Unity

It’s the glue. It’s the mysterious “something” which holds a group together. It’s the sense of common purpose, of shared goals, of joint decisions, of a common story which makes us all one in spite of our differences.

A lot of the time, it’s taken for granted. But when it’s missing, everyone knows it by its absence.

There are a number of cheap substitutes for unity – things we try because unity is sometimes difficult, painful or expensive to achieve. Among these cheap substitutes are:

  1. Toleration, which says, “Whatever each of us does is all right — you do your thing, and I’ll do mine, and we won’t say anything about each others’ actions.”
  2. Uniformity, which insists that everyone think alike, look alike, act alike, and feel alike. Uniformity often creates an outward unity, which easily masks inward disagreement and resentment.
  3. Exclusion or division – just throw out anyone who disagrees or doesn’t conform, or make them so uncomfortable enough that they leave or shut up.

There are many passages in the Bible about spiritual unity. In Jesus’ last prayer, he prayed, “that they may all be one; even as you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . .” (John 17:20-21)

Or Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he says, “.. . there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. . .” (I Corinthians 12:4-6)

Paul uses the analogy of the unity of the human body. We are all different, Paul says, and we will inevitably have different, perceptions, roles and understandings. And yet, we need one another. Unity is the clear recognition that we will die without each other.

As Paul says, a foot can’t say to some other part of the body, “I don’t need you!” or “I don’t belong to you!” Unity begins with the fundamental understanding that we belong to one another, and that we cannot deny each other.

The unity of Friends often comes under strain, because people and times and conditions are always changing. Last year, Indiana Yearly Meeting agreed to divide. It’s a decision which many Friends, including myself, did not like or agree with.

In traditional Quaker business practice, if the group cannot unite on a proposed decision, the matter is held over for further discussion, searching and prayer. At least 10% of the Friends who were present at Representative Council in October of 2011 stated their opposition to the proposal to divide the yearly meeting, while other Friends threatened to leave if the division did not go forward.

The presiding clerk stated that in his opinion there was “enough unity” for the division to take place. It might have been more truthful for the clerk to have said that there was not enough unity for Indiana Yearly Meeting to stay together. 

Since then, a Task Force on Reconfiguration has been laboring to come up with documents describing a new “IYM A” and “IYM B”, and monthly meetings have been asked to consider which group they want to belong to.

Many Friends continue to say that they do not want to be forced to choose or take sides. Other Friends, like myself, express serious doubts that division is the will of God for us.  The official answer is always, “The decision has been made and is going forward.”

Quakers believe that God knows what is truly right. And we believe God is willing to lead us. Unity means that if we are faithful, if we are honest, and if we refuse to deny each other, then God can lead us together.

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3 Responses to “Unity”


  1. 1 Steven Davison May 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Friends have traditionally sought—and expected—unity in the spirit of Christ. Does “enough unity” denote some viable percentage of the spirit of Christ, his part-time presence, perhaps, or his divided attention? Does Christ have ADD? Is he going to spend some of his time with one yearly meeting and the rest with the other? If the meeting did not achieve true unity in Christ, then was he present at all? Or only present to those who were in unity with disunity?

    There’s something fishy with the unity that the clerk and the meeting declared for itself. It seems to me your recasting the unity as not enough unity to stay together would have been a better decision. In that case, without unity to divide, the decision would have been to remain together, and the Friends who felt they would have to leave would have to declare themselves and act. Would they have claimed to have absconded with the spirit of Christ and left the remaining body bereft?

  2. 2 Roger Dreisbach-Williams May 12, 2012 at 7:31 am

    If I heard it correctly, in the Great Schism Arch Street Meeting did not join one side or the other but sought to hold all in love.

    ‘We Define ourselves by the Groups to which we Belong; and a Group Defines Itself by the STORY that it tells.” – Stanley Hauerwas (emphasis added)

    Jesus holds us in our diversity. Loving ALL who are willing to acknowledge that love and the truth of creation. My prayer is for the Voice to rise up out of the worship among Friends in IYM and for Love to flow forth across the nation.


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All of the posts on this blog are my own personal opinion. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members and attenders of the meeting where I belong or any organization of Friends. For more information, click on the "About Me" tab above.

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