…this was a question I asked in the message this past Sunday. If you were there, you remember that we read Peter’s summary in Acts 11 of the great vision he has of all of the animals of creation, clean and unclean, and God’s voice bidding him to eat of all of them–and then, when Peter demurs, saying, “don’t call unholy what I have made clean.” Of course, once Peter comes into contact with the Gentile centurion Cornelius and his household, Peter realizes that the vision is about people and not food, and the Spirit confirms this by descending upon Cornelius and his people just as it did upon the apostles at Pentecost.
Once Peter returns to Jerusalem, some of the Judean apostles take him to task for visiting and eating with the uncircumcised, which occasions his recitation of the whole story. His interlocutors are convinced: “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” But I wonder: are we not like the Judean apostles in at least one way? Aren’t there plenty of folks at whose tables we would not be caught dead? And what if those folks are the ones that are most in need of a message of repentance that leads to life–a message that God might whisper in their ears in our midst?
Johan Maurer writes regularly on his blog about the Society of Friends and our future. In a post from earlier this month he lays out some of his concerns about the way that the “Quaker establishment” (by which I think he means our institutions large and small, from the local meeting’s outreach committee to the yearly meeting or denomination) can stifle new growth. I quoted some of that post this past Sunday because I think it relates particularly to the way we do (or don’t do) outreach, and here it is again:
We forget that our sole reason for being Quaker is to follow Jesus as simply and directly as possible, and helping each other learn the devotional and ethical consequences of being his followers.
We get overly fond of the social advantages of being Quaker, the feeling of being special — whether that means being well-thought-of in one context, or marginalized in another.
We abandon the radical hospitality of discipleship. Rather than finding our unity in Jesus, we base it on secondary features: coming from the right schools or tribes, having or disliking specific cliches, sharing allergies to someone else’s religiosity, emphasizing one or another of our Quaker subcultures.
We place a higher priority on welcoming intellectuals who are afraid of faith commitment than welcoming more diverse audiences who are ready to make a faith commitment but lack a trustworthy place to do so. With a more creative division of labor, we wouldn’t have to choose.
It’s that last paragraph that particularly caught my attention. I’ve asked Johan to say more about what that “creative division of labor” might be, and I hope he’ll respond either here or on his blog. In the meantime, for more food for thought specifically on outreach (and yes, Johan isn’t afraid to call it “marketing”), there’s this post from last summer.
And: what about the question in the title of the post? What do you think?