Thursday, January 7, 2016

"If you love one another, you are my friends": becoming true Friends through FWCC

Jill and I in Mexico, where we attended an FWCC gathering
and also took part in a field trip to Vicente Guerrero
sponsored by Casa de los Amigos
On January 16, Jill and I are going to Cuzco, Peru, to attend a gathering of around 350 Quakers organized by the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC). We are excited by this opportunity to visit this beautiful country with its intriguing history and to get to know Friends from around the world. 

To prepare for this trip intellectually, and to bone up on my Spanish, I have been reading Los Ultimos Dias de Los Incas by Kim MacQuarrie. I have been both fascinated and appalled by the story of how a small, ruthless band of illiterate conquistadores overcame the Inca empire, devastating the indigenous culture with almost unimaginable cruelty. Sadly, they committed their unspeakable atrocities in the name of Christianity, with the blessing of the Church. I wonder: what are Christians doing today to share the true gospel, not the love of power, but the power of love? 

As Jill and I prepared spiritually for this trip, we have been inspired by the mission statement of FWCC:
Created out of vision and hope almost a century ago, Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) today is a broad association of Quaker Yearly Meetings stretching across all branches of Friends— an interweaving of relationships, histories, and concerns. The Section of the Americas (SoA), one of four regional groupings in this association, extends from the Arctic to the Andes. A long term goal has been to achieve full participation from the wide diversity of Friends in the work of the Section. Broader participation by younger Friends, evangelical Friends, Friends of color, and Latin American Friends, as well as unaffiliated Friends, is a priority for the Section.  

I became involved with FWCC around six or so years ago because I felt a leading to reach out to Evangelical Friends. Ever since 9/11, I have felt led to reach out to people of other faiths, especially Muslims, because I am deeply committed to our Quaker Peace Testimony. I  agree with the Catholic theologian Han Kung who said: "[There can be] no peace among the nations without peace among the religions, no peace among religions without dialogue."

After 9/11 there has been a huge increase in violence around the world  perpetrated by religious extremists. That's why I dedicated much of my life to interfaith peacemaking, attended interfaith conferences both locally, nationally and  internationally, and even wrote a book on this subject, "Quakers and the Interfaith Movement." I'm still convinced it's crucially important for Quakers to work with people of other faiths to promote justice and peace.

Let me be clear. Even though I call myself an "interfaith Quaker," I still consider myself a follower of Christ.

Rick Warren, an Evangelical pastor known for his best-selling book "The Purpose-Driven Life," illustrates how being a follower of Christ requires us to love those of other faiths. Ten years ago he had the audacity to agree to be keynote speaker at the annual convention of  the Muslim Public Affairs Council (even though some "Christians" picketed the gathering with hateful signs condemning Muslims and Islam). Warren began his address with words I will never forget:

"I love Muslims. I love Jews. I love gays. I love straights. I love Republicans. And I love Democrats." He paused dramatically and added, "I love because Jesus COMMANDED me to love."

As a Quaker Christian, I resonate with Rick Warren's words. I love because God created me to love and because Jesus called us to reach out in love to everyone, especially those who are considered "enemies," whoever the latest "enemy" happens to be. 

Jesus reached out in love to Romans, Samaritans, and those who were marginalized and rejected. I'm sure that today Jesus would want us to reach out to Muslims since they belong to what Quaker novelist James Michener called "the world's most misunderstood religion." .

My interfaith journey led to many beautiful friendships with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others. Befriending those of different faiths didn't weaken or water down my faith as a Christian and as a Quaker. In fact, I feel that I am a better Quaker and a better Christian because of these friendships.

In 2007 I went to a national Quaker gathering called Friends General Conference and attended a workshop led by the theologian Marcus Borg. I asked him about the challenges of interfaith dialogue and he responded, "The biggest challenge is not interfaith dialogue but intrafaith dialogue." This comment challenged me to think more deeply. I realized that I felt more comfortable hanging out with Muslims and Buddhists than hanging out with Evangelical Quakers, and there was something not quite right about that picture!

For those who aren't Quaker, let me explain that American Quakerism split into several branches in the 19th century, and these splits were very painful. Some Quakers stuck to traditional Quaker beliefs and practices (unprogrammed worship, unpaid ministers, etc) while others adopted many of the beliefs and practices of traditional Protestantism.They organized Bible studies, hired pastors, and traveled around the world as missionaries. Friends in each branch considered themselves "true Quakers" and were often not on speaking terms,

Today there are four main branches of Quakers: "unprogrammed" Friends (mostly connected with Friends General Conference), "pastoral Friends" (Friends United Meeting), Evangelical Friends, and Conservative Friends.

Fortunately,  mostly thanks to FWCC, Friends in these different branches are learning how to get along, and to act like friends, even though they have differences in theology and worship style. FWCC organizes gatherings and intervisitation among Friends  that have helped to dispel stereotypes, open hearts and minds, and build friendships.

I feel that my leading to reach out to Evangelical Friends was confirmed when I met and married my wife Jill, who is an Evangelical Christian. Before she met me, she knew little about Quakerism, but today she attends unprogrammed Quaker meetings for worship part of each month and has given presentations at numerous Quaker gatherings. She feels at home among unprogammed as well as Evangelical Friends, and is deeply respected and loved in Quaker circles wherever she goes. I should add that Jill is a very loving as well as lovable person!

Jill at the housing justice workshop she gave at the FWCC
gathering in Mexico City
Last spring Jill and I traveled together to Mexico City to take part in a gathering sponsored by FWCC, Section of the Americas. Jill has lived and done missionary work in Latin America, is fluent in Spanish, and quickly made friends with Latin American Quakers. She also gave a workshop on her book, "Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Housing Models," parts of which have been translated into Spanish with the title "Vivienda y justicia: una perspectiva biblica" We not only built bridges of understanding, we also had a blast! When Jill is among Latinos, she becomes truly herself, and fully alive!

I will treasure the friendships I made during my first trip to Mexico City--kindred spirits I met who care deeply about refugees and fair trade and the environment. At the FWCC gathering, and at the Casa de los Amigos (the Quaker center in Mexico City), I felt I was truly among friends.   

When we go to Peru, Jill will be giving a workshop on the biblical basis of housing justice, and I will be leading a home group. What excites me about Jill's work is that she has helped me (and many others) gain a deeper understanding of the prophetic message of the Bible--the liberating gospel of justice and peace.

I am sure that we will have wonderful opportunities to meet with and learn from the rich diversity of Quakers who will be attending this gathering. I am eager to discover what challenges our friends in South America and other parts of the world are facing, and how we can work together to practice the gospel of love.

From my experiences at the World Conference of Friends in Kenya in 2012, I know that Friends around the world worship very differently and have very different ideas about what it means to be a Quaker. Differences can be perplexing and disturbing, but they can also be delightful and enriching. During our four and half years of marriage, Jill and I have learned an important lesson: you don't have to agree theologically to love each other. Jill and I share core values--we both love Jesus, and justice, and admire people like Jim Wallis and Amy Goodman--but we often interpret the Bible and the world in different ways. And that's a very good thing. As the French say, "Vive la difference." May we as Friends celebrate our diversity as we discover our unity in the One who created and sustains us.

Attenders at FWCC gathering in Mexico City at a mural by Diego Rivera

Members of the FWCC Communication Commmittee


  1. Thanks for this inspiring travelogue. We often don't agree philosophically, but you indeed are a needed bridge-builder for so many, and always so joyful and friendly:-)

  2. Thanks, Daniel, for your kind words. I loved reading your blog today--what a medley of mysticism, wisdom, joy, and earthiness. Just what I needed to start my day! I just posted a link to your blog on my Facebook page.