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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12 Responses to Draft Statement: Theological Diversity within Twin Cities Friends Meeting

  1. John Cowan January 27, 2009 at 7:06 pm #

    Oh dear! I hate to tell you this James but in support of Liz’s problem my words of sympathy to her were based on thinking I was looking at a later version of the draft statement, not the earliest one. Now that I have awakened the cues are obvious. The date and those signing who are not Ministry and Counsel. But as it stands it fooled me. Now I am a little daft and getting dafter, but as I look around at the 8:30 I see several who are even dafter than I. For such as I you will have to exert extra effort. Sorry.

  2. Liz Opp(enheimer) February 7, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    James, it is no surprise that you and I likely have different takes on the role of the community and the role of individuals within that community. That may be why we are responding differently to having the original unapproved document here.

    I *do* see that you’ve added new material, including some of the response from Meeting for Worship for Business and the note that the meeting is still working on a statement, so I appreciate that clarification very much.

    Hindsight being what it is, when the document was first placed on the website, blogs were not terribly active and I don’t think I even *knew* of QUF’s publication. Knowing what I know now, and having experienced how Canadian Yearly Meeting and QUF drew on the document, I’ve become resistant to having things that still require a decision and are under consideration by the meeting placed on the open part of the website.

    Yes, giving members of the meeting community online access to materials is helpful, but as times and technology change, I am thinking we as a meeting should take another look at how we use the website from time to time. At least, it seems that *I* will take another look, anyway.

    Back to the document: I suppose a small group of Friends could sign off on the current drafted statement on the variety of belief/what binds us together, (or craft a whole new one–yipes!), go through a similar threshing as what happened with the first document, and ultimately get permission to have that posted on the website too…

    But what good is it then to have the monthly meeting approve anything, if all these drafts and sub-group’s opinions/ideas are out there, for anyone to point to and say “This meeting has said…”?

    . . . . . . . . .

    John, I am content that the first document made the rounds a few years ago within TCFM, for new Light has come out of it. And I am among those who affirm that one of the ministries of the meeting is how TCFM embraces and enfolds members and attends who may or may not believe in anything D/divine, even as we also wonder what it is that binds us together.

    In addition, I hope we be (more) careful about the *perceptions* and the jumps to conclusion that non-TCFM folk make… I’ve seen it happen and I’m concerned.

    Blessings,
    Liz

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