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"All Creation Waits" - An Advent Book Recommendation and a Chance to Get A Copy Free!

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Thu, 11/30/2017 - 9:38am


Though we Quakers normally eschew recognizing "holy-days," believing as we do, that no day is more holy than any other, I must confess that Advent is my favorite of the liturgical seasons. I love the poetry, songs, art, and anticipation of this special time -- the hope that it embodies.

Still, as a Friend, I remain fully rooted in the sacramental potential that each day's quotidian activities afford. Hence the title of my blog -- "Holy Ordinary." So I was delighted to receive a copy of All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings.

In this delightful book by Gayle Boss (illustrated by David G. Klein) the wonder of advent is unveiled in a fresh way through the most natural life of this world -- that of God's humblest creatures.  Boss takes us into the very heart of humble words of Romans 8:22 that "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." We humans far too often make Christian faith all about us -- seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of life on earth. Boss's book reminds that we are a part of the "whole creation" and that advent is a "mystery of new beginnings."

Instead of wise men, shepherds, or even sanitized sheep of most congregational Christmastime crèches, we are invited into the world of chipmunks, raccoons, wild turkeys, lake trout, and even snakes (who often get little respect from Christians who have a memory of a certain serpent in Eden).  Boss opens her introduction with a quote from Meister Eckhart:

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.

Every creature is a word of God.

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature–
even a caterpillar–
I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God
is every creature.

She then takes us into worlds of burrowy, hibernating, downy anticipation of new creation.  Her short meditations reveal the peace and grace of the wild things that are as surely a part of God's creation as are we. Boss presents us with stories of hope amidst the animals' realities of cold, predators, and privation of the season. Realities that many of us, wrapped in a warm houses filled with food and family, forget. Our biggest discomforts rarely amount to first world inconveniences.  Yet, much of the world identifies with realities faced by our animal friends. We would do well to do so, as well. They remind us that many of us live in a consumer society that has us dangling a hair's breadth from economic disaster -- and that death and despair can stalk even we comfortable middle class Americans. And yet, there is still a hope that is eternal. Advent and Boss's meditations remind us of that.

Wendell Berry once wrote:
When despair for the world grows in me
 and I wake in the night at the least sound
 in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, 
I go and lie down where the wood drake 
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. 
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water. 
And I feel above me the day-blind stars 
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

All Creation Waits takes us into the peace -- and grace and hope -- of wild things and the mystery and blessing of Advent. You'll want to get a copy for you, your family, and others you love.


© Wendell Berry. "The Peace of Wild Things" is excerpted from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.
Categories: Blogs

World War I and Religious Peace Groups

American Friends Service Committee - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 9:27am
News Source: C-SPAN
Categories: Articles & News

Sunday Morning Whiteout

Friends Journal - Mon, 11/27/2017 - 2:30am

© kichigin19

All night falling snow, a trackless silence,

and now dawn light snow filled until

all ways across the field have failed but still

at the table soft voices warm as hands.

The post Sunday Morning Whiteout appeared first on Friends Journal.

Categories: Articles & News

Stop US Arms to Mexico presentation, November 2017

American Friends Service Committee - Sun, 11/26/2017 - 4:49pm

Slide presentation at "Stop US Arms to Mexico" workshop presented by John Lindsay-Poland, November 11, 2017 in Nogales, Arizona.

Categories: Articles & News

Remembrance of Sex Scandals Past — Gerry Studds

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 8:07am

All yesterday I had half-recollections in my head, kind of like an ear-worm but not music, instead a name: Gerry Studds. I kept wondering: why hasn’t his name come up recently, in all the furor about public figures and sex scandals. Was I remembering right — what did happen to him?

I did remember who he was: a Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts; his district covered much of Cape Cod. And he got in sex trouble — but from there it was kind of hazy.

So I looked him up. Turns out he was gay (I remembered that), and — well, some basics first:

He was elected to Congress in 1972. His district is known to  outsiders as a place where many well-heeled folks hang out in the summer. But the locals are heavily involved in fishing. And so Studds became an expert on fishing and maritime issues. He also helped preserve many stretches of their beaches.

He was cruising along in Congress until, 1983 there was a high-octane (for the time) scandal involving sex between members of the House and Congressional pages, who were high school aged office staff.

The spotlight fell on Studds, who admitted to having had an affair with a 17 year-old male page, shortly after Studds came to Congress. Another member, Republican Dan Crane of Illinois, was accused of sex with a female page the same age, and he admitted it as well.

It’s worth pointing out that at the time, the age of consent in the District of Columbia was 16, so these encounters, which were described as consensual, were not illegal.

But the uproar outed Studds, who thus became the first openly gay Congressman. It also led to an Ethics Committee recommendation that he and Crane be formally reprimanded.

This wasn’t tough enough for an aggressive, up-and-coming conservative, Newt Gingrich, who demanded that the two be expelled from the House.

Newt Gingrich, in Congress

Gingrich (who would later have sex scandals of his own) was headed off by the Republican minority leader, Rep. Robert Michel, who proposed instead to “upgrade” the reprimand to a formal censure. On July 20, 1983, Michel’s motion was overwhelmingly adopted; the vote to censure Studds was 421 to 3.

Formal censure in the House is a rare ritual of public shaming; most of those censured were involved in financial corruption (which wasn’t involved here). Crane and Studds were required to come before the House, one at a time, and  stand alone as the Speaker read the censure resolution.

Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, Speaker of the House.

That Speaker was the legendary Tip O’Neill, who reportedly did not relish the task and hurried through the brief resolution:

“’Resolved, one, that Representative Gerry Studds be censured; two, that Representative Gerry Studds  present himself in the well of the House for the pronouncement of censure; and three, that Representative Gerry Studds be censured with the public reading of this resolution by the Speaker.’”

Which he was. Studds faced O’Neill for the reading, his back to other members, then took his seat. He was later stripped of a House subcommittee chairmanship as well.

Studds issued a semi-defiant statement afterward: “All members of Congress,” he said, “are in need of humbling experiences from time to time.”  He thanked his constituents, who he said, had ”helped me to emerge from the present situation a wiser, a more tolerant and a more complete human being.” He called the page encounter “a serious error in judgment.”

Dan Crane

Crane said that ”This is one of the most difficult moments of my life.” Admitting he had brought shame on the House, he added, “I want the members to know I am sorry and that I apologize to one and all.”

Afterward, though, both men said they would stay in Congress and planned to run for re-election.

And they did. Crane lost.

But Studds spent much time mending fences back home, fending off charges that he was a child molester and rejecting petitions calling for his resignation. The 1984 campaign was grueling, but his record of work for the fishing industry and beach protection paid off. He was re-elected, though his margin was down from 68 percent to 56.

After that Studds sailed through six more elections, became chairman of the House Merchant Marine Committee, was a frequent critic of the Reagan administration, and a low-key but staunch advocate for gay rights. He retired from the House in 1997, after 25 years.

Crane had been a dentist; he returned to fixing cavities and crowns. In 2004 Studds was among the first wave of those taking advantage of the pioneer Massachusetts law legalizing same sex marriage; he married Dean Hara. Studds died after a pulmonary embolism in 2006, aged 69.

Admission, submission, outing, censure, and judgement by the voters, with different outcomes, but now a common obscurity. I admit I’m mostly interested in Studds and his experience. But for each it’s fair to ask, was justice done here? And would it have been different if Twitter had been around then?

 

The post Remembrance of Sex Scandals Past — Gerry Studds appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary

Micah Bales - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 2:00am


I’ve always liked to think of myself as a radical. I come by it honestly. That my parents named me after the prophet Micah should have been your first clue. When I was a kid, our family aided refugees fleeing war-torn Central America. My parents blocked trains carrying nuclear weapons. They got arrested for demonstrating at military bases. Our Christian faith was always tied up in subversive activity, undermining the status quo and demanding a more just world.

When I became a Christian as an adult, I followed a similar path. I identified Jesus as the the ultimate prophet. He spoke truth to power and overturned the rulers of this world along with the tables in the Temple. For me, nothing could be more radical than the gospel. Jesus was a revolutionary.

In many ways I still believe that. Yet in recent years I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with this Jesus-as-revolutionary paradigm. For one, it’s often used to link Jesus to left-wing politics. As if he were just an exemplar the Democratic Party, or socialism, or anarchism, or whatever other ideology we want to project onto him. But this can’t be. Jesus isn’t a spokesman for human ideology. Rather, he is the power and presence of God breaking into the world, disrupting all of our belief systems and power structures.

In the wake of the 2016 election, I’ve been encouraged to see large parts of the church finding its voice and speaking up for justice. For far too long, much of the church has hidden its prophetic light under a bushel. But in the face of the growing blasphemy of the anti-poor, anti-life, and anti-earth policies of the Religious Right, millions are re-discovering the social justice implications of the gospel. They’re speaking about it in openly theological terms. This is a hopeful sign. It could point towards a revival in an American Christianity that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus rather than the idolatry of power.

In the midst of my hope, I’m also concerned that the “progressive” church is at risk of becoming a liberal analog to right-wing Evangelicalism. The rise of the Religious Right was a disaster for both America and the church. An emergence of a Religious Left could be just as much of a catastrophe. Binding ourselves to political expediency and the dictates of human ideology, we risk once again diluting the gospel into talking points for cable new shows and slogans for marches.

This always seems to happen. From the earliest days of our faith, the people of God have often chosen politics over our allegiance to Jesus. Why? There are many factors, but one big reason may be that we on the progressive end of the spectrum have fundamentally misunderstood the relationship of Jesus to the powers and principalities of his day – and ours.

For those of us who lean progressive in our political outlook, it’s very easy to see Jesus as a scrappy freedom fighter. He’s the underdog who triumphs in the end. Jesus has the courage to speak truth to power, and the truth is vindicated. How does this occur? Maybe it’s through the power of the people. Or historical inevitability. We’re not really sure. But in any case, the meek inherit the earth and “love wins.”

In this way of looking at the world, the powers and rulers of this world are strong, and Jesus is weak. Jesus overcomes the might of the powerful through his clever teachings, charisma, and great community organizing skills. The authorities can kill Jesus, but they can’t kill the revolution – because the power of the people don’t stop. In this vision, the kingdom of God is always an insurgency, forever nibbling at the edges of the kingdoms of this world.

That’s an easy way for progressives to understand Jesus, but it’s not the truth. Just as the Religious Right warps the kingdom of God when they conflate it with their favorite politicians and a right-wing political and economic order, the Religious Left is tempted to view the kingdom of God as synonymous with a politics of resistance, and perpetual weakness.

The gospel isn’t revolutionary. Revolution is about the overthrow of the established order. It’s about the weak, the illegitimate, the unacknowledged seizing power from those who have every right to wield authority. Revolutionaries are rebels who assert their legitimacy through brute force.

Jesus is no rebel. Jesus has every right to power and authority. He is the legitimate ruler of the universe. He is not a revolutionary who seizes the mantle from the powerful; he is the king. The apparently mighty rulers, politicians, business leaders, and celebrities who lord over our society today – they’re not the established authority. They’re rebels and revolutionaries against our true Commander-in-Chief!

If Jesus isn’t a rebel, but rather the Authority, where does that leave us? We’re not radicals or dissidents. We’re loyalists. In the midst of a darkened and confused rebellion, we remember who the king is. The kingdom of God isn’t about overthrowing the rebel institutions and power structures of this world; it’s about holding fast in our loyalty to our true leader.

That has a different feeling, doesn’t it? Very different from the partisan political clawing that’s going on right now. This world begs, cajoles, and shames us into joining their ideological camps. It seeks to pull us into a sisyphean game of “king of the hill.” But we know who our king is. We have the peace that the world cannot give. We engage the suffering, degradation, and pain of this world with the confidence that comes from being not rebels, but servants of the true king.

How might this shift in perspective impact all of us who identify as followers of Jesus? Both for those of us who hold conservative viewpoints, as well as those of us who lean progressive, what does it mean for us that this world’s political, ideological, cultural, and economic systems are fallen and in rebellion against the kingdom of God? What does it mean for us to be loyalists of the one true king of the universe? How might our shared identity as citizens of the kingdom of God serve to unite us across partisan barriers?

Related Posts: Have Progressives Made Trump God? For Radicals, Living in Peace and Quietness Can Be A Challenge

The post Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

Prayers for FTC

Friends United Meeting - Sat, 11/18/2017 - 9:12am
Edna Todayo

One of the Friends Theological College staff, Edna Tadayo, was accidentally shot by a stray bullet while visiting a nearby town in Kenya. Another FTC staff person was with her at the time.

According to Robert Wafula, FTC Principal, she was rushed to the Jumuia Hospital (formerly Kaimosi Hospital) where they attempted to stabilize her. Unfortunately, I just received another message from Wafula saying Edna passed today.

Edna was a single mother of a young (5 – 6 year-old) daughter. I have asked Robert how we might assist the family and the school. Please keep all of them in your prayers at this time.

 

Colin Saxton

Categories: Articles & News

A Quaker Race Riot – Comments & Response

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Fri, 11/17/2017 - 11:23am

[A Fairly long read.]

Liz Oppenheimer of Minnesota sent in a lengthy comment on my post from last spring, “Quaker Race Riot in Philadelphia?

After pondering it, I decided  to quote it in full as a post, with some responses. Liz’s comment is in bold italics, and it is interspersed with my responses in standard font, with occasional emphasis.

Liz Oppenheimer:

It’s now half a year or more after this piece was first posted, and I have some thoughts and testimony and questions to lift up.

1. WHITE SUPREMACY. In this post there’s an implied question about the rightness or appropriateness of the use of the phrase “white supremacy” when referring to today’s Quakerism. I myself first disliked the word, but since it was used heavily by Friends of Color, I knew I was being Called into living into my discomfort, rather than insisting that my discomfort be eased by challenging the Friends who used it. White Friends are not the only ones who are voices and instruments of the Counselor, and sometimes the Light pierces my heart with Truth I do not wish to know. I would ask white Friends who are uncomfortable with naming white supremacy within our current practices/processes to ask a series of “Why” questions or “What’s at risk if…” questions. “Why do I get uneasy with that phrase? What’s at risk if I accepted it? Why are Friends of color using that phrase, why now?”

My response: It’s hard to respond to “implied questions” that I have not in fact asked, so I will deal instead with my actual practice in using the term “white supremacy.”

I became familiar with the phrase many years ago, as a descriptor mostly of groups (and some individuals) which were clearly dedicated to establishing or maintaining White persons and their perceived interests in power over non-whites, of various colors but mainly black.
“White supremacy” groups were relatively easy to identify, by rhetoric, practice, or both. For instance, the Ku Klux Klan, in its official Handbook issued in 1916, is clear:

At left: the cover of the KKK’s 1916 official Handbook. At right, its “Kreed,” with the relevant section highlighted. “White supremacist”? You bet.

White supremacy was an explicit part of the KKK “Kreed,” as shown above. And this outlook continues.

The Alabama Democratic Party emblem, until 1966.

Another such group, the “outing” of which shocked me at the time (early 1960s), was the Democratic party in many southern states. Alabama, for instance. The party there featured this emblem on its slates of candidates: a rooster and the motto: “White Supremacy for the Right.” Not much doubt there.

And while the Alabama Dems have changed (now mostly black, they dumped the rooster), their place has been taken by others; many others. Here is a selected list:
ACTBAC NC, Traditionalist Workers Party, Proud Boys, Vanguard America, Identity Evropa, Generation Identitaire, Traditionalist Youth Movement, National Socialists, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Council of Conservative Citizens, the League of the South.
I don’t hesitate to call these “white supremacist” groups.
And they’re not distant abstractions to me.

One of them, ACTBAC [“Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County”], is centered in the rural community of Snow Camp NC. The Friends meeting I attend is also in Snow Camp. A few months back, ACTBAC organized a pro-Confederate rally in Chapel Hill (in the next county east) in “defense” of a Confederate statue on the UNC campus. They have organized many similar rallies.

Then there is the “League of the South,” which put up this billboard in Montgomery, Alabama, where I saw it:

With admirable conciseness, this billboard sums up their program: “The League of the South [they say] is not a “neo-Confederate” or “Southern heritage” organization, although we certainly do honor our ancestors and our largely Christian historic inheritance as Southerners. The League is a present- and future-oriented Southern Nationalist organization that seeks the survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people. We stand for our Faith, Family, and Folk living in freedom and prosperity on the lands of our forefathers.
If this vision of a free, prosperous, and independent South appeals to you, please join us in our struggle.” [Emphasis added.]

 But “the Southern people” they want to secede with are white; just for the record. And what will happen to those nonwhites already settled in their projected southern ethnostate? They get rather fuzzy on this, but insist they don’t advocate violence. Really? I wondered again when I saw this bumpersticker on a pickup not long ago.

Anyway, “white supremacy” has maintained its usefulness to me as a distinct descriptor of such groups and ideas; it continues to carry very specific meaning, and I have not hesitated to use it as such. (You can find it several times in a book of mine on civil rights published more than 40 years ago.)

Now, what about, as Liz said, “the rightness or appropriateness of the use of the phrase ‘white supremacy’ when referring to today’s Quakerism.”

First off, “today’s Quakerism” is not an easy thing to pin down. Does it refer to, or include, Kenyan Friends, the largest Quaker population in the world? Are they white supremacist? I wouldn’t think so; they have their issues, but that isn’t near the top. Or what about Latin American Friends, many of whom are “non-white”?  That also seems doubtful to me. (I could be proved wrong about all this; but pending that, I’m sticking with this hunch.)

What about North American Friends? Even this relatively small slice of “today’s Quakerism” is quite a varied group. But I don’t mean this to dodge the issue. 

For instance: in the 1920s, many American Quakers and their meetings became all but absorbed into the Ku Klux Klan, especially in Indiana. As we’ve seen, the KKK is the quintessential white supremacist group, and I would certainly extend the term to those Friends who joined or went along with it.

And this connection was not just a matter of rank-and-file Friends (tho they are important!) The head of a major division of the Indiana KKK was a prominent Quaker pastor, who had served at least half a dozen Friends churches there in a long career. And that pastor was also a prime example of Quaker “distinctives,” namely that rarity in Christian clergy, a woman, and a birthright Hoosier Friend, Daisy Douglass Barr. (I wrote at length about her here.)

So in my view, big chunks of American Quakerism were at least for some while clearly white supremacist in their orientation and connections. The outline of this has been well-documented by non-Quaker historians; but telling the full story of this KKK-Quaker fusion and its unhappy legacy has not yet been taken up by any major Quaker historian. Shame on them.

So are Friends in Indiana still a white supremacist group? For me that’s very much an open question, for two reasons.

First, as I have researched and documented here, the spirit of the Klan, definitely including its white supremacist outlook, and strong ties to the currently ascendant right wing Indiana politics, pervaded and haunted the 2016 election campaign there and elsewhere. So 80 years after the Klan peaked and then withered as a mass organization (though it’s not entirely gone!), what astute observers called “Klanism” is still very much alive, and quite prevalent in Indiana.

And second, in the face of the stonewalling vow of silence about the Quaker-Klan connections by those yearly meetings, and major Quaker historians, the jury is still out.

But then, what about other yearly meetings, say Philadelphia, which was the subject of the blog post that Liz is commenting on. Is Philadelphia YM properly to be called a “white supremacist” group?

My answer is a firm no. But with a qualification:

There are plenty of mainly white religious groups, maybe most, which are on record against racism and slavery and its racist legacy —  yet which fall short in living up to these ideals. Some fall more short than others. Does this make them “white supremacist”? 

It could, as the Indiana case shows. But the histories of the two groups here are, in my view, quite different. One could make a good case that PYM was “white supremacist” until 1758, when it banned slaveholding by members.

But even before that change, I cannot dismiss the long line of antislavery Philadelphia Friends, from those in Germantown in 1688, to Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet & John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Bayard Rustin, and numerous others lesser known, down to our own time, who have carried an active concern, and taken many risks, for racial advance and equality. Further, that body has sponsored many useful (if imperfect) related projects and concerns and remains under the weight of them, if still incompletely.

To be sure, with the highlights there are shortcomings: the segregated bench; the long-segregated Friends schools; and some more recent incidents. And where do PYM’s conflicts which seem to be about race overlap with and shade into issues of class? (Indeed, my own sense is that class issues may be the bigger elephant in PYM’s room than race; the fact that I hear so little about it is a big clue.)

But does PYM’s mistakes and failures put it in the same category as the KKK or the League of the South?

I have read such charges; one person of color asserted in a Facebook discussion a few months back that PYM and its leadership was “as bad as could be” on race.

“As bad as could be”? Nope: can’t buy that. And in that Facebook thread, more than one Friend of color dissented from it too; PYM has issues, they said, but it was not as that one person described it.

I was with the dissenters of color: PYM’s record is definitely mixed, but it’s not even a close call for me. In fact, I wish PYMers spent more time than they do studying their own 300-plus year record of such work, celebrating its successes, and candidly (but minus the ritual guilt-ridden breast-beating) assessing its failures. They have a rich, neglected religious heritage there.

Thus my problem with calling PYM “white supremacist” is that using the same term for it as for the Klan or ACTBAC makes the phrase nearly useless: too broad, confusing, and drained of explanatory value. 

It’s also, in my view, plain incorrect. PYM is hardly perfect; but it’s not the same as the Klan, or the Klan-infected meetings of Indiana. Not even in the same league.

You want an example of white supremacy in recent Quakerism? Try this, from the First Month 10, 1924 issue of The American Friend, the journal of the Five years Meeting (now FUM):

“On Christmas eve [1923] a splendid program was given in the Friends Church at Rose Hill, Kansas [not far from Wichita], consisting of a tree with presents for all and candy and nuts for the children.

This photo is not from Rose Hill Friends Church, but it is indicative: the Klan visited many many churches in its 1920s heyday.

To the surprise of almost all the audience and at a time previously selected by the pastor, in marched ten members of the Ku Klux Klan in full regalia, lined up and stopped in front of the pulpit and handed the pastor some money.
The pastor in his speech of acceptance, welcomed them, in so far as he personally was concerned, commended them for the good they had done, thanked them for their token of good will and made a few remarks to the gratification of the Klansmen.
Whereupon they marched out without uttering a word, leaving the audience in a state of nervousness.”

It is useful to ponder this brief report. Was the pastor a Klansman? (Many were; KKK organizers offered ministers free memberships to curry favor; plus the public bribes–err, “donations,” were a frequent gesture.) Or was the pastor frightened of the Klan, and submitting to this invasion under pressure, in hopes of warding off the Klan’s legendary wrath? The reference to the “state of nervousness” left behind suggests the visit may not have been a welcome one.

Can Philadelphia yearly Meeting be squeezed into this category? I don’t see it. But then what to call it? 

I call it a GARP. 

GARP stands for a Group Affected by Racism & Prejudice.

Yes, PYM (and most mainly white churches) are groups affected by racism and prejudice: GARPs. That’s not the same as a group devoted to white supremacy.

If you don’t believe that, then come visit me in Alamance County, NC, and let’s take a tour. Or if that’s too much, then try an exercise at home: watch this 9-minute video interview with two very serious Neo-Confederates; real live people (don’t worry, there are no expletives, guns or flaming torches in it). But some truly different and unsettling ideas.

Yet being a GARP doesn’t let PYM off the hook for present shortcomings and infractions, including some recent hotly-debated cases, which I won’t take up here. I gather they’re working on them, and others, and there are mixed reactions, even from Friends of color.

So for my part, I’ll keep on calling white supremacy as I see it; there’s plenty of opportunity where I live. My usage may not match that of others, but I stand by it. And I stand by GARPs too; and PYM is one.

Liz Oppenheimer commented further:

2. A NOT SO LONG-AGO PARALLEL. It seems to me that there was quite a bit of resistance among straight Friends to accept claims of homophobia by gay and lesbian Friends (and later bisexual Friends; and transphobia by transgender Friends). Maybe there was even resistance or denial about the word “homophobia” like there is with the phrase “white supremacy.” I wasn’t among Friends back then, but I’ve heard stories, especially from the Midwestern U.S., where I’ve grown into Quakerism. It seems to me that straight Friends back then wanted to see themselves as “good” and didn’t want to yield to the Truth as presented by their gay and lesbian counterparts. Wasn’t there blatant homophobia back then that straight Friends didn’t want to own up to? Wasn’t there also more subtle, institutional homophobia? To what extent might there be parallels between that earlier struggle/transformation and the one that many white Friends are facing now? Who gets to decide the appropriate use of a phrase or the appropriate expression of anger or frustration? Who gets to decide what is appropriate “Quaker process” or other mechanism to address a conflict between someone of the dominant group and someone of the historically oppressed group? 

My response:  As far as parallels between struggles over race and over LGBT terminology in meetings, they happened, yet I believe there was more to it. (I also regret very much that, after forty-plus years of activism and conflict –and in many places much progress–on these issues, there has as yet been no serious history published of this dramatic set of changes among Friends. )

My recollection is that the conflicts included words but were over more than that. It seemed the main struggles were over actions: were meetings to affirm LGBT persons and their relationships? And more recently, were they to affirm and perform same sex unions and then marriages? Were they to accept (and even defend) out LGBTs in all offices in their meetings and groups?

To be sure, there were stresses over the term “marriage” versus “unions” or “commitments”. But I believe it was the doing that was decisive. Another way to put it is, that beyond nomenclature, many truly believed (as most of us did for so long) that all this was simply wrong. And here I shall speak the A-word; “abomination,” which afflicted many of us who paid attention to the Bible, and even others who thought they didn’t.

In some meetings these struggles lasted years. Friends straight and gay quit because of them; for many other straight Friends, hearts and minds changed; for many meetings, the denouement was ultimately happy.

Yet in not a few U.S. yearly meetings, the struggles have concluded (for now) with firm decisions that all this is still a raft of abominations, by whatever new names a gaggle of hellbound liberals might be calling them. Yes, among Quakers today, in the U.S. and elsewhere, homophobia definitely continues to dare speak its name.

And more than a few of these struggles have been accompanied by blatant breaches of anything resembling Quaker process, especially as those determined to save their groups from the “A-word” do what they think they have to do to get their way.

I have reported on these conflicts for years; I watched them destroy a 320-year old Quaker body right here in North Carolina just this year, and chronicled it at length in these columns. 

And with this background, I am put very much on guard by questions such as these:

Who gets to decide the appropriate use of a phrase or the appropriate expression of anger or frustration? Who gets to decide what is appropriate “Quaker process” or other mechanism to address a conflict between someone of the dominant group and someone of the historically oppressed group? 

To all of them, I give what seems to me a very traditional Quaker answer; the body, following its tested good order, that’s who decides. The body has to protect itself from verbal and other assaults; the body has to bear with and manage its conflicts. If Quaker good order is to be held with integrity, such management may take much patience, but also firmness. It is my impression that FLGBTQ is usually rather painstaking about its Quaker process; which seems to me one of its strengths.

I am not trying to say anything new here. There are many other ways to run a church: the pope can ban cell phones from his masses (or at least he can try). An evangelical preacher can wave the Bible and hound dissenters from his church’s halls. Episcopal bishops haggle; Baptists and Unitarians take votes.

And if these don’t satisfy, one still can start The Church Of Do It My Way.

Liz Oppenheimer concluded her comment with this: 

3. A LONGER-AGO PARALLEL. I also imagine a similar trajectory and transformation took place around plain old sexism. To what extent might there be parallels between that earlier struggle/transformation and the one that many white Friends are facing now? Wasn’t there blatant sexism way back then that male Friends didn’t want to own up to? Wasn’t there also more subtle, institutional sexism? (I just read a bit from the new book The Fearless Benjamin Lay, in which the author-historian makes a reference to George Fox’s negative view of women among Friends, for example. Eww.)

Blessings,
Liz

My response:  I have not seen the new book about Benjamin Lay, and can’t comment on what it might have quoted. But it is no news that the history of women’s (and other) equality among Friends is much different from what many modern liberal Friends imagine.

For one thing, I have seen no such item as a “Testimony of Equality” in books of Discipline & Faith & Practice until late in the 20th century. Hear me: it isn’t there. 

To be sure, when Fox established women’s meetings, and legitimized women speaking and as ministers, this was an enormous advance for women in Christian religious settings, one which had far-reaching implications.

Yet women’s meetings were never “equal.” And when early versions of modern notions of gender equality began taking shape among Friends, 200-plus years later, that’s when impatience with women’s separate meetings began to bubble.

But there’s more: meetings weren’t “equal.” And Friends within meetings weren’t “equal.” That included men.

I have seen recent writings refer to earlier Quaker meetings as “religious democracies”; that is just eyewash, an uninformed reading back of modern notions into a drastically different setting from three  centuries ago.

In fact, from early on there was a hierarchy, which exercised top-down authority, and it took decades of often bruising internal struggle (which is researched and charted in my book Remaking Friends) to change it. (And in various places it is still largely in place.)

Even so, the innovations by Fox and Fell and others displaced much of what is termed here “plain old sexism” among Quakers. Yes, most Friends were exceedingly sedate and respectable. Yet women’s meetings, and their independent ministry created dynamics that were in key ways very different from other groups.

Sexism? Sure, but I contend much of it was a different variety. Its evolution took time, but it is hardly an accident that so many Quaker women were leading figures in the early women’s movements. I don’t know if Fox would approve of the current outcome (I suspect Fell might be more satisfied), but the connections are there, if long-ripening. Personally, I find this part of our history both fascinating and in many ways uplifting. 

And also shocking. Because the same Quaker religious culture which produced a towering figure like Lucretia Mott also leaves us blinking in the long shadow of Indiana’s “Chief Kluckeress,” Friend Daisy Douglas Barr.

 

 

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