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I am writing to follow up on our brief conversation after meeting, a week ago Sunday. It is my
hope that this letter will help to better explain my long time concern for Middletown Meeting.
I would like to begin by giving you a summary of my background experience and what has shaped
my understanding of Friends beliefs. This will add a couple of pages to my letter so I hope that it
will be useful in the end.
As you may already know, I was brought up in the RS of Friends (this gives me no advantage).
Rockland Friends Meeting met for many years at the national headquarters of The Fellowship of
Reconciliation in suburban New York. Therefore the Quakerism that I grew up in was deeply
influenced by the world peace concerns of the FOR. In fact you could say that the FOR
functioned as the dynamic focal point of the Meeting.
Most of the members were devoted to the anti-war movement. Many had been turned off by
traditional Christianity and its lack of response to the massive violence of war. I grew up
comfortable with the strong peace oriented community that was at the center of my Meeting. I
held the same strong beliefs and values that they held. An important part of their belief system
was built on the premise that it was the President, the Government, the Military, the
Conservatives, the Fundamentalists, that were responsible for the evil in our world. If they could
be reached by speaking to "that of God in them" then the world would become a better place.
There is some truth in this view but suffice it to say that somewhere along the line, I began to
realize that evil was not just simply out there in "those people." It was also inside of me. I began
to experience inward battles against fear and darkness. I entered into long periods of despair often
accompanied by depression and confusion. It was during this time that the philosophies of
pacifism and "that of God in everyone" failed me. It was during this period that I left the Quakers
because I could not find any present help in this miserable condition, although many Friends tried.
The next period was a time of tremendous growth and discovery. This came about through Bible
Study and prayer with a group of fellow seekers in college. During this time, I began to find
passages in the Bible that spoke to my inner struggle and I also began to ask Jesus to help me in
my struggle over fear and despair.
Unfortunately however, looking for a surety of doctrine and belief eventually led me into a
Christian cult. Some of us in college joined this "church" and it was not long before we were told
not only what to believe but even what to think. This was strict fundamentalist Christianity at its
By God's grace, through a friend, my eyes were opened and I was able to withdraw without too
much difficulty. I was hurt and disappointed but I now had something to hold onto, something
genuine that was happening inside of me. Although I then tried out many different denominations
and groups, I could not find any that spoke to my condition. I began to see little hope of finding a
real home of faith anywhere.
This is when I met Bill Stafford. My parents told me that Bill, a long time, respected member of
Rockland Friends had been through "some sort of conversion and was preaching Jesus" in
Meeting. They suggested that I talk to Bill. This was probably one of the most important things
that my parents have ever done for me.
Bill gave me the Journal of George Fox to read. The Journal had completely changed his life and
we spent many hours reading and discussing it, along with the Bible. Bill had an excellent
intellectual grasp of the Quaker vision found in the Journal (he had a law degree from Yale). But
more importantly, he had experienced this vision profoundly in his life. This same vision took hold
of me as we read and prayed together. It has not let me go now for over fifteen years.
The Quaker vision is two fold, a call to personal inward experience of Christ and a call to become
part of a faith community led by Christ. The first part of this vision sees Jesus Christ as the true
Light that enlightens everyone that comes into the world. It is this light that works to expose the
evil within our hearts. This same light and power, namely Christ, does not leave us in darkness
and despair but can carry us through the darkness and over it, when we give up our own ways and
follow him. This has been a message of great importance in my life.
You can find Fox talking about these things in many places in the Journal. One of the best
passages that I have found follows soon after the famous statement, "I saw also that there was an
ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean
of darkness (p.19 Nickalls) Fox continues, "For I had been brought through the very ocean of
darkness and death, and through the power and over the power of Satan, by the eternal glorious
power of Christ." (p. 21) I have experienced this vision profoundly in my own life.
The second part of the vision that permeates the Journal and all of early Friends writings, is the
vision of the community listening to Christ lead them, as he is present in their midst. It is this
understanding and experience of the church that drew me back to Friends. I was so deeply
reached by this part of the vision that when I graduated from college in 1982, I set all other goals
aside to come to Pendle Hill and study Quakerism.
At that time, Lewis Benson was the #1 scholar of George Fox and the early Quaker vision. Sadly
however, he was not invited to be on the faculty at Pendle Hill because his views were considered
"too exclusive." ( I am sure poor George would have found the doors closed as well.) So, I
traveled to Lewis and Sarah's home weekly and worked with them closely until Lewis' death in
I would like to spend the rest of this letter talking about my concern about our Meeting. I feel that
modern unprogrammed Friends have been too quick in their rejection of the early Quaker vision
as "too exclusive." I always ask, "Would the first Friends have been willing to suffer so greatly for
truth (with a small t) or for one of many visions?"
On the other hand we have been too slow in seeing through the ideas and philosophies of modern
liberal Quakerism. I must ask, "Does our present vision of "unity in diversity" really hold up when
you get below the surface?" You don't have to go that far to see how few differences we have in
skin color, education, and professional status. But I see much greater difficulties than these. Most
importantly, there are inherent limitations in choosing a philosophy or set of ideals. They do not
provide a life changing power greater than ourselves that can gather us and lead us as a
When I joined our Meeting over 6 years ago, I felt a genuine sense that the meeting was open to
the vision of the gathered community that would listen to Christ, and seek to be his followers
today. Certainly there has always been a wide variety of beliefs among the members as in any
Meeting. I also found though an active central group of devoted Christian Friends who spoke
regularly in Meeting, calling us to listen to Jesus in our hearts and in our community together.
This is what drew me so strongly to the Meeting.
In the past year or two, I see our Meeting pulling up this essential anchor and drifting toward a
broader acceptance of the hollow claims of modern liberal Quakerism. As a result, our Meetings
for Worship at times become meetings for sharing our own best thoughts and ideas on a certain
overall theme. Those members who see the need for Jesus Christ to be a present, living reality in
our Meeting, are seen now as one ingredient in the larger pot.
In my experience, our meeting is one of the few unprogramed meetings left that has not been
completely taken over by the empty claims of liberal Quakerism. I now feel that the Meeting is
losing this battle. If at this stage we decide to embrace the false hopes of liberal or for that matter
any form of protestant religion, I fear that we will have nothing special or different to offer to our
members or to the larger community. In our attempt to not be "too exclusive" we may simply
become another liberal Quaker Meeting, riding the tide of the latest spiritual trends.
The real Quaker vision cannot survive in this atmosphere. It is distinctly a call out of all ideas,
belief systems, and philosophies of religion, liberal, conservative, or anywhere in between. (This is
why it caused such a stir among the conservative Christian Churches in the 17th century) Our
belief and experience as Friends is built on something different than these things. God calls us
instead to sit, to wait, and to listen to Jesus who has been sent to us as a gift.
Jesus will be present with us, to teach us, and to lead our Meetings when we gather in his name
(power). This is the true universal Quaker vision which we are on the verge of losing. A great
deal is at stake here. As I see it, if we lose this vision as the center of our Meeting, we lose
I hope that this long thesis has been of some use to you.It was not my intention to overwhelm you, but to state the case as clearly as I can. May God continue to bless you and your family.