Second Thoughts on James 5:19-20

I think my off the cuff comment about score brownie points with the Big Guy by finding the Shepherd”s lost lambs for him” model of salvation was actually needlessly unfair to poor James.

Firstly, James is not talking about conversion of outsiders here. That’s clearly Paul’s work. Paul’s good at it. James — at least here — is talking about anyone among you wanders from the truth — in other words — folks who have been a part of this community of faith — at least in the past.

It seems to me, after thinking a bit more about it, that James is either talking about members of the community who have — metaphorically — wandered form the truth (i.e., still attend meeting/church but are not involved in practices or beliefs that are not consistent with the gospel) or he is talking about folks who have wandered literally — that is to say — left.

In other words this is about community discipline.

Imagine a meeting or church, and after that meeting or church takes a hardline stand on something or other — the war in Iraq, or peace tax initiatives, or same-sex marriages, or some such matter — a person becomes upset enough to leave. Those who stay can have one of two responses.

Good riddance! Or at least more kindly, well everyone has to choose their path for themselves.

But the other option is to go to the person, hear their concerns, and encourage them to return and add their voice to the assembly again.

Which path would you choose?

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11 responses

  1. There is another way – in meeting for business there is a path one can take when no reconciliation can be found but the group needs to move on; this is the position where a person agrees to “stand aside”. This way, even in serious contention, a sense of respect is given and granted from all to all. In reality it is a difficult thing but usually someone will always be the instrument of God and remind all that disagreement does not stop there being “that of God in all.”I have always believed that Friends hold the key to rising above differences – if we choose to use it. Sometimes, because we’re only human, we forget about that talent.This is why I have always left the question on the table; “can you be a peace-maker as we are called to be by the 5th of Matthew, and be a partisan for one of the sides at the same time?”I personally don’t think so. I Ithink Friends should represent “the third way.” But I am in a minority in that opinion amongst Friends I think.

  2. Oops… hit “publish” when I meant to “preview…”…If the disagreement is theological in nature I believe that is another issue altogether. And still, have you ever seen a more diverse gathering of “theological” viewpoints than in a Quaker meeting??So I wonder…

  3. I have a f/Friend who knows more of (British/Canadian) history than anyone I know. She insists the “standing aside” provision is new-fangled, unQuakerly, and ultimately detrimental to the meeting’s sense of gathered unity.I don’t profess to know. I can see her point about it injuring point about unity. But I also wonder whether the fragmentary nature modern socirty may require this provision.

  4. Consensus and unanimity are the new-fangled approaches, I’m afraid. The idea of meeting for business is not that “I approve,” but that we determine what is the correct decision in the Light. That’s a very different thing.Standing aside is not something we should do lightly. It is a very serious issue. It is also – it should be said – very very rare. But I don’t see it as all that “new”, I know it is part of the possiblities among Conservative Friends meetings for business. We should also be careful about the “unQuakerly” stuff. What does that mean, exactly? If we believed that the past is a closed book and all decisions made at the hands of the church’s fathers centuries ago were final, we would have never moved beyond the Roman Church.I think Rufus Jones would take issue with the concept of “unQuakerly”. I hope we’re not just being quaint or precious!

  5. In Canadian polity — this standing aside is recorded along with the names. It is code for — I realize I’m not going to win you over but I don’t want history to record I’m with you guys on this.My f/Friend’s concern is that it is used to reach decision too quickly — and most often those recorded as standing aside find some other opportunity to raise the issue again. It allows meetings to move forward without substantive unity.Me? I think that would take a very long posting for me. I stood aside (unrecorded) on the peace tax issue alrgely as I had become disgusted with how abusive people had become in promoting the agendas on the issue on the floor of YM.

  6. I’m not sure I understand the Quaker standing aside concept – can you explain more?When someone joins the catholic church (like me), they have to take classes (RCIA) before they are baptized. The class I took lasted 1 1/2 years and consisted of a group of four other newbies and some people already catholic with two facilitators. About half way through, one new guy quit. The facilitators really didn’t want to let him go – they wrote to him,, called him, visited him, tried to get the rest of the group to pressure him to come back. They say it’s hard to leave the Mafia, try leaving the catholic church – ha ha.My feeling on someone leaving the church is that if you have a sincere intererst in what’s best for them, you might talk to them about their feelings, but if they still want to go, you should let the go with best wishes, not recriminations.As for disagreeing with church policy on issues (like abortion, homosexuality, women priests, death penalty, etc), each person must decide for themselves if it’s worth leaving over or worth staying and working on changing the policy.

  7. Standing Aside.Standing aside relates to our business meeting process. We do not vote. Decisions are made through “sense of the meeting” known variously as consensus or sense of the meeting. The ideal is those present speak to the issue until it becoems clear to the group as a whole that God is elading us towards a particular direction. A minute is written articulating that leading.To stand aside recognises that your sense of the right way to go forward is different from the groups, but that you will not stand in the way of the meeting. In Canadian practice, you can either record your name as standing aside or those standing aside may be left unrecorded.Did I miss anything Larry and RW?

  8. In Northern Virginia it happened occasionally, and no one seemed to have any negative feelings about it. I personally believe that unanimity is an impossible ideal. Standing aside is saying in essence, “I don’t agree with this decision, but it will not cause me to leave or to feel alienated from the majority.” Honestly friends, I have never agreed completely with all the decisions of any church or group. Am I unique?

  9. Yes, just imagine…your church votes to ordain a gay bishop and many people are upset and leaving…what would you do? Not a hypothetical for me, I’m afraid. Not quite as harsh as ‘good riddance,’ but close. Some have left because they feel the Bible says this should not be done. I cannot tell them how to read the Bible, nor can they tell me. They will find their way, Jesus will not lose one of his sheep. Maybe they are right? Who am I to say? I have been through this battle and the hurt and dissension are poisonous and I am weary of it. God bless them and keep them well and may they find that which they seek. I pray the same for myself and for you.

  10. I feel I should say this…The subtitle of my owm home blog is “…the Contrarian Quaker” because a lot of my opinions differ from many at my meeting – and throughout the broader Quaker family. I am not against globalization per se, at least not in the vehement way a lot of my fellow Friends are. I think socialism has done and will do more damage to people than capitalism has. I’m no supporter of President Bush to be sure, but I have voted for Republicans and will probably do so again whenever I feel they are the right person for the job. I have always held that to be a worker for peace it is wrong to take one of the sides of the combatants, because then you are a partisan more than a peacemaker. I feel much of the environmental issues will be settled by property law, not government mandate. I am not only a Christian, but I find non-Christian Quakers a bit out of place, and atheist Quakers just plain strange.That said… let me note that the meeting I attend is part of the liberal branch in which I am not altogether certain a majority are Christian, and of which I am certain a great deal are more inclined to socialism and may even rather be slain with a mortally venomous pox than go cast a vote for anything to the right of Howard Dean. And may the Queen God bless the Sandinista, etc. I am sometimes uncomfortable when after-meetings become political workshops. But with all of that and though I am a relative newcomer there, I have never been treated with anything less than kindness and tenderness in a spirit of mutual respect for which I think maybe only Quakers may be capable of because of their broader ethic.It is recognized that I attend because of a spiritual concern whereas most who are not birthright here came out of a social one. I believe there is that of God in everyone (even if they are a neocon… shudder), I believe in the veracity of waiting worship, and that the form of meeting-for-business can teach the world something. I hold with the peace testimony and I view the Richmond Declaration as the kind of “creed” Quakers originally wanted to stay clear of. Plus I recognize that I am not here to change what others think, but to square myself in the Light.Still if it were strictly politics I probably would either leave on my own or be told I wasn’t welcome. But it is not about politics and I couldn’t imagine anyone I know there ever telling me such a thing. Why, I have even watched people “tone down a little” with a wry grin and a nod in my direction when they are talking about driving elderly voters to the polls to vote democratic. 🙂 I think I am the “loyal opposition” and I also know I am not just being “put up with.”And to top it off, Downers Grove is actually BUILDING a new meetinghouse.So there is a lot to be said for standing aside on some things as a way of registering one’s conscience without burning all bridges or causing strife to a group that otherwise has become so precious to me. I think that is another use of “standing aside.”

  11. I have to tell one of my innumerable stories. Quakers won’t believe this, but I had it from the lips of my good Friend, Alfred. During World War II Alfred was a member of a meeting in Urbana, Illinois. Alfred, a flaming liberal, gave an ardent peace testimony. He was considered obnoxious by the clerk and/or “weightiest?” Friend, who happened to be the father of a colonel in the Marine Corps. He persevered.Finally he was asked to leave the meeting. He refused. Then he was told that if he didn’t leave, they would disband and meet in a place he knew not of. That’s as far as the story goes. (If you want more, I can put you in touch with Alfred.)Alfred went to work for the Chicago Herald Tribune, which old timers understand was the most neanderthalic newspaper in America; he was a flaming liberal, I said. He worked for them for 30 years. Hard to understand.He described himself once as a professional controversialist. And he can disagree with you in the most agreeable way; that’s a quality valuable to anybody, but maybe essential for Quakers. Wish I knew more like him.

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