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Who is a Quaker?

This week, my friend Maggie Harrison published a bold post entitled “YOU ARE NOT A QUAKER (so please stop calling yourself one),” in which she challenges us to examine the basis of our faith. With breath-taking hyperbole, Maggie declares that we need to get serious about the process of spiritual transformation – or get out.She writes, “Stop diluting our movement and muddying the waters with your wishy-washy comfort-driven engagement with this group that you think is cool or enjoy ‘meditating’ with. … PLEASE LEAVE.”

As one would expect, this blog post by a twenty-something Quaker minister telling us all to get the hell out of her denomination went viral. In the comments section, Maggie has been getting alternating hot/cold showers of praise and indignation from Friends across the world. Some Quakers are excited that she is preaching a more serious faith, one that goes beyond rote tradition and feel-good religion, instead embracing the call to radical transformation by the Refining Fire, the Search Light – Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Many others had a viscerally negative reaction to Maggie’s post. Clearly, hyperbole does not translate well over the internet, and many individuals seemed to feel personally threatened, believing that Maggie was seriously calling for them to be thrown out of their Meetings. They accused Maggie of being “holier-than-thou,” and of totally violating the norms of Liberal Quakerism by judging the spiritual condition of her fellows. To be frank, this blog post really pissed some folks off.

In a way, this is too bad. I know that Maggie was just being silly. Maggie loaded up her rhetorical shotgun and hit us with both barrels. She was looking to get a reaction out of us, and by God (yes!) she did. God made Maggie silly for a purpose, and God is using her to wake us up. Because while her delivery is extreme, profane and off-putting, her message is holiness itself. I give glory to God for the witness that the Spirit has raised up in Maggie. I am thankful for her faithfulness in walking the path of spiritual purification and growth in the Lord.

Maggie’s essay cries out for a sanctification of Quakerism, calling the Religious Society of Friends back to its roots in spiritual transformation by Christ’s light. The Quaker church began as a radical movement of prophetic faithfulness to God’s living Word (the Risen Lord Jesus), and was far more concerned with embodying and proclaiming that message than it was with buildings and endowments; history and Nobel prizes. Maggie wants to see Quakerism live up to its full potential, to be holy.

I feel exactly the same way. We are called to so much more than secure lives in the lap of Empire. We are called to be more than nice, good people. We are called to be holy. The Seed of God is oppressed by the weight of our lives, the way that we have allowed a myriad of other concerns to take precedence over basic faithfulness. We shame the name “Quaker.” We have nothing to do with it.

While some are astonished at Maggie’s boldness, I think that she has not gone far enough. You are not a Quaker. Neither is Maggie. Nor am I. We are nothing like Quakers. We are pale shadows of those charismatic extremists of the early Quaker movement, who shook the earth for ten miles around when they preached. It is a mockery for us to claim to be one of them.

We have been coasting on the accomplishment of real Quakers for far too long. We love to brag about Quakers’ involvement in the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery. We adore letting people know about the good works of Friends in reforming the prison system, intervening in war-torn countries, and supporting the Civil Rights movement. We are so proud of “our” Nobel peace prize.

But we are frauds. Quakers do not exist anymore. Three hundred and fifty years was a good run, but it is over now; and the longer we pretend to be something we are not, the more we disgrace a once-proud people.

What if we were to confess that none of us are really Quakers anymore? What would happen if we had the courage to stop laying claim to the past glories of George Fox, Margaret Fell, William Penn and Bayard Rustin? What if, instead of basking in the fiction of our status as “Quakers,” we humbled ourselves and started putting our energy into actually nurturing the communities that depend on us?

Because, while Quakerism does not exist anymore, our Meetings do. Our local churches, fellowships and Yearly Meetings are more real than any imagined “Quakerism” could ever be. Are we being faithful in caring for our brothers and sisters, humbling ourselves in service to others? Are we courageous in standing up for truth and mercy, and inviting our local congregations to join us in serving the “least of these” in our society? Do we have the patience to wait on God, allowing Christ’s living presence to transform us and remake us from the inside out – not just as individuals, but as whole communities?

What if we stopped trying to be Quakers? What if, instead, we put our energy into being communities that truly reflect the love, joy and peace of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? What if, instead of trying to preserve an heirloom faith, we cast aside everything except our determination to be God’s holy, chosen and beloved people, here and now?