In a faith community as theologically diverse as Liberal Friends, there are bound to be misunderstanding and hurt feelings. The underlying question is, “Do I really belong here?” It was a lot easier when I was a Baptist: I said that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and savior, and I was in. Now “my personal Lord and savior” has a different, more inward meaning. Even though part of me knows I belong with Liberal Friends, there’s an insecurity. There was a sweet old lady who told me that Christianity was the worst religion. Another time someone told me, “And that’s why Buddhism is better than Christianity.” I told her, “I could hear you better if you had said, ‘That’s what I love about Buddhism.’” All this feeds my insecurity, and I have become more and more sensitive.
Christianity has been infected with European arrogance ever since it became the official church of the Roman Empire back in the 300s AD. Jesus’s nonviolence and critique of the power system went out the window. Making Christianity the official religion of an oppressive empire turned the church on its head. Over a thousand years later, countries in Europe started to build empires in the Americas, bringing that twisted form of Christianity with them.
Early Friends saw this clearly and denounced all churches in England for the way they had abandoned the true Spirit, Life, and teachings of Jesus. They saw that Christianity is about obeying the teachings of Jesus and loving with the heart of Christ.
My understanding of Christianity is based on this. That is why, for me, the Bible is not the word of God. The Gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) The rest of the paragraph makes it clear that John means that Christ is the Word. So Liberal Friends attack Christianity out of a lack of knowledge of what their brother and sister Friends mean when they say, “I’m a Christian.”
I have a vision of Quakerism where everyone can feel safe because no one’s faith is attacked. Over 50 years as a Liberal Friend has taught me the truth of universalism. I know for sure that there is one true faith and that God has many names, or no name. I have sat through many business meetings with Friends of all kinds of beliefs. When we arrive at unity, we sense the One Spirit that brings us into that unity. Quakerism has had this universalist element in it from the beginning. Only the spirit of Christ within us can save us, but it’s not necessary to even know the word “Christ” in order to be one with that Spirit. I have learned so much from the different faiths I have encountered. Buddhists have taught mindfulness, which keeps me in touch with each moment. Native authors like Robin Wall Kimmerer taught me to connect with nature. Now I notice more often the big sycamore tree at the corner of Green Valley and Holohan Roads in my hometown. I tell it, “Hello, beautiful,” when I see it.
Let’s all share with each other what nourishes our spirits. Tell me what you love about Buddhism. Nontheists, dive deeply into that which nourishes you spiritually, come back, and show me your treasures. Ask me about my journey with Jesus and I will show you my treasures. First of all, there are his wonderful teachings: Don’t judge others; forgive without stopping; love your enemies. I love that the God of my worship became a human being, so He knows how hard life can be. I love that God is portrayed as a family, Father and Son. This is like my own family, which consists of mother and daughter. Best of all, Jesus embodied unconditional love.
Let’s continue to build our community. Let’s welcome everyone. With God’s help, let’s build a community where all can be safe.