Sunday, June 14, 2009

Response to Yaxley: "Why not call yourself a Christian?"

I read with interest and appreciation Alice Yaxley's post "Why not call yourself a Christian, like Lucretia Mott?"

I keep thinking about the post and the responses. I love that Alice raised this question and I love her blog.

However, having read the comments, I would frame the question differently. When people responded with the reasons that they did not call themselves Christians, I found myself saying yes, yes, you are right not to call yourself a Christian, you are acting with integrity.

I think the real issue is not whether individuals call themselves Christians, as that is a personal decision about accepting Christ into your heart. The question I would pose is: Why contest calling the Religious Society of Friends a Christian faith? As Alice and others so clearly point out, Quakerism, as a collective , is Christian. The majority of its adherents are self-identified as Christians, and it is historically rooted in Christianity. It was and is an attempt to return to the earliest roots of the Christian faith, before Rome adopted Christianity as the state religion. I have heard that the entire Bible, if lost, could be reconstructed by the writings of the early Quakers. And there is no question in my mind that the early Quakers I have read believed fervently in a risen Christ born of a virgin and a historical Jesus who performed miracles and healings.

That's not to say that every individual within Quakerism is a Christian, any more than every individual within any other Christian denomination is a Christian. But that doesn't mean we don't call those denominations Christian. The community has an identity that transcends any one individual or any one period of time. It is rooted in a history and tradition. When you join that community, you are inevitably joining that history and tradition, regardless of your individual beliefs. I suppose what bothers me is the tendency of some to want to rewrite the history of Quakerism as some sort of universalist faith. It is a uniquely Christian story and that story-not just the "principles" we can cull from it-- matters. Quakerism would not have been Quakerism if Fox and his followers had not been born in the seventeenth century, in England, and were Buddhists rather than Christians. So why not embrace and love the story we have?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps it has to do with how people frame what they consider to be essential in terms of the Quaker tradition. Here's a rough analogy. Golf, I am told, originated in Scotland. But we don't consider it to be essentially Scott in some way. (I realize this is a trivial comparison, but I'm trying to be down to earth.)

I'm not aware of anyone challenging the historically Christian roots of the Quaker tradition. What I think might be happening, and this is speculative, is that some people regard the essentials of Quakerism as not tied to those roots, in the same way that Golf is not tied to its historical origins.

If one considers the Peace Witness and testimony, and the indwelling inner light to be the essence of the Quaker tradition, then it can be argued that these transcend the historical form.

I'm not sure if this is what is happening, but it seems to be from what I've read that this is at least one line of reasoning. Personally, I have no problem with the Christian label or tradition.


forrest said...

Whether you "call" yourself a Christian is a muy complex thing--not to be papered over with some silly catchphrase about "accepting Christ into your heart."

If you believe that Jesus is resurrected (& hence posthumously vindicated by God) do you understand the words and deeds he was killed for, and why he so offended the good people of his day, and would necessarily offend the good people of this day?

What does it matter, whether you are "called" "a Christian"? (Is this a rhetorical question?!!! Well, yeah. Look, I'm not saying you can't legitimately support whatever you conceive to be "Christianity," just that the meaning of the word has always been ambiguous. We've recently had a man bombing civilians and torturing people in the name of Christianity; I'm sure that isn't what we're talking about. Jesus didn't use the word 'Christian.' But if he had, what would he have meant?)

Okay, it's hard to have a religious conversation with people who don't at least agree that Jesus had a divine message (or so) for this civilization, for this age. But that is, in fact, something that most of the world--and most of my neighbors--do not agree with. Jesus had the traditions of a deeply religious people to appeal to--but those traditions were as readily misapplied by the authorities of his time, as his name and image has been misapplied by the authorities of every nation since. In the end, we're reduced to the same justification he was: simply saying the truth.

If the Society of Friends can't claim the words and example of Jesus, we're impoverished. But for now, we don't generally know what he meant by them.

Alice Y. said...

Thanks Diane, that's helpful to me.

Hystery said...

I am reading this post and responses with interest but my mind is bunching up in knots and I need clarification. :-)

Are we operating under an assumption that being Christian includes a belief in the divinity of Christ?

Unknown said...

Hi Hystery,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. To me, yes, being a Christian includes a belief in the divinity of Christ, but then we're back to the question of what "divinity" means. For starters, at a bare minimum (and I personally and the Christian tradition, of course, take this out much further), divinity means more than a just a "great man" with "great teachings." It's too much to get involved with in a short response, but I would go so far as to say that a "great man" is somewhat opposed to divinity .... we're asked, I think, to push the boundaries, to embrace wild leaps of faith ... and thus to become more fully human or humane ... and that we see in Jesus humanity as God planned it, becoming wholly human/humane and thus wholly divine ... the great teacher thing bothers me, because in this society we unf. sometimes separate teaching from acting, and Jesus, as George Fox so profoundly "got," enacted and embodied everything he taught.

forrest said...

Yes, that "great teacher" notion is a good way to evade the need to learn from the guy.

But as one of my teachers said, to call this man a man (a "low christology") only misses the point if we have "a low anthropology", that is, if we miss the divine manifestation that is God's presence everywhere (yes, even hidden in people like Hitler, although as Fox said, Christ is "in prison" even in 'ordinary' people; it's hard to see him there because we don't generally strive to let God have his way with us!)

"Divinity" can end up meaning a lot less than "great man" when people content themselves with adoration and theological politics, rather than attend to the man's words!

Tom Smith said...

I have no difficulty with calling the Religious Society of Friends a Christian group. However, I am uncomfortable to identify it as many Christian churches identify themselves as the ONLY way to be a Christian is to use the name of Christ exclusively for those who know this Christ as Jesus.

Fox and other early Friends identified Christ as capable of being heard by anyone regardless of language or other knowledge. There is that of God in the Jew and the Turk.

My understanding is that if Christian is limited to ONLY those who actually use the NAME Christ then I would not identify Friends within that Christian concept. Not everyone that says "Lord, Lord" follows me, but those who know me follow my commandments. Love God, Love Neighbor, plus Matthew 25, Sermon on the Mount, etc. Christ is "universal" in that I do not believe we can deny those that live by the commandments of Christ but do not "know his name" as followers of Christ's voice.

I certainly believe that those that use the name Christian but do not follow his commandments are not ones with whom I wish to be identified.

Mystery Hidden in Light said...

"It was and is an attempt to return to the earliest roots of the Christian faith, before Rome adopted Christianity as the state religion."

Well, THEY certainly weren't Christians, either!!

Christianity came a couple hundred years later. If you want to get back to "the earliest roots of the Christian faith" (& if you refuse to define that phrase with the Roman institutionalization), you're going to have to start with the Egyptian mystery schools, and work your way forward from there........

"Are we operating under an assumption that being Christian includes a belief in the divinity of Christ?"

Some Christians believe the divinity and deny the historicity (as Harpur does). Some atheists believe the historicity and deny the divinity!

**cue Ghostbusters theme**

Who ya gonna call? Regardless of whether or not you deify, name, label, number, or anthropomorphize the mental space one gets into while in the midst of MfW, or even through individual contemplative praxis, the experience IS subjectively real and, if what I am led to believe by reading Pagan, Gnostic, Johannite, and Quaker blogs, this subjective experience IS endemic; "You'll know it when you've got it, and we'll know it when you don't."

(But then the ethics of reciprocity kick in, one would hope. For those who don't know that they know what they've always known all along, are to be treated with kindness and the same respect, as the person who has had their horizons expanded to the bare reaches of infinity, through gnosis.)

The fact that this subjective experience is widely reproducible, across a vast spectrum of believers, non-theists, and belief systems, suggests that it is an integral part of human consciousness/the human brain.

Why argue what to label it, when you could be putting that mental energy into the hard work of discovering how to make it tick, instead?

My two bucks' worth, and apologies for the length. Might also be useful for you to know that I come to Quakerism from a strictly non-Christian background, so that plays a huge role in my worldview, as well. That is also why I never have, nor will I ever, identify myself as Christian. It would not be accurate.