Community standards and change

Earlier, I defended the right of my religious group to hold community standards. I think it is important to realize though that community standards are neither doctrine nor eternal.

When we look at something such as the Quaker Oats box, we see a man wearing his hat and his plain clothes. When we hear about Quakers in an earlier time, we hear about a colorless people who say “thee” and “thou” instead of you, and a rude people who will not acknowledge others by raising their hat. This, and other pieces of history make no sense to us now — but the practice was transformed without changing the core truth that it was intended to preserve.

At the time these practices were formed, a person was born into a ‘station.’ People were considered to be better or worse than others by the accident of birth. Common people were address as a singular ‘thee’, people of quality were address with the plural ‘you’. Friends addressed all the same instead of distinguishing a person’s quality in the eyes of the world. The same thing applied to dress (you dressed according to your station in life,) and “hat honor.” Friends treated everyone alike, and Quaker grey was nothing more nor less than a choice not to show class distinctions through clothing.

In the late 19th century to early 20th century, all these outward community standards were abandoned. The attitude that all were equal in God’s sight became so common place that everyone was address as if they were people of quality. Wider society embraced the ideology of equality, but showed it in a different form, and Friends felt free to accept the form that wider society accepted instead of demonstrating their continued protest. Because these outward forms of the testimonies were obsolete, there were changed.

Now that we are in the 21st century, it might be wise for Friends in Kansas to revisit our community standards and see if the forms we chose (largely a century ago) still speak to the condition of our membership and to the world around us. This re-evaluation has already happened in almost all of the Yearly Meetings — and in truth it is going on in EFC-MA, and has been since 2001 when the YM affirmed the need for a new Faith and Practice. Unfortunately, we have primarily addressed issues of business procedure, and neglected the hard questions: What are our core principles? What community standards best reflect these principles? Which standards are obsolete, and should be removed? Should we create any new standards?

There is evidence that some change is demanded, in response to this evidence, I feel it is vital that we affirm our values and write standards according to the needs of our current generations. If we, as a community, feel that these are the standards of the past and not our current community — it is vital that we update our rule to meet our current needs.


One comment on “Community standards and change

  1. […] standards, and have both addressed the right of a community to form standards, and their right to change them. In these essays, I was thinking of a faith community and worked under the assumption that this was […]

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