Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Are Quakers Christian, Non-Christian, or Both?” — Anthony Manousos in Friends Journal

In the February 2013 issue of Friends Journal, Anthony Manousos offers valuable leadings about practical universalism within the Religious Society of Friends.

Photo by Mircea Ruba

Friend Manousos begins with familiar historical observations about the “Universalist Christian” core of early Quakerism, as seen in the writings of Barclay, Penn, Penington and Woolman.

Then follows a beautifully concise summary of divisiveness among Friends during the past two centuries over “whether Quakerism should be inclusive or exclusive—conventionally Christian or faithful to the Inward Light.”

Manousos writes:

Given this history of divisiveness, I can see why Friends are wary about identifying themselves as Christian or non-Christian. It seems safer, and saner, to keep Christ and God talk to a minimum…

[We] can be better Quakers if we are honest and admit our differences and have respectful dialogues about theological issues. We can learn much from each other when we open up and share our beliefs and spiritual experiences.

And I think we can communicate with those in the ecumenical and interfaith movement, as well as our neighbors of other faiths, when we feel comfortable talking about theology among ourselves in a Friendly, non-exclusive way. (21)

This passage points ahead to the heart of Manousos’ personal testimony, the story of his “leading to reach out to Evangelical Quakers,” his recent marriage to his Evangelical Christian wife Jill, and the openings into the international world of Evangelical Quakerism which have followed.

At a Friends General Conference gathering a few years ago, theologian Marcus Borg startled him by saying, “The real challenge is not interfaith dialogue, but intra-faith dialogue,” because “some of the bitterest misunderstandings are among people within a faith tradition.”

Manousos describes joining Friends World Committee for Consultation, marrying Jill, who “opened me up to a world of Evangelical Christians who share many of our Quaker values,” and, most recently, spending time with Evangelical Friends in Kenya and reading Kenyan theologist Zablon Isaac Malenge’s Early Christianity Revised in the perspective of Friend in Kenya.

Commenting on Malenge’s writing, Manousos concludes:

If Friends cannot unite around theology, could we instead unite around practices like peacemaking and social justice?

George Fox said we need to be “salt” and “light”; Jesus urged us to be a “Light to the world”… To be “salt and light,” we need to transcend our differences. We need to share our stories, listen to those we disagree with, and be open to a change of heart. We also need to seek common ground wherein we can put our faith into practice.

One important lesson I have learned from my marriage to an Evangelical is we don’t have to agree about everything in order to love each other.

Read Manousos’ whole article for a richer opening.