Quaker Universalist Conversations

“Historically we Friends were Christian fundamentalists”

Re A Quaker’s Response to Christian Fundamentalism

In reply to our social media promotion of Sallie King’s 2009 QUF pamphlet, A Quaker’s Response to Christian Fundamentalism, Marshall Massey of Iowa Yearly Meeting offered the following Facebook comment. We republish it here with his permission.

How soon we forget, eh?

Historically, Friends emphasized human sinfulness much more than most of their protestant and Roman Catholic contemporaries. Countless Quaker ministers preached that not one thing we do without divine guidance and assistance can even be good, let alone help us get to heaven.

The first step to becoming a Friend (Quaker) was convincement, which did not mean intellectual persuasion; it meant being convinced (in the 17th century sense of the word: convicted, found guilty in one’s own eyes) of sin, by the operation of Christ in one’s heart and conscience.

Cf. John 8:9, John 16:8, and all of the New Testament’s preachings on the need for repentance. The fact that becoming a Friend begins with the admission of one’s own sinfulness is utterly scriptural, and it is a recognition of how things work that Friends share with fundamentalists.

Historically we Friends were Christian fundamentalists in many other ways as well. We didn’t have priests and we didn’t tithe because both things were ended by Christ, as the scriptures demonstrated. We didn’t swear, even if the refusal to swear in court meant imprisonment and loss of all belongings, because swearing was forbidden by Christ in scripture. Our answers to all arguments about times when violence was the best move was that Christ still forbade it, as witness the scriptures. We wouldn’t use terms like sacrament or Trinity because they are not to be found in the scriptures.

Modern liberal Quakers see a sharp distinction between Christian fundamentalists and themselves. But that is not because of they are Quakers; it is because they are liberals. Roughly 85% of Quakers today are not liberals; the great majority of them belong to Evangelical Friends or Friends United Meeting communities; and to the degree that they are historically educated, they understand that the distance between historical Quakerism and fundamentalism is not really very great at all.

There is indeed a key difference between Quaker fundamentalism and the protestant fundamentalism that inspires such horror in the liberal breast. But the difference is not that Quakerism is not biblical fundamentalism. The difference is that Friends “read the scriptures in the spirit [the spirit of love] in which they were given”. We read, not with the eye of intolerance, but with the eye of Christ.


Once again, Marshall tells it like it is. For some of us, his message about earthcare is still foremost, but we must not forget the crux of this message, which leads us back to reading with the eye of Christ, which is not warm and fuzzy, but laser-like in zeroing in on our waywardness, no matter how good a liberal we might be.
Marshall and I agreed to part way on this very issue. I know experientially that sin and salvation are a failed paradigm. The issue of doctrine is historical as Marshall points to in his understanding of early Friends. The evolution of Liberal Friends has happily survived and is growing.
I see Marshall Massey’s statement that we read the scriptures in the spirit of love and not with the eye of intolerance. Divine love is beyond human comprehension. However, in my personal experience of the Spirit there is absolutely no room for shame as the Light holds us within a much greater context. Of course I am far from perfect and while God’s love doesn’t ignore my shortcomings, it supports me in overcoming them. It always and unfailingly holds me up to become all that I can be in this life. God’s Love lifts me up and doesn’t beat me down with shame. I have come to believe that shame is strictly a human tool. Shame has been used by humans against other humans in an attempt to control them. In experiencing the Light I may be moved to become more humble because the presence of God is so incredibly and wordlessly great and good. In those amazing moments I am always in awe but never in fear. I am always fully embraced and uplifted in spite of and because of my shortcomings. God’s Love is great enough to love in spite of AND because of.
As a member of the Religious Society of Friends who is a “birthright Jew”, I am saddened when someone tries to divide us! Should we vote on who is the REAL Quaker? How about we sign a piece of paper declaring what “name of G-D” is to be revered more than any other? Are we not all “REAL FRIENDS”? Does anyone who claims to be a “Friend” really think that G-D cares what humans decide(d) to call him/her/it? It matter not to me which human words or sounds or thoughts are used to build walls. Even those that are “higher and more beautiful than we will have ever seen!” I know experientially that whatever separates us cannot be from the Spirit.
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