Over on Plainly Pagan, Hystery has written about her stance against* becoming a member of a Quaker meeting that is affiliated with a larger body that has discriminatory policies against GLBTQ persons.
I began to leave a long comment to her post that drifted from her reflections into some of my own, so I'm continuing my train of thought below.
At one point in her post, Hystery asks a question that I myself had been thinking, regarding her experience among Friends. She writes:
Is it possible that my reaction to FUM is different than other liberals within the Quaker fold because I am so new? I honestly did not know that NY had affiliations with a religious organization that had anti-gay language.I begin my comment by affirming that yes, I would say that this is very likely, since as convinced Friends our connections with our monthly meeting often provides our primary understanding of and initial exposure to what Quakerism is (or isn't) about.
And that understanding often is incredibly limited--and limiting. We base our understanding and build relationships with the Friends in the meeting and then we unknowingly internalize the thought that all Quakers must be like this.
After all, I continue explaining to her, "you are certainly not alone among the many attenders who don't find out for years after worshiping with Friends that there are other branches of Friends out there! I was among those attenders, and you have (1) good reason to be shocked at the way things are in New York Yearly Meeting; and (2) no reason to fear that "you should have known better." Chalk it up to Quakerism's quietist behavior."
After sharing that comment, though, I began to consider my early ignorance as an attender at Quaker meetings with my Jewish upbringing.
On the one hand, I readily understood how it was I gained a very early awareness about Judaism:
I grew up knowing there were (back then) three main branches of Judaism because my Jewish education as a child made sure I knew it. And because I had in my family Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Reform Jews.
On the other hand, how could I have been among Friends for months if not years before learning that Quakerism also has its splits and branches? Why was that? Why hadn't I learned that sooner, within my first 12 months of attending worship?
The question concerns me because I came to Quakerism twice: once as a college student (I attended worship twice a week but did absolutely no reading about the faith and no traveling among Friends, either), and again when I was 30.
It took me maybe a year or more to feel comfortable as a 30-something before I started going to Adult First Day School, and that's probably where I first heard about the other Quakers, the ones who had programmed worship and about the evangelical Friends... And then later, I participated in a Quakerism 101 session and learned about the historic splits and schisms.
Some of that late learning is my own fault. I didn't seek out adult education among Friends for quite some time. Some of the problem--maybe much of it, for non-pastored meetings--rests with the meeting itself. Are we too focused on worship, social justice, and welcoming families that we dedicate too few resources to "bringing worshipers into the fold" by offering regular book groups, Bible study, and adult education?
It would probably be different if I lived or worked as an adult in a Quaker hub while also attending meeting. If I had lived in Greensboro, North Carolina or in Plainfield, Indiana, or Des Moines, Iowa, I think I would have had a better chance of discovering at least two worlds of Quakerism: programmed and unprogrammed. Maybe I would have discovered Conservative, Liberal, and Evangelical Friends, too.
But with Hystery's experience as an example, it worries me to see new attenders, seekers, and young families come into our meetinghouses, maybe even get involved in the life of the meeting--the person's "home meeting"--without some early integration of the awareness of just who makes up the Religious Society of Friends.
(Not to mention that it isn't solely or even originally or primarily an American religion, but we do better in pointing out that Quakerism's roots are in Europe and the largest portion of today's Quakers are in Africa.)
I don't know if adults who, out of the blue, start attending Shabbat services necessarily know that there are such distinct branches among Jews, but I've heard that adults who begin to attend services are usually steered into taking Judaica classes to learn about the Jewish faith.
It's clear to me that something's amiss among American Quaker meetings and how we talk about today's Quakerism with new attenders. What do we tell them after we've invited them to have coffee and join in the fellowship hour...?
*Shortly after seeing Hystery's comment below, I imagine the phrase "stance against" would have been more accurate had I written "struggle about." Apologies to you, Hystery...