I have just spent the past weekend at the Quaker Peace & Social Witness conference. I was asked to attend on behalf of East Cheshire Area Meeting, and despite my reservations, it proved to be a deeply enriching experience. An experience I am still digesting.
It was immensely inspiring to see the practical work of the British Quaker movement - and those they sponsor. As one fellow attendee commented, it was a clear demonstration of 'applied spirituality'.
It was also good, for me personally, to sample the wider Quaker movement beyond the meeting house I attend. I connected with many Friends of various ages and various class backgrounds though noticeably not of various ethnicity / cultural backgrounds - the movement appearing very much 'white' in Britain.
There is so much positive to note - and what follows is equivalent to less than 1%.
During the weekend, following a short period of worship, I found myself in dialogue with a small group of Friends about the African Peacebuilders exhibition - discussing an observation that many were quite clear they had been prompted by God to engage in the groundbreaking, risky action they had undertook to reconcile warring parties. It transpired from this that a member of our group was an out-and-out Daoist - he explained that he had joined in fellowship with Quakers having found no like-minded group in his area and, significantly, because he had experienced an insurmountable linguistic and cultural gap when attending Daoist places of worship.
I see no absolutely no problem with this in itself.
However, as I explained that I too had briefly studied Daoism - and found it complimented my 'Christian roots and core' - the gentleman physically recoiled in surprise, raising his eyebrows and expressing confusion over the idea any connection could be made between Daoism and Christianity. He later recounted a story of evangelical Christians apparently paying people hard cash to come to church and profess their belief in Jesus - this was his only contribution as the group conversation moved to consider the work of the church on poor estates via food banks and other services.
There is, I believe, a problem in this and it left me feeling a slight unease. How could someone seemingly so at odds with Christianity see themselves integrating with and actively supporting a movement such as the Quakers which has a strong Christian root and core? It is a genuine question rather than one attempting to lead to the view such a person or persons should be rejected. It is an issue, as I have discussed before, that faces churches who highly value inclusion and diversity.