C. Wess Daniel wrote a blog comment responding to my assertion that the central issue facing Quakerism is how to reconcile inclusivity with maintaining a strong core faith. He said: "So, we don't have to adhere to the terms of the debate if they are going to be locked into a question of inclusiveness. It's my contention that this question is one stemming from those still clinging to modern-liberalism, trying to rescue some kind of hegemony based in sameness rather than celebrating difference the way the postmodern does. "
I agree that modernism does try to impose a hegemony based on sameness. Modernism, in texts written primarily by white English and American males from a handful of elite universities in the early and mid parts of the last century, tried to boil the "major religions" down to a common denominator of universal assumptions. This was done for good reason: if religions could find a common ground, perhaps they would stop fighting. Of course, what happened by those embracing universalism was the creation of superficial, bland and homogenized spiritualism. Most of us, once we get past the aha moment of "all religions have a lot of common ethics" or "all religions practice the golden rule," or "Wow, Buddha sounds a lot like Christ," long for something deeper and more emotionally and intellectually satisfying. That means delving deeply into one faith tradition and struggling with its story -- and its otherness.
If we could just throw aside the question of inclusiveness and truly honor diversity by accepting that Quakerism has a particular history within the Christian tradition, then struggling with inclusivity versus faith would not be THE issue. However, Quakerism (at least liberal Quakerism) is mired in modernism. It's stuck there like an old-fashioned broken record, repeating the following worn ideas over and over: "All religions are different ways of expressing the same truth. All religions are different paths up the same mountain. We can incorporate all religions into one melting pot."
As long as a modernist notion of inclusivism is foundational to how Quakers think, we are going to have to struggle with how inclusivity dilutes the faith. One of the problems I see is that many Quakers don't perceive their worldview as modernist. It simply seems normative and true, a corrective to all the false notions of the past. They don't see themselves as caught in a particular and subjective historical moment. They don't see their concept that "all religions are the same" as the end result of a limited system of Enlightenment thinking that believes that scientific rationalism alone leads to truth and thus excludes as "irrational" diversities that don't support its presuppositions. Modernists can't stand outside the box of rationalism and critique rationalism itself. "All religions are different paths up the same mountain" is such a self-evident truth to some Quakers (despite being an immensely shaky metaphor) that they become frustrated with any challenge to it and sometimes believe that people who hold to other beliefs are ignorant or have an agenda. They believe they are straining out the impurities and superstitions within their faith tradition to produce what is clear, true and beautiful.
Religion in the world today struggles against a modernism that wants to control it and emphasize religions' universality at the expense of the different faith traditions' diversities. Many people of faith want what has made their particular faith distinct to be upheld and not softened, even if these marks of distinction are difficult for the modern mind to accept.
I have seen several house churches deal with the problem of Enlightenment thought by not accepting any doctrine that might be tainted by it. Usually this means basing the church's theology only on texts produced prior to 1700. That's a method to ensure a certain type of purity, just as accepting only those parts of a religion that are "universal" is, but it's also a wilfull distortion of the past 300 years of history just as much as Quaker universalism is a distortion of the pre-Enlightenment thought patterns of Quakerism's founders. Thus, I don't believe it's fruitful merely to ignore the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking has helped us differentiate between superstition and faith, tall tales and miracle, bigotry and fair assessment of differences. We need instead to critique where the Enlightenment has fallen short. Many would say in an inability to appreciate miracle, mystery and passion.
Liberal Quakerism has repeatedly made the decision to include the hyphenated Quaker: the Quaker-pagan, Quaker-Wiccan, Quaker-nontheist, Quaker-Jew, Quaker-Buddhist and in the process of helping all these people to feel comfortable has repeatedly chosen to deny the particular miracles and mysteries at the heart of the faith and has justified doing so on the basis of Quakerism's non-creedal history. The problem is that this emptying of the particulars of the faith narrative--of tranforming a (tranformative) story that we can participate in and argue with to a series of dispassionate testimonies describing abstract ideas--equality, peace, integrity, etc.--has left people hungry and empty, longing for something more.
None of this is new stuff but it leads me back to a question that is not abstract at all to me, but something I anguish over: how do I love and cherish and respect the non-Christian Quaker I share a pew with while loving, cherishing and respecting the Christian story and particularities that are of the heart of Quakerism? Therefore, I end up agreeing with Daniel that Convergence needs to define itself in ways other than through inclusivity. But how is that going to happen?