An important discussion is taking place in Quaker blogs these days regarding whether (liberal) Quakerism has become elitist, making it hard for people from a working class or poor background to feel included. Unfortunately I think this conversation has applications in many other denominations, too. www.quakerquaker.org has links to these posts, many of which are truly thought-provoking and prophetic. They are speaking Truth to me, my Quaker faith community, and to many other faith communities, too. I recommend that you check them out.
So, if my faith community appeals primarily to people with certain social characteristics and huge sections of the population feel unwelcome among us, where did we go wrong? We must have gone wrong, because Jesus meant his good news to be available to everyone, not just to a certain social set. And I’m sure George Fox, the man credited with founding Quakerism, also intended his preaching to be the good news for everyone, regardless of social class. In fact, I would argue that most reform movements in the history of the church were intended to make the good news accessible to more people than before.
If we need to have commonalities in social background and life-style in order to function together, has the worshiping body become more like a social club than a faith community?
Some of the directions this discussion has taken in the Quaker blogosphere is to consider how we talk about ourselves, whether Quaker language has become a barrier, and whether different faith approaches simply appeal to different kinds of people. These are all valid discussions. However, I think the solution to the “social club” phenomenon is at a deeper level. It has to do with what is at the core of our faith. When Jesus first introduced himself and his purpose, here’s what he said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, NRSV)
Would differences in social background matter as much if, after worshiping together, members of the faith community rolled up their sleeves and went out together to release the unjustly imprisoned, care for disabled people and free people from oppression, and spread the good news to all? My belief is that, when we as a community are more focused on ourselves than on the reason for our existence, differences can break us apart or become used to exclude. If, on the other hand, our worshiping community focuses on joining forces with God to care for the marginalized, I believe social differences would feel like natural variations on creation. People would still have their natural temperamental preferences for form of worship and Quakerism would still probably be a small sect. But provided everyone feels they would be welcome, the problem would have gone away.
Queries for prayerful consideration:
Is my faith community more accessible to people with certain social characteristics than to others? What does this say about our faith?