A Critique of Quaker Accountability
A Critique of Quaker Accountability
Wilmer A. Cooper 0
0 Thi s Article is brought to you for free and open access by Digital Commons @ George Fox University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Quaker Religious Thou ght by an authorized administrator of Digital Commons @ George Fox University
A Critique of Quaker
WILMER A. COOPER
The purpose of this paper is to deal with the question of
accountability in the light of our need to be answerable to one another in the
community of faith, which for us means the Friends Meeting.
The term accountability will be addressed in two ways: First, the
question of how we exercise and balance freedom and discipline in
our life together within the Meeting. Secondly, the question of
whether in our faith and practice we are in historical continuity with
the original Quaker vision. Thus the objective will be to assess
accountability in these two respects from the early period to the
present, and in the light of our performance to indicate some signs of
warning as well as signs of hope for the future of the Society of
THE CURRENT CRISIS IN LIGHT OF THE EARLY QUAKER NORM
Although Friends have been in almost perpetual crisis since their
beginning in the middle of the 17th C, certain conditions now prevail
which make the situation different in degree, if not in kind.
Furthermore, the crisis is accompanied by a sense of forboding when one
thinks of what is at stake for Friends now, as well as in the future.
T o evaluate the current situation it may be helpful to recall how
early Friends defined their community of faith, the role
accountability played in it, and some of the departures from this
understanding which have taken place through the years. If we define and
articulate "the early Quaker norm" we will have something against which
we can assess where we are and where we are going.
I n defining their community of faith, early Friends used mainly
Biblical images such as "the Body of Christ," "the People of God,"
"Children of the Light," and "Publishers of Truth." They
functioned organizationally under what George Fox called "the Gospel
Order." Thus we are immediately involved in a Quaker theology of
the church and a doctrine of ecclessiology.
Descriptively speaking, Friends came together out of a sense of
being gathered in the Spirit of Christ which united them as the
"People of God." T o be so gathered by Christ as the head of the
Church provided a structured community of faith out of which
fessor of English at Friends Unitersity in 1947, where she has taught
ever since, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1980. She was made a full
professor in 1949, served two terms as head of department totalling
27 years, and two terms as Acadamic Dean. She also served nine
years on the Board of Advisors of the Earlham School of Religion.
Along the way, she earned a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado,
and Friends University conferred an honorary Litt.D. in 1980. Her
articles have appeared in Quaker Life, The Evangelical Friend, Fruit of the
Vine, and Upper Room Disciplines. She shares her home with her
95-year-old father, Gurney T. Hadley.
Four months in the Philippines during the past year have done much
to shape Perry Yoder's outlook and current work on a biblical
theology built around the concept of shalom as brought about through
liberation and justice. Recently appointed an Associate Professor of Old
Testament at Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN, his
teaching since 1968 has been at such Mennonite institutions as Bluffton
College and Bethel College in the U.S. and visiting professorships at
Conrad Grebe1 College and Waterloo Lutheran Seminary both in
A n Oregonian by birth (Portland 1940) and a Midwesterner by
vocation he was an honors graduate of Goshen College, has a Ph.D.
in Near Eastern Studies (University of Pennsylvania), and has also
studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and participated in a
French Archeological Mission in Israel.
Bible study is the focus of four of his books ranging from
hermeneutics to an adult study guide, and New MenlNew Roles (a biblical
guide to male liberation). The latter is balanced, we hasten to add, by
"Women's Place in the Creation Accounts" contributed to a volume
on Women in the Bibk and Early Anubaptism. His "A-B Pairs and Oral
Composition in Hebrew Poetry" was published by Vetus ~ e s t a h e n t u m
21 (1971).:470489. "Biblical Hebrew" appears in Versification: Major
Language Types, ed. by W. K. Winsatt (NYU Press, 1972). He and his
wife Elizabeth have two children named (guess what?) Joshua and
Joel. Weeklong back-packing in the Rockies and weeklong bicycling
tours are favorite recreations.
Larry ,"a pacifist by birth and a Christian since age 10,"
felt a need for a community embodying Christ's peacable Kingdom. I n
1972 he became a cwfounder of Publishers of Truth (now Friends of
Truth), a discipleship community on the early Quaker model.
Although there is no question that Wilmer A. Coop= considers
Richmond, I N the center of Quakerdom, he is widely known to
Friends of other persuasions. His primary concern, not only during
1 8 years as founding Dean of the Earlham School of Religion -- the
first accredited theological seminary for Friends - but since, in a
dozen other ways, has been the restoration andlor preservation of the
faith content of Quakerism. H e was a founder and first Chairman of
), chairman for the ten years of its existence of
the post-St. Louis Faith and Life Panel, a founder of the more recent
Quaker Hill Consultations of Friends.
H e and Barrett Hollister, the two American-Quaker Delegates to
the Uppsala Assembly of the W C C (1968) launched the Martin
Luther King, Jr. Memorial study of Violence, Non-Violence, staffed
for the W C C by Australian Methodist David Gill. Possessor of a B.D.
from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University,
Wil's M.A. was from Haverford, his B.A. from Wilmington College.
At the 25th Anniversary Banquet of ESR in June, Wil and his
wife Emily were honored by creation of a Wil and Emily Cooper
Scholarship Fund to provide 1 0 full scholarships for ESR, to mark his
retirement then. I t was announced that pledges of $150,803 had
already been made toward the goal of $250,000.
Wilmer Cooper has become so identified with theology that his
four years in a Civilian Public Service Camp during WW-11, and
seven years as Administrative Secretary of the Friends Committee on
National Legislation tend to be forgotten.
Patricia Edwards-DeLancey serves two Friends meetings a t Fairview
and Martinsville in southeastern Ohio as pastor. She is a Ph.D.
candidate, with course-work completed, at Iliff School of Theology,
Denver, CO. A more complete note appears in Q R T #58.
A t 70, Dorothy H. Craven is youthful in ideas and actively engaged
in some teaching and in service as part of the Ministry Team at
University Friends in Wichita, KS. H e r favorite courses include
Shakespeare, World Literature, and Quaker Literature. A recorded minister
of Mid America Yearly Meeting since 1979, she serves as secretary of
that YM's Christian Ministries and Vocations Division.
After elementary and secondary school teaching she became an
Instructor in English a t Illinois Wesleyan, then an Assistant
ProFriends lived and went forth in ministry. T h i s may be contrasted with
being gathered out of a particular concern as is often the case today,
such as the peace testimony, or a group of social concerns. Shifting to
concerns as the basis for gathering often means diversity of starting
points rather than being gathered into a convenant relationship to
God and to one another.
From this lack of focus and gatheredness, Quakerism appears to
many (Friends and non-Friends alike) to be in essence an expression
of individualism, a form of religious democracy based on the
assumption that through the Light within every individual has private access
to God with little or no attention given to a corporate relationship to
God. Extreme examples of this differ little from the Ranterism that
plagued Friends in the 17th-C England, namely, the belief that each
person should seek hislher own inner leading and then act on it. This,
of course, is just the reverse of the traditional belief of Friends that
the corporate discernment of the gathered meeting is more
trustworthy than the leading of any given individual. T h a t is what made it
possible for the group to arrive at a common sense of unity as all
sought the Light of Christ together.
John McCandlessl has summarized the Friends' understanding of
the church as a "...vision of what it means to be a people of God: a
community of the committed, bearing a vision of T r u t h around which
the community is organized, demonstrating the power of the Spirit of
God, a prophetic people, a worshiping and praying people, a people on
mission, a people marked by moral and ethical sensitivity."
I t should also be noted that early Friends coupled this
understanding with a Biblical norm to provide discipline for the group. Like
the Anabaptists who preceded them, Mt. 18: 15-17 was their guide for
dealing with offenders, as Barclay's Anarchy of the Ranters2 makes
If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault, between you
and him alone. If he listens to you,
you have gained your brother. But if
he does not listen, take one o r two
others along with you, that every word
may be confirmed by the evidence of two
of three witnesses. If he refuses to
listen to them, tell it to the church;
and if he refuses to listen even to the
Church, let him be to you as a Gentile
and a tax collector. (RSV)
Early Quakerism was not therefore religious individualism, with
everyone interpreting hislher own leading and doing hislher own
thing. Rather, the norm was that because we can all come into a
common unity through the Light of Christ within, it is possible to be
a covenanted people of God responding to his will and purpose for us.
This may indeed mean that individuals will follow their own leading,
but they will do so with a sense of responsibility and accountability to
one another in the community of faith, and with the further sense
that their actions are initiated by God.
DEPARTURES FROM THE NORM
Most separations among Friends have resulted from a "crisis of
accountability" of one sort or another. Certainly the Naylor episode
in the 1650s was the first major instance. I n the 1660s John Perrot
and the "hat men" developed scruples on a number of counts which
placed them at odds with the main body of Friends. There is no need
here to cite a whole series of examples where individual leadings took
pre-eminence over the corporate group's discernment, but the Perrot
controversy will serve as an example of an early and repeated
disciplinary problem with which the Society has had to deal.
After becoming a Friend, and on a trip to the East, Perrot was
confined to prison in Rome. There he not only had a religious
opening that removal of the hat during time of prayer, and the
customary handshake following meeting were improper, but that all
human arrangements for meetings should be placed under the
direction of the Holy Spirit, even to the point of doing away with any
stated time for meeting for worship. These stands put Perrot at odds
with other Friends. But to make matters worse Friends at this
particular time were suspected from the outside of being in league with
militant radical groups, and many Friends were jailed, including
George Fox himself. Nevertheless, in spite of this trouble both within
and without the Quaker movement, by 1666 Friends united in a
specially convened meeting of ministers in London to deal with
internal offenders, such as Perrot.
Richard Farnsworth authored a minute at that meeting which
subordinated the individual leadings of Friends to the corporate
group. This was published in 1 6 6 6 just after Fox's release from
prison and just before the death of Farnsworth himself. William C.
Braithwaite considers this the point where Friends became a
Religious Society, coupling it with the extensive organizational work
Denomination," I think it relevant for others as well. I n spite of the
difficulty of "representing" what Rob calls "sad fad-ridden
Quakerism," 1persevere in both ecumenical and theological work
regardless of the apathy of most and antagonism of some Friends.-- D. F.
culture-bound. W e saw and opposed evils that others did not see as
evil a t all; we did it again and again. B u t we managed to do this by
living within our own Quaker culture and by having a testimony
against worldliness; by erecting barriers between us and the world.
~ o d a ~s'asd fad-ridden Quakerism has jettisoned those attitudes
(in the name of relevance, of course) and I do not see us as
particularly free of the surrounding culture except as to inherited
testimonies from former days. T h e individual Christian may still hope to
be freed by the Lord from surrounding cultural attitudes, but I have
my doubts about our church, and I have no doubts a t all about our
nation. America cannot touch other nations, with whatever noble
intentions, except to corrupt; this is the true meaning of American
power, the final lesson of Vietnam.
R. W. Tucker
Editor's Response: There were several reasons for quoting Dr.
Brouwer's reaffirmation of the "true American dream" statement
adopted by the NCCC Governing Board in May 1981. I mentioned
the loss of his brother Ed in the Korean War and his own
disillusionment with that war. Because of space limitations I did not print what
followed: "Over the years since, I have watched his country [Ed's],
my country, our country, become ever more tangled in the web of
superpower rivalry - both under administrations Democratic and
My own respect for the N C C C was another reason. Although the
28 years of my ecumenical service on behalf of F G C have been largely
through the W C C , I think of E. Raymond Wilson and Francis
Brown, among others, who gave long service to the N C C C on behalf
of Philadelphia YM, a charter member of the N C C C , and Lydia
Stokes, the NCCC's first woman vice-president years ago.
I n the face of the fact that the NCCC almost became defunct
under the combined 60 Minutes and Reader's Digest attacks (with the
Wall Street Journal thrown in for good measure), and the fact that as a
result the N C C C had been through a major three-year restructuring,
what Arie Brouwer was saying seemed "courageous" to me. T h e
NCCC had also been literally "occupied" several times by groups
protesting its commitments or its foreign-policy stands.
Like Rob Tucker, I am convinced of the value of traditional
Quaker witness in faithfulness to the call from our Risen Lord,
"Follow me." Like John Woolman, who subtitled his antislavery
message "Recommended to the Professors of Christianity of Every
which Fox, D e w s b u r ~ ,and others had carried out.3 From then o n
Friends took quite seriously the government of a church based on
what Fox called "the Gospel Order." Instead of taking their cue for
church organization directly from Scripture, Friends held that the
living Christ is the head of the Church and the chief orderer thereof.
T h u s , within fifteen years of their beginnings, Friends had dealt
firmly with disciplinary matters and had provided for accountability
to God and one another.
TESTING T H E NORM IN T H E MIDDLE PERIOD OF QUAKERISM
Many other things happened in the 1 8 t h and 19th C s to test the
accountability of Friends to one another and to test their faithfulness
to the early Quaker vision and norm. Most important for our
purposes was the crisis over the system of Elders (and later Overseers)
which arose to have oversight of ministry and worship and the moral
conduct of Friends. Eventually the Elders also supervised doctrinal
orthodoxy. Even though the system of Elders was well intentioned it
finally exceeded its proper bounds. I t became an oppressive power
group which not only displaced the ministers as the dominant group
among Friends, but far surpassed them both in authority and power.
By the turn of the 1 9 t h C, hardening of the spiritual arteries and
an enforced Christian orthodoxy brought about a series of
separations. T h i s was coupled with the Quietistic influence on Friends and
the almost indiscriminate disownment of members for marrying out
of meeting, violating plain dress, or other minor infractions. T h e
hedge of orthodoxy and disciplinary action which had been thrown
around the Society of Friends took nearly a century to overcome.
T h e inroads of evangelicalism into the Society of Friends in the
1 9 t h C, as a kind of renewal effort, brought with it many new
practices in worship and ministry which seemed foreign to traditional
patterns of "waiting upon the Lord" in silent expectancy. Again these
new patterns of faith and practice, which came largely from the
Wesleyan Methodist influence, raised in a different way the question
of Friends accountability to the early Quaker vision. A large segment
of Friends in the late 1 9 t h and early 20th C s lost their sense of
history and identity with Friends beliefs and testimonies and tended
to look more and more like another Protestant denomination.
T H E TWENTIETH CENTURY METAMORPHOSIS OF FRIENDS
A s one looks at the 20th-C situation of accountability among
Friends there is a mixed response. O n the one hand many new and
positive things have happened during this century to bring new life
and vigor to the Society of Friends, while a t the same time there have
also been departures from the norm in faith and practice. N o t only
have evangelical Friends adopted a modified pattern of faith and
practice, liberal Friends have also moved in new directions which are
cause for concern.
B u t on the positive side, let us first catalog some of the new and
innovative things Friends have done to bring new life and signs of
hope. Organizationally speaking and in terms of outreach in mission
and service there has been a flowering of Quakerism in this century
unequaled in our history. Beginning around 1900 a number of new
associations of Friends formed: Friends General Conference, Five
Years Meeting (later Friends United Meeting), and eventually the
Evangelical Friends Alliance. Conservative and Independent Friends
have not formed such associations. Another natural outgrowth of this
development was the formation of Friends World Committee for
Consultation, and its auxiliary, the Wider Quaker Fellowship.
There were major developments in both mission and service
types of work as well. N o t only did the American Friends Board of
Missions (formed in 1894) see its work in Kenya become the largest
single concentration of Friends anywhere in the world, other mission
boards carried o u t work in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America,
Alaska, the Far East, and India. T h e American Friends Service
Committee began during World W a r I and has become the largest single
Quaker service enterprise, with an annual budget of more than $16
million dollars. During World War I1 the first formal religious lobby
of any denomination, Friends Committee on National Legislation,
was established in Washington, D.C. O n the global level Friends
became involved with the United Nations through the Quaker
United Nations Program.
From the 1 7 t h C on, Friends have been active in the development
of schools a t all levels. Beginning with the lower grades and working
their way u p through the high school and boarding school level, they
eventually established a dozen colleges and three post-graduate
centers. Friends now maintain more than 80 schools in North
America. O n a non-academic basis there has been the establishment
of yearly-meeting and regional conferencehetreat centers, together
with many yearly-meeting youth camps and work-camp projects.
During World W a r I1 Civilian Public Service Camps were opened for
conscientious objectors. Young Friends have held important
conferences and youth pilgrimages over the years, culminating in the first
religious tradition. T h e murderer who says, "God told me to do it," is
a classic case. And the adulterer who protests, "It was right because it
felt right," is all too familiar.
W h y should we permit Christianity rather than some other
religion to shape our experience? If we examine ourselves and our
civilization, we come to realize that Christianity forms the basis of o u r
lives. I t is the means by which our society has survived and from it is
derived everything worthwhile that gives meaning to our individual
lives. T o embrace some other religion would probably be an act of
rebellion unworthy of either tradition.
H o w should one arrive at that point of view? There's the
mystery! For some it comes from necessity, for some from the fear of
the Lord. Some would say it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Having
tasted of the the forbidden tree, we try to understand and explain in
terms of influences and hormones, but in the end faith is probably
always an act of Grace.
T o T h e Editor:
This is written in response to the words the editor of Q -RT
printed with approval in # 5 9 from Arie Brouwer's acceptance speech
as newly elected General Secretary of the National Council of
Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.: "In the strength of its best
traditions and by reason of its place in the world, [the United States] can
do more for justice, peace and freedom than any other nation in
I read these words with the same chill up my back that I felt
when I heard John F. Kennedy promise that America would "bear
any burden." T h e missionary impulse is rooted in noble purpose, but
it turns into Cold W a r Liberalism, which in time turns into hot wars
and the death of liberalism. T h e problem is that we don't know how
to work except through American corporations which are in business
to make money, not to be charitable. T h e problem is that we are
culture-bound, provincial, and arrogant.
T h e great virtue of the Society of Friends, over three-and-a-half
centuries, is that to an astonishing degree we managed not to be
standing of sacrifice; the latter shows similarities to the loneliness of
the Temptation. T h e one, if too casually taken, runs the risk of
overlooking the human; the other focuses so heavily upon the human
plight that the divine action can pass unnoticed.
T h e r e are at least two areas, however, in which these disparate
interpretations of the Atonement find unity. O n e is in result and the
other is in experience. Both the cosmological atonement and the
internalized atonement lead t o a situation in which the moral law,
through which God is perceived, is upheld and the society healed with
the offender profoundly restored.
A t the experiential level -- one notices in passing how Quaker it is
to stress experience -- the disparate interpretations of the Atonement
find unity in a sense of awe and humility: in the face of one's own
nature, in the perception of one's relationship to society, and in the
vision of God. Such experience is made possible, I would say, less by a
philosophical discussion of principles like accountability or even love
and justice than by a contemplation of the multifaceted story set side
by side with the events of our earthly lives. Good narrative has the
property of being understood in many ways and supported by
differe n t kinds of reasons a t different periods. T h e most profound stories
like the most profound laws will stand from age to age, though our
justifications for them may crumble in less than a century.
Risking then a flimsy 20th-C explanation of why we should
accept the whole Christian story, I want to try to answer one more of
Larry's objections. All of us who have gone to school in recent
centuries encounter obstacles to belief: deistic and mechanistic
philosophies, talk of innate human dignity, proud reflections on
human accomplishment, and misapplied evolutionary theories. With
religious thought now relegated by law strictly to the private sector, it
becomes easier and easier to assume that we are the inventors and
technicians of o u r prosperity. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom, we are not educated to wisdom but a t best to clever
technicianship and a t worst to figuring out ways to bend the system for
private gain. Hence the accountability crisis.
I escape the scientific outlook of my age no more than the next
fellow. I n advocating a life disciplined to reflection on the Bible and
o u r religious tradition, I am motivated at least in part by the
contemporary conviction that our experience is shaped by what we let
shape it. Indeed I am haunted by the behaviorist notion that this
might be the whole story. Certainly there is good reason to be
suspicious of "religious experience" that is not shaped by an enduring
World Young Friends Conference in 1985. There are a growing
number of retirement homes for the elderly under Friends auspices.
Some important professional and interest groups have formed, such as
the Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology, the Quaker
Theological Discussion Group, and the New Foundation Fellowship.
These amazing developments in the 20th C, including others not
named, have constituted a blossoming of Quaker life and influence
unparalleled in the history of Friends.
Yet in spite of this heartening flowering of the institutions and
fruits of Quakerism, we have to ask whether the religious and
spiritual foundations are healthy enough to give long-term support to
all this branching and proliferation. O r have we overexpanded to the
point of depleting the source and nurturing ground of Quakerism,
particularly the local meeting? I n my 1966 Johnson Lecture a t
Friends United Meeting 1stated: "...we are in danger of withering o n
the vine, numerically and spiritually, unless something is done to feed
and nurture" this very source of life. "Nor should we take lightly the
fact that o u r growth pattern has leveled off, and in many cases is o n
the decline. T o the extent that Friends have shown new strength, life,
and vigor in the 20th C, it may be that we have been living on our
heritage and the borrowed spiritual capital of the past..."
CULTURAL AND THEOLOGICAL ACCOMMODATION
O n the other side of the Quaker ledger, in the 20th C significant
changes have taken place in the faith and practice of Friends, both
evangelical and liberal. Reference has already been made to the
changed pattern of worship, ministry, and theological emphasis
adopted by evangelical Friends. Following their lead in the 1 9 t h C,
programmed pastoral meetings became the pattern for nearly
twothirds of American Friends. Some of these have now been caught u p
in the "church growth" movement of modern Protestantism, with
little emphasis on Quaker testimonies and distinctives. T h e more
liberal pastoral Friends have tried to keep in perspective their Quaker
heritage and remain faithful to the Quaker testimonies. Yet their
attempt a t Quaker renewal has remained partial and sometimes
T h e other big change which the 20th C has brought has come
among Friends of unprogrammed and liberal persuasion both in
North America and around the world. T o make itself relevant, liberal
Quakerism has accommodated itself to a series of cultural and
theological changes while maintaining the traditional forms of worship
and ministry. While we cannot ignore demands to become relevant,
when accommodations are made, it is important that we be clear
about "who we are" in terms of the foundations of our faith. Without
this we will lose our sense of where we are going, and thus our sense
of purpose and destiny.
I n trying to understand a changing world and accommodate
ourselves to the new scientific age; many Friends, especially those of a
liberal persuasion, began to re-examine a lot of religious and Biblical
assumptions about the outer world of nature as well as the inner
world of the self. For example, one can interpret the whole life and
thought of Rufus Jones (a formative 20th-C figure) as an attempt to
give a positive and constructive response to all of these issues -- a
valiant effort, however one may regard his particular response.
W h a t are some of the changes which have come in the 20th C
which need to be evaluated from the standpoint of being accountable
to the early Quaker vision and norm?
1. T h e identification of Quakerism with mysticism has become
a 20th-C custom among many Friends which is often more confusing
than helpful. Certainly Quakerism can be considered a form of
mystical religion, or a t least it has mystical elements, but it should not
be confused with certain forms of classical and eastern mysticism
which have little in common with Quaker spirituality. Quakerism is a
spiritual form of religion which acknowledges God's mediation of
himself and his will through historical events and phenomena. B u t
because Quakerism stresses the spiritual as over against the historical
and physical, it sometimes borders on gnosticism, namely, the
tendency to so spiritualize life that it ignores the incarnational nature of
God's revelation. T h e life of the Spirit has limited meaning and
significance until it becomes embodied in the outward forms and events
of history. Most forms of mysticism shy away from this kind of
emphasis. T h e frequently quoted Quaker adage, "let your lives
speak," is a good example of the way the immanent and transcendent
ought to be visibly joined.
2. "That of God in every-" has become the code phrase for
liberal Quakerism without taking fully into account the way George
Fox used this term in the 1 7 t h C. All too often it is now interpreted as
meaning that there is little need for God to transcend our humanity.
For some it represents a kind of "romantic humanism" which in
effect asserts that "everyone is histher own God." This in turn lends
itself to a form of religious individualism which violates the very idea
of being a gathered people of God, and undercuts our sense of
responsibility and accountability to the corporate body of Friends.
RUTH M. PITMAN
Larry Kuenning's comments on my paper are organized as an
invitation to Friends who are dissatisfied with the absence of
Christian standards and the lack of accountability in the Society to
come out and join a community with a "real discipline." Although I
share Larry's separtist sympathies and am n o less critical than he of
Friends who opt for compromising unity, we dare not overlook the
fact that the ~ r o b l e m sposed by separation are indeed grave. Let me
only suggest that one approach to them might be -- if the militant
pacifists will forgive me -- a comparison with the theory of "the just
war." B u t to respond to Larry by discussing the moral and theological
issues raised by separation -- be it individual or group separation
-would carry us even farther from the substance of my scattered
I would like instead to spend my limited space on a better look a t
the Atonement and on a response to Larry's perhaps just charge that I
argue a weak basis for faith.
Larry is quite correct in noting that I have placed two different
understandings of the Atonement side by side at the end of my paper.
O n e interpretation is a cosmological understanding of Christ's death
as part of God's plan to redeem fallen mankind. T r u e to my century, I
have given this story a psychological basis by asserting that atonement
is a necessary part of human survival, the only means by which
society can be restored in the face of inevitable transgression, which
would destroy the law that gives society cohesion.
T h e other interpretation is an internalized, spiritualized one, in
which Christ's death is understood symbolically as the heath of
willful self through discipline and grace. T h i s interpretation is the
one more often preached about by early Friends, Wilburites, and
oldstyle Hicksites. Liberal Friends as adherents of popular psychology
have no use for it, hoping instead to find individual fulfillment
through self-expression and manipulative social techniques.
T h e two interpretations emphasize different parts of the Biblical
narrative to such an extent that one may well ask if this is one story
or two. O n e interpretation stresses the Lamb of God, crucified and
resurrected. T h e other, Christ's life, and ministry, passion and
triumph. T h e former contains echoes of the Old Testament
underAmong the structures to develop is your relation to other church
organizations. There is a disagreement, here, between moderate
separatists and radical separatists. The moderates would establish the new
community but keep one foot in the ancient churches of their
tradition. The radicals say you should come out of them all. T h e early
Quakers were radicals.
There is also a difference between independent separatists and
catholic separatists. T h e independents see no need for structural ties
between their own little community and other discipleship groups.
T h e catholics (small "c") say that all discipleship communities should
be connected for disciplinary purposes. T h e early Quakers were
This approach is not for those who put their faith in human
organizational skill. T o them it may be crazy - more outrageously
simplistic than Ruth thought her own approach. I propose it for those
whose faith is in God's power to make something out of people's
faithfulness. I don't know how many of these there are. As Ruth
says, the problems about accountability are rooted in a crisis of faith.
1. Ruth's sociological perspective on law and leadership, though of a different temper
from classic Quaker treatments of this subject, may be inescapable in the face of a
modem newQuaker dilemma. In original Quaker theology, the leaders'
understanding of the law carries the day because the same Truth that inspires it also
confirms it to the followers. But what if the followers' sense of inner guidance
confirms the leaders'!-e The diversity of interpretations among newQuaker
groups shows that this must sometimes be happening. Can classical Quaker
ecclesiology be maintained intact in the face of this experience!
3. The secularism of our age has influenced Quakerism in more
ways than is often realized. Some Friends espouse a secular humanism
and agnosticism whose secular values appear to its "god." This bears
little resemblance to the prophetic vision of George Fox and his
overwhelming sense "that the power of the Lord is over all." This
secularism has been accompanied by philosophical and political
individualism which has impacted the faith assumptions and practice of Friends
both evangelical and liberal. Whether the goal is personal salvation
(for the evangelicals) or self-realization (for the liberals) the
connectedness with the church as the "Body of Christ" and the "People of
God" is discounted, if not lost.
4. "Universalist Friends" make up a new form of Quakerism
which wants to disengage itself from the historical and Biblical roots
of the Quaker faith, and to disassociate Friends from Christianity.
The claim is that religious pluralism is the wave of the future, and
that Quakerism as they define it should provide a bridge for the
religions of the world. Universalist Friends ignore the authentic
Quaker universalism held by George Fox, which was so clearly
spelled out in Robert Barclay's Apology, namely, that Christ (the
universal Logos of God), whether known by that name or not, is
available to all honest seekers after God. Moreover, Friends believed
that this Christ was the source of salvation for all humankind.
Universalist Friends only exacerbate the problem Friends already
face of how to accomodate our existing pluralism without becoming
completely fragmented. This leads to what Hugh Doncaster has
described as, "any Friend can believe anything and the Society of
Friends stands for nothing."4 O r in the words of Lewis Benson,
Quakerism is "a refuge for those who want freedom to follow their
own individual bent in an atmosphere that is mildly religious and
fiercely tolerant."s Not only is the survival track record for such
pluralism and individualism nil in church history, it could lead to a
religious anarchy and disaster for the Society of Friends.
5 . The "consensus" method of Quaker decision making has
substantially altered the traditional "sense of the meeting" search for
divine guidance. Consensus is the substitution of a political/
sociological model for a religious one. Even though the consensus
method of doing business is much preferable to majority-minority
voting, the underlying assumption that there is a common will of God
for the meeting is often ignored. Guidance by the mind of Christ
in a spirit of worship and prayer is very important in setting aside
selfwill and manipulative strategies. The historic Quaker view was that
as Friends seek the Light of Christ together, they shall be brought
into a common sense of unity.
CAN WE ACHIEVE A QUAKERISM OF RENEWED ACCOUNTABILITY?
I t is well known that convinced Friends outnumber birthright
Friends in a substantial number of meetings and yearly meetings, even
in some of the traditional centers of Quaker beginnings. We can be
grateful and thankful for this growing edge of Friends, but we must be
vigilant in helping new members and new meetings gain sufficient
knowledge of the history and tradition of Friends, so that they will
not deny or misrepresent the very things they hope to sustain in their
new-found association. A t the same time, these newer meetings and
newer Friends have something to teach all of us as we try to envision
a new future for Friends.
If this critique of where we are seems to have been unduly hard
on liberal Quakerism and evangelical Friends, a similar critique could
also be made of those expressions of Quakerism which lie somewhere
in between. In assessing the accountability or lack of it on the part of
the various branches of Quakerism, there is plenty of blame to go
around. Both evangelicals and liberals have preserved as well as
violated certain elements of the early Quaker vision. Hence, in terms
of responsibility for what has happened, we should not write off any
segment of the Society of Friends.
If we are concerned about recovery of authentic Quakerism we
will need to give further encouragement to such things as the
rediscovery of Biblical and Christian roots in some quarters of liberal
Quakerism. And we need to recognize that among evangelical Friends
there have been valiant efforts by prominent and respected
individuals to recover the essentials of the Quaker witness and testimonies
within the evangelical tradition. Other important forces are helping
Friends to recover the essential focus and vision of Quakerism.
Among these has been a quarter of a century of experience with the
Earlham School of Religion. Friends from both evangelical and liberal
persuasions have had life-changing experiences at ESR in terms of a
new understanding and appreciation for their Quaker and Christian
roots. This has affected their determination to make a difference as
they go out to serve Friends in all branches of the Society, both at
home and abroad.
I t is easy to look at the many signs of decline and decay among
Friends and perhaps conclude that God may not have any further use
know who is good at what sort of ministry even if there's no written
list. And you know whether J.W. has repented of putting W.S. into
the ~ o n deven if he hasn't put it in writing. I am not praising
smallness or deprecating formal structures; I wish our community were big
enough to need more of them, and I encourage those who talk about a
disciplined church to consider joining one.
Finally, to expand on Ruth's comments on membership: I agree
that the basic membership requirement should be a direction of the
will, but toward what? Ruth says, "a dedication of the will to learn
what a particular tradition teaches as it is lived." Shouldn't she have
said, "to learn what Christ teaches as he is followed"? After all,
Ruth's tradition - Quaker Christianity - contains a strong protest
against letting human traditions eclipse God's law. But if the
membership requirement should be a dedication of the will, can all the various
meetings Ruth describes as antinomian become accountable
communities by changing their membership requirements?
The obstacles are tremendous. Supposing you persuade a meeting
to adopt the new membership standard, what do you do with those
who came in under the old standard, whose life orientation is not a
dedication to follow Christ? Will they change their life orientation
just because the meeting has changed its rules? How will the meeting
even mobilize itself to make this change, as long as these people are in
If you leave them in, you have the problem described in
commenting on disownment: the community cannot form a corporate
sense of the mind of Christ if half the members are not looking for it.
Do you throw them out? Even assuming it could be done, I might
question whether it is fair. These people joined because they were
offered an antinomian environment. Even if the meeting repents of
the offer, is it fair to change the arrangements now?
But there is an entirely different approach to the membership
problem. I t was the approach of the early Quakers, and it is also that
of my own group. Call it the "separatist" approach; it goes like this:
First, stop trying to change your meeting's structure, which derives
from the faith of its members and will not change unless they change
their faith. Second, find those people (in your meeting or out of it)
who have, or can be converted to, the Christian faith, in its full
dedication to discipleship. Third, meet with those people, for both
worship and discipline, and be ready to develop with them appropriate
structures of accountability as Christ leads.
The yearly meeting and the book of discipline are other
unmentioned structures which my community has found important, and
which other neeQuaker and neeAnabaptist groups would do well to
adopt. A yearly meeting (for discipline, not just for inspiration) brings
different local groups under a single disciplinary structure. Among
small discipleship communities today members are usually
accountable to each other only within a particular group: one community is
not accountable to another. If our predecessors had behaved that way,
John Woolman's efforts to abolish slave-owning might have gone no
further than Mount Holly Meeting.
A book of discipline preserves a clear record of the community's
perception of Truth. If human memory is the sole source for what
happened in previous years the rules can be changed inadvertently or
even sabotaged. This is less likely to happen when the community's
stand is available in writing. T h e group can still change its mind, but
it must do so consciously and corporately.
I will comment fairly briefly on some of the other structures of
classical Quakerism which Ruth mentions. She rightly stresses the
radical change from upright life to skill as the criterion of leadership,
representing a change of faith. Only a community that believes that
God directs history, and that his purposes are best served by
faithfulness to the moral Truth he reveals, will be willing to rank integrity
ahead of competence in choosing leaders. Other types of leadership
based on other beliefs -- also exist, of course. The "charismatic"
leader who keeps his followers emotionally high needs neither
bureaucratic competence nor more integrity if his followers take this
"high" for the Holy Spirit.'
Although I agree that actions can take on symbolic significance
which conveys more than official theology, I question one of Ruth's
examples: the use of peculiar dress, originally called "plain" to signify
what it was - ordinary unadorned clothing, with the message, "Christ
teaches plainness and humility." This gradually became an ethnic
style whose message was, "We hold our religion by tradition." Now
that Quakers have dropped ethnic dress, some fringe groups have
imitated it, with the message, "We must be holy; don't we look it?" I t
still upholds a law, but is the law still God's?
I t is hard for me to say much about such structures as
acknowledgments, queries, and meetings of ministers and elders, since my
community, and other Christian-disciple communities I know, are too
small to need them. With six members you don't need many
formalities. Problems will not go unnoticed even if there are no queries. You
for the Quaker witness that has become so confused and garbled. My
own view, however, is that the early Quaker vision has been
insufficiently realized for us to lay aside our work at this point. Neither do I
think we should consider joining up with some other larger and
numerically more successful group. Is not God still calling us to bear
witness to and to live out the vision which George Fox and early
Friends set before us? But as we respond to this calling there are basic
questions which must be addressed now and for the future. These can
only be summarized here, but perhaps that will be sufficient to
stimulate further thought and perhaps inspire action.
SOME CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR FRIENDS TO ADDRESS
I n summarizing these points, it is suggested that we begin with
the same assumption that William Penn proclaimed for our forbears
in the 17th C, namely, that the early Quaker vision was "primitive
Christianity revived." Integral to that was Friends belief in
"continuing revelation," namely, that God's revelation is not closed but that
God continues to reveal his will and truth to us today. But Friends
also believed that such new spiritual leadings and openings would not
cancel out or conflict with God's special revelation in the life,
teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They understood and
experienced the resurrection of Jesus not only historically but in
terms of the risen Lord who manifests himse1f;through the Light of
They also claimed, drawing heavily from the Gospel of John, that
this disclosure of God to humankind was not1confined to a particular
time and place, but was universally available to all persons. As already
indicated this constituted the universalism of early Quakerism. I t is
in this context of a Quaker heritage of faith and experience that I
would like to single out some critical points for Friends to consider.
(A) Friends today need to discover a sense of identity: Who are
we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? And most
important of all, Whose are we? Generally speaking Friends have lost their
identity, thereby seriously limiting their sense of purpose and destiny.
(B) Friends need to recover a sense of relicious authority: Who
is the author of our faith? What is the source of our religious
experience? Most Friends would say that they want to emulate Jesus. T o do
so, we need to participate in his authority +- that of the living God
whom he revealed.
(C) Friends need to recover a sense of corporate accountability
to one another as the "People of God" and the "Children of the
Light," and to relearn seeking together the Light of Christ within.
Coupled with this is the need to recover "the lost art of eldering" one
another in those things which are eternal as well as those things
which are communal and practical.
(D) Friends need to develop standards of membership. These
must be based on a clear sense of purpose for the meeting with
standards appropriate to that purpose. Non-creedalism does not mean
freedom to believe and practice anything we want. As one Friend has said,
"we need to be called out of disorder" into what George Fox called
"the Gospel Order."
(E) Friends need to be imbued with a message of hope. Such a
message affirms not only the divine order, but a belief that this divine
order will finally prevail. This hope must also extend to our own
mission as Friends. We must have hope and confidence that God
continues to work through us as individuals and as a Society in order
to fulfill the calling which was originally given to Friends, and of
which we are heirs today. The world is hungry for the Quaker
message, because it is a message of hope for a world in travail.
We began this paper by raising the question about how we can be
accountable to one another in the way we handle freedom and
discipline within our community of faith, the Friends Meeting. And
secondly, we asked whether in our faith and practice as Friends we
are faithful to the early Quaker vision. Our performance record of
accountability on these two counts has been erratic and inadequate.
There are both warning signs as well as signs of hope as we assess
what has gone wrong and as we attempt to chart new directions. A
new sense of resolve and vigilance is called for if we are to fulfill our
mission and calling as Friends.
As we ponder these things, the words of Jesus to his disciples may
be appropriate for us: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are
few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into
his harvest" (Mt 9:37-38). We are challenged to "shake the world for
ten miles around," as George Fox's ministry "under the power of the
Lord" was said to do in his day. May God empower us to demonstrate
that kind of ministry in our day.
1. In an article, "Everything You Wanted to Know About Membership and Why,"
included in the volume on the Friends Consultation on Membership (1984), sponsored
by Earlham School of Religion and Quaker Hill Conference Center. John
McCandless draws heavily on an article, "Being a People of God" by Charles
Thomas, which appeared in The Church in Quaker Thought and Practice. (published
idea of "Christ's death in our stead," with no hint that these are
distinct concepts. I cannot expound here on the distinction, but it has
been very important in Quaker history and is relevant to Ruth's
concerns. Emphasis on the latter concept at the expense of the former
has led to some of the short-cut Christianity she laments in the
O n the subject of accountability, itself, I share Ruth's views
enough that I may be able to supplement her presentation, and
provide a few minor corrections, within her general framework. But
my conclusions will be more radical than hers.
My first supplement concerns disownment. Disownment is not
just a technique for maintaining the church's reputation, as
embarrassing as it is when a member's behavior reflects poorly on the
community's testimony to Christ. Such a member's sin against the
community must be dealt with, but perhaps more important is another
problem: the process of corporate decision-making has been
undermined, since that is supposed to be based on corporate discernment of
the mind of Christ. This relates to the question of who interprets the
I n speaking to that question, Ruth rightly stressed the classical
Quaker type of leadership, but she didn't mention that the
rank-andfile members were also involved. Any new elaboration of the eternal
law, such as the prohibition of slave-owning, had to be approved by
the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings of the members - not just
those of ministers and elders. And it had to be approved by the "sense
of the meeting," not just by majority vote.
But expecting to recognize a new moral principle, and make it
binding, when a quarter of the members don't even care to live up to
the principles already accepted, is like expecting the city of Detroit to
impose tougher safety standards on auto makers. I n the 18th C
Quakers could strengthen their stand on slavery because their
membership was - basically and for the most part - committed to
corporate discipleship to Christ even in the face of suffering. This
corporate solidarity was due in part to continuous weeding of those
who weren't really committed. Even so the prohibition of
slaveowning wasn't easily attained. With a lot of half-hearted members on
board it would have been impossible.
Thus disownment of the recalcitrant is a necessity. Without it,
the community soon ceases to be united in a faith that leads to a life of
discipleship and taking up the cross of Christ. The diversity of moral
practice in modern Quakerism, which hardly ever disowns anybody,
is an example of the consequences.
o n Ruth Pitman's p a p e r (see QRT 660)
LARRY K U E N N I N G
Both Ruth Pitman and I think that there ought to be a
community of Christian faith with a real discipline -- one with important
similarities to the Quaker community of two and three centuries ago.
We differ in how we apply this belief: I belong to such a community
and she doesn't.
My community is small, as are the other communities I know
that try to practice corporate moral responsibility. A symptom of the
modern situation is that real accountability for Christian discipleship
is hard to find outside of tiny pockets. The heirs of the radicals of
earlier generations -- Quakers and many Anabaptists - have moved
away from this heritage. The very word "accountability" means to
many of them merely to ask a few friends for advice, not that they
have to explain their life-style to their meeting - much less, that the
meeting might demand changes.
Before considering church order, I want to comment on some
weaknesses in the doctrinal foundations of Ruth's paper. All societies
have law, but how are we to choose the right law, and why should we
obey it when it is inconvenient? Ruth says this choice is based on "a
certain amount of narrative." Yet narrative alone cannot convince us
of a law if we have no moral perceptions to start with. Actually
Ruth's practice here is better than her principle, for she supports the
Ten Commandments not only with story ("the God who brought us
out of bondage") but with implicit appeals to our own perceptions of
the Light that gave forth the la& (e.g., "the commandments reveal. .. .
the nature of Love itself').
Again, Ruth argues that we need a story, and recommends as a
"20th-C faith" that we remain open to traditional stories in the hope
that they will become meaningful as they are lived. But how shall we
choose our stories? (The Bible? The Iliad? Paul Revere's ride?) Our
need for some story or other, though a motivation for search, is no
criterion of truth. (I'd care less about Christian tradition if I didn't
think Jesus was resurrected.)
Ruth's reference to "Atonement" places side by side the
traditional Quaker idea of crucifying the self and the traditional Protestant
Wilmer Cooper's very helpful paper on the crisis of
accountability which Friends face rightly points out that crisis is not new but has
always been with us. From the early period Ranters, Diggers,
Grindletonians, Levellers, Fifth Monarchy Men and others have
posed crisis from without. And internally, it would seem from my
researches, accountability and its meaning or interpretation has been at
the root of most of the crises and historical splits among Friends.
Likewise in the late 19th and early 20th Cs, the fundamentalist vs.
modernist split in mainstream Christianity was manifest within the
Religious Society of Friends as well.
The Richmond Declaration was a response to Wesleyan
revivalism, whose accountability took a Creedal form. Similarly, the
cessation of the recording of ministers and discontinuation of the
recognition of elders and overseers was a modernist-Friends reaction against
institutional forms of accountability. Today there is a double polarity
by the Faith and Life Movement , June, 1979 , and distributed by Friends World
best sources on Qu5ker ecclesiology. 2. Included in Truth Triumphant through the Spiritual Warfare, Christian Labours and
1692) p. 194 . T h e King James Version of Mt 18 : 15 - 17 (also verse 18) is given in
Method in the Church, in the Procedure toward such as trangress." 3 . William C. Braithwaite , The Second Period of Quakerism (Cambridge: University
Press, 1961 ) pp. 248 - 250 . Braithwaite also adds about the statement: "It
been merely subjective. . . The 1666 epistle was a first attempt to strengthen
meetings follows. 4. The Friend, October 10 , 1969 , p. 1248 . 5. Quoted by Hugh Doncaster in The Friend , April 10 , 1970 , p. 414 .