This time around we’re discussing individualism and community in the Quaker tradition. Section 6C in Traditional Quaker Christianity quotes heavily from William Penn’s True Spiritual Liberty. The opening paragraph of this chapter is gold:
Western individualism, which elevates individuals above the group, destroys community, eats away at our concern for others’ welfare, and too often produces cadres of self-styled prophets who point the way to promised lands in their own imaginations. However, there are many religious bodies who expect complete obedience to the group and its leaders, obedience enforced with expulsion, excommunication, shunning, or other more draconian devices.
Wow. Tell us how you really feel.
This doesn’t just apply to individualism and community but also to local authority versus hierarchy. When Indiana YM split related to LGBTQ inclusion, it started out that one church said they were affirming. The yearly meeting said you can’t do that. The result was a debate about whether the yearly meeting could or couldn’t tell the local meetings what to do.
There’s a balance to be struck between individualism and community. Neither the individual nor the community should be having absolute authority. Liberal and Evangelical Quakers, unsurprisingly, tend to be pretty opposite. Liberals expect individual meetings to be totally on their own and for people to do what they want. Evangelical Quakers often have the yearly meeting being “in charge.” Some will sometimes go so far as the yearly meeting owning all the land and all the buildings. The local meetings simply occupy yearly meeting buildings as long as they have permission to do so.
Revelation & the Bible
William Penn includes many questions and answers in his True Spiritual Liberty. One is the question of whether has to conform to things they don’t accept. His says you need to question why you don’t accept it. In short, consider you might be wrong.
Hannah Barnard was an American Friends minister who was sent back from Britain as a heretic. She didn’t affirm every little thing in the Bible as truth, saying “nothing is revealed truth to me, as doctrine, until it is sealed as such in my mind, through the illumination of…the word of God, the divine light, and intelligence, to which the Scriptures…bear plentiful testimony” (as quoted in Elias Hicks: Quaker Liberal). She also wouldn’t affirm that the Bible translations they had were true to the past. Scholars today do know of some changes, such as an extra line about the trinity. In general, though, current Bible versions are pretty accurate (but watch for bias).
Sometimes that revelation might be “you’ve been reading it wrong.” For example, we’ve had women preaching from the early days. That’s in contrast to usual readings of the Bible. The book Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters With the Bible explores how Quakers have read the Bible over time. Mackenzie’s been reading it and really enjoys it.
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