I am interested in the various answers I am reading from Friends about the place of Jesus of Nazareth and/or Christ in their faith. I have always been interested in christology and am probably the most Christ-centered Pagan you will ever meet. I love to study the Bible and my home is full of bibles, concordances, commentaries...and I actually read them! :-) But I read other texts and find divinity in other sources including "secular" sources which speak deeply to me. I do not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was specially divine because I find his teaching (which I adore) in so many other places across great time and distance. He is one of my special teachers because Christianity is a part of my cultural background. Its language forms the foundation of my spiritual heritage and my personal experiences as a Christian child were beautiful and life-affirming. One of the reasons I wish to be among Friends is that I am unwilling to abandon the beauty I personally find in the Christian tradition but I cannot pretend that I buy into the idea of the canon nor can I affirm a faith in the special inspiration of those texts since I have fallen in love with so many other inspired writings and teachings. Thus concludes my paragraph of self-disclosure!
I think I can clearly understand the position taken by non-Christian and non-theistic Friends in various conversations about the centrality of Christ among Quakers. Not surprisingly, their arguments have resonated with me as a Neo-Pagan woman. However, I have perhaps a unique perspective in that unlike many other non-Friends who were never Christian or who were Christian but feel injured and alienated from that tradition, I am neither new to Christian language nor alienated from it. I am clearly too universalist to be called a "Christian" but I am still clearly centered in the teaching, study, and nurture of the Christian faith. So what do you do with me? I am neither fish nor fowl but perhaps I can be a bridge.
I love to have conversations with other non-Christians, post-Christians and non-theists but in this moment, I am more interested in Christian Friends' various contributions to the conversations of the centrality of Christ and note widely divergent Christologies that seem to fall into certain historical patterns (which is actually pretty cool) Now reading the letters between Paul (a Presbyterian minister accusing Friends of being non-Christians) and Amicus (who later joined with other liberal Friends in the Hicksite schism), I see a gulf opening between orthodox/evangelical Christological perspectives and universalist/Hicksite christololgical perspectives which then opened even further with the Congregational and Progressive Friends some twenty years after the initial schism.
In the nineteenth century, they were unable to hear each other without rage and hurt. Families were split apart over nuances of theology and soteriology. Even if a brother and sister agreed about peace and love and justice and compassion, and even if they sat together year after year, bathed in the peace and power of silent worship, a vague theological difference that perhaps neither of them fully understood could pull them apart.
I do not think we will do that to each other although in heated debate, I have read and heard some pretty angry words and exclusive language. Our differences make us uncomfortable and they lead to discord. We are wise to tread lightly here. However, I do not think it will do us any good to go on pretending that deep and abiding historically persistent differences do not exist between Friends to this day. I wonder if it is possible for us to have a conversation in which we express our musings, meanderings, and even our disciplined doctrines in a quiet manner appropriate for those who know that not one of us is given perfect insight. Can we engage in exchange, dialog and discourse rather than engaging in battles? If the tenderness shown me already by some who profoundly disagree with me is any indication, I have great hope that we can.
I ask these questions not because I want to know the true, acceptable or correct answers but because I am genuinely interested. I am confident that even those whose answers would clearly separate me from the body of Friends do not truly mean me harm and I need not worry because there are so many meetings where people like me have long been welcomed. So basically, it ain't no big thing. Ruffled feathers are soon smoothed.
Here are my questions:
Do you differentiate between the Christ and the historical Jesus of Nazareth? Can we equate the Holy Spirit with the concept of the Christ, the Presence of the Divine within us and which is available to all humans regardless of their knowledge of the story of Jesus? What is your take on the Trinity?
Can one follow Jesus without believing that he was resurrected? Can one be full of the living Christ (or Light, Love, Truth, Holy Wisdom) without believing that this Energy was especially embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth?
When my father was in seminary, the first thing they told him was that there was very little evidence that he even existed or that if he did exist, there is little evidence that he truly did or said the things attributed to him. Why would they say this? Would you still have faith if someone could prove that he was not resurrected? did not preach the things you believed he preached? did not exist? Would you still have your faith? Would you rename it?
Are the Scriptures divinely inspired? infallible? specially inspired? Do you take the entire canon as holy or are there parts that you consider more holy than others? Were they the best and most complete synopsis of the will of God? Are some of them so mired in cultural context that they are no longer relevant? What does continuing revelation mean to you?
It is amazing how hearing something that completely contradicts my own beliefs can deepen my thinking. The exchange of honest conversation leavened with curiosity and humility has changed me on more occasions than I can count. Therefore, I ask these questions of you not in the spirit of competition but as one greedy for spiritual communion.