Quaker Universalist Conversations

Retiring FGC General Secretary Reaches out to Evangelical Quakers

By Anthony Manousos

When Marcus Borg was invited to speak at the FGC Gathering by QUF, I asked him about the challenges of interfaith dialogue.

“The biggest challenge is not  interfaith dialogue,” he replied, “but intra-faith dialogue.”

Borg went on to say that we often have more difficulty dialoguing with people who differ with us within our own faith tradition than outside it. This makes sense to me. If a Mormon and I disagree on same-sex marriage, I can accept this difference more readily than I can if a fellow Quaker and I disagree about the same concern. I am tempted to ask: “How can you call yourself a Quaker and not believe as I do?”

Bruce Birchard, the retiring general secretary of Friends General Conference, is to be commended for reaching out to Evangelical Quakers with humility and respect.  For the benefit of non-Quaker readers, let me note that American Quakers have split into five major branches: liberal (FGC), pastoral Christian (FUM), Evangelical Christian (EFI), Conservative, and Independent.  These splits have been accompanied with some acrimony and misunderstanding.

It is clear that for intra-faith dialogue to happen, we must let go of our judgmentalism and self-righteousness and be willing to listen compassionately, even if we strongly disagree. (Perhaps I should say, “especially if we strongly disagree.”) This article shows how Friends might go about such compassionate sharing in the Universalist spirit.

“I Apologize”

As part of my job as FGC General Secretary, I am invited each September to join a 3-day retreat for the “chief executives” of the yearly meetings and associated Quaker organizations in the United States.  The staff heads of FGC-affiliated yearly meetings (and of FGC) are called General Secretaries; staff heads within Friends United Meeting (FUM) and Evangelical Friends Church International (EFCI) are called “Superintendents.”  So the annual retreat is called “Supt’s and Sec’s” (say it out loud and listen to how it sounds).

For this year’s retreat, I was asked to be one of the two planners (along with Arthur Larrabee, Philadelphia YM).  And last spring, we were approached by Lon Fendal and Jan Wood, two Friends from Northwest Yearly Meeting (EFC) who have been working on reconciliation and healing within the world-wide body of Friends.  They offered to meet with the “Supt’s and Sec’s” at our 2010 retreat to facilitate some work on listening, reconciling and healing. 

We took them up on their offer.  So on Monday, September 27, at Camp Quaker Lake in the middle of Iowa corn and soybean fields, Lon and Jan started us on a day-long journey.  We were all a little nervous, because, believe me, we all know about the conflicts between our different yearly meetings and organizations.  I believe we each understood that there are very important matters on which we do not agree, and that we could not “make nice” on those issues by pretending they don’t exist or by “compromising” on fundamental articles of faith.

But Lon and Jan did not take us in the direction of either “making nice” or compromising.  Their message was:  “Reconciliation doesn’t mean that we all come to unity in our perspectives or our theology.  It does mean that we treat those we disagree with respect, civility and kindness.  God extends love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to everyone.  And we are entrusted to live out that same ministry of reconciliation.”

For more, see: http://www.fgcquaker.org/enewsletter/v2/i2/apology?utm_content=00vA000000BkyPHIAZ&utm_source=VerticalResponse&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=Read+his+reflections&utm_campaign=eNewsletter+-+gathering,+quaker+quest,+&+morecontent

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