February 3, 2018
Fifteenth Street Monthly Meeting
New York Yearly Meeting
Religious Society of Friends of Truth
15 Rutherford Place
New York, NY 10003-3705
Dear Friends of Truth,
Thank you for the countless ways in which each one of you has blessed my life during my years of fellowship with you. It pains my heart to leave this community and move to Las Vegas, but I must follow the leadings of the Spirit. I will remain connected with the meeting through my ongoing collaboration with the Arts Committee and the Pastoral Care Committee, both of which will continue to sponsor Social Sculpture for Individual Goals. My participation in this project has been an absolute joy and a blessing in my life, and I intend to continue to expand the project in Las Vegas and elsewhere around the world.
On numerous occasions I have had opportunities to speak with many of you about the reasons why I feel so drawn to the Religious Society of Friends of Truth. I recently read the March 2018 edition of Faith and Practice, the Book of Discipline of the New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, which led me to reflect on many of the conversations we have shared. My purpose in this epistle is to share with you the concerns that came to my mind as I read Faith and Practice.
In sharing these concerns, my intention is not to criticize or tear down this most extraordinary religious society. To the contrary, I feel the deepest of gratitude for this organization and the many ways in which it has blessed this world and the lives of countless individuals, including me. My intention is only to point out some minor subtleties which, if addressed, I believe would make this organization even more effective at serving all of God’s children on this earth.
I suggest we avoid referring to ourselves with the nickname ‘Quaker’, which tends to suggest that we are just another religious subgroup, when in fact this organization is guided by a very unique, egalitarian process that sets it apart entirely from all other religious organizations. I suggest we refer to ourselves as ‘friends of truth’.
I suggest we avoid referring to ourselves simply as ‘friends’ and instead, as mentioned above, refer to ourselves as ‘friends of truth’. I suggest we include the ‘of truth’ part everywhere our name is spoken or written. There is a huge difference between a ‘religious society of friends’ and a ‘religious society of friends of truth’. The former term suggests that we are friends of each other, whereas the latter term clearly articulates that our primary friendship is with truth. Yes, we are friends of each other, but our first and primary friendship is with truth, truth as it is revealed through our organization’s uniquely egalitarian process.
It troubles me that any individual has ever been disowned from this organization. I do not believe that disownment is of God, in fact I consider it to be ungodly, immoral, and at odds with our core values.
I think it is wonderful that the meeting sponsors structured group study of sacred texts. However, it does not feel right to me that the Bible is held up as the most important of all spiritual texts. I suggest we refrain from endorsing any one specific spiritual text, and instead invite individuals who participate in structured group study of sacred texts to bring in whatever writings they personally consider sacred. These could include writings not traditionally considered sacred or religious, such as poetry.
I do not like the idea of any one person (e.g., a ‘pastor’) being allowed to dominate the narrative within a meeting for worship. Meetings led by pastors violate our basic value of equality and egalitarianism. I believe that pastor-led meetings divorce individuals from God by introducing a hierarchy that is antithetical to our core egalitarian values.
I suggest we place more emphasis on outreach, form Outreach Committees within all of our monthly meetings, and work more proactively to invite individuals to join us and to stay involved in our work. I believe the most effective way to retain newcomers is to invite them to participate in service commitments as soon as possible. I felt like an outsider until I was invited to join the Greeting Committee, and serving on the committee was a spiritual blessing that gave me a sense of purpose and deepened my involvement with the organization. Also, having the commitment assured that I would actually show up at Meeting for Worship, even on the Sundays when I didn’t necessarily feel like going.
I disagree with the phrase ‘The clerk conducts…’ on p. 97 in Faith and Practice, as this phrasing suggests that the clerk exerts hierarchical control. I suggest changing the wording to ‘The clerk facilitates…’.
I object to the term ‘non-Friends’ (e.g., on p. 108 in Faith and Practice), as it sounds cliquey and implies that some of God’s children are outsiders. All of God’s children have within them the seed of friendship with truth.
I disagree with the practice of any child becoming a member of the organization automatically at birth or by the request of parents, as this violates the autonomy of the child. I believe that membership should be by individual request only.
I am wary of terms such as ‘overseer’, ‘oversight’, and ‘elder’ (e.g., pp. 113-115 and pp. 132-133 in Faith and Practice), as these tend to imply a hierarchical domination by one person over another that is antithetical to our core value of equality and egalitarianism.
I don’t like it when this organization positions itself as just another ‘denomination’ (p. 116 in Faith and Practice) that is competing for the devotion of religious adherents. Because of the uniquely egalitarian manner in which we are organized, we are much more than just another religious subgroup; our unique structure contains the promise of something much more universal, utopian, comprehensive, inclusive, and divine.
One reason I love this organization is because it does not impose any one view of God on its participants. I love the fact that individuals who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic are welcomed into our society, alongside individuals who do believe in God. For the sake of creating a utopia on this earth, I suggest we continue to welcome all individuals into this organization with open arms, regardless of whatever specific beliefs they may profess or not profess.
I suggest that we remove the phrase ‘birthright member’ from Faith and Practice and from our language entirely. This term implies privilege by reason of birth and feels wrong to me on every level.
Thank you dear friends of truth for considering the concerns and suggestions I have offered in this epistle. I offer this in a spirit of love and gratitude for the many ways in which this organization has blessed my life and made this world a better place for all of us. Please let me know if there is anything you would like to discuss in further detail. I will be leaving New York on February 17th, and as of February 19th, my new residence will be in Las Vegas, Nevada. I look forward to us staying connected, and to our continued ongoing collaboration.
Most gratefully yours,
Ben G. Adams