More on Quaker Theology of Continuing Revelation

I gave this sermon on August 9, 2015 at Spring Friends Meeting.

As I had forsaken all the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh then, I heard a voice which said. ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition’, and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.

– George Fox

In June, when I was last here, I mentioned the Quaker theology of continuing revelation. In that sermon, I said, “Some within our yearly meeting find this theology of continuing revelation distressing, but I find comfort in this theology because it honors Friends’ longtime witness that God is still speaking to our condition today, both as a corporate body and as individuals. We should always be listening for how God wants to use us and our abilities as disciples of God’s grace within today’s ever-changing world.”

Today I want to expand on this point and, by doing so; I will make a passionate defense for the theology of continuing revelation within modern Quakerism and within our yearly meeting.

For me, as a Christian Quaker, the words of George Fox, written above, still inform how I view my relationship with Christ: Christ as a heavenly guide, still leading us two millennia later. In the Gospel of John 1:9, it is stated that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” This is the Light that is still among us and within us.

If we honestly believe that God has stopped speaking, all that God have ever said is in the Bible, let’s just close up shop right now and start calling us the Historical Society of Friends. Let’s just read the Bible as a historical novel that has no relevance to how we live today. Let us stop having waiting worship and pretending that we will somehow hear the voice of God today. Let us board up this meetinghouse and do our study of the Holy Scriptures in private.

But I do not believe this and this meeting does not believe this either. Throughout my readings of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, I see God is always present in the journeys of God’s people, even at the most difficult points of time. God was present with Moses, God was present with Ruth and Naomi, God was present with Christ on the cross, and God was present with the women as they discovered that the tomb was indeed empty. And God is still present with us today through God’s son, Jesus Christ, and God is still speaking to our condition today.

Why would God abandon us generations later and not continue to reveal Godself to us? In a way Quakerism should be described as a corporate journey towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Friend Lloyd Lee Wilson from our sister yearly meeting North Carolina Conservative writes: “God continues to teach those who make themselves available to be taught how to live according to the Divine Will in the present day. Continuing Revelation does not involve a new Gospel, but teaches us how to live out the Everlasting Gospel in our current circumstances.”

Our current circumstances bear some resemblance to First Century Palestine where an Empire was in charge of a large part of the world and injustice was rampant throughout the countryside. Yet, in many other ways, Twentieth First Century USA is also vastly different than First Century Palestine. We know more about the wider world and how the world functions than humans have ever known before. These scientific advances have largely helped the world to prolong and improve life. Some believe that these advances have led us into a new age where God is not needed; we have advanced beyond the need for Christ

Yet, I do not want to replace my belief in Christ with believing in only scientific knowledge, as some New Atheists have suggested. Science without morality has brought us the atomic bomb and other increased capabilities to kill each other, which have only increased misery in our world. We still need to offer moral guidance for the world and to proclaim that God is still present within our world and within our lives

Friend Lloyd Lee also reminds us that this is not a new Gospel that is being created through the continuing revelations we receive. Some liberal Friends have interpreted the theology of continuing revelation as a way to disregard the Bible and I think some conservative-theologically Friends within our yearly meeting fear that more liberal-theologically Friends are using/will use this theology as a way to discount the Bible and Christ. We are not trying to create a new Gospel but trying to understand what God’s message means in today’s context.

I want to go further with this and say that God will reveal Godself according to our individual and corporate abilities. For example, not in the too distant past, this meeting would not have approved of same-sex marriage. Friends here have now realized that God’s love applies to the LGBTQ community. But what if I brought a message advocating for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community to this meeting in 1990 or 1970 or even 1950? Would it have been too much for the meeting? What has happened in the intervening years? God hasn’t changed, instead we have changed and we are still changing. I often wonder what beliefs do we hold today that future generations will be stunned to learn about and think, “What were they thinking back then?”

Also, since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, one year ago today, we have started to look deeply at racism within our community and within ourselves in a different way than we have before. The shout of Black Lives Matter have brought this topic to the forefront in this country and we are slowly responding. We still have a ways to go in confronting the embedded racism within our midst. But that is the Good News: God will continue to be with us as we stumble towards creating God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

Before I end my message today, I want to speak about the dangers within continuing revelation. I have already spoken about how people think that we have surpassed the need for Christ and the Bible. I have also seen people with big egos run over others by saying that this is the will of God or that God has told them that others should follow them. Yet, this should not be happening as much as I see because Friends over the centuries have developed corporate and individual discernment processes to test leadings of individuals and of the larger bodies.

Within the theology of continuing revelation, we still need to heed this framework that Friends have developed over the last three centuries to test and carry leadings. Sadly I do not see many Friends heeding this advice and a lot of the strife within our yearly meeting is due to a lack of commitment to corporate discernment and discipline.

Let us continue to not only deepen our individual and corporate discernment into what God is revealing to us while we gather together, but also recommit to practices of testing and carry leadings among us to be certain that we are listening to God, not our egos.

God still needs us to be God’s disciples within the world and to work towards building God’s Kingdom here on Earth.

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Remaining a Quaker Pacifist: Open Letter to Scott Simon about His Essay on 9/11

Dear Scott,

I don’t think that we have ever met, but I am a young adult Quaker. I felt led to write this letter to you after seeing Friends General Conference post your 2001 essay about September 11 on social media today. I remember reading it shortly after Friends Journal published it in December 2001. As a 17 year old, I was challenged by your essay. Yet 14 years later, I am disturbed by how simplistic and American apologetic your essay is.

My memory of September 11 is indeed very different from yours because I was living in the Midwest at the time in a small town. I watched this all unfold on the news in the evening at my job. I had just started washing dishes at a new Sports Bar that had 11 TVs (I counted in the days after September 11th). For weeks afterwards, I remember hearing endless news coverage of the terror attacks from these 11 TVs while I washed dishes. For me I did experience it from afar, certainly not like you did living in Washington DC.

Yet, a dear friend, another young Quaker, Caitlin, had a more direct experience that day than I did. Her father worked in Manhattan, not far from the World Trade Towers, and he became covered in dust after the collapse of the Twin Towers. She also knew others in her New Jersey community who lost their loved ones that day in Manhattan. Immediately, after September 11, she was intent on making sure something like the 9/11 attacks wouldn’t happen again. She, like you probably did, wanted to feel safe again and be reassured that her loved ones would be safe too. But, as time passed and the war in Afghanistan raged on, she had a dream about being called to stand for peace in Afghanistan. She went to her Quaker meeting and asked for a support committee to understand what this dream/leading meant. Through this process, she was able to realize how more bloodshed would not attain peace. In the end, she did not travel to Afghanistan, but she has since devoted her life to working on improving relationships between Chinese and Americans through cultural exchanges and advocating for better foreign policy.

As I read your piece now, I grieve for the American apologetics that you seem to embrace after September 11, 2001. This kind of apologetics have led to endless wars and violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving both countries in precarious conditions. These wars have led to heinous war crimes being committed by US troops, like the horrors of Abu Ghraib and the endless detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Not to mention the unmanned drones or civilians killed because of a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy. Those stories feel distant to many Americans, because we don’t hear anecdotes about loved ones dying like the stories we hear around the each anniversary of September 11. Every year around September 11, we hear heartbreaking stories about people calling their loved ones from high up in the World Trade towers after the planes had hit to tell them they were safe only to perish when the towers collapsed or how passengers on the airplanes called loved ones to say goodbye, like the the story of Jeremy Glick you recounted in your essay. How can we humanize the dead who do not happen to be American and whose last conversation with their loved ones we never have the chance to hear? Our lives shouldn’t not be treated as having more valuable as others, but it seems to happen often, especially in our yearly remembrances of September 11, 2001.

According to Iraq Body Count today, between 142,655-165,530 civilians have died so far due to violence stemming from the US’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. This number vastly outnumbered the number of people who died on September 11, 2001 and Iraq is just one of the many battlefields where the War on Terror has been fought and is still being fought. Even the current Syrian refugee crisis has roots in our failed War on Terror. Are we actually safer today with all of the carnage that has happened so far?

We are often misled into war by people trying to profit off of war. Another Quaker, Major General Smedley Butler, wrote “War is a Racket” in 1935. He opens the piece by writing: “WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” Eighty years later this still rings true, as the defense contractors rank in billions and billions each year. In 2001, as you wrote that essay, the Vice President at the time was a former CEO of Halliburton, a major defense contractor. Calls for war after 9/11 help his former company make billions. We need to recognize how warmongering has led to people profiteering off of death and a now-constant need to be at war to continue the profiteering. How has patriotism and seeking revenge recklessly aided this greedy effort?

This American fervor for war and revenge have also led to increased hostility towards American Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims in the United States. I subscribe to daily emails from the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Over the two years I have subscribed, I have read countless stories of mosques still being targeted for hate crimes, building permits being denied for new mosques, illegal spying by government agencies on Muslims, and violent attacks against Muslims and others just for being perceived as Muslim in America. Just this past Tuesday night, a Sikh man was brutally attacked in Illinois with his attacker shouting: “Terrorist!” “Bin Laden!” “Go back to your country!”

War also forever wounds the soldiers who fight our battles. In the days after September 11, there were calls for vengeance and military action. Fourteen years later, there are still calls for this to continue. In the between time, far more US soldiers have been killed since September 11 than the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks. Yet, when these young men and women come home, they come home to inadequate mental health resources. Today, our soldiers and veterans are more likely to die from suicide than in combat. How does this endless violence help to restore peace, both in the world and in our personal lives?

Sorry I do not find your essay insightful as Friends General Conference did today. I find it to be another piece that uses logic that unwittingly favors endless war and violence. This current level of violence leads the world to be forever unstable in the world after 9/11. I will stay steadfast in my pacifism as an answer to violence in our world.

Sincerely,

Greg Woods