Quaker Theology #16  -- Fall-Winter 2009

Update & Preview
Philip Gulley, Western Yearly Meeting,
And An Excerpt from His Forthcoming Book

Six years ago, in Quaker Theology, issue #9,
(http://quakertheology.org/issue-9-gulley-01.htm ) we reported on the effort to revoke the ministerialcredentials of Friend Philip Gulley, the pastor of Fairfield Friends Meeting near Indianapolis, Indiana. Fairfield is part of Western Yearly Meeting, which encompasses the western half of the state.

The charge was heresy, specifically that Gulley had espoused a universalist theology in his 2003 book, If Grace Is True. The Issue #9 piece also reviewed the book.

Gulley had previously been known as author of a series of "Front Porch Tales," folksy volumes that had been quite popular with evangelical readers. If Grace Is True was his first work of theology, and it was met with intense controversy, including calls for his expulsion from the ministry.

This controversy has continued, coming to the floor of Western Yearly Meeting for extended discussion at least twice. In 2007, a proposal to rescind came from the YM’s Executive Board. After lengthy exercise, the Clerk determined that there was no unity for any decision and remanded the proposal back to the Executive Committee.

The proposal came back to the floor this past summer, at the 2009 sessions. Debate (no milder term will suffice) continued for four hours, whereupon the Clerk determined that there was not only no unity on the matter, it was also clear such would not be forthcoming, and declared the proposal laid aside. A later effort to resurrect it was rejected. This appears to be the end of the line for efforts within Western Yearly Meeting to revoke Gulley’s pastoral credentials.

Predictably, his critics were not satisfied, and some resolved to act. By the end of August the groundwork was laid for formation of a new midwestern evangelical yearly meeting, and dissident pastors were invited to join it. How much of an exodus from Western Yearly Meeting this call will provoke is not yet clear.

Meanwhile, some of those who had supported Gulley, either by agreement with his views, or in affirmation of his right to hold them, were taking some organizational steps of their own. Several pastors of more "moderate" orientation, including Gulley himself, are planning a new, semi-annual series of gatherings to be called the Festival of Friends.

The festivals will invite participation from Friends in both Western, Indiana, and other Quaker groups. It is not, however, intended to be a new yearly meeting, but rather informal, cooperative events, focused on education and fellowship. The over-riding goal is to begin to re-knit the frayed bonds among the various groups there, which have been strained in recent years by repeated controversies such as that over Gulley’s pastoral credentials.

Gulley notes that the Festival process strongly resembles the way in which Friends General Conference was initially organized: as a series of "conferences" rather than a free-standing organization.

As these two fledgling initiatives suggest, things Friendly are in flux in Indiana. The two yearly meetings have been declining in membership for decades, raising question about their continued viability as separate bodies. For some views about what path the future might follow there, we suggest a look at "Friends’ Ecclesiology and the Quaker-Wide Web," in QT Issue #4 (online at: http://quakertheology.org/issue4-3-1.html ).

One near-term outcome of the end of disciplinary proceedings will be that Gulley can publish his next book without anxiety about official reprisal. It will likely stir some renewed controversy, however. Titled, If the Church Were Christian, it is due out from HarperCollins early in 2010. We are pleased to include herewith an excerpt from its opening chapter.

– The Editors

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