Full disclosure, I am a Gurneyite. It is not a huge surprise that I think that calling someone who is part of my spiritual heritage a heretic does little to earn my respect. When I read Gurney, there is much to praise about him, and there are also things that cause me to see him as a product of the 19th century. As controversial as such a person would be, I hope for a Gurney of today — someone who explores how to live out and practice our faith in the changing world that we live in, while in dialogue with others who are facing the same struggle.
Sometimes, I feel like many of my Christian friends want to go back in time to some fabled golden age. Sometimes, I want to join them! Many of the arguments I hear about Orthodoxy really have more to do with culture than with belief — people don’t like that the world is changing around them, and they want to shut the changes off. Gurney brought Quakers to dialogue with the world, and to work with other Christians. Instead of fighting against a world changing around them, they fought to help make as many changes as possible positive. What if we approached the world the same way?
When Wilbur suggested that Gurney was a heretic, this suggests that he had some concept of what it means to be Orthodox — there must be an objective source of orthodoxy. Today, one might point to the late 19th century “Richmond Declaration”, (and many have), but in the time of Wilbur where do you look?
On my bookshelf, there is this impressive volume titled A Exposition of the Faith of the Religious Society of Friends published by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox). Because Friends in leadership of PYM were concerned about the unsoundness of Hick’s doctrines, it became necessary to define Orthodoxy. Followers of George Fox or William Penn can come to very different conclusions of what they taught because Early Quakers changed their views on many things as they aged. The Quakerism of the mid 17th century and the late 17th to early 18th century changed. Does one prefer Penn, the young rebel, or Penn the statesman, or Penn the nice old man who composes pithy sayings? Old and young Penn disagreed on some very important issues.
Thomas Evans, under the authority of the yearly meeting, put together a collection of Quotes from famous Quakers showing what Friends believed about a variety of subjects. This was a contemporary endorsement of voices in the past — showing the Orthodox way of understanding Quakerism and Quaker history.
This book of extracts is a collection of early Quaker quotes concerning the Triune nature of God, the divinity of Christ, the work of Christ and the value and role of scripture. This collection of quotes was produced in order to define Quaker Orthodoxy while the controversy surrounding Elias Hicks was current.
Reading the same source material, along with Wilbur’s arguments, I come to a different conclusion than Wilbur. Reading Wilbur’s arguments, I disagree. In my experience, heretics boast about their differences from Orthodoxy. They are proud that they know better. Gurney proudly changed the standard practice of isolation, the question is whether that custom was a matter of faith, or a matter of habit. When I look for Orthodoxy I understand isolation as a matter of habit, not a matter of faith.