Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Are Quakers Christian?

After an epic, three day struggle with the weather and the Seatac airport, I made it home to Anchorage for Christmas. My mom and I both spent a considerable amount of time on hold with Alaska Airlines after my first flight was canceled, and we were very relieved when I finally walked out of the terminal on Monday evening.

On the way home from the airport, mom and I stopped by my parents' church to pick up my dad and sister Rachel. They had spent the evening at the church helping needy families pick out food and Christmas presents. Spending time at my parents' evangelical church always makes me think of how different it is from my Quaker meetings. After we left, I told my parents that a Friend had asked me whether my parents were upset that I had become a Quaker. Mom said, "I really don't care what you are, as long as it is Christian!"

I didn't say anything, but all I could think about were all of the discussions I have heard lately about whether Quakers are Christians. As far as I can tell, the answer seems to be, "it depends."

I have always loved Christmas. I love taking time off to spend with family and friends, sharing good meals, singing Christmas carols, and the excitement in the air. But this year I felt more aware of the tensions that many Quakers feel about celebrating Christmas, and that has made me a little sad.

For many liberal Friends, there seem to be two options: ignore Christmas altogether or just accept that it is a secular, commercial holiday and let the kids have their fun. I am not ready to accept either of these positions.

Christmas in my parents' house has always been a deeply religious holiday. I never believed in Santa, and that never particularly bothered me. I participated in Christmas pageants long before I could follow the Christmas story, beginning with my starring role as the Christ child at two months. The first spoken lines I had in a play were as the angel telling the shepherds the good news, which was quite a lot to remember when I was in kindergarten. In the following years, I played nearly every other role in dozens of Christmas pageants.

For many people, Christmas is one of the few times a year that they go to church. At this point, we all know the story, so why do people keep going back year after year? I can't say for sure, but I feel that there is more than just habit or guilt bringing people back into churches for Christmas. There is something about the story that compels us to go, to witness the miracle of a baby who came to save the world so long ago.

I think most people who know me wouldn't give a second thought to whether I am a Christian, but it is a question I have thought about a lot over the past year. I admit, it is much easier for me to say that I am a Quaker than that I am a Christianthe word has some serious baggage. But when it comes down to it, a living Christ is at the center of my beliefs. For me, being Quaker means being Christian, and living as a Quaker is how I have been able to find my way back to being Christian.

I think the question for me now is, how can I engage with my Christianity and live in a way that demonstrates my commitment to a Christ-centered life? If I cede the Christian label to people I disagree with, what am I losing in the process? If I am open and share my beliefs, what good can I do?

I have also been struggling with questions of equality and sameness. I fervently believe in equality, but I do not believe that being equal means that we all have equal gifts and abilities. I worry that Friends sometimes pretend like we are all the same to avoid an appearance of inequality, but we should not. Our communities will benefit if we choose to celebrate our differences and use our individual talents to their full potential.

I feel similarly about celebrating Christmas. It is true that every day is sacred, but why should we pretend that Christmas day is exactly the same as every other day? Instead, I choose to celebrate it as a day of joy and love, and a reminder of Christ on earth and Christ with us. My hope is that this bright day in the middle of winter will help sustain us through these long, cold months so that we can all celebrate together again in the spring.

1 comment:

  1. Friend Ashley, I think many Quakers, even quite liberal ones, would agree with you. Christmas is a day to remind us of Christ, and that YES many Quakers are Christian, and without conforming to an evangelical label. I am both liberal and Christian, and I am also a Friend. There are so many of us out there who understand where you are, what you are feeling.

    You never have to fall into a category to appease others, and if you have others who question your Quaker Christianity, you might see that as an opportunity to speak with them about it. I don't think of those moments as witnessing, as evangelicals often do, but as speaking about the Truth and the Light as Quakers experience it, and I find many people are shocked just how individualized Quaker Christianity actually is. There's not a lot of group think. I suppose that is what may draw you to it, as you said that you find the sameness a drawback in discussions of equality. Anyhow, I am rambling a little, but I wanted to say you are not alone in your experiences. Merry Christmas, Ashley :)

    Friend Laurie


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.