From Christian beginnings to prophet and reconciler
I understand Noël Staples’ (14 July) hope that Christian churches should become more Quakerly, and I am heartened by reading the words of Richard Rohr, a committed Roman Catholic and Franciscan.
He says: ‘Religion usually focuses on imputing and then forgiving guilt. This is more about “sin management” than it is about proclaiming a larger-than-life vision for humanity… We too often settle for problem solving. It really is the best way to keep the laity coming back, strangely enough. “Carrot on the stick” theology keeps us clergy in business. I wish it did not work so well.
‘Christianity must first teach people how to really pray so they can relate to God as adults. This creates spiritual interdependence instead of infantile codependency, which people eventually react against. I say this coming from a church that put most of its resources into training children in rote prayers. We can do so much better.’
It would have been impossible for an influential Catholic to print these words twenty years ago. I think that it is indicative of the greater understanding and maturity amongst many Christians of various denominations, encouraged, as well, by the humility of pope Francis, who can be seen to live the teachings of Jesus, rather than just talk about them.
A double-negative too far
It came as a surprise to read that the Book of Discipline Revision Preparation Group (RPG) is investigating issues of well-aired concern which have been labelled the ‘nontheist’ and ‘not-nontheist’ tension (4 August).
I must admit that I have never accepted a ‘theist’ categorisation for my Bible-based and Trinitarian faith position as acceptable or helpful. I always describe myself as a Christian Quaker – and in that order. To discover that the majority of Quakers are now labelled in a double-negative in relation to nontheism only adds injury to insult.
With this in mind, at Meeting for Worship I reflected on the question: ‘Do you welcome the diversity of culture, language and expressions of faith in our Yearly Meeting…?’ (Advices & queries 16). My prayerful response was ‘sometimes yes and sometimes no’. It certainly can produce tensions that can be painful and might still lead to destabilising divisions. Yet, I remain open to our diversity and am able to genuinely celebrate new insights emerging, where difference is honestly confronted.
So, to find our diversity anodized in this way and that these tensions have been shovelled into such abstract terminology (which blanks out all the richness within our community) suggests misleading and muddled thinking and shows a deep lack of respect towards those of us who value distinctiveness and difference.
May I invite the RPG, who represent our living and breathing community, to dump this clumsy labelling and choose a title that, rather than obscuring, may illuminate the indisputable challenges we all face.
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