C is for… Christianity

Quakerism has its roots in Christianity. George Fox was a Christian. Many Quaker ideas, terms, and values come from Christianity. Worldwide, the majority of Quakers today have no doubt that they are Christian.

I don’t think anyone is arguing about the foregoing. The problem comes in when we look at British Quakers today, many of whom have troubled relationships with Christianity. (This is a casual blog post and contains no statistics or footnotes. People have done surveys, though, and they usually publish them in the journal, Quaker Studies.) People, quite reasonably, start to ask questions like: Are Quakers Christian?

For example, if you’re a university chaplain and you want to know whether to file the Quaker leaflets in the Christian box or the Other box, you might ask that question. In that case, I think we got a compromise and half the leaflets went in each box, but not all such questions are so easily settled.

I don’t generally call myself a Christian, but sometimes I use the ambiguity of Quakerism to claim Christian privilege – I say, “I’m a Quaker”, and let people make their own assumptions, in situations where the easy assumption is that I am therefore a Christian (a bit low church, left of the Methodists but still on the chart).

Actually, sometimes people tell me that I am a Christian. “I thought you were the most Christian Guider here, because you do all the prayers and things,” a very confused Brownie said to me once. “You’re as Christian as I am, and I’m a Christian,” a rather more theologically sophisticated f/Friend told me another time.

I think I’m not a Christian because I take it to be the case that to use the term ‘Christian’ you have to think that Christ is important, probably the most important thing, in your religious life. I’d expect maybe some beliefs about Christ being manifest in a bloke called Jesus, that sort of stuff, but I can be flexible there; but Christians have Christ.

Christ is basically meaningless to me. I can relate to some of the things that Jesus is reported to have said, though I’m a little wary that accepting him as the highest teacher boils down to having a man tell me what to do, and I’m not keen on that. I don’t know – spiritually, I’ve read theology about this but it doesn’t make any sense – I don’t feel how one can tell the difference between the Christ, eternal and sometimes incarnated, and the Spirit, moving through and working in the world.

I’m fine with Spirit language (though you’ll notice that in casual uses I tend to drop the ‘Holy’ – not because it isn’t, just because I don’t want to sound churchy when I ramble on about mad religious stuff). I don’t sense Christ in the world, and if I feel the Presence in the Midst I call it the Spirit covering us.

I guess the real issue here is about boundaries – where is the edge of the Christian community, and am I still inside it? I read a blog post recently about boundary dwellers along the US/Mexico border. I think there’s a metaphor in that – I have a passport which I can use to enter some Christian spaces (theology conferences, church services, cathedrals), but I also live much of my life in nearby countries, where a lot of the culture is similar but the laws are different. In this metaphor, I think Quakerism is an organisation with offices in a lot of different cities, so I can pop in and out wherever I am.

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