Quaker Universalist Conversations

Neither universalist nor christocentric

Quaker Universalist Fellowship Newsletter (excerpt) — #21 Winter 1993/94

During my reflections throughout this period I knew it was right for me to refuse to allow myself to be labelled universalist or christocentric. I was aware also that some meetings in London Yearly Meeting are tearing themselves apart over the matter.

It has come to me strongly that the polarisation between christocentric (and that word really does need looking at) and universalist (a word full of ambiguities) is a sterile use of energy.

To those for whom Jesus Christ is the centre of their devotions, I ask, are you Christs to the world, do you incarnate the welcoming of God, do you see the stranger at the gate, and the Friend who disagrees with you in meeting as, in the wonderful words of John Woolman, a manifestation of God? Never mind the doctrine, are you the good news?

And to the universalist, I ask, for all your talk about not using this word or that, or this cultural package or not, do people find in you the illumination of the Inward Light, do you incarnate the universal Spirit? I do not want to be told that there is a Spirit in all life, I want to see it, experience it. Are you the good news?

Hospitality is about feeding, nurturing, healing. The child lying starving on the streets of any one of thousands of cities all over the world does not ask to see the identity card of the one who feeds her. She wants the food, the healing hand. And Friends have long had the tradition of stretching out a healing hand.

So what I have brought back from the States is a clearer vision of what it means to be guest and host. I am hoping to explore this in a pamphlet which will be one of the background papers from Pendle Hill weekend.

I am afraid that Friends may get diverted even further from the sacred duty of hospitality, by trying in a series of contortions to define their theologies too rigidly or allowing others to do that for them…. My travels round meetings have shown me that both here and in the States these issues have become more prominent than how we actually carry out the healing ministry that Jesus entrusted to his disciples or how in this darkening world we shine or at least try to flicker as rays of the universal light.


This recalls to me the analogous discussion in the recently excerpted Craig Barnett post "The Faces of God," which could be retitled "Neither theist nor nontheist." It is profoundly unhelpful to turn our different experiences and images into a game of identity politics; saying in effect ‘I am a nontheist and I need to stand up for nontheists against theists’ (or vice versa). This kind of thinking is premised on mutual suspicion and only tends to escalate it. We would do far better to refuse to play this game, and instead practice listening to each others’ experience in order to enrich our own understanding of the inexhaustible breadth of spiritual reality.
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