Draft Statement: Theological Diversity within Twin Cities Friends Meeting

Friends have traditionally rejected the use of creeds, largely from a conviction that no statement of belief can accurately describe or reflect divine reality. There is another compelling reason for us to reject creeds. Over time the spiritual and theological diversity among Friends has become far broader and deeper than early Friends could possibly have imagined. Twin Cities Friends Meeting has fully and joyfully embraced Friends from a great constellation of religious beliefs and traditions. Our community includes Christians, Jews, Buddhists, pagans, atheists, agnostics, and others, along with an even greater diversity of Friends who neither claim nor desire a label to describe their distinctive individual views of whatever is within and beyond us.Such is the diverse reality of our community. The purpose of this document is to express our gratitude for that diversity, and to explicitly affirm that differences along the full range of theological belief, including unbelief, are no barrier to membership, nor to full participation in our beloved religious community.

This is not to say that beliefs, theological or otherwise, are irrelevant to our community, or to the process of becoming a member. On the contrary, one of the great blessings of serving on a clearness committee for membership is the opportunity to better understand the deepest beliefs and spiritual passions of a potential member. What’s more, a discussion of such beliefs might in some cases reveal that an applicant does not feel sufficiently drawn to the ways of Friends, to become a member. The barrier in such cases is not belief per se, but affinity with our way of being together in religious community, while seeking along our own spiritual paths.

Sometimes in our discussions of spiritual and theological diversity, we are perhaps too quick to search for commonalities, for that which transcends the differences between us. This is a worthy effort, but it should not get in the way of our understanding what those differences are. To love genuinely is not to care for a person despite their individual peculiarities, nor to overlook those peculiarities, but to care for the person wholly, in full light of those blessed peculiarities. The beauty and richness of human community derives from difference as much as it does from similarity. What could we possibly learn from each other in a world where everyone had the same religious beliefs, political persuasions, family background, or ethnicity?

Similarly, it is not enough to be tolerant of our differences; we need to bring those differences to the surface, rising above our fear of offending or being offended. Speaking in meeting for worship requires discernment, to be sure, but this does not mean that we should withhold a message for fear that others might be made uncomfortable by our theology. We do not rightly discern a leading to speak by reflecting on how Friends might receive that message, but reflecting on the quality and power of the impulse to speak, and remaining faithful to spirit as we experience it. There are messages and ways of speaking that may be inappropriate in meeting for worship, but again, we do not make this distinction according to our agreement or disagreement with the message. It is one thing to deliver a message that expresses the light of our faith that we might kindle such a flame in others; it is quite another thing to proclaim ours as the only true light, or to berate others for being faithful to their own light. This means there is a place in our midst for evangelism in the best sense of that word– an evangelism that might be rooted in Jesus, Buddha, God or Goddess, nature, the hunger for scientific knowledge, or simple human love and compassion.

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The Friends listed below crafted and found unity in this statement as a group. This adult education forum is a step in our efforts to bring the statement, and the concerns it addresses, fully into the life of the meeting.

Elizabeth Barnard
Carol Bartoo
Rhoda Gilman
Ralph Hilgendorf
Don Irish
Kate Martinson
* Pat McGuire
** James Riemermann
Bob Schmitt

* Pat was unable to attend meetings, but has been following the group’s progress and supports the process.

**The process that produced the document had its genesis in a clearness/support committee James requested for discernment regarding an individual leading.


Response to this document from February 2006
Meeting for Worship with attention to Business:

MWB appreciates and expresses its gratitude for the one Friend initiating the desire to clearly articulate our welcome of our spiritual diversity and the support group who have nurtured the conversation. We are grateful for the gifts of dialogue that come from this effort. It touches us and encourages us to move deeper. We are, however, not prepared to endorse it in its current form. Specifically, Friends express a hunger for a contextual statement that expresses also that which unifies us.

MWB encourages continued dialogue among the community in a number of forums. We invite those who are so led to write responses to supplement and respond to the concerns put forward in this statement. The newsletter editors agreed to consider printing statements that are sent to them. Likewise, our website provides an excellent forum in which different statements could be linked together. Those interested in working with a more formal group discussion/writing forum to respond should contact Liz Oppenheimer.

MWB thanks Ministry and Counsel (M & C) for the work they have done in creating a statement about who we are as a community and what fundamentally unites us. Many in the community have a longing for such a statement and requests M & C to bring such a draft to MWB within the next six months.

(As of January 2009, Ministry and Counsel continues to wrestle with these issues. No statement has yet been approved by the meeting.)

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