Let us leap ahead briefly to the exercise of queries and advices, which are such an integral part of our Quaker discipline. (Keep in mind, too, that what we refer to as our Book of Faith and Practice was previously known as our Yearly Meeting’s Book of Discipline, a term some other Yearly Meetings continue to use.) An assiduous application of queries and advices led to The Reformation of American Quakerism, 1748-1783 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), which Jack D. Marietta argues preserved the integrity of Friends’ testimonies but at the expense of closing our ranks, into sect rather than expanding as a denomination. This sect/denomination dichotomy, incidentally, arises from Max Weber’s sociological model, which unlike the popular usage does not have a negative connotation. It merely refers to the ways in which religious groups organize themselves. Donald B. Kraybill and Donald R. Fitzkee, both of the Church of the Brethren, write: “Sects often emerge as a protest movement within a larger religious body in a quest to renew the original vision of the group’s religious heritage. Sectarian groups typically establish exclusive membership requirements, reject hierarchial levels of authority, emphasize voluntary membership, protest dominant social values, disdain professionally trained leadership, encourage high levels of lay involvement, prefer small-scale organization, and censure deviant members. The list of sectarian traits varies by theorist. … Observers of the so-called ‘sect cycle’ have noted that over time sectarian religious groups tend to ‘grow up’ organizationally and become sects.” This sectarian process, applied to the Society of Friends, encouraged an exercise of applying the queries stringently; without it, the peace testimony would have no doubt fallen in the Revolutionary War and our stand against slavery likely would have not taken shape. And yet, the very process of strengthening our group discipline and unique identity may have set the stage for calcification that made the separations and splinterings of the next century inevitable. A central question for us today, then, is what are our testimonies in this age – and how strongly do we hold them?


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