeyer and Joe Ginder from the friends theology list) raises the question of why the feminism and pacifism of earlier generations of Friends in the Orthodox stream grew weaker. As far as the weakening of the testimonies (functionally if not verbally) in the liberal stream, the classic essay by R.W. Tucker, "Revolutionary Faithfulness" (Vol. IX, No. 2, Winter 1967-68, pp 3-29) remains an important source of ideas.

Additional observations welcome!

The exchange began when a participant asked, "Do Evangelical Friend's congregations deny women who want it, the opportunity to become clergy, to preach? Can women teach adult men in Sunday School? Maybe it varies from 1 congregation to the next?"

From: Joe Ginder 
Sent: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 8:50 AM
To: 'Friends-Theology'
Subject: RE: Questions

Here's the official statement from Evangelical Friends Church Southwest's Faith and Practice:

"We believe the Holy Spirit's calling and gifting of a person are never limited by mere human factors such as sex, ethnicity or social status, that God wants His Church to recognize, affirm, and train all whom He has called, and that we are disobedient to the Holy Spirit if we do otherwise. We want to be especially clear regarding the role of women in leadership. From our very beginnings, we have found no scriptural basis for limiting certain leadership and ministry roles to men. Today, we continue to affirm, not as a concession to modernity but in obedience to the Bible and the Holy Spirit, that the Lord is calling both women and men to serve as leaders and pastors in His church. (Acts 2:17-18;Eph 1:17; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 Cor 7:7; Eph 4:8; Gal 3:28; Rom 16:3,7)"

Within EFCSW, women serve in nearly every position of leadership of which I'm aware. I don't think we've had a yearly meeting superintendent who was a woman, but there is no restriction against it. I know of one EFCSW church that decided at one time in the past not to allow women in some positions of leadership of exactly the sort you ask about. I know of no others, and I do not know if that one church has continued with their policy. It was due primarily to their pastor at the time, who was from outside of Friends circles. He is no longer pastoring within EFCSW. Things may have changed after his departure. I don't know.

K.D. [another friends-theology participant] is correct that Friends historically do not make a distinction between laity and clergy. Regretfully, I've seen that distinction creep into practice in recent years even among EFCSW leaders, though there are still many who resist it - with good reason. But more to your question, women can be elders or pastors and women can teach adult men in Sunday School in every Friends group of which I am aware (except those who do not have pastors at all, where it is not an issue of gender) with the one exception I mentioned.

--Joe Ginder

Subject: RE: Questions 
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 15:59:20 -0700 
From: "Kenton Walkemeyer" 
To: "Joe Ginder" "Friends-Theology" 

Though we have a pretty strong statement here in EFCSW, the percent of recorded ministers who are women has been steadily dropping since the early twentieth century. (I've been compiling statistics on this from our yearly meeting minutes.) This decline mirrors many of the other evangelical movements which began with convictions of egalitarian (Free Methodist, CMA, Brethren, Missionary, Salvation Army, Church of God, many Pentecostal groups). While these groups have seen a decline in women leaders, the mainline denominations have begun to ordain women. It's as if we're moving in opposite directions on this issue.

I'm interested in theories explaining why we have shifted.

Any ideas?

Kent Walkemeyer

From: "Joe Ginder" 
To: "'Kenton Walkemeyer'" "'Friends-Theology'"
Subject: RE: Questions 
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 16:28:11 -0700 

Kent Walkemeyer writes:
> Though we have a pretty strong statement here in EFCSW, the 
> percent of recorded ministers who are women has been steadily 
> dropping since the early twentieth century. (I've been 
> compiling statistics on this from our yearly meeting 
> minutes.) This decline mirrors many of the other evangelical 
> movements which began with convictions of egalitarian (Free 
> Methodist, CMA, Brethren, Missionary, Salvation Army, Church 
> of God, many Pentecostal groups). While these groups have 
> seen a decline in women leaders, the mainline denominations 
> have begun to ordain women. It's as if we're moving in 
> opposite directions on this issue.
> I'm interested in theories explaining why we have shifted.

I wonder if it has to do with the widespread perception of the issue of women in leadership as a modernist women's liberation issue. As I recall, women's rights movements were originally Christian, with roots in the movements you mention - quite "evangelical". Sometime in the 20th century, the women's rights movement was co-opted into "women's liberation" and associated with religious and political ideology that was not compatible with the biblical Christianity of evangelicals. Perhaps biblical Christians have developed a conscious or unconscious allergy or over-reaction to this?

--Joe Ginder

Subject: RE: Questions 
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 20:42:23 -0700 
From: "Kenton Walkemeyer" 
To: "Joe Ginder", "Friends-Theology" 

I do think this is at least part of the reason. It is similar to what has happened to the peace testimony. Several of the same 'evangelical' movements began with fairly strong peace convictions -- though Friends have been one of the most outspoken groups for both peace and gender equality. As the peace issue and women's equality issue began to be associated with political agendas instead of Christian convictions, many of our more conservative movements, including evangelical Friends, lost their earlier moorings.

Kent Walkemeyer

Additional factors that were brought up later in this exchange included the eclipse of specifically Quaker discipleship concerns by exciting developments in missions and church-planting, and (in at least the case of Ohio Yearly Meeting (Damascus) - later Evangelical Friends Church Eastern Region - the "hogging" of leadership in the peace committee by one person or a small group.
(Login Reedwood)
Forum Owner
Peace: the Case Study of Indiana Yearly Meeting July 13 2004, 4:34 PM 

In a later message, Kent Walkemeyer pointed me to an article in the Indiana Magazine of History: "The Decline of Pacifism in the Twentieth Century: Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends as a Case Study," by Thomas D. Hamm, Margaret Marconi, Gretchen Kleinhen Salinas, and Benjamin Whitman (XCVI/1, March 2000). The fascinating documentation in that article, covering World War I (with some Civil War era background) to the Viet Nam war, indicates that a major immediate cause of the weakening of the testimonies was a failure of leadership and of testimony in the basic communication sense. This poignant paragraph from the period between World War II and Viet Nam says a lot:

Throughout this period, local meetings and the yearly meeting were frank in acknowledging the limits of their peace witness. Some meetings admitted that they had no members capable of counseling young men about conscientious objection. "As we look over the last year's work we realize very little has been done in the name of Peace," Walnut Ridge Friends recorded in 1949. "We are still weak in our Peace Testimony," was the conclusion of Portland Friends six years later. That same year Friends at New Garden noted that the only activity of its Peace Committee had been to collect a free will offering to be sent to AFSC for clothing and for refugees. "It is with grave concern that we note the indifference and in many meetings the complete disregard of some members to the basic teachings of the Society of Friends," the yearly meeting told members in 1948. "We deplore the trust our members put in military preparedness and use of force as a substitute for Christ's teaching of Love and Brotherhood among all men." In 1952 the Peace Committee reported that it found little interest in its activities because "the Peace Testimony of Friends is neglected in all too many of our monthly meetings."

As the article shows, there were also remarkable exceptions to this general weakness, but much of the vacuum left by a lack of teaching was filled with such remarks as these, quoted by the article from prominent Friend D. Elton Trueblood: "The Quaker, providing he is sincere about wanting peace, will not try to undermine the deterrent power of the West, as a few misguided ones do now."

(no login)
Baptism and Communion July 15 2004, 10:05 PM 

Baptism and communion (or in the Quaker euphemism, the "ordinances") as outward ceremonies have been outside mainstream practice for both programmed and unprogrammed Friends throughout our whole history. Most Friends have agreed with the teachings of Robert Barclay on baptism and communion and of the Richmond Declaration of Faith (1887) on these subjects. More likely, most Friends have not had a reason to consider why the subject should even come up.

However, during the years leading up to the Richmond Declaration of Faith, there were voices in the USA advocating freedom of choice for Friends; the statements in the Declaration of Faith discouraging these ceremonies was one reason the yearly meeting now known as Evangelical Friends Church Eastern Region did not unite with the Declaration. In more recent years, several Friends meetings in California, Iowa, Indiana and perhaps elsewhere have made either water baptism, or a ceremonial communion, or both, understood as a symbolic or teaching activity, not an act necessary for salvation or church membership, part of local practice. For at least a generation, there has been agitation on their behalf among Jamaican Friends. Whereas in earlier years, some Friends in the USA argued that Friends' abandonment of these institutions was an error in theology, or their subsequent adoption was a legitimate instance of "continuing revelation," more recently the argument has been that their absence is an unnecessary scandal to potential Friends.

I remember being present at a business session of Friends Church Southwest when the subject was being considered. One Friend pointed out that the inclusion of these practices was a far smaller innovation than the transition from unprogrammed to programmed worship. However, another grieved the potential loss of one of our most powerful statements on spiritual reality.

In a letter to one Friend who was uneasy with more recent advocacy of baptism in a Yearly Meeting in Friends United Meeting, I wrote the following (submitted for comment and criticism here) - 

Friends are very vulnerable on the sacraments front. We claim to acknowledge the true baptism and the true communion, ones that don't need outward ceremonies, but if we don't actually EXPERIENCE a real baptism (that is, a real dying to the old self and rebirth in Christ; a real sense of having crossed a threshold into the household of faith) and a real communion in the Holy Spirit, then our rhetoric just sounds like a way of sounding superior to others. I hope that Friends don't take the shortcut into ceremonies, but attend to the need to rediscover the reality in a powerful way that can be extended to others.

During that session of Friends Church Southwest, I remember Billy Lewis, a long-time leader in that Yearly Meeting, expressing astonishment that the basis of Friends distinctives could be so easily forgotten in a few generations. Is this yet another instance, as with peace, where the lack of a teaching ministry and strong role models turned a powerful testimony into, first, a passively accepted peculiarity, and, then, an awkward historical remnant that could be discarded?

Joan Browne 
(no login)
My suggestions re: Friends and Water Baptism July 16 2004, 9:41 AM 

Friends believe in inner transformation and spiritual conversion, through the Holy Spirit, to a life based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This is the spiritual baptism to which Friends aspire. 

In keeping with the focus on substance rather than ritual that marks Friends' faith and practice, Friends do not practise water baptism. If, however, any individual Friend is led to confirm his or her feeling of having reached the goal of inward spiritual grace by embracing water baptism as an outward, visible sign, he or she may do so. This is in keeping with the universal, inclusive nature of Quakerism. 

We should be vigilant that we do not replace a rejection of empty ritualism with a rigid rejection of all who practise forms of ceremony or ritual.

Joan Browne
Kingston Monthly Meeting, Jamaica Yearly Meeting

Bill Samuel 
(Login BillSamuel)
Re: My suggestions re: Friends and Water Baptism July 16 2004, 10:13 AM 

I am in agreement with Joan Browne.

You can focus in on the outward expressions either by insisting they be practiced or by insisting they not be practiced.

I suspect a major reason why some Friends have moved towards acceptance of the outward expressions is influence from the wider body of Christ. Some Friends seem to consider that such influence is automatically bad. I am not in unity with that attitude.

If the Spirit of Christ speaks consistently, as early Friends understood, and if the body of Christ is made up of much more than the RSF, we should be considering what light other Christians receive. In looking at the "distinctives" of early Friends, therefore, it seems to me appropriate to look at what aspects of them have received broader acceptance in the body of Christ and what have not. One of the things I find is that much of Quaker understanding has permeated significant parts of the Christian community. This, to me, is an affirmation that Friends were correctly discerning what the Spirit of Christ was saying.

In the particular matter of outward expressions of communion and baptism, it seems to me that large parts of the Christian community today accept that what is most important is spiritual communion and baptism. So to that degree there appears to have been some affirmation of the understanding of Friends. However, only the Salvation Army that I know of has totally rejected the outward expression. This indicates to me that possibly this aspect of the original understanding was a witness for a particular time or even perhaps some outrunning of the Guide. If it was a universal truth from Christ, surely more Christians would have responded to the Inward Teacher by following the Quaker example.

Bill Samuel, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Member, Adelphi MM, Baltimore YM
Affiliate Member, Rockingham MM, Ohio YM
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