What I Hate About Quakerism and Every Other Protestant Denomination

In the summer of 1994, I was on choir tour with my youth group through the Western United States. Our choir, "One Heart", toured for two weeks every year. During my first tour, we were standing in a basement in California being taught our history. In that room underneath the church, we saw the “Holy Grail” of the Nazarenes, one of the first Nazarene pulpits. It was an "amazing", "life altering" experience, learning where I'd come from. Wow. They showed us others as well, the Nazarene pulpits through time. Incredible! They kept getting fancier each time they made a new one, a fact they did not leave out though I don't think our leaders were in favor of it. At the time, I was under the assumption a lot of people knew about Nazarenes as a denomination, I had grown up in that church since about age 4. Later I discovered, apparently not. Not that I knew about many other denominations myself. I remember even trying to figure out whether Catholics were Christian or not, I didn't know one personally until Junior High.

Until my early twenties, I had little to no idea there was such a thing as Christian history. I had a vague notion the Catholics had saints but that was heretical (!) as they prayed to them. I knew nothing about the saints themselves. I remember a few references in European history but the religiosity of the subject was never brought forth. Things did not improve when I started attending a Presbyterian church. There I learned a little about Calvin, not the actual person, just that we were on Calvin's side. My idea of Christian history was limited to what happened in the New Testament in the Bible, followed by Martin Luther nailing his theses to the door when they finally got Christianity right, and us, living right now and we were going to reach the rest of the world with the truth of Christ.

This all changed when I signed up for my first term at George Fox Seminary. I’m no longer sure why I did it, but “Women in Church History” appealed to me so I added my name to what turned out to be a very short list. My first day, I showed up to a room with a professor and two other students. That was it, that was our class. The professor’s name was Carole Spencer and her specialties were Christian history, mysticism, and Quakerism, though, I did not know that then. Through our readings and discussions, Carole opened up a whole new world for me. I learned about amazing women such as Perpetua, Margaret Fell, and Julian of Norwich among many others. These are people I had never heard of before but they had so much to teach me, to guide me into, to pass on to my own journey. Their words jumped off the page, their lives were lived before my eyes and they challenged me to think in ways I never had before.

The next year, I signed up for Carole’s Christian History course, required but absolutely fun. Starting with the early church, we worked our way forward to the reformation. However, this time, everything that happened in between was not left out. I learned about all the councils, the stylites, the desert ammas and abbas, the rifts between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, and many mystics. We also learned a lot of fun trivia about those folks we hold dear such as Martin Luther who didn’t wash his sheets for five years. (Really!) We discussed a lot of theology and I discovered much to my delight, that I was intrigued, even loved the perspectives of people who disagreed with each other. For my term project, Carole suggested I choose one of several women mystics she thought I would like. Because of a dream I’d had, I chose Mechthild of Magdeburg, who is now one of my own Spiritual Ammas. Though she lived in the 1200’s, she still speaks to me in deep ways.

For our second term, we started with the reformation and later focused more on American denominations and how they all came to be. For a special project, we also chose different countries to learn about how Christianity developed there. I studied Kenya with the African group. For that term’s paper, I decided at the last minute to switch my topic from William Blake to Count Nicholas Von Zinzendorf, a fascinating man I learned a lot from. Look him up sometime.
I left that term with new eyes. I came out Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Quaker, Protestant, and everything in between. (I rediscovered my Jewish heritage a few years later.) I could no longer confine myself to just one for they were all right, they all held connection to God. There were things I admired in each and I could no longer say I was right and someone else was wrong, I finally understood how we are not so different, we are all one tree, different branches, but one tree and we have a lot more in common than we think. We may have differing points of view yet we can both all be right and all be wrong.

Spirituality and the Mystics, History of Spirituality, and History and Polity of the Quaker movement, followed over the next two years. I drank it all up like a dry sponge, thirsty to learn about who we are and the different views of theology. I particularly loved reading about people’s relationship with God, John of the Cross and Therese of Liseux being two of my favorites.

As I studied Quakerism among the other movements in these classes, I discovered the Quakers held beliefs matching many of the conclusions I had already come to in my own struggles and searching. I loved how open they were to different points of view, to questions, and that they knew their Christian history.

With these assumptions, I decided to become a part of the Quaker community. At first, I was a regular drop-in to Reedwood Friends up in Portland where Carole is a pastor. To do this day, I love her sermons because I can count on her always putting historical references into her quotes, ideas, and examples. It's like curling up on the rug in front of a favorite story teller. She knows we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. She and Donanne also taught my favorite Sunday school class of all time. Each week, the class read about, read the words of, and studied a different person from Christian history. Sunday school just doesn’t get any better than that!

Then last year, I found a local friends church and I assumed the things I loved about Quakerism would be present there. I was deeply disappointed. Just like every other protestant denomination I have been a part of, whatever history they discuss starts with their founder. This goes both for the church I attend and most of the other Quaker groups I have since come to know. For Quakers, they go back to George Fox, for the Foursquare church, it’s Amy Semple McPhereson, for the Methodists, John Wesley, Presbyterians go back to Calvin if they mention anything else historical besides Scotland at all. And the Nazarenes? They don’t talk about history at all except to show their highschoolers some old pulpits in a hot basement.

And this pisses me off. How self-centered can you get? Just walk into a church, and you’ll find your answer I am sorry to say. We think we are all that when we only stand upon the shoulders of those who have walked this way before us. Many denominations feel they are the only ones who are right, everyone else heard God wrong and don't have his light within them. But there are ones who have thought and written, argued and preached long before us. They have had an unspeakable influence on where the church is today. Without understanding those influences, how can we understand ourselves as a people? How could you EVER start your history with George Fox? (Or whoever your "founder" is.) You need to understand what church environment he came from, and why that church was created. You need to understand there are truths out there you could love that disagree with what you think now.

You want to know one of the things I learned in my history lessons? I learned we are all related. All those splits and times when one group rebelled against another? That is how we have the religious pluralism we now live in. The Quakers do not have it right. The Catholics do not have it right. The Protestants do not have it right. (Not to even mention Buddhism and Judaism.) None of us do. But we are trying and if we tried together, appreciating our differences, and knowing how they came about, perhaps we could then realize those differences aren’t so very important anymore. We need to learn to see ourselves in the larger context, the “big picture” where we are all souls walking with God.

Frankly, it's not so much that people are ignorant of historical facts and great writings that bug me so much. What twists me into a raging fury is hearing someone say they are right and going to heaven and God is not in you, or you don't know God because you disagree with me or you're from a different denomination. THAT IS WRONG!!! You have no right to say that. Once when I was helping with theatre stuff at a kids camp, a man said in the staff cabin that all Jews were going to hell. That was completely unacceptable and utterly wrong. I told him if indeed the Jews are the trunk and Christians are the branches, I wonder what would happen to the branch if the trunk is going to hell. Someone nearby said, "Good point." That guy is so lucky he didn't say that in front of me now as I would have been sorely tempted to deck him. It's people not knowing where they came from so they condemn precisely what they should cherrish. Or, they don't look beyond themselves at all. They come to think they are the sole holders of truth and that they have come to "save" everyone around them. Learning your history is one of the ways you can get beyond yourself and come to see your place in the larger story.

So Quakers, LISTEN UP!!! Protestants, LISTEN UP!!! Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthdox, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, everyone, LISTEN UP!!! There were people who have influenced you perhaps even more than George Fox (or fill in appropriate name) whom you have never heard of. I know, that’s a shocker that there were events and writings and people before him or her. But believe me, the world doesn't begin with George Fox and end with you. It’s true, and your church is going to suffer if you do not realize this and teach it to each other. Right now, frankly, you disgust me in this area. I had such high hopes the Quakers would be different but they’re not. They are as ignorant as most everyone else. Learning to listen to the voices of my spiritual ammas and abbas long since past was a door that was opened to me. (Thank you Carole!) I didn’t know it was there. But now you know too and I encourage, nay entreat you, to broaden your horizons and learn a lesson or two about where you really did come from. And let me tell you, it’s way before old George.

(For good reading, I suggest “The Story of Christianity” volumes 1 and 2 by Justo L. Gonzalez.)

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Walking the Sea: What I Hate About Quakerism and Every Other Protestant Denomination

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What I Hate About Quakerism and Every Other Protestant Denomination

In the summer of 1994, I was on choir tour with my youth group through the Western United States. Our choir, "One Heart", toured for two weeks every year. During my first tour, we were standing in a basement in California being taught our history. In that room underneath the church, we saw the “Holy Grail” of the Nazarenes, one of the first Nazarene pulpits. It was an "amazing", "life altering" experience, learning where I'd come from. Wow. They showed us others as well, the Nazarene pulpits through time. Incredible! They kept getting fancier each time they made a new one, a fact they did not leave out though I don't think our leaders were in favor of it. At the time, I was under the assumption a lot of people knew about Nazarenes as a denomination, I had grown up in that church since about age 4. Later I discovered, apparently not. Not that I knew about many other denominations myself. I remember even trying to figure out whether Catholics were Christian or not, I didn't know one personally until Junior High.

Until my early twenties, I had little to no idea there was such a thing as Christian history. I had a vague notion the Catholics had saints but that was heretical (!) as they prayed to them. I knew nothing about the saints themselves. I remember a few references in European history but the religiosity of the subject was never brought forth. Things did not improve when I started attending a Presbyterian church. There I learned a little about Calvin, not the actual person, just that we were on Calvin's side. My idea of Christian history was limited to what happened in the New Testament in the Bible, followed by Martin Luther nailing his theses to the door when they finally got Christianity right, and us, living right now and we were going to reach the rest of the world with the truth of Christ.

This all changed when I signed up for my first term at George Fox Seminary. I’m no longer sure why I did it, but “Women in Church History” appealed to me so I added my name to what turned out to be a very short list. My first day, I showed up to a room with a professor and two other students. That was it, that was our class. The professor’s name was Carole Spencer and her specialties were Christian history, mysticism, and Quakerism, though, I did not know that then. Through our readings and discussions, Carole opened up a whole new world for me. I learned about amazing women such as Perpetua, Margaret Fell, and Julian of Norwich among many others. These are people I had never heard of before but they had so much to teach me, to guide me into, to pass on to my own journey. Their words jumped off the page, their lives were lived before my eyes and they challenged me to think in ways I never had before.

The next year, I signed up for Carole’s Christian History course, required but absolutely fun. Starting with the early church, we worked our way forward to the reformation. However, this time, everything that happened in between was not left out. I learned about all the councils, the stylites, the desert ammas and abbas, the rifts between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, and many mystics. We also learned a lot of fun trivia about those folks we hold dear such as Martin Luther who didn’t wash his sheets for five years. (Really!) We discussed a lot of theology and I discovered much to my delight, that I was intrigued, even loved the perspectives of people who disagreed with each other. For my term project, Carole suggested I choose one of several women mystics she thought I would like. Because of a dream I’d had, I chose Mechthild of Magdeburg, who is now one of my own Spiritual Ammas. Though she lived in the 1200’s, she still speaks to me in deep ways.

For our second term, we started with the reformation and later focused more on American denominations and how they all came to be. For a special project, we also chose different countries to learn about how Christianity developed there. I studied Kenya with the African group. For that term’s paper, I decided at the last minute to switch my topic from William Blake to Count Nicholas Von Zinzendorf, a fascinating man I learned a lot from. Look him up sometime.
I left that term with new eyes. I came out Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Quaker, Protestant, and everything in between. (I rediscovered my Jewish heritage a few years later.) I could no longer confine myself to just one for they were all right, they all held connection to God. There were things I admired in each and I could no longer say I was right and someone else was wrong, I finally understood how we are not so different, we are all one tree, different branches, but one tree and we have a lot more in common than we think. We may have differing points of view yet we can both all be right and all be wrong.

Spirituality and the Mystics, History of Spirituality, and History and Polity of the Quaker movement, followed over the next two years. I drank it all up like a dry sponge, thirsty to learn about who we are and the different views of theology. I particularly loved reading about people’s relationship with God, John of the Cross and Therese of Liseux being two of my favorites.

As I studied Quakerism among the other movements in these classes, I discovered the Quakers held beliefs matching many of the conclusions I had already come to in my own struggles and searching. I loved how open they were to different points of view, to questions, and that they knew their Christian history.

With these assumptions, I decided to become a part of the Quaker community. At first, I was a regular drop-in to Reedwood Friends up in Portland where Carole is a pastor. To do this day, I love her sermons because I can count on her always putting historical references into her quotes, ideas, and examples. It's like curling up on the rug in front of a favorite story teller. She knows we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. She and Donanne also taught my favorite Sunday school class of all time. Each week, the class read about, read the words of, and studied a different person from Christian history. Sunday school just doesn’t get any better than that!

Then last year, I found a local friends church and I assumed the things I loved about Quakerism would be present there. I was deeply disappointed. Just like every other protestant denomination I have been a part of, whatever history they discuss starts with their founder. This goes both for the church I attend and most of the other Quaker groups I have since come to know. For Quakers, they go back to George Fox, for the Foursquare church, it’s Amy Semple McPhereson, for the Methodists, John Wesley, Presbyterians go back to Calvin if they mention anything else historical besides Scotland at all. And the Nazarenes? They don’t talk about history at all except to show their highschoolers some old pulpits in a hot basement.

And this pisses me off. How self-centered can you get? Just walk into a church, and you’ll find your answer I am sorry to say. We think we are all that when we only stand upon the shoulders of those who have walked this way before us. Many denominations feel they are the only ones who are right, everyone else heard God wrong and don't have his light within them. But there are ones who have thought and written, argued and preached long before us. They have had an unspeakable influence on where the church is today. Without understanding those influences, how can we understand ourselves as a people? How could you EVER start your history with George Fox? (Or whoever your "founder" is.) You need to understand what church environment he came from, and why that church was created. You need to understand there are truths out there you could love that disagree with what you think now.

You want to know one of the things I learned in my history lessons? I learned we are all related. All those splits and times when one group rebelled against another? That is how we have the religious pluralism we now live in. The Quakers do not have it right. The Catholics do not have it right. The Protestants do not have it right. (Not to even mention Buddhism and Judaism.) None of us do. But we are trying and if we tried together, appreciating our differences, and knowing how they came about, perhaps we could then realize those differences aren’t so very important anymore. We need to learn to see ourselves in the larger context, the “big picture” where we are all souls walking with God.

Frankly, it's not so much that people are ignorant of historical facts and great writings that bug me so much. What twists me into a raging fury is hearing someone say they are right and going to heaven and God is not in you, or you don't know God because you disagree with me or you're from a different denomination. THAT IS WRONG!!! You have no right to say that. Once when I was helping with theatre stuff at a kids camp, a man said in the staff cabin that all Jews were going to hell. That was completely unacceptable and utterly wrong. I told him if indeed the Jews are the trunk and Christians are the branches, I wonder what would happen to the branch if the trunk is going to hell. Someone nearby said, "Good point." That guy is so lucky he didn't say that in front of me now as I would have been sorely tempted to deck him. It's people not knowing where they came from so they condemn precisely what they should cherrish. Or, they don't look beyond themselves at all. They come to think they are the sole holders of truth and that they have come to "save" everyone around them. Learning your history is one of the ways you can get beyond yourself and come to see your place in the larger story.

So Quakers, LISTEN UP!!! Protestants, LISTEN UP!!! Catholics, Jews, Eastern Orthdox, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, everyone, LISTEN UP!!! There were people who have influenced you perhaps even more than George Fox (or fill in appropriate name) whom you have never heard of. I know, that’s a shocker that there were events and writings and people before him or her. But believe me, the world doesn't begin with George Fox and end with you. It’s true, and your church is going to suffer if you do not realize this and teach it to each other. Right now, frankly, you disgust me in this area. I had such high hopes the Quakers would be different but they’re not. They are as ignorant as most everyone else. Learning to listen to the voices of my spiritual ammas and abbas long since past was a door that was opened to me. (Thank you Carole!) I didn’t know it was there. But now you know too and I encourage, nay entreat you, to broaden your horizons and learn a lesson or two about where you really did come from. And let me tell you, it’s way before old George.

(For good reading, I suggest “The Story of Christianity” volumes 1 and 2 by Justo L. Gonzalez.)

Labels: , ,

3 Comments:

At August 24, 2008 at 3:22 PM , Blogger Alivia said...

Sarah,
I am concerned. Hate is very strong. Disgust is strong. You sound very disappointed and angry. Are you talking to people about this? Beside your writing, I mean.
Alivia

 
At August 24, 2008 at 3:25 PM , Blogger Mr. E-McG said...

Hey, Sarah.

I think that you have a few very good points here. I do agree that denominationalism is not the best way to go. Labels are just that: labels. They are slippery, slimy, limiting things that get into the way of listening to the living word of Christ.

And I also agree that many Christians (perhaps even most) have no clue about the history of the church beyond their congregation's (if they even have that! One of the reasons that GFU requires their Quaker students to take History and Doctrine of Friends is because many of them do not have a grasp of what makes Friends unique in Chrisendom). I think it's mostly centered on environment. If you were raised exclusively in one church, of course you are going to mostly focus on the history of that church and it's founders. It's like being an American High School student, and being required to take 2 years of American History, one year of American Government, and fitting the rest of World History in another year. It's a shame, yes, but it's also a bit understandable from our USA, A-OK POV.

I think another reason why people focus so much on their individual church denomination's history is that this history is what makes said denomination unique. Why are Quaker's different than COE or Lutherans or Roman Catholics? Because Fox and the first generation Seekers were searching for a different type of spirituality, something besides the codefied creeds and (in their mind) dead formalism of their local churches. It's part of our heritage as quakers. It's what makes us unique.

Should we focus on only the spiritual writings of Quakers? Heck no! And I can't think of anyone worth their salt spiritually that would just focus on their congregational ancestors.

It's like only reading The Bible. Too limiting to where God's truth is.

It's like only listening to Christian Rock: too limiting, too flacid, too corporate while pretending not to be.

However (and this may be my point...or not...who knows?), I think the starting point of any young christo-centric spiritual seeker is the 4 gospels, and finding out where their initial congregation's context is within those gospels. Then spreading out accordingly.

But that's me. The spirit works differently for others.

P.S. This was a good read, by the way. I really like your blog.

 
At August 24, 2008 at 11:46 PM , Blogger Sarah Katreen Hoggatt said...

Alivia,
I wasn't going to use the word hate in the title, actually, until a fellow Quaker, while discussing the post with her, suggested I keep it as it would be an attention grabber. Apparently, it was. I am angry at all those people who think their denomination is the only right one. Why can we not see each one for the unique gift it is? Why can we not study the faith as a whole and not just our own unique individuality? I think studying what makes us Quaker is very important, we need to keep our own unique flavor. It's when we believe our flavor is the only one worth having is when I get angry. I have now seen it in too many churches, thus "and every other Protestant denomination", for me not to be fed up with it. And in other places, I have seen it work, I know it can happen. I am angry because I hope it can be different.

Sarah

 

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