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Creeds in Quakerism: The Barbados Letter

Posted on Monday, April 23, 2007 at 08:00PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in | Comments23 Comments | References1 Reference

We’ve examined the nature of doctrine, both in Christianity and in Quakerism; we’ve examined the nature of dogma and creed in Christianity.

Now, with the foundations laid, we’re ready for the touchy topic of dogmas and creeds in Quakerism.

I think there’s no way to truly understand that messy matter, except by beginning at the beginning when Quaker theology was first taking shape.

The bare facts that most every Friend “knows” are these: first, that early Friends imposed no formal credal tests on their members, and second, that their doctrines, though carefully spelled out in print, and systematically organized in Barclay’s Apology, were never exalted as dogmas — as things that all Friends must believe.

But that’s by no means the whole of the picture of how early Quakerism worked.

Let’s begin by recognizing that the first half-dozen generations of Friends do seem to have regarded themselves as doctrinally orthodox Christians. Their writings blithely asserted — or assumed — the validity of orthodox beliefs. They saw Quakerism not as a rejection of orthodoxy, but as a rejection of those human additions and betrayals that had taken christendom away from the path of Christ.

It quite distressed those early Friends when outsiders accused them of not being orthodox Christians. We know this because of the enormous effort that those Friends poured into affirming their orthodoxy — in their disputations, their polemical writings, and their private and public conversations with outsiders.

Above all, the leaders of the earliest Quaker movement — the first- and second-generation movement — spelled out their orthodoxy in their joint letter to the governor and assembly at Barbados, which was written in 1671. That is the letter that, two hundred years later, became a landmark in Quaker theology, when Orthodox Friends began invoking it in support of their theological positions.

These facts concerning the early Friends suggest that, even though they imposed no credal tests on one another, they felt the weight of Christianity’s traditional credal expectations resting upon themselves. And what does it mean, that they also instituted two credal restrictions on settlers in their colony of Pennsylvania — one denying religious toleration to atheists and polytheists, and the other denying Jews and atheists the right to hold elected office in the secular government?

(The latter restriction was imposed by William Penn himself at the time the colony was founded, and persists in modified form even today: Pennsylvania’s current state constitution, Article 1 §4, guarantees the right to hold public office only to those who “acknowledge the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments.” This, our Quaker heritage!)

If the early Friends were unwilling to let a Jew or an atheist sit in their colonial legislature, it would seem a safe assumption that they wouldn’t have allowed such a one to sit on a facing bench, or as clerk of a monthly meeting, either.

And so the bare facts that most every Friend “knows” about early Quakerism, cannot really be taken as proving that the early Friends had no unwritten equivalent of a creed within their own communities.



The Quaker letter of 1671 to the rulers of Barbados is especially significant because of its present-day prominence in the pastoral branch of Quakerism. It is included in many pastoral yearly meetings’ books of discipline, alongside the Richmond Declaration, as one of the key theological documents defining their form of Quaker faith. This treatment would seem to give it at least a quasi-credal status.

But was this letter to the rulers of Barbados actually intended as a credal statement? That’s a good question.

Let’s look briefly at the letter. The key portion reads as follows:

…Whereas many scandalous lies and slanders have been cast upon us, to render us odious; as that “We deny God, and Christ Jesus, and the Scriptures of truth,” etc. This is to inform you, that all our books and declarations, which for these many years have been published to the world, clearly testify the contrary.

Yet, for your satisfaction, we now plainly and sincerely declare, “that we do own and believe in God, the only wise, omnipotent, and everlasting God, the Creator of all things both in heaven and in earth, and the preserver of all that he hath made; who is God over all, blessed for ever; to whom be all honour and glory, dominion, praise, and thanksgiving, both now and for evermore!”

And we own and believe in Jesus Christ, his beloved and only begotten Son, in whom he is well pleased; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins; who is the express image of the Invisible God, the first-born of every creature, by whom were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, principalities, or powers, all things were created by him.

And we do own and believe that He was made a sacrifice for sin, who knew no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; that he was crucified for us in the flesh, without the gates of Jerusalem; and that he was buried, and rose again the third day by the power of his Father, for our justification; and that he ascended up into heaven, and now sitteth at the right hand of God. This Jesus, who was the foundation of the holy prophets and apostles, is our foundation; and we believe that there is no other foundation to be laid than that which is laid, even Christ Jesus; who tasted death for every man, shed his blood for all men, and is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world; according as John the Baptist testified of him, when he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29.

We believe that he alone is our Redeemer and Saviour, even the Captain of our Salvation, who saves us from sin, as well as from hell, and the wrath to come, and destroys the devil and his works; he is the Seed of the woman, that bruises the serpent’s head, to wit, Christ Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last.

He is (as the Scriptures of truth say of him,) our wisdom and righteousness, justification and redemption; neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved.

It is he alone, who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls; He is our Prophet, whom Moses long since testified of, saying, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; Him shall ye hear in all things, whatsoever he shall say unto you; and it shall come to pass, that every soul that will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” Acts 3:22,23.

He it is that is now come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true. He rules in our hearts by his law of love and of life, and makes us free from the law of sin and death. We have no life but by him; for he is the quickening Spirit, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven; by whose blood we are cleansed, and our consciences sprinkled from dead works to serve the living God.

He is our Mediator, that makes peace and reconciliation between God offended and us off ending, He being the oath of God, the new covenant of light, life, grace, and peace; the author and finisher of our faith.

This Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly Man, the Emmanuel, God with us, we all own and believe in; him whom the high-priest raged against, and said, he had spoken blasphemy; whom the priests and the elders of the Jews took counsel together against, and put to death; the same whom Judas betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, which the priests gave him as a reward for his treason, who also gave large money to the soldiers to broach a horrible lie, namely, “that his disciples came and stole him away by night, whilst they slept.” After he was risen from the dead, the history of the Acts of the Apostles sets forth, how the chief priests and elders persecuted the disciples of this Jesus, for preaching Christ and his resurrection.

This, we say, is that Lord Jesus Christ, whom we own to be our life and salvation.

Concerning the Holy Scriptures, we do believe that they were given forth by the Holy Spirit of God, through the holy men of God, who (as the Scripture itself declares, II Peter 1:21) “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” We believe they are to be read, believed, and fulfilled (He that fulfills them, is Christ;) and they are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” II Timothy 3:16, and are “able to make wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus.”

We believe that the Holy Scriptures are the words of God; for it is said, in Exodus 20:1, “God spake all these words, saying,” etc., meaning the ten commandments given forth upon Mount Sinai. And in Revelation 22:18, saith John, “I testify to every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: if any man addeth unto these, and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy” (not the word,) etc. So in Luke 1:20, “Because thou believedst not my words.” And in John 5:47; 15:7; 14:23; and 12:47.

So that we call the Holy Scriptures, as Christ and the apostles called them, and holy men of God called them, viz., the words of God….

(Note: The complete text of this letter can be found on the Web, either here or here.)

This very significant statement was signed by George Fox himself, along with other prominent Friends.



In reading this letter, what strikes me first and hardest is the fact that it lists and affirms even some relatively minor details of orthodox belief — like the Virgin Birth, which most modern liberal Friends would regard as historically questionable, scientifically improbable, and wholly extraneous to Quakerism. — This, in what is clearly intended as a relatively brief statement!

Why is the Virgin Birth included in this letter?

By way of answer, we might start by reminding ourselves that the Virgin Birth was of course not considered scientifically improbable at the time when this letter was written; science had not yet gotten around to quarreling with the idea of divine miracles.

One of the early Quaker leaders, Samuel Fisher, had already pointed out internal inconsistencies in the Biblical account, had noted evidence of lost scriptures, and had concluded that, far from being inerrant, the canonical Bible is quite visibly, humanly flawed.

Moreover, two of the early Friends’ most important testimonies — their rejection of water baptism and their rejection of the standard communion ceremony involving bread and wine — rested on an unstated but quite obvious conviction that the Bible’s presentation of these particular matters was muddled, i.e., humanly flawed.

But Friends still believed that the Bible’s overall account of human and cosmic history was truthful and valid; they had no reason, as yet, to think otherwise. And the details of that account, including the Virgin Birth, seemed far from silly, for they had been the subject of tremendous struggles in the early Church between the orthodox and their gnostic opponents, and the reasons for those arguments had never been forgotten.

None of the details of orthodox faith concerning Jesus appeared wholly extraneous to Quakerism in the eyes of the early Friends themselves. For the early Friends saw themselves as living within the Judæo-Christian story — the one that began with Adam and Eve, ran through Jesus and his disciples, was recounted in the Bible, and then continued down to their own time. They saw their own faith as a fulfillment of what that story had to teach. Indeed, the fact that their faith was a fulfillment of what that story had to teach, was, in their eyes, its reason for existing.

You may recall, from my previous essay, how important it was for the early orthodox Church to feel a sense of embeddedness in a meaningful cosmic history. Here we see the importance of that same sense of embeddedness for early Friends.

Thus, by including the bit about the Virgin Birth in the letter, the Friends who wrote were saying, “We share orthodoxy with you even on minor details. And we see ourselves as embedded in the sacred Christian story, just the same as you.”

So this brings us to an important insight.

Within the liberal Quaker world, it is sometimes imagined that this letter of 1671 was written merely to allay the fears of the Barbadian ruling class, so that Friends would not be persecuted there. It is thought that early Friends “weren’t really as orthodox” as this letter indicates. It is imagined that the actual content of the affirmations — the little details like the Virgin Birth and “redemption by his blood” — must have been unimportant to Friends, since after all Friends had the Holy Spirit, which was The Only Really Important Thing, After All.

But given that the writings that circulated within the early Quaker movement, and were never meant to be shown to outsiders, were just as full of Biblical assumptions and orthodox Christian thought as this letter was, such a reading of this letter just does not seem very credible.

The Friends who wrote this letter were not being hypocritical to avoid persecution. They were simply speaking their faith. They genuinely believed in the story they affirmed, and found important affirmations of Quaker practice within that story. To affirm that story, which in turn affirmed their path, gave them joy.



Yet there is another significant thing we might note about this letter of 1671 — and that is what it does not say. Its silences are as meaningful as its speech.

The letter does not affirm, for example, that after Christ’s death he descended into hell. And why not? The descent into hell was part of orthodox belief, after all, as we can see in the Apostles’ Creed. But it wasn’t in the Bible, and Friends were committed to tossing out all post-Biblical additions to Christian belief.

The letter doesn’t affirm belief in “the holy Catholic Church”, although this too is part of the Apostles’ Creed. Why not? Perhaps because “catholic” in this context means “inclusive”, and the early Friends were not at all willing to include all claimants to Christianity within the church they recognized. The early Friends had serious differences with the rest of christendom, differences so serious that they believed the bulk of the Church outside their little movement had fallen deeply into apostasy. They were not about to disregard those differences.

The letter does not even affirm the resurrection of the body, although that particular clause in the Apostles’ Creed had been a major concern of the orthodox ever since their struggles with the gnostics.

These omissions — along with others, which I skip past here for brevity — strongly suggest that this letter was never intended as a full affirmation of orthodoxy. It may seem like one to the casual observer. But in truth, it only lists some of the things that Friends agreed with other Christians about, while omitting other points of agreement, and totally omitting any mention of the disagreements that divided Friends from christendom at large.

The letter was a bridge-builder — openly, sincerely so. But we might legitimately ask, was it anything more?



In particular, can we take the Barbadian letter as being a statement of fixed Quaker dogma — a sort of creed?

No, we cannot — for four reasons:

  • First, it was not a statement of a definitive council of the whole Church. For early Friends — as for Christians in general in those days — this was important. Catholics and Protestants alike still had hope that the Church could eventually be cleansed and reunified; they had not written one another off entirely. Friends themselves recognized, and openly testified, that the true Church was something much larger than their own movement. They might be certain that they themselves had rediscovered and revived the true Christian religion, but they were never so arrogant as to suppose that they could settle major questions of theology for the portion of the true Church that existed outside their own ranks.

  • Second, it was not a statement of such a sort as would lead to members of the Quaker movement being anathematized and branded as heretics if they disagreed. It was simply, merely, and directly, a factual description of what people in the early Quaker movement believed.

  • Third, Friends did not believe that it was right to for one person or group of persons to try to compel another person or group in matters of conscience, as for example by use of creeds. They believed that, in matters of conscience, the only right sovereign was the indwelling Christ.

  • And fourth — and, perhaps, above all — early Friends did not believe that it was even possible to assemble a definitive list of dogmas, such that a person who disbelieved in any one of them could be certain of damnation.

    As Isaac Penington had written in his An Examination of the Grounds or Causes which are said to induce the Court of Boston, in New England, to make that order or law of banishment upon pain of death against the Quakers (in 1659 or 1660, more than ten years before the letter to the rulers of Barbados), “A man may speak high words concerning the kingdom, and get all the doctrines about it, and yet be a stranger to it, and quite ignorant of the power: and another may want divers doctrines concerning it (perhaps some of those which men call fundamentals), and yet be a citizen of it, and in the power.

    — And if this seems somewhat at odds with the fact that Pennsylvania Friends did not permit atheists to hold public office, then let us remind ourselves that Friends believed in a religion that went to no human-made extremes. Thus, on the one hand, they did not think that all doctrines that men called “fundamental” genuinely were; but on the other, they did think that a real belief in God, stemming from some sort of living relationship with God, was a genuine necessity.



What the letter of 1671 actually was, was an incomplete Confession of Faith.

Confessions of Faith are a step — a long step — below creeds. They are something that was never even needed before the Christian church splintered into sects. They arose from the fact that, with the rise of sects, there were now free-standing church communities at theological odds with one another, each one holding a different set of convictions regarding what Christianity ought to be.

In part, then, a Confession of Faith was an affirmation of the essential orthodoxy of the church community that created it. In another part, it was polemical in nature, designed to show that the community that created it was more faithful to real Christianity than any other church community was.

A Confession of Faith was in one way a sort of almost-creed for a given subset of Christians, such as the Anabaptists or the Calvinists, crafted much as a creed would be by the weightiest members of that subset. But there was still the difference, the very important difference, that one might still be considered a true Christian, and saved, without believing in every point in the Confession. Thus a person who disbelieved in some points of a Confession was not anathematized and branded a heretic; she was merely regarded as unsound in her faith and therefore not a true member of that subset.

(Of course, there have always been people who have not been clear about this crucial difference between creeds and Confessions — Catholics convinced that all Protestants are going to hell; Protestants convinced that all Catholics are. But the people who think that way have misunderstood the basics of Christianity as taught both by Catholicism and by the major Protestant denominations.)

Equally significant, here, is the fact that even though a Confession resembled a creed in many respects — spelling out the doctrines that a religious body held in common, and helping to distinguish a member of that body from a non-member — its fundamental purpose was quite different from a creed’s. It was composed, not as an internal test of qualification for membership, or an internal test of heresy either, but as a banner held up to outsiders, saying, “This is what we, as a movement, a reformation of Christianity, stand for. This is what we think an ideal, perfect Christian Church would believe.”

Think, then, of a Confession of Faith as being something like a religious parallel to the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence states that “when in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” (Emphasis mine.)

A Confession of Faith does not declare “the causes which impel them to the separation”, but rather, declares the convictions which make the group a genuine church. But aside from that difference, the parallel to the Declaration of Independence is real and meaningful. Like the Declaration, a Confession is (1) a self-justification (2) coming from a group that has chosen to separate from the whole and (3) generated by “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”.

Thus, by way of illustration, you can look if you like at:

All these were composed well before the Quaker letter to the rulers of Barbados; all but the first were readily accessible to early Friends; and I think you should have no trouble seeing how the Quaker letter echoed the pattern of these models.



All the same, as I’ve said above, the Quaker letter can’t really be considered as anything more than an incomplete Confession of Faith. For it left out all the uniqueness of Quaker logic concerning Christianity, and it left out far too many of the crucial Quaker convictions that resulted from that logic.

Moreover, the Quaker letter of 1671 never had the gravity for early Friends that, say, the Westminster Confession had for English Puritans. For in the first place, it was not produced by a formal council or meeting even of all the weighty elders in the Quaker world — let alone of all the weighty elders in the true Church as a whole — nor was it ever approved by any such council or meeting. It was merely an ad hoc document produced by George Fox and a handful of other Quaker leaders in the course of Fox’s visit to the New World; so ad hoc, indeed, that no Friend who was not with Fox in Barbados had any chance to provide input into it.

— And in the second place, while the affirmations in the letter were honest and sincere, they were affirmations made from a quite different state of mind and being from that in which the denominations that really believed in Confessions lived — and it was that different state of mind and being, not the affirmations, that mattered to early Friends.

As Isaac Penington had written in his essay Some Things Relating to Religion proposed to the consideration of the Royal Society, So Termed… — in 1668, just three years before this letter to the rulers of Barbados — “Our religion stands wholly out of that which all their religion stands in. Their religion stands in the comprehension, in a belief of a literal relation or description. Our religion stands in a principle which changeth the mind, wherein the Spirit of life appeareth to, and witnesseth in the conscience to and concerning the things of the kingdom; where we … know things, not from an outward relation, but from their inward nature, virtue, and power.

That, friends, is a serious critique of the logic on which all creeds and Confessions rest.

So this early statement of Quaker doctrine, the letter to the governor and assembly of Barbados, was not (yet) a creed, did not (yet) have the force of dogma, and only barely qualified for the label of a Confession.

Does the pastoral branch of Quakerism, then, misuse the Barbados letter, in making it a basis for dogmatic rigidities? I personally would answer yes — even though the early Quaker movement doubtless did have some sort of unwritten creed.

I think Fox and his associates in 1671 would have been horrified by later attempts to pressure Quaker communities into conformity to the written statements of belief in that letter — not because they didn’t fully believe what they were writing, and not because they didn’t believe that every Friend should hold similar views, but because they were not writing for the ages. They would have pointed out, and rightly, that their letter gave only a very one-sided and incomplete picture of Quakerism, and that the rest of the Quaker movement had not been given any chance to review and correct it.

However, the date at which this letter was composed was only 1671. This was still just the start of Quaker theological history. Five years later, Robert Barclay would publish his Apology; thirteen years after that, the English Toleration Act 1689 would seduce the Quaker revolutionaries with the idea of well-behaved, tolerated denominations — and so the whole situation would be changed.

It’s the Apology and the Toleration Act that I want to turn to in my next installment.

ew tiny.pngI’ll see you then.

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Reader Comments (23)

This all makes sense to me, as a description of what the Friends movement was about in the 17th Century.

That movement was truly impressive in its faith and dedication. But the present day movement includes meeting clerks who think of George Fox as "bonkers." Neither their meeting nor they themselves nor I consider them inappropriate leaders for the group as it stands; this is simply how things look to most of the group. We aren't 17th Century Puritans; we aren't even 18th Century John Woolman (still admired as a nicer guy than Fox) with his journal entry about reproaching a stage magician for leading people into idle amusements.

So "we" in the Liberalquaker branch are a palpably different movement, despite the connections. We don't find Early Friends normative. Overall I see us as a good collection of people who tend to act on our good intentions, maybe not eagerly volunteering for cross-rides but not altogether wimps-for-the-kingdom either.

I want desperately to see these people find faith and dedication as strong as Early Friends, based as solidly on a true gnosis as Early Friends, less blinded by the epidemic notions of our own time. Then maybe they would be less fearful of what you'd call "the cross." We agree that that would be an improvement.

But even though I pass as one of "you hair-shirt people" within my own meeting, even though I know the times are desperate, I also think we need to beware of "outrunning our guide" in the direction of seeking suffering. The inconvenience of a leading should not be a test of its validity, as some of us critics tend to assume too readily (But I was appalled to see certain Friends take a less-than-truthful stand recently--a minute calling for an eventual withdrawal from Iraq--not for an immediate exit!-- claiming that since "Everybody would agree with this" that it was "the wise thing to do." This, to me, is not "being wise as serpents" but falling for the wisdom of serpents.) The most pressing lack, overall, is sufficient trust that something greater than earthly wisdom is here, so far as we can trust and follow that.

Lately, while I've increasingly despaired of my own efforts to return us to our eternal center--I see these starting to bear fruit, not under my control but happening in their own time in a good way. Let's hope, wait in expectation, go on sticking in craws but only when called to do so!

Apr 25, 2007 at 09:49AM | Unregistered Commenterforrest curo

Great stuff as per usual. Hope you get to the Elders at Balby -- who were not so much writing a creed as providing a travelling minute of the sort the Jerusalem Council gave Paul and his pal Timmy.

The Balby preface seems to take on near creedal status for liberal Friends, even used to counter Barbados and Richmond. Yet no one cites the text its preface to. A serious input to my previous comment(s) regarding the set of sets that do not have itself as a member.

Apr 25, 2007 at 11:40AM | Unregistered Commenterdavid mckay

Hey Forrest. I'm one of those folks in favour of a measured withdrawl.

I think its the old Boy Scout in me -- we were taught to leave a campsite in BETTER condition than we left it.

Shooting someone with a crossbow is unquestioningly a BAD thing to do -- I would go so far as to say God tells us not to do it. This does not mean that once we have shot someone God wants us in a moment of regret to rush over and yank the the thing out by its shaft. Sin is funny that way. It puts us in a dangerous place where we have to either go on sinning or take reponsibility for the damage we've done.

Apr 25, 2007 at 11:45AM | Unregistered Commenterdavid mckay

Great post! But this comment is only about David McKay's reply to Forrest.

The analogy between withdrawing from Iraq and pulling an arrow out of someone we've shot is interesting. It puts me in mind somehow of young John Woolman, consumed with horror that he has killed a mother bird, feeling obligated then to kill its chicks, lest they starve. He thought this illustrated the Biblical maxim that "the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."

Apr 25, 2007 at 03:49PM | Unregistered CommenterRich Accetta-Evans

My original comment was not about the merits of refraining from further molestation of Iraq. Those who think our intentions were ever good or that there remains some good we could accomplish there, using organizations designed to kill people--They and I can continue to consider one another wrong, and live with that.

To put forward a minute which enjoins no actual change in what we're doing (Those who want to continue the war can always claim intentions of eventually leaving) on the ground that "They can all agree to this" is to make compromise, not truth, our master.

Apr 25, 2007 at 06:22PM | Unregistered Commenterforrest curo

forrest, thank you for a truly wonderful comment. I was going to complain that you don't seem to be posting wonderful essays like this on your own blog site nowadays, but now I see you do! So let me compliment you on your essay there, too.

The fact that meeting clerks (and other "weighty Friends") consider George Fox "bonkers" doesn't bother me. The fact is, our present-day Society is fallen; we might as well accept that truth, since it isn't going to just go away. But in my opinion, what is important about Fox, even today, is that he modeled a powerful form of apostolic witness that we can study and, to some extent, learn to emulate. And to the degree that we do that, we can become an influence for good in somewhat the same way he was. Our Society can cease to be fallen, but only after we ourselves have ceased to be fallen; and the way for us to cease to be fallen must include coming to terms with the same calling that Fox was faithful to.

david and Rich, thanks for the kind words. david, I don't know at present if the advices from the Elders at Balby will be part of my discussion or not. I'd far rather discuss them in the context of an essay about disciplines ("books of faith and practice") than in the context of an essay about creeds. But as the Spirit leads —

Apr 27, 2007 at 06:36AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Interestingly, a few days after you posted this, Steve Angell revived his dormant blog to post his commentary plus an annotated edition of the Barbados letter: Hoosier Quaker.

-- Chris M.

Apr 28, 2007 at 06:46PM | Unregistered CommenterChris M.

In case you haven't noticed it, I want to let you know that the link to Steve Angell's blog that you show under "References" is broken. Clicking on it gets one to a "page not found" condition. Chris M's link to the same blog works fine.
- - Rich

Apr 30, 2007 at 04:17PM | Unregistered CommenterRich Accetta-Evans

Chris and Rich — please scroll upward to the top of the comments on this page, and then scroll upward just a little bit more.

Above the first comment here is Steve Angell's non-functional link. Above Steve's link — immediately below my own essay — is my update to the essay, which provides a working link to Steve Angell's essay.

As you may see, for whatever it's worth, I posted that update on the 26th.

Apr 30, 2007 at 09:17PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

OK, I found your link now. Sorry for generating confusion.
- - Rich

May 1, 2007 at 12:46PM | Unregistered CommenterRich Accetta-Evans

Not a problem, Rich. The Squarespace layout you see on my site is a little different from Blogger's or WordPress's, and if you're not used to it, the differences can sometimes take you by surprise.

May 2, 2007 at 07:24AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Dear Friends, and dear fFriend Marshall:
I am not sure that I agree that our society is "fallen" or in what way it is fallen. More, I am not sure we are in unity on how to rise up from a state of being fallen.
Perhaps it is important to see how other churches see members as falling. There was a wonderful program on PBS about the Mormons this week. One of the tenderest moments for me, was the excommunication of Mormon intellectuals who came to reinterpret Mormon theological history as meaningful myth, when faced with the reality that American Indians do not come from Judea, and other scientific contradictions. The Mormon faith was not able to accept the bridge between honesty and truth -- pluralism.

We Friends healed our schism, generally, by understanding that we do not have to agree on facts or linguistic convention to be in unity in God. In so doing we live the lesson of the story of the tower of Babel, making it true, while many of us would say it is not historically accurate, or based on any event. It is not a lie, it is a truth, honest in its meaning, not its matter.

I further consider the pain caused to Jewish people, when the Mormons baptize their dead, the statement that makes about those who were faithful to their faith, even in the ovens of Auschwitz. This is a false sort of love, to claim that a righteous Jew was in error, and so to claim him or her as one's own after death is an act of objectification, a pornography rather than a love.

So, now, as many theologians have said, we Christians must weigh our faith in light of the holocaust, now forever ... on thy reflections on Penn:

"These facts concerning the early Friends suggest that, even though they imposed no credal tests on one another, they felt the weight of Christianity’s traditional credal expectations resting upon themselves. And what does it mean, that they also instituted two credal restrictions on settlers in their colony of Pennsylvania — one denying religious toleration to atheists and polytheists, and the other denying Jews and atheists the right to hold elected office in the secular government?"

For me, what this means is that we early Friends were in a state of error, young in our understanding and growing. In short, we were as wrong about this, as we were about race and slavery, and to draw lessons about our state of being saved or fallen, the lesson is, if we cling to this error, we are in fact as damned as any other faith who puts our description of God above love of our fellow humans.

I have seen among Liberal Friends, and Orthodox Friends, individuals who are not loving towards each other, disrespectful and even express hate for each other. This is what it is for me it is to be fallen. I find that understanding expressed in the sermon on the mount. This does not mean that the entirety of that sermon is true. The fact that later followers of Yeshua had to graft into his sermon a claim that he was uniquely holy, for me takes away from the message, which draws one towards pluralism. In order to go into the temple without conflict, does not mean to convince the other bloke he is wrong, but to find the unity in God's love ... not in Jesus' name. If that is the message, we can never enter the temple, with say, Muslims, and another Fox, Tom Fox, died in vain.

I view with as much sorrow that we did not admit Jewish people into the government of Pennsylvania, as the fact that we did not admit Black friends into membership, until recently in our history. It is something that we must atone for, one by one in our hearts in order to walk with righteousness before our God, something that we must ask forgiveness for, and in our actions, in letting our lives speak, show this is a part of our growth. No one, no institution is born complete, we all grow, hopefully towards God.

Thine, dearly in frith, and dearly in fFriendship


May 4, 2007 at 09:17AM | Unregistered CommenterLorcan Otway

I'm not prepared to say that Penn was wrong to exclude Jews or polytheists or atheists from government in early Pennsylvania --while I certainly would deem it wrong for us to do so today. This is part of what we mean by progressive revelation. Some instructions from the spirit are disciplines taken on for a time to lead us to something else -- the philosopher Wittgenstein referred to on of his books as a ladder which once used must be pushed away from the wall as having served its purposes. Other instructions are more enduring -- and even they demand constant reinterpretations in the light of shifting circumstances.

I keep coming back to Deuteronomy 19:14 in such discussions: You must not move your neighbor's boundary marker, set up by former generations, on the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.

In general a more liberal (small 'L') religion is more comfortable with open boundaries and a conservative (small "C") more comfortable with tighter border controls. But it's really a judgment call.

A living cell is sheathed in a semi-permeable membrane. It allows nutritional elements to enter and waste products to leave. If the cell contents are wide open to the environment the the cell is dead and its protoplasm spills into to the surrounding environment. If the membrane is too closed, the cells poisons itself in its own wastes. Isn't a Quaker Meeting (or a Catholic church) in a similar situation?

Just because I would not want a state (or provincial or municipal)or federal government to disenfranchise people based upon religious doctrines or affiliations doesn't mean it may not be appropriate to do so for a faith community. And if a Buddhist temple elects not to include in full membership, Episcopalians this doesn't make them potential bomb-wielding terrorists.

There is always going to be a tension (creative one hopes) between preserving the integrity of the spirit-led wisdom given into stewardship to a particular set of traditions and faith communities and being open, welcoming and respectful of others and their rights (and duties) to so preserve the wisdom given to them.

For me the goal is differing groups meeting listening engaging -- not necessarily coalescing into an inchoate melange.

May 5, 2007 at 07:24AM | Unregistered Commenterdavid

My Dear Brother Marshall:

There are several ways to come to knowledge. Some knowledge comes from intellectual endeavors, some is bred in the bone, not by some mystical power, but by the experience of, if I were there, then...
My father was born a Salvationist, and became convinced of Quakerism, so I grew up Quaker. My mother was Jewish, and became Quaker. She did not know much about her mother's faith, but she did know things about being Jewish my father never understood. My mother was a golfer, and rather good at it. She was a successful executive at a time when women where not often successful executive. Part of being who she was, was the knowledge that there were golf clubs close to where she lived which would not allow her to play, by reason of her ethnicity. And, that relatives disappeared into the great devouring ovens of nazism. She was not allowed to play golf here, the ashes of her cousins drifted down like snow on the fields of Auschwitz there.
My father once said to me, "I don't get your mother, with this Jewish thing, she never has been in a synagogue, but she identifies with her Jewishness... " I had no answer for him. I did get her Jewishness. It is still hard for me to find a framework to express it to those who do not feel in their bones, that knowledge that if I were there I would not be here. So, what is the value of this knowledge to a Quaker. When Black concerns were raised in our Meeting, over unconscious racism in today's Society of Friends, many White Friends turned away saying such things as, "well, we ran the Underground Railroad." Yes, we did. But we also had segregated Meetinghouses and would not allow Black membership, and the burden of that carries into our mutual subconscious today. So, I know that there are times I must just listen because a Friend has knowledge gained in the blood and bones, that I can listen and learn, not teach.
So, what has happened when the cell of Quakerism has let in the new matter in thy illustration? Do the cells die, or subdivide, making the organism pregnant? I think the second. I think that organisms grow by union with others, and if a small group interbreeds it will die out for lack of diversity breeds a certain weakness. The strength we get from cross pollination is a gift of greater knowledge. We can say the knowledge of the original few Quakers was more pure, as it did not include the knowledge of Jews and Blacks, and others who have challenged the comfort of our hubris, but frankly, that world is slowly passing, taking with it the chains of slavery and the ovens of nazism.
In a diverse society, pluralism is the greatest outcome. Some fFriends rail against pluralism because it shakes deeply held notions. So, when a Friend knows in his or her blood and bone that there is no difference in the objectification of Jewish flesh as untermenchen, or as God, because the result devalues all Jews, as the objectification of women as bimbo or Goddess devalues all women, one need not understand that knowledge on the same level. However, one must accept that in a pluralistic society we will not all agree or understand each other, but each brings our strength to the whole.

Thine, dearly in frith, faith and friendship

May 6, 2007 at 06:42AM | Unregistered CommenterLorcan Otway

Spell check error... the line should read if an organism inbreeds, not interbreads... and... "where" should be read as "were" above... ah well...

May 6, 2007 at 06:48AM | Unregistered CommenterLorcan Otway

Hi, Lorcan! As always, I am glad of your comments here.

You write, "I am not sure that I agree that our society is "fallen" or in what way it is fallen." When I say that our Society of Friends is fallen, I am speaking in traditional Quaker terms: what I mean is that it is fallen from the primordial innocence God intended for humanity, the innocence that (in biblical terms) He gave to Adam and Eve before their fall.

Adam and Eve, in their innocence, had no alienation, no antagonism, no quarreling. But there is a great deal of alienation, antagonism, and quarreling dividing actual members of our Society of Friends on the liberal unprogrammed left, from other actual members on the pastoral right. You assert that "We Friends healed our schism," but you then go on to admit that you "have seen among Liberal Friends, and Orthodox Friends, individuals who are not loving towards each other, disrespectful and even express hate for each other," and you confess that this is what "fallen" means to you. So I think you know what I am talking about.

And in fact there is ample evidence of a schism still dividing pastoral from liberal unprogrammed Friends, as well as of alienation, antagonism and readiness to quarrel separating the two sides, in the three essays to Will Taber's blog, "Back from Africa with a broken heart", "Ron Bryan's observations", and "Reflections on the conversation thus far", and in the comments appended to the bottom of each of those essays.

So in this alienation, antagonism and quarreling, our Society is indeed fallen.

There are other ways our Society displays its fallenness as well, but I see no need to list them here. One illustration of our fallenness is quite enough.

Your diagnosis of the reasons why the Quaker founders of Pennsylvania denied religious toleration to atheists and polytheists, and excluded Jews and atheists from elected office, is, alas, way off base. The early Friends were not intolerant of Jews. In fact, many of the early settlers in the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania were German Jews, and historians note that a number of these Jews became prominent citizens in early-eighteenth-century Philadelphia.

Jews settled even more freely in Quaker Rhode Island. It's estimated that at the outset of the Revolutionary War, the Jewish population of Newport, Rhode Island, was nearly 1,000. The oldest Jewish synagogue in America was built in Newport at a time when colonial Rhode Island was majority-Quaker and under Quaker governance, and the first Jewish sermon which was preached and then published in America, was preached and published there.

None of this would have happened if the early Friends had been intolerant of Jews; the history of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island would in that case have been much more like that of Maryland, where Jews were actively persecuted prior to the Revolutionary War, and where, consequently, very few Jews were willing to settle.

So why did Friends deny religious toleration to atheists and polytheists in Pennsylvania, and exclude Jews and atheists from elected office there? It was because Pennsylvania, unlike the other colonies governed by Friends, was explicitly set up as a Holy Experiment (and explicitly described as such) — a place where a new sort of society could be developed along explicitly Quaker lines. William Penn made no bones about this goal. And it was understood in those long-ago days that "along explicitly Quaker lines" did not mean "along the lines of twentieth-century religious pluralism and the values advocated by National Public Radio" — hey, National Public Radio was not even dreamed of yet — but rather, "along the lines of the teachings of Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament".

Jews and atheists did not submit themselves to the teachings of Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament, so why should they be given policy-making power in the shaping of this Holy Experiment? And atheists and polytheists had no reason to accept the authority of Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament, so why should their religions be permitted to flourish within the geographic bounds of the Holy Experiment?

That was the actual logic involved. There was no idea of building gas ovens in colonial Pennsylvania, or indeed of doing the slightest unkindness to Jews, so your references to Auschwitz are quite uncalled for. It was simply that Friends had paid dearly, in their own martyrs' lives and in William Penn's money, for the chance to build a little world of their own in the wilderness, far away from the hate and violence of Europe, peaceably and according to their own principles, and they wanted to follow through and have their dream made real.

May 6, 2007 at 08:25AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Lorcan, you address your first comment of today to "My Dear Brother Marshall", but the comment you are responding to there was actually written, and signed, by david.

May 6, 2007 at 10:02AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Re: David... I do see that... missed it before, thanks. more on fallen and original sin in a little while, =) ... all the best, lor

May 7, 2007 at 04:18AM | Unregistered CommenterLorcan Otway

Dear Friends:
On the subject of, "are we fallen," we Friends. Yes, we all are. However, there are two ways to look at it, thanks to the diversity within the Society of Friends. When I was very young, (single digits) a First Day School teacher told us that for Friends, as he saw it, sin was not about right and wrong, but about separation.
It took me most of my life, so far, to understand what he meant. I found that in the Hebraic tradition the story of the fall of humankind is a very different story. Christians have mostly interpreted it as we are born into a pollution which can only be cleansed by acceptance of the sacrifice of the lamb of God, Jesus. In the Jewish tradition we are born into a world of consumption. We need to take to live. We take food from the fields and forest and sea, we cut trees to build houses, even need to take the sand from the beaches. Everything we take and use another does not have. So, in each act on which we base our survival, we have the potential to become separated from others, either if we do not forgive the other who has taken, or if we do not atone for our own taking. If we harvest, we must plant, if we eat, we must feed others. Frankly, I find Yeshua's teaching of feed each other, to be completely in this tradition. Atonement was a responsibility of each person, to repent (turn about -- to look at one's life) and to forgive. To give over atonement to a sacrifice is to set aside the most important road to righteousness in human existence.
So, as we do not forgive each other, as we do not feed each other, as we do not atone and forgive, we are all fallen. We have the opportunity to be fallen in each act of taking, from breathing to building, but, the Torah teaches us that we also have the opportunity to atone, to forgive and walk with righteousness before our God.
So, as with all on this planet, we fall each moment, but many of us get up again, and walk with righteousness. God does not ask perfection of us, it is important to repent, that is to look at our actions, to turn, and as we do, and walk gently on the earth, we are doing what is intended for us. I am rather sure that the person who accepts Jesus as a personal savior and turns a back on the needs of fellow humans has set righteousness aside and has fallen into sin. By turning we come around right.

May 7, 2007 at 06:28AM | Unregistered CommenterLorcan Otway

Hey there, Lorcan!

Well, thee was favored; I could sure hear the Spirit working in your sermon on fallenness due to separation.

I'd like to add that the opposite of separation, in traditional Hebrew/Jewish thinking, is wholeness, oneness-with-, which is what "integrity" originally meant. To act with "integrity" was to act in a way that preserved one's undividedness in one's own self, one's undividedness from others, and one's undividedness from God. Our Quaker testimony of integrity originally meant that, too. It's only in recent times that our testimony of integrity has degenerated into meaning "I have to uphold my own truth, not yours."

You probably know all that already.

My one little quarrel with your comment is where you said, "God does not ask perfection of us." I think of Matthew 5:48. But I imagine that when you used the word "perfection", you were using it in a different sense from the Gospel meaning.

May 9, 2007 at 12:08PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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