Back in 2007, I wrote an introduction to Convergent Friends as a paper for a class at Earlham College. In the past seven years, the conversation has continued; I have at times been part of it and at other times not. Recently, I was contacted by a Friend who serves with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for which I also volunteer (although on the board, representing Friends United Meeting, rather than on team). This Friend shared with me a story of a mutual f/Friend of ours leaving Quakerism for a Mennonite Community for a variety of reasons, one of which was that (labels don't completely describe this accurately) Christian Quakers tended not to be liberal enough and Liberal Quakers tended not to be Christian enough. This CPT member asked if we could talk about Convergent Friends because 1) he thought that might be where he fit in the Quaker spectrum, and 2) because he thought that Convergent Friends might be at that crux of Liberalism and Christianity. "So what is the theology behind the Convergent Friends conversation? To preface, there is a general reluctance to define this conversation to a particular movement or theology. Informed and influenced greatly by the theology of the Emergent Church and post-modern theory, the conversation is developing several evolving trends. There is a general desire to engage with contemporary culture with a missionary focus. The mission work is to live into the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the focus over classic “Christianity.” Unlike other denominations who evangelize by door knocking and revivals, the conversation has been encouraging a type of missionary work that is based on personal and communal witness to beliefs. Similar to many of the views of early Quakers, Convergent Friends desire to ‘let their lives speak’ for their views. There is a distinct Christian focus to the conversation. Parts of this focus comefrom the Christianity of Emergent Church theology, the Christianity evident in Conservative Quakerism, and the Christianity of the conversationalists. The wonderfulworld of Quakerism is experiencing its own trends in favor and in rejection of Christianlanguage and beliefs. While some Friends are experiencing for the first time a chance to use their Christian language, other Friends feel threatened by the over emphasis on Jesus." (from my 2007 paper)
Over the past seven years, I have seen many of my Liberal F/friends explore and embody Christianity. It is much more normal in my circles now, than 10 years ago, to pray out loud, quote from the Bible, and source a motivation for justice from Jesus' teachings. Christian mysticism is talked about as it relates to our own lives as well as the lives of others like John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, and George Fox. The Living Christ and Inward Christ are terms used to describe spiritual relationships.
The Emergent Church movement waxed and waned during this time too. Many denominations have taken on their own Liberal/Radical Christianity. The Wild Goose Festival emerged in 2011, bringing together Liberal/Radical Christian leaders for a times of sharing experiences of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Friends from all 4 major branches of Quakerism have attended the Wild Goose Festivals now held annually. The Occupy Movement was fertile grounds for inter-religious cooperation in forms of Sanctuary Tents, forums, organized demonstrations and the website, Occupy Faith (among many others). Street ministry, radical simplicity, communal living, and even new interpretations of monastic living have all grown and changed in the last 10 years. Young Liberal/Radical Christians have written books, started websites, led interview projects, produced vial You-Tube videos--all part of a wider movement.
There is something exciting and purpose-filled about being a Radical Christian. It's a way of bringing faithfulness into every part of your life and asking "What's next? How might I be more like Jesus? How am I called to be in the world?" And then stripping everything away that might distract you; that might keep you from living a life that is in accordance to your values. This often is accompanied with Christian Anarchism which is another part of the wider Radical Christian movement.
There are some warnings though, some red flags that pop up in the movement. For one, young white males still dominate the face-time of public speaking, youtube hits, and widely read written pieces. For another, there is a danger of creating an "holier than though" attitude towards others who aren't as "radical" as you might be. Issues of inclusivity, racism, sexism, and classism are present and often unaddressed. Then there is the issue of American-centralism and Euro-centralism particularly as Radical Christianity become more and more wide-spread.
Another friend of mine recently told me that he wasn't Quaker anymore because he posed too much of a threat to the established communities of Quakerdom. To paraphrase, he said his theology had grown too radical for the comfort of his Quaker communities and he felt like his spiritual path was taking him away from a system such as Quakerism that would resist his theology and resist change in general. This sense of impatience and frustration is something that I have often felt in myself. It draws be though back into the convergent friends conversations because in those conversations I find there are others like me who are seeking the crux between Quakerism and Christianity in context of our present realities. Its sometimes exhausting to field comments after worship that are negative towards Christianity or that make fun of people trying to live faithfully. Its sometimes exhausting to be filled with the Living Spirit and used to speak truth to the world too.
But I have a deep sense that this Quaker community is my community and while I might represent a small minority within the larger Quaker movement, a liberal, radical, Christian minority, just that is a gift that I have to bring to worship each Sunday. I feel that I have a responsibility to speak with the language that I am given; the theological language that I believe in--even if that makes others uncomfortable at times. I also have the responsibility and calling to sit with others in my own uncomfortableness and their own uncomfortableness and listen and hear and be changed.