Sam Walton: Putting the protest back in Protestant

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 08/17/2018 - 7:46am

From the Peace and Disarmament Programme Manger for British Friends comes a plea for us not to be afraid of going back to Quaker roots and challenge the abuse of power.

Society’s values are so often in opposition to God’s purposes. Slavery used to be legal. Love between two people of the same sex was illegal in our lifetimes. Our economic system is based on greed and pays no heed to God’s creation. Nation states exist and act for their own enrichment rather than loyalties lying with the Kingdom of Heaven and working for the enrichment of all humanity. When being loyal to God’s purposes runs counter to what society expects it can get pretty rough. There may be persecution, though it varies a lot: from tutting, telling you off for being vegetarian, being given white feathers, right through to imprisonment, jails and the lions of the Colosseum.

Putting the protest back in Protestant — Greenbelt

A blog from Sam Walton of our associate Quakers in Britain As a person of faith, my first…

Categories: Blogs

A New Creation Story

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:02pm

A nice piece on Philadelphia Friend O:

For O., a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, carrying this query for pastoral ministry awakens joy in her heart. It raises important questions: Are we transformed by the power of love, during our biological conception as human beings? Might our lives be a measureless love story about creation?

It’s hard to capture O’s personality in ASCII characters. She’s been in a few QuakerSpeak videos.

A New Creation Story: Embracing Love — Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

As Friends, we understand that scripture uses stories about the natural world to describe the spiritual life. But, do…

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Categories: Blogs

Becoming a Quaker Minister

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 8:01pm

I love the gentle, deliberate way Stephanie talks in her QuakerSpeak videos. In this week’s she talks about Quake ministry:

Joining up in that includes making my particular gifts and skills available and not needing it to be about me or accomplishment, but about seeking to really be a part of what God is trying to make happen with and through me and others, and to rejoice in that.

Becoming a Quaker Minister

Stephanie Crumley-Effinger was “recorded” as a minister in Indiana Yearly Meeting in 1982. We talked with her about…

Categories: Blogs

“I Guess I’ll Read My Bible Elsewhere”

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 08/16/2018 - 7:59pm

Mike Bevel with a funny/sad account of a kind of pathetic series of incidents.

The help we want to give — the showy, busy, selfless work — is rarely the help that is needed. And the help that is needed is often boring, with no glamour to it. So, what is to be done? I don’t know. I want to continue my spiritual journey towards/with God; however, I am worried that maybe the Quakers aren’t the home for me that I want.

The post’s title is a response Mike gave in which he channeled his mother’s voice. It’s so spot-on that I can almost hear her say it (I have never met Mike or any of his family but have friends who could deliver that kind of a line with such under-the-radar nuance that more clueless listeners might miss the acres of shade in the tone.

“I Guess I’ll Read My Bible Elsewhere”

A few weeks ago, at the Meeting House in Bethesda, Zach was breathing too loudly while he was…

Small | Wire
Categories: Blogs

Spike Lee vs the Klan; and When (Many) Quakers also Loved the Klan

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 11:12pm

Watching Spike Lee’s new film BlackkKlansman yesterday, it was evident that the director/provocateur has skillfully exploited a current of widespread cultural anxiety, which the Klan once embodied on a mass scale. The cinematic result is a timely, skillful and often gripping entertainment.

As a call to social action, however, I think it largely misfires. In organizational terms, the KKK in 2018 is not that big a threat: groups are small, and they dissipate much energy in infighting. In December, 2016, for instance, a Klan “victory  rally” was  announced for North Carolina (the “victory” being the outcome of the 2016 presidential election) . The event was dogged by militant protesters and dissolved in confusion before it even started. Yet there was one casualty: a Klan “leader,” Richard Dillon, said he was beaten and stabbed, by two other Klan “leaders” at a post-rally “meeting” that  devolved into a brawl. The attackers were arrested.

Such atomized, quarrelsome hate groups are dangerous, but not exactly a threat to overthrow the government (which, for that matter, they currently don’t want to do anyway). The slide from last year’s torchlit march and fatal mayhem in Charlottesville to the  resounding fizzle of the “Unite the Right” White House rally a few days ago is another indicator.

The more likely hazard from their ranks and hangers on is more  incidents of terrorism, such as the killing of 9  in a Charleston SC black church by a professed white supremacist; or the 2016 anti-gay massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida (though that shooter had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, not the Klan). Or, for that matter,  the cross-burnings and attacks planned by a local Klan chapter in Blackkklansman, which was based on actual police work to foil real, if unmemorable Klan crimes in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Rather than “the organization” (as Lee’s  Klansmen call their group), it’s the spirit of the Klan that’s now resurgent, and is still very much alive and active in American society. It rarely shows up in the old robes, and  its best disciples have switched to politics has found more sophisticated (and effective) means of manifestation, especially via politics.

But I’m not complaining. If Spike Lee had turned overtly earnest and didactic, Blackkklansman would have lost much of its verve. Better for the audience that I was kept far from the project.

Still, as long as the Klan is back in the news, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a  major chapter in Ku Klux Klan history that involves many Quakers. This one is real, nonfiction, solid, and verified — yet Quaker historians have been almost totally silent about it:

Say Hello to Friend Daisy Douglass Barr, popular Quaker pastor, and “Queen” of the Indiana Women’s Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.

(If thee is tempted to snicker, don’t. The Klan was a very big deal in the 1920s; it made Barr famous and rich. Not to mention its racism and violence, which she evidently ignored, or went along with.)

There’s a fine substantial article about Friend Barr and her eye-popping career online here, by a Hoosier historian, Steven Taylor. Don’t miss it.

I’ve borrowed some info and old photos from it. And another scholar, Leonard J. Moore, has added substantially to what we know in his book, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928.  

Moore builds on the fact that the membership list of the Indiana Klan was preserved (most others were lost or destroyed); and the Hoosier Klan was the nation’s biggest and most powerful in its 1920s heyday.

Moore’s analysis of the KKK list for Wayne County — home of the city of Richmond, numerous Quakers, and the Quaker  Earlham College — offers a startling (to modern  Friends) disclosure:

The religious affiliations of the Klans­men also closely approximated the city’s Protestant spectrum . .  . . The large, traditionally evangelical de­nominations (Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyte­rian) were strongly represented, but so too were the equally con­sequential German (Lutheran and United Brethren) and Quaker churches. (Emphasis added.)

That is, Indiana Quakers were just as likely to join the 1920s Indiana Klan as members of other churches; and many did.

Daisy Douglass Barr was their star.  She served as pastor in at least five prominent Friends churches, and preached in many more, over many years.

Daisy Douglass Barr in a 1922 newsclip (her maiden name was spelled Douglass, not Douglas, as here.)

She also used her notoriety and her Klan office to make money. The profit came mainly from selling Klan women’s robes and other paraphernalia. When the Indiana Klan could boast several hundred thousand members, and draw tens of thousands to its (white) family-friendly mass rallies, the paraphernalia business was good; nay, it was a goldmine.

By and large, according to Moore, the 1920s Indiana Klan, while committed to white supremacy, was not much into the racial terrorism of the group’s original Reconstruction-era incarnation.

Well, “not much” is a relative term. On August 7, 1930, one of the iconic lynchings of the era occurred in Marion, Indiana, near Daisy Barr’s birthplace. Two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were dragged from jail and left hanging from a tree, surrounded by a festive mob numbered at 5000, unashamed of the camera’s eye.  Despite the thousands of eyewitnesses, no one was ever prosecuted for the lynchings; a grand jury refused to issue any indictments.

Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion Indiana 1930.

Did I mention that Marion was home then to a large Friends Church? Still is.

Despite such savage incidents, it is still fair to say that even more than race, the Klan’s main “theme” was “Americanism.” That’s what its Indiana Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson, who was a political kingmaker for several years, droned on about ad nauseam in his speeches. For that matter, it was even stressed above race in the Klan’s “Kreed”:

The KKK “Kreed” from a 1916 Handbook.

Further, its “Qualifying Interrogatories for new applicants,” #5 asked:
“Do you esteem the United states of America and its institutions above any other government, civil, political or ecclesiastical, in the whole world?”

Quaker Daisy  Barr was all in on this. To quote historian Taylor:

In July 1923, Barr — the only woman on the program — addressed the assembled Grand Dragons of the Klan in Asheville, North Carolina, where she read a poem she’d written.  Starting out in first-person, Barr spoke about my “all-seeing” eye and revelations and “the love of Christ.”  Chillingly, it becomes clear that the “I” of the poem is “the Spirit of Righteousness”: 

“They call me the Ku Klux Klan.
I am more than the uncouth robe and hood
With which I am clothed.

Hostility to “new” immigrants (those not from northern, Protestant Europe, along with anti-semitism) was integral to this “Americanism.” It is a cry that echoes to this day.

So while no one should overlook the racial, religious and ethnic aspects here, there is yet another which is central to both “Americanism”  and to KKK history, namely: making money. For the KKK, when it had a mass membership, took in truckloads of money; and its officials seemed unable to stop quarreling over it,  or accusing each other of stealing it.

Daisy Barr wasn’t accused of theft; just good old-fashioned American profiteering. Which there seems little doubt she actively engaged in.

The Greenfield Reporter (at left) put the question baldly, and the answer was more or less yes, though exact figures are not available.

For several years in the 1920s, the Klan and head man, D.C. Stephenson, ran Indiana, and lived high on the hog. But then in 1925 Stephenson, 34, who had an eye for younger women, was arrested and tried for the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, age 28. He was convicted, spent years in jail, and with his fall, down went the Indiana Klan as a major organization.

Daisy Barr went on til 1938, when she was killed in a car wreck. Her name was still on the list of recognized ministers of Indiana Yearly Meeting, and she was prominent in interdenominational and patriotic women’s groups. Her funeral was, unsurprisingly, held in a Friends meeting.

Funeral notice for Daisy Barr, April 1938, Fairmount (Indiana) News.

The rise and fall of the 1920s Klan in Indiana  (and in the rest of the U.S.) is an epic and gripping story, well worth reading more about.  [And shoutout to Spike Lee or other ambitious filmmakers; this is a mother lode of exciting cinematic material!] Yet it’s not so much my subject here. Instead I see it more as a parable that has all too much current resonance. For, whether in white robes or (more likely) not; whether put through the Klan’s laughably ridiculous initiation rites (or more likely not), the Klan agenda of unremitting hostility to new immigrants, especially of color; plus its devotion to the post-Obama-era of repackaged and “sanitized” white supremacy; and its focus on one political party, all are very much still with us.

And that is not all. There remains a big chunk of unfinished business for American Quakers: how and why did so many Indiana Friends, custodians of some of the most honored shrines of antislavery witness, and many of whom had relatives lost or wounded in the Civil War to end slavery, get drawn into this openly racist, anti-immigrant group?  And what do we need to learn now from this dreadful history then?

We won’t learn much from Quaker historians; they are still essentially silent about it. The most detailed treatment I’ve yet seen of this episode was  a novel for teenage readers, called Mim and the Klan, by Cynthia Stanley Russell. In it a young Quaker girl stumbles across the fact that her aged grandparents were part of it, and starts digging out why. In one (fictional, but likely “authentic”) passage, her grandmother sums it up:

“It was a social activity to belong to the Klan in Indiana. There were picnics and rallies for America.

The subtitle: “A Hoosier Quaker Farm Family’s Story.”

We had just come out of World War I when everybody needed to be highly patriotic to weather the war together. And the Klan preached Americanism–put the flag on your window and so forth. And some people didn’t see the dark side of the Klan because they didn’t want to.”

Another way to put this is: these Indiana Quaker Klan members were not aliens or monsters; they were otherwise respectable, even “good”  people; and they are our spiritual forebears (as well as many living Quakers’ relatives).

Some may prefer to send all this down the memory hole, and pretend it did not happen. But it did, with echoes that still reverberate. These stories, even that of Daisy Douglass Barr, are connected to ours. How? And what do they mean?

And we need no “Anonymous” hackers collective to bring it to light; merely an end to denial.

Build a wall to keep out immigrants? Not a new idea: A pro-KKK cartoon from 1928. The caricatured “immigrants” above are , from left to right: Catholic, Jewish & eastern European (or any “radicals”).

Besides a chance to face some of Friends’ hidden history, the resurgence of “Klanism” is also a summons to grapple with the movement’s key themes, because they have much current echoes and resonance in our public life.

I researched these themes and the images in the summer of 2017. And a key to their resilience came in an obscure editorial in one of the few Indiana newspapers to challenge the Klan. In 1925 when the order was riding high in the state, an unnamed, beleaguered editor in South Bend, prophetically wrote:

“Klanism”; it’s a clumsy term, but then the Klan specialized in ungainly verbiage. And the editor was right: the Indiana Klan, followed by other Klan groups, collapsed from internal corruption and scandal by the late 1920s. Yet the attitudes evoked in these images and its standard rhetoric not only survived, they have assumed other guises and continued to flourish in Indiana and national politics.

After all, even in the 1920s many Klan sympathizers were prevented from officially joining by work rules or other constraints. But this didn’t prevent them from sharing the Klan’s signature issues — or from sticking with them when the Klan itself receded.

At its height, the 1920s Klan attracted hundreds of thousands of “respectable” folks: professionals, successful business people, prominent matrons, church leaders. (In fact, Klan leaders made special efforts to recruit ministers and pastors, waiving fees and other requirements, and not shrinking from offering outright bribes.)

One such beneficiary was the famously pugilistic evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935), one of whose mottoes was “fighting the devil & sin.”

Billy Sunday, ready to rumble. One of his more memorable quotes was: “A sinner can always repent, but stupid is forever.” Amen.

Once in 1922, Sunday was about to launch into a sermon in Richmond, Indiana (home of Earlham, a Quaker college, and many Quaker Klan members) when, according to the Indianapolis Times, a dozen Klansmen came marching in, “clad in white robes  and attended with much mystery.” They presented  Sunday with a fifty dollar, um, contribution, and a letter of endorsement. (Unlike the devil, Sunday did not fight them off.)

This was no isolated incident; I have found records of the same thing happening in least two midwestern Friends churches, along with many others.

The cross, the flag & especially “America” — these were the 1920s Klan’s main symbols and platform. The common image of the group as being above all obsessed with race hatred directed at blacks misses most of their priorities. Sure, they wanted to keep down African Americans; but in the 1920s, particularly in Indiana, they hardly bothered to talk about that.

The flag, the Liberty Bell, the hovering image of George Washington, the Bible & the cross: The 1920s Klan was all about “Americanism.”

My guess is that this reflected a period that was a low point of civil rights agitation; so the Klan turned to its other targets, of which it had many: immigrants (Europeans and Asian); Catholics, Jews, and anyone  who opposed Prohibition.  There was some violence, but it was subdued and often clandestine. In its frequent public events the Klan emphasized a respectable-sounding, “positive” message, which centered on, as we have seen, “100% Americanism,” casting itself as its premier defender. (And many female members were strong supporters of women’s new right to vote.)

The Klan’s largest ever public rally was held in Kokomo, Indiana on July 4, 1923. Estimates of attendance range to 200,000 and beyond. Credible accounts paint it as a kind of patriotic segregated Woodstock, a family-oriented, day-long affair, with games and picnics, a parade, and many bands.

The climax was a long, tedious address by one D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Dragon of the Indiana Realm of the Knights of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan,” who arrived in his own airplane. His topic was not about repressing people of color; it was “Back to the Constitution.”

The occasion’s symbolic climax was the burning of a cross said to be sixty-feet high, accompanied by hymn-singing and fireworks. Numerous other huge Klan rallies were held across the state in those years.

“All in all,” wrote one historian without irony, “there was scarcely a phrase in the speech that would embarrass a major party candidate today.” 

Stephenson was riding high in 1923. He and his Klan had taken over the Indiana Republican party, and seemed to be controlling the state. He  was said to be looking to run for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, aiming to land in the White House with Klan support as his launching pad.

But instead, his career soon crashed and burned. Despite the order’s much-trumpeted reverence for Prohibition and strict “family values,” Stephenson himself was a notorious drinker and had a charismatic predator’s taste for grabbing young women, consent being optional.

In 1925, a young woman he had kidnapped and raped took poison and left a long, damning deathbed affidavit, made public after her death.  Stephenson was tried and convicted of second-degree murder. He served many years in prison.

The resulting scandals rocked the state Republican leadership, and sent the Klan organization into a terminal tailspin, not only in its onetime national stronghold, but across the country. Respectable people stampeded out the door, and into what I call the Ku Klux Kloset.

The secret character of the Klan now became the cover for its embarrassed members; a vow of silence spread across families and whole communities. In a state where perhaps a third of the adult white Protestant population had been part of the Klan, it quickly became a generation’s shared family secret, one that’s been kept remarkably well.

The vow still persists. How sturdy the Ku Klux Kloset‘s construction could be was shown by a 1995 incident in Noblesville, Indiana. An old trunk turned up in an abandoned barn and was opened — and in it was the membership list of 1920s Klan members in Noblesville and the surrounding area. On it was just about every Protestant white male, and many women.

The list was turned over to the Hamilton County Historical Society. A local historian began retyping the list to preserve it, and was soon shocked to find his father’s name on the list. And soon all hell broke loose. As the New York Times told it:

The historical society, after some debate, voted to accept the Klan list, but to restrict access to it.

“It would be embarrassing to some families” to publish the list, Mr. [David] Heighway [the society’s director] said, adding that threats of boycotts of merchants by the Klan also had to be considered. “There’s an ethical question here, too, since we don’t know how many people were forced to join the Klan.”

The last living person on the list died several months ago, but the roster will still be made available only for scholastic or genealogical purposes. The Historical Society said it would require researchers to gain the consent of all descendants before publishing the name of any Klansman, a requirement that would seem virtually impossible to meet.

The local NAACP objected to this concealment; their protest was ignored.

A similar example occurred among Indiana Quakers. With the Klan’s political collapse, Daisy Barr quit pastoring and faded from the public eye; but she was still quietly prominent in the WCTU and other white women’s organizations. When she died in 1938, sizable obituaries ran in several major papers around the state, some on the front page. Yet not one of the half-dozen I found said a single word about her Klan career. Neither did the memorial notice in the records of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Quakers, of which she was still a member in good standing at her death.

The point here is that, as politics in Indiana have often showed since, in many corners of the state, Klan attitudes persist; but in this Kloseted fashion. No doubt many Hoosiers who uncovered these links in their family histories today would be as shocked as the Noblesville historian: none of their relatives had paraded in a white robe in their lifetimes. Yet in Indiana, the continuity of attitudes, the long shadow of Klanism, is not hard to identify. It is shown in a recent governor’s attempt to ban immigration by Syrian refugees; a vicious anti-LGBT law, and numerous other measures.

So despite the tightly-sealed doors of the Ku Klux Kloset, there are many telltale signs of what is inside. There the Klan’s “brand” survives. Many of the same “platform planks” persist, long after the old robes have moldered, or been forgotten in an abandoned barn. The speakers today can ritualistically denounce the Klan, especially in its minor, often clownish current guise. But the echoes, and more than echoes, ring from a time when it was a major force in U.S. politics, a time when “Klanism” seems to be rising yet again.

By the way, a word about the 1920s sketches posted here. They come from an unexpected source: the Pillar of Fire Church, a group which had its headquarters. including a college and a clinic, not in Indiana but in Zarephath, New Jersey, a hamlet smack between the two academic powerhouses of Princeton and Rutgers. The church’s founder and bishop, one  Alma Bridwell White, was both a feminist and an ardent adherent of the Klan.

In the 1920s she published a series of three widely-read books, extolling the Klan as the savior of America, and even a redeemer figure foretold in biblical prophecy.  The books were heavily illustrated by Branford E. Clarke.

That was 93 years ago. But the editor was right. 100 percent. And my hope for Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is that the film will push many toward the overdue reckoning with our Quaker and national Kan history, and resolve to follow its implications with action.

An illustration from”Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty,” 1926.

PS. For some additional reading, look into these titles:

Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (1991); Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (1992); Stanley Coben, Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America (1991); Kathleen Blee, Women of the Klan: Race and Gender in the 1920s (1991); Nancy MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (1994).

And a 1916 Klan Handbook is reproduced in full online here. 

If you fund this post helpful, please pass it on.



The post Spike Lee vs the Klan; and When (Many) Quakers also Loved the Klan appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Civility Can Be Dangerous

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:07pm

From the AFSC’s Lucy Duncan, a look back at Henry Cadbury’s now-infamous 1934 speech to American rabbis and a look at the civility debate in modern America.

Standing up for peace means standing on the side of the oppressed, not throwing them into the lion’s mouth in the name of civility. And interrupting racist violence takes more than civil discourse: active disruption is needed in order for racism to be revealed and dismantled. What good is ineffective pacifism? My commitment to nonviolence is about saving lives.

I gave my take on Cadbury’s speech back in June. I was a little easier on Cadbury, mostly because I think we need to understand the Quaker worldview out of which he was speaking. It’s never good to lecture the oppressed on their oppression, but the classic Quaker idea of speaking truth to all sides still holds value and is something I think we miss sometimes nowadays.

Civility Can Be Dangerous

In 1934, AFSC co-founder Henry Cadbury advised Jewish rabbis to be gentler on Hitler. Is civility a substitute…

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

What gifts of the Spirit are we marginalizing?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 08/15/2018 - 7:49am

Powerful warnings from Adria Gulizia about what happens when a faith community doesn’t exercise all of its gifts :

Even worse, when we routinely marginalize certain gifts, we begin to see their exercise as dysfunctional and their absence as normative, rather than the reverse. When the prophet challenges us with uncomfortable truths, rather than using our discomfort as an opportunity for reflection and discernment, we tell her to tone it down, complain that she is “unwelcoming” and, if she doesn’t get the message, we run her off.

Welcoming the Gifts God Sends Us

In order to remain healthy and faithful, we must nurture all spiritual gifts, not just the ones that…

In the Shadow of Babylon
Categories: Blogs

Is this what people want?

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Mon, 08/13/2018 - 9:05am

Don McCormick is back with this week’s Friends Journal feature. His February article, “Can Quakerism Survive,” sparked all sorts of conversations and is now at 110 comments. Now he’s back with specific suggestions for Quaker growth, inspired by megachurch church growth research and models.

When I read this, I asked myself if we Quakers are providing the equivalent of this type of spiritual guidance. Do newcomers and others see us as meeting their spiritual needs? If they do, do they see this right away, or does it take a while? To answer these questions, I had to learn more about the “clear pathway” that the Reveal literature described. Although Quakerism has great wisdom in the area of spiritual guidance, at first it seemed that it was inconsistent with the spiritual guidance described in the survey.

When I’ve taught Quakerism 101 classes, I’ve try to explain the branches of Friends—and the schisms—not just as theological or cultural phenomenon but as problem-solving preferences. What tools do we reach for in crisis? Do we go inward and recommit ourselves to distinctive practices that we’ve been slacking off on? Do we start reading groups and spiritual friendship programs to train each member to carry the work? Do we blame our Quaker oddities and start using the language and liturgical models of the more successful churches near us? Do we set up committees and produce curricula to support local efforts? Do we look to experts and craft nationwide programs and hire staff and problem solve? I’m not sure these tools need to be mutually exclusive, but in practice I see most Quaker bodies tend to reach for only one or two of these tools. And of course, the tools we chose largely determine both the problems we solve and the unintended ones we create.

What People Really Want from Church and Quaker Meeting

Looking at successful church growth models for ideas to grow our fellowship.

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

What Do You See In What You see? Ask Friend William Bartram

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Sun, 08/12/2018 - 12:05pm

Trying To See Like William Bartram

[It’s not easy to keep up with my fellow-traveler/Spirit Guide, Friend William Bartram. He just can’t stay on the beaten path. . . .]

But here he is again, talking about plants, and especially trees. And one kind of tree jumped out at me from his list, the Live Oak. That’s because I’ve seen and been captivated by some magnificent specimens thereof, in a cemetery in Alabama.

There’s lots of human history in that graveyard. But we’re gonna skip all that here, and just dwell on the chlorophyllic history. The place is only a few acres, but I think I could wander in it for hours, maybe days.]

Okay, Take It Away, William . . . .

From Bartram’s Travels, 1791:

The attention of a traveller, should be particularly turned, in the first place, to the various works of Nature, to mark the distinctions of the climates he may explore, and to offer such useful observations on the different productions as may occur. . . .

        THIS world, as a glorious apartment of the boundless palace of the sovereign Creator, is furnished with an infinite variety of animated scenes, inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing, equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.

        PERHAPS there is not any part of creation, within the reach of our observations, which exhibits a more glorious display of the Almighty hand, than the vegetable world. Such a variety of pleasing scenes, ever changing, throughout the seasons, arising from various causes and assigned each to the purpose and use determined.

        IT is difficult to pronounce which division of the earth, within the polar circles, produces the greatest variety. The tropical division certainly affords those which principally contribute to the more luxurious scenes of splendor . . . .

        BUT the temperate zone (including by far the greater portion of the earth, and a climate the most favourable to the increase and support of animal life, as well as for the exercise and activity of the human faculties) exhibits scenes of infinitely greater variety, magnificence and consequence, with respect to human economy, in regard to the various uses of vegetables. . . .

        IN every order of nature, we perceive a variety of qualities distributed amongst individuals, designed for different purposes and uses, yet it appears evident, that the great Author has impartially distributed his favours to his creatures, so that the attributes of each one seem to be of sufficient importance to manifest the divine and inimitable workmanship.

The pompous Palms of Florida, and glorious Magnolia, strikes us with the sense of dignity and magnificence; the expansive umbrageous Live-Oak with awful veneration, the Carica papaya, supercilious with all the harmony of beauty and gracefulness; the Lillium superbum represents pride and vanity; Kalmia latifolia and Azalea coccinea, exhibit a perfect show of mirth and gaiety; the Illisium Floridanum, Crinum Floridanum, Convalaria majalis of the Cherokees, and Calycanthus floridus, charm with their beauty and fragrance.

Yet they are not to be compared for usefulness with the nutritious Triticum, Zea, Oryza, Solanum tuberosa, Musa, Convolvulous, Batata, Rapa, Orchis, Vitis vinifera, Pyrus, Olea; for clothing, Linum Canabis, Gossypium, Morus; for medical virtues, Hyssopus, Thymus, Anthemis nobilis, Papaver somniferum, Quinqina, Rheum rhabarbarum, Pisum, &c. though none of these most useful tribes are conspicuous for stateliness, figure or splendor, yet their valuable qualities and virtues, excite love, gratitude and adoration to the great Creator, who was such to endow them with such eminent qualities, and reveal them to us for our sustenance, amusement and delight. . . .

 Live oaks in the Old Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama.

More about William Bartram here.

The post What Do You See In What You see? Ask Friend William Bartram appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

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Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:34pm

Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.

Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955,  after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing.  Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.

In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.

A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.

This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.

The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.

Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the  historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral service, March 3, 1965. His death sparked the Selma-Montgomery march, which helped win the Voting Rights act.

Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.

It too has been hit  by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.

Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. James Fowler, right.

The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.

Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.


The post Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:30am

William Bartram: Divergent Friend

I’ve taken a fancy to do some traveling for the dog Days this year. I plan to join William Bartram, an independent-minded Quaker naturalist and artist, in a  journey through much of the southeast U.S.

This is not the Southeast of today, but that of 1773, so technically there wasn’t a U.S. yet; whatever. Bartram spent four years wandering the Southeast, drawing plants and animals, maps, and doing sketch portraits of Indians he visited with, and he visited with many.

I first noticed Bartram a few years ago, and prepared a series  of posts about him & his solitary exploring journeys for times of reflection. I call him a “Divergent Friend” because he went his own way, following his own leading.  He was not a “rebel” or a troublemaker; yet he was hardly typical or “normal” either.

Consider: at home, a revolution was brewing; slavery was a spreading plague; many diseases threatened. But Bartram was drawn away from all that, the “activism” and the debates, into the natural world: seeking out creatures without voices, and  territories not yet claimed by his ancestral “civilization.” He’s remembered today (by those who remember him) as a pioneer. Leadings are like that: not always driven by the “news of the day,” with significance that may not  be discernible until many years after they were followed.

Here’s the book he produced from his long rambling. Although he returned to his Pennsylvania home in 1777, he didn’t publish the book til 1791; he was in no hurry.
















And here is one of his charming, often lovely, plant drawings. I was struck early on, in looking at these, by a feature that comes out more in his writing: while his art was definitely “scientific,” aimed at adding to the knowledge of plants animals and geography, it was also religious (or, if thee insist, “spiritual”). That’s one reason I’m drawn to it for what many churches call “Lent,” a season of reflection.

Some of Bartram’s images have been used  on postage stamps. Here’s one.

It reminds me of one of William Blake’s stanzas:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.


The post Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Cool historical find of the day

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 08/09/2018 - 6:29am

This is totally cool. The Historic Charleston Foundation in South Carolina is restoring the Nathanial Russell House, a remarkable example of neoclassical architecture on the National Historic Register, and found a fragment what they list as 1868 Friends Intelligencer above the kitchen firebox.

More fascinating discoveries from the walls of the #russellhousekitchen – new artifacts were extracted from cavities above the kitchen firebox on the first floor! This latest batch of artifacts dates to the 1850’s and 1860’s, which I think we can agree is an interesting and… fractious time in Charleston’s history. The most intriguing scrap of paper recovered from the walls is pictured here: a page ripped from a Quaker periodical entitled “Friends’ Intelligencer,” published in Philadelphia in 1868.

Who were the Friends in Charleston in the years right after the Civil War? Was the Intelligencer hidden or just recycled to plug up a draft? I wonder if this could be related to Quaker relief work in South Carolina. The most well-known example was the Penn School on St Helena Island, founded by northern Unitarians and Quakers in 1862 to educate freed Gullah after the slaveowners fled Union troops.

Curious about the fragment, I typed a few of its legible words into Google and sure enough, they’ve scanned that volume of the Intelligencer (hattip to my FJ colleague Gail, who found this link). It shows a date of Fourth Month 20, 1868, though curiously FI also republished it in 1874, which I first found. The poem is credited to Bessie Charles, the English poet also credited as Elizabeth Bundle Charles; it seems to have been published in various collections around that time. The Intelligencer continues today of course.

Historic Charleston Foundation on Instagram: “More fascinating discoveries from the walls of the #russellhousekitchen – new artifacts were extracted from cavities above the kitchen…”

1,003 Likes, 31 Comments — Historic Charleston Foundation (@historiccharlestonfoundation) on Instagram: “More fascinating discoveries from the walls of…

Categories: Blogs

Friends Journal seeking articles on Quakers and Christianity

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 10:38am

The December theme of Friends Journal will look at the juicy topic of Friends’ relationship with Christianity. I wrote up an “Editor’s Desk” post about the kinds of articles we might expect. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s a series of questions that has dogged Friends since we did away with clergy and started calling baptism a “sprinkling,” and it has been an issue of contention in every Quaker schism: Are we Christian? Are we really Christian? Does it matter if we’re Christian? What does it even mean to be Christian in the world?

One reason we began publishing more themed issues beginning in 2012 was so we use the topics to invite fresh voices to write for us. While we’ve long had regulars who will send us a few articles a year on miscellaneous topics, themes allow us to tempt people with specific interests and ministries: reconciliation from war, climate activism, workplace reform, mentorship, ecumenical relationships, the wider family of Friends, etc.

More recently I’ve started these “Editor’s Desk” posts as a way of sharing some of the ideas we have around particular upcoming issues. The post also gives us a URL that we can share on social media to drum up submissions. I also hope that others will share the URL via email.

The absolute best way of reaching new people is when someone we know shares an upcoming theme with someone we don’t know. There are many people who by chance or inclination seem to straddle Quaker worlds. They are invaluable in amplifying our calls for submissions. Question: would it help if we started an email list just for writers or for people who want to be reminded of upcoming themes so they can share them with Friends?

Writing Opp: Quakers and Christianity

It’s a series of questions that has dogged Friends since we did away with clergy and started calling…

Friends Journal
Categories: Blogs

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 08/07/2018 - 7:26am

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial.

I’m advised that the court could take months to act on the motion to dismiss; so those who are following the case should not hold their breath.

Nevertheless, to update our coverage, here are some key excerpts from the plaintiffs’ July 31 memo.

Filed: July 31, 2018 [Note: Full text here.]

“At first blush, this matter deals simply with a motion to dismiss a civil rights case with pendent claims as Defendants claim protection under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution. However, the attack amounts to something much more, something dangerously precedent-setting were it to be approved, namely that a private school and those affiliated with it are exempt from the reach of Federal and State Civil Rights Acts. This is all despite Friends Central’s professed adherence to notions of responsibility, equality and diversity. When the rubber meets the road, these Defendants are insisting that they are untouchable and above it all.

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor. He was approved to speak, then the invitation was abruptly quashed.

However, Defendants fail any applicable test.  In no way do Plaintiffs’ claims require inquiry into religious tenets of Quakerism. Plaintiffs do not make any claims or counts based therein. Rather, Plaintiffs Complaint references guidelines and policies set forth by the school so as to depict the environment in which Plaintiffs worked and to justify their adherence to those guidelines and policies. . . .

Former Friends Central teacher Layla Helwa. suspended, then fired.

Should this Court accept Defendants’ arguments, then there is nothing to keep any purportedly religious school from claiming immunity from the Civil Rights laws, or any other laws for that matter, taking us back to the dark ages in American jurisprudence. . . .

Defendants cherry pick portions of the Complaint, then editorialize and mischaracterize it. Defendants impermissibly argue facts. For example, despite the Complaint’s clear words, Defendants claim that Plaintiffs ‘refused to heed their supervisors.’ The Complaint, is devoid of such assertions or admissions. . . .

Ariel Eure, former Friends Central teacher. Suspended, then fired.

Defendants’ claims are simply astounding; i.e., that ‘Plaintiffs set forth no facts reflecting a hostile work environment, merely repeating that they were disciplined for their failure to comply with their supervisors’ directives regarding reactions to and measures for discussion of the proposed outside speaker.’ This merely reflects their alternate statement of facts and their deliberately ignoring what Plaintiffs have clearly set forth as a “hostile” environment. . . .

Defendants make the extraordinary argument that they are immune from suit, claiming that this Court lacks jurisdiction over them. . . . “

Schwartz agrees that

“. . . the Complaint . . . refers to basic Quaker tenets as espoused by a purportedly Quaker-related institution.” But, he insists, “Doing so does not require the Court to interpret questions of Quaker scripture, doctrine, or canon. There is no mystery here. There are no Quaker hierarchy issues or sect competitions characteristic of Establishment Clause cases. Rather the Complaint sought simply to depict the nature of the environment espoused and Plaintiffs’ adherence to those simple tenets.

Friends Central Head of School, Craig Sellers.

[FCS] Defendants do not point to a single Quaker tenet that would have to be researched and adjudicated by the Court. Instead they simply re-reference the background described by Plaintiffs. Defendants fail to point out any specific problems that would require this Court to divest itself of its clear jurisdiction. They simply make a naked assertion which would exempt Defendants from the reach of civil rights statutes and a host of other statutes, all of which are neutral on their face and application.’

Schwartz notes that the Defendants’ memo copiously cites other cases and decisions, state and federal, to back up their call for dismissal. But he insists that many of these, when closely examined, backfire:

“Defendants cite cases for broad propositions without regard to the actual facts thereof or the procedural context. One must question whether the cases were even read. Many of the cases cited actually support Plaintiffs position. Defendants’ overwhelming reliance upon cases at the summary judgment stage or later, amounts to an admission that discovery should proceed in this case and indeed it should as there is no basis for any of Plaintiffs’ counts to be dismissed. . . . “

Two  examples will suffice here:

In one, Schwartz points to a PA Supreme Court decision in a church-related case, cited by the school but which he insists supports the teachers’ complaint: “’All disputes among members of a  congregation, however, are not doctrinal disputes,” wrote the court. “Some are simply disputes as to meaning of agreements on wills, trusts, contracts, and property ownership. These disputes are questions of civil law and are not predicated on any religious doctrine.’”

The school also cited a case in Massachusetts, but Schwartz finds support for his case there too: “The [Massachusetts] court stated that ‘Both this court and the United States Supreme Court have recognized that the concept of the free exercise of religion involves both belief and activity, and, while the freedom to believe particular religious principles is absolute and may not lawfully be infringed, the freedom to act in response to religious beliefs does not enjoy the same immunity.’”

Schwartz tracks methodically through page after page of additional case citations, finding most irrelevant (or “inapposite”), and more than a few in fact supportive of his clients rather than the school. We won’t follow him through all these, as many involve legal points well beyond my pay grade.

Schwartz skewers the Friends Central leadership in his close, quoting from the school’s website:

“‘…Our pedagogy is grounded in continuing revelation, reflection, integrity, and a willingness to accept responsibility.’

Under the heading ‘A Quaker History of Inclusivity and Diversity’ FCS states the following:

‘When Friends’ Central School was founded in 1845, it was a time of great division among Quakers. Our school was founded to include and serve all Quakers and was, by design, co-educational and open to non-Friends’ from the day it opened. This interest in inclusivity continues today as Friends’ Central strives for racial, religious and socio­- economic diversity in its student body and among its faculty.

We are committed to building and maintaining an inclusive and diverse community. All constituencies-faculty, staff, students, administrators, parents, trustees, and alumni/ae- are responsible for an awareness of and ongoing dialogue around equity issues of race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, privilege, religion, physical ability, and family structure, as well as for enhancing the Philosophy  of Inclusivity and Awareness articulated in our Diversity Statement.'”

Attorney Mark Schwartz

Schwartz continues:

“It is sadly ironic that Defendants profess to accept responsibility, but by their motion hypocritically claim immunity from responsibility under the law. Quite clearly, Plaintiffs ‘ reference to these and other statements do not lead us into a morass of entanglement with religion. Rather, Plaintiffs references provide the Court with insight into the environment in which Plaintiffs worked and how they were led to believe they should act. No consideration of their lawsuit occasions delving into religious doctrine. Rather this lawsuit and its claims prompt a jury to ultimately deciding whether statutory and common law were breached.”

It  may be months before we learn whether Schwartz and the teachers will fend off a dismissal and get the chance to pursue their case further. Stay tuned.

The post Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Mon, 08/06/2018 - 11:16pm

Dearest God
my motives are never pure

I want so badly
to serve

Yet I’m so limited

I see my efforts

indifferent surroundings

Direct me
Teach me

Comfort me
as I look at myself

So I can
keep going


old fool

Categories: Blogs

Now is the Summer of Love

Micah Bales - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 2:00am

Like a lot of folks in my city, I lead a very busy life. Challenging work during the day. Taking care of the kids in the evening. Church, family, friends, and chores on the weekends. It seems like I’m always swamped.

I live with a lot of anxiety. I want to be the best at what I do. I want to excel in my work. To be a great husband and father. To earn the respect of my community. Ironically, I often let my desires for a joyous future crowd out those things that are most important now.

This summer, the Holy Spirit has been opening my eyes to just how important this present moment is. Life is here. Love. Everything I ever needed, beyond my wildest dreams. Right now. Reality is surprising, and God is faithful. Even when I don’t get my way.

Amid the transitions and stress of a fully engaged life, I’m hearing the call of the Spirit to abide. Abide in God’s love. Abide in this present moment that is fleeting. Abide in the truth: that most of the things I stress and strain about aren’t of lasting importance. Dwell in the reality that the day and hour of my death is known to God, and will someday be known to me.

Among the many teachings of Jesus is this incredible command: Do not be anxious. Do not worry about tomorrow. “”Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

This is good news for us. This is the gospel. As impossible as it sounds, there is rest for the weary. There is peace for the brokenhearted. There is hope for those who mourn.

This summer, hear the invitation: Christ’s call to slow down, to abide in the Spirit, to rest in God’s love. Give your full presence to this moment, and be taught how to love.

Related Posts: The Kingdom of God is Freedom – Why Are We So Busy and Anxious? The Sabbath of God is Within You

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Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 10:32pm

Help us

Forgive us

Use us

Categories: Blogs


Quaker Mystics - Tue, 07/17/2018 - 12:33pm

Wind blown

Falls on far side
of the fence

and flourishes

Turning each day
in delight
to face

glowing globe
source of all warmth

Seeing differently
from separate vantage point

Some would say

But seeing
is more than believing

personal truth

if spoken
may entice others

For there’s no need for

All are born innocent
Free to choose

Wallow in this world

Or die to self
and dance on cloud tops

Categories: Blogs

In this Age of Darkness, We Need the Prophets

Micah Bales - Sun, 07/15/2018 - 3:43pm

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 7/15/18, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, & Mark 6:14-29. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

Who are the prophets? The prophets are those on whom God has sent his Holy Spirit.

This is the same Spirit that hovered over creation. The Spirit that breathed life into the first man and woman, creating us in the image of God. This is the Spirit that came upon Moses, giving him power to speak the word of the Lord to Pharaoh and to guide the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The Holy Spirit fell on the seventy elders, whom God appointed to assist Moses, and they prophesied.

They prophesied. What does it mean to prophesy? Prophecy means speaking the words of God, just like Moses did. It means revealing that which is hidden, pointing people to the truth that the brokenness of this world has hidden from us. The truth that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus is a God of love and a God of justice. And that neither his love nor his justice will sleep forever.

Wherever the Holy Spirit moves, there is prophecy. This is the characteristic mark of the Spirit’s presence in the world: When we experience the presence of God in our heart, minds, and spirits.

When the Spirit shows up, we feel the love that God has for each of us, and the anger that God has at those things which hurt and destroy his beloved children. The Spirit comes to teach us who God is, and to inspire us to speak the message and demonstrate the character of our loving, righteous God.

This is Holy Ghost experience has always been the formative experience of the prophets. From Moses and his seventy elders, to Elijah and Elisha. From John the Baptist to Jesus. From George Fox and Alexander Mack to Martin Luther King, Jr and William Barber II. The Holy Spirit raises up men and women to speak the words our world needs to hear. Words that speak the very will of God. Whether or not the world is ready to listen.

As we see in our gospel reading for today, the world often isn’t willing to hear. It’s not an accident that John the Baptist ends up dead – beheaded by Herod at the request of his wife and daughter. It’s not an accident when terrible things happen those who speak the words of God, because fallen humanity is always killing the prophets.

Why would anyone want to be a prophet? Most of the prophets don’t. We see throughout the pages of the Bible, and throughout the history of the church, that prophets usually question their calling. Because being a prophet is often a death sentence. Friendship with God means enmity with the world. Speaking the truth means exposing the comfortable lies that this world cloaks itself in. Declaring God’s love for the needy, the outsider, the foreigner, the poor, means bumping up against the interests of the powerful insiders who are well-positioned to use violence to maintain the status quo.

In our gospel reading this morning, the story of Herod and John the Baptist is a quintessential telling of the relationship between God’s prophets and the powerful people who would prefer not to have the system disrupted by prophetic speech and action.

John the Baptist was acknowledged by everyone as a prophet. Even Herod knew that John was a “righteous and holy man.” So, despite all the reasons that he might want to permanently silence John by killing him, Herod held off. He locked John away in prison, but he hesitated to raise his hand against God’s prophet.

Herod’s hesitation might have been the result of simple political calculation – after all, John was a very popular man, and killing him might be more trouble than it was worth. Who wants to create a martyr? But the Mark gives us reasons to believe that Herod’s hesitation to murder John went deeper than mere political expediency.

The truth is powerful. It has an effect, even over those who are very wicked like Herod was. And John was a holy man, a prophet of God – clothed in righteousness and speaking the truth with the easy sincerity and fearlessness of a God-surrendered man. John was probably the only person that Herod encountered on a regular basis who wasn’t afraid.

Herod had the power of life and death over his subjects, and so most people were scurrying around, trying to please Herod. John wasn’t impressed. John lived in the life and power of the Spirit of God. He knew the truth, and the truth had set him free. John wasn’t afraid of Herod, because he had a life in God that transcended the threat of death that Herod could hold over him.

John and Herod had this really weird relationship. Herod had John locked up in prison. And you’d think that Herod would simply want John to disappear. To stop saying disruptive things about the immoral way that Herod was conducting himself. Yet Herod couldn’t get enough of John. He kept telling the jailers to bring John up out of the prison. Herod met with John regularly. Mark says, “he liked to listen to him,” even though when John spoke, Herod “was greatly perplexed.”

Herod could hear the truth in the words of the prophet. He could sense the presence of the Spirit in John’s life. Part of him wanted to silence this prophetic voice forever, but another part couldn’t quite bring himself to do it. He knew the truth when he heard it, even if he didn’t have the moral courage to surrender himself to the love and justice of God.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Herod was a weak man, and a foolish man. He couldn’t quite bring himself to kill John, despite the fact that his wife Herodias was demanding that he put John to death. But in our reading this morning, he’s thoughtless enough to make an oath, in front of many guests, that he will give his daughter anything she asks for.

When she comes back and asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, Herod is shocked. He didn’t even consider that the girl might consult with her mother and come back with such a request. But because he’s so afraid to lose face in front of his guests, he agrees. Herod dispatches guards to the prison, and they slaughter John, this holy man of God. They butcher the presence of the Holy Spirit in Israel. They desecrate the sanctuary of God to satisfy the whims of an insecure dictator and his family. Herod knows what’s happening. He knows who John is. But he goes ahead anyway. He fears men more than God.

The way of the prophets often leads to death. Jesus himself stood squarely in the prophetic tradition. He identified himself with the mantle of Elijah and Elisha. He stood in that Holy Ghost tradition. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointing him to proclaim good news to the poor. The Spirit sent Jesus to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus stood in the tradition of the prophets. And like the prophets of old, like his cousin John the Baptist, he faced terrible repression and violence. Like John, he ultimately surrendered his life speaking truth to power, pouring out his life as an offering to God in love.

We live in a time of great darkness. It occurred to me as I was preparing this sermon that Herod doesn’t seem so unusual anymore. I used to consider Herod to be particularly monstrous, a truly evil character. And he was. He was an evil man. Yet today in our own national politics and throughout the world, we see men and women who are selling their souls for power built on falsehood, hatred, violence, and oppression. Today we witness evil that makes Herod look almost sympathetic. After all, Herod felt bad when he slaughtered John the Baptist. He regretted it.

But the Herod I know isn’t the one who cringed over his own murder of John. The Herod I’m more familiar with is Herod the Great – the father of the king Herod we read about in today’s scripture. King Herod the Great is the one who slaughtered the boy children in the vicinity of Nazareth. That’s the Herod I know, the one I’m seeing coming to power in the world today. He’s the one who doesn’t hesitate to destroy families for political gain. The one who forces the family of Jesus to flee and become refugees in a foreign land. The one who is praised by the religious authorities for rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, even as he assaults the very word of God in the streets of Bethlehem.

This is the world of Jesus and John. A world where prophets are nailed to the cross and beheaded. A world where children are stolen from their parents and locked in prisons. A world where those in power prefer lies to any truth that threatens their dominance and control.

We live in a time of darkness, domination, and violence. Just like John and Jesus under Herod and Pilate. Just like Moses under Pharaoh. Just like the early church, whom God blessed and covered with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Living in our own time of darkness, we’ve been visited by this same Spirit.

As Paul says in our reading from Ephesians this morning, we have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be God’s prophets in this time and place. In this present darkness that can feel as palpable as a clinging fog. God has marked and sealed us with the Holy Spirit so that we can speak the dangerous truth of God’s love and justice. The truth that the creator of this world stands with the immigrant, the poor, the marginalized.

Today is the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, and so maybe we need reminding. At Pentecost, God sent the Holy Spirit to each and every one of us who has decided to follow Jesus. Along with Jesus, we have been called and anointed to be prophets of the living God, the creator of the cosmos. We have been filled by the Holy Spirit, to speak the very words of God into a world that is so hungry for the truth and love that only God can provide.

We live in a time of darkness. And in times like these we are often tempted to despair. Yet it is in times such as these that the witness of the prophets is most needed. This is our time. This is our season. This is the moment that God calls us into active service, to speak his word of truth and love. To the powerful, as a rebuke and a challenge. To the powerless as a message of comfort and through tangible acts of solidarity. God has called us to be as prophets, even if we have to walk the path of suffering, just as John and Jesus did. This is what is means to be friends of Jesus. We walk in his footsteps, and accept his mission of love, justice, and reconciliation.

I would like to invite us to enter into a time of open worship, in which we can invite the Holy Spirit to be especially present with us. Spirit of God, we need your guidance. We are blind and lost without you. We need your love. We need your truth. And most of all, Lord, we need you to show us how to be faithful servants in sharing this love and truth with the world around us.

We live in dark times. But Jesus Christ has given us the light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We are the light of the world. Holy Spirit, come and show us how to shine, and how much we must endure for the precious name of Jesus.

Related Posts: God Will Judge Those Who Put Children in Cages Our Culture is Spinning Out of Control. Only One Thing Can Save Us.

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Categories: Blogs

Time To Do Some History Homework

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 07/10/2018 - 11:09pm

Found a valuable piece on the History News Network: “Why Is Christian America Supporting Donald Trump?” It’s by John Fea, a historian  at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

Fea’s piece is not just timely, it’s also important. He homes in on the fact that the “Christians” in Trump’s base are operating on a specific religious reading of American history, one that’s not new, but which has always been false.

In fact, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that our struggle today for a democratic American future is also a fierce struggle to confront & root out a false so-called “Christian” pack of lies about our past. Unfortunately, at the moment the false history charlatans are way ahead, and it makes a real difference. And it could soon make much more.

For many of us it might be a horrifying truth: sometimes to make a revolution (or preserve one; the US was born as a revolutionary idea), we have to sit down and do some serious homework, lots of it, about stuff like history. Why? Here’s how Fea puts it:

Ever since the founding of the republic, a significant number of Americans have supposed that the United States is exceptional because it has a special place in God’s unfolding plan for the world. Since the early 17th century founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony by Puritans, evangelicals have relished in their perceived status as God’s new Israel—His chosen people. America, they argued, is in a covenant relationship with God. . . .

This “Divine Exceptionalism” had a heyday beginning during the  Civil War and the following decades, under the banner of the National Reform Association (Yes — NRA!) They pushed  a specific political goal, a constitutional amendment declaring the U.S. to be a “Christian nation.” One  version would have changed the existing preamble to the Constitution thus (the proposed change is highlighted):

“We the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, and His revealed will as our supreme authority, in order to constitute a Christian government, to form a more perfect union, … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Note the motto under the title: “Truth for authority, not authority for truth.” –Lucretia Mott

The amendment was introduced in Congress in 1864, 1874 and 1896; it did not pass, but the idea did not disappear. One force that helped stop it in those years was the Free Religious Association, founded in 1867, as an interdenominational liberal association, which was an active defender of a strict separation of church and state. Among FRA’s ten founders were several Unitarians, and one woman: Quaker Lucretia Mott. 

Similar amendments bubbled up again in the next century, during the years of the Cold War and anti-Communist hysteria; none passed. But now the drive is back again, no longer in constitutional amendment form, but as a thick package of incremental statutes, aimed at a conservative Congress, a cooperative White House, and an expected complaisant Supreme court.

Behind the current resurgence is a coalition that has come together since the 1960s. Fea:

Though dissenters have always been present, the Christian culture of the United States remained intact well into the 20th century. But since World War II, the moorings of this culture have loosened, and evangelicals have responded with fear that their Christian nation is about to collapse. . . .

During the 1960s, the Supreme Court removed prayer and Bible reading from public schools, the federal government cut federal funding to Christian academies and colleges that practiced segregation, the country grew more diverse through immigration, and the sexual revolution threatened evangelical patriarchy and gave women the right to choose to have an abortion.

The fear that America’s Christian civilization was falling apart translated into political action. 

In the late 1970s, conservative evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye (the author of the popular Left Behind novels), and a group of politicians who had been closely affiliated with the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign, developed a political playbook to win back the culture from the forces of secularization. Most of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 understood, and continue to understand, the relationship between their faith and their politics through this playbook. 

This playbook, which would eventual become the culture-war battle plan of the “Religious Right,” was tweaked occasionally over the years to address whatever moral issues seemed most important at the time, but it never lost its focus on “restoring,” “renewing,” and “reclaiming” America for Christ through the pursuit of political power. 

When executed properly, the playbook teaches evangelicals to elect the right President and members of Congress who will pass laws privileging evangelical Christian views of the world. These elected officials will then appoint and confirm conservative Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, defend life in the womb, and uphold religious liberty for those who believe in traditional views of marriage.

The playbook rests firmly on the Religious Right’s understanding of American identity as rooted in its view of the American past. If America was not founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right’s political agenda collapses or, at the very least, is weakened severely.

The playbook: Note the logo at bottom right of the ‘Wallbuilders/ProFamily Legislative network.” It’s a vehicle for the bogus “history” pushed for years by fake historian David Barton and his allies. More on Barton below.

To indoctrinate its followers in the dubious claim that America was founded as a Christian nation, the Religious Right has turned to political activists, many of whom claim to be historians, to propagate the idea that the founding fathers of the United States were in the business of building a Christian nation.

The most prominent of these Christian nationalist purveyors of the past is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization in Aledo, Texas that claims to be “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built—a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”

I can’t help  but interject that the agenda described here is based on a very selective and limited kind of “Christianity,” one that has never been unchallenged. In its early incarnation, it faced strong pushback from an emerging American liberal Quakerism among others. Today, though, this issue shows up on very few of their successors’ agendas.

Fea continues:

For the past thirty years, Barton has provided pastors and conservative politicians with inaccurate or misinterpreted facts used to fuel the Religious Right’s nostalgic longings for an American Christian golden age. American historians, including those who teach at the most conservative Christian colleges, have debunked Barton’s use of the past, but he continues to maintain a large following in the evangelical community. 

David Barton peddles fake news about the American past. . . .
The United States Constitution never mentions God or Christianity but does forbid religious tests for office. The First Amendment rejects a state-sponsored church and celebrates the free-exercise of religion. This is hardly the kind of stuff by which Christian nations are made. Yet Barton and [others] invoke these founders and these documents to defend the idea that the United States was founded as a distinctly Christian nation.


If the Christian Right, and by extension the 81% of evangelical voters who use its political playbook, are operating on such a weak historical foundation, why doesn’t someone correct their faulty views and dubious claims?

We do.

We have. 

But countering bad history with good history is not as easy as it sounds. 

David Barton and his fellow Christian nationalist purveyors of the past are well-funded by Christian conservatives who know that the views of the past they are peddling serve their political agenda. Barton has demonized Christian intellectuals and historians as sheep in wolves’ clothing. They may call themselves Christians on Sunday morning, but, according to Barton, their “world view” has been shaped by the secular universities where they earned their Ph.Ds. Thanks to Barton, many conservative evangelicals do not trust academic and professional historians—even academic and professional historians with whom they share a pew on Sunday mornings.

I know this first-hand from some of the negative emails and course evaluation forms I received after teaching a Sunday School course on the history of religion and politics at the Evangelical Free Church congregation where my family worship every Sunday. Because I was a college history professor—even a college history professor at a Christian college with strong evangelical roots—I could not be trusted.

Fea notes that Barton and his allies are well-funded by rich Fundamentalist right-wingers. He calls for progressive evangelical philanthropists to support a counterthrust by truth-minded evangelical scholars.

That’s a good idea, but I doubt many liberal Quakers or other progressive religious folks are ready to sign up for it. [One exception is the Quaker history H. Larry ingle, who took on one of the other main “textbooks” of this fake history in Quaker Theology back in 2005.] Personally, my own sense is that progressives need to do their own homework and strategize to make their own thrust against Barton and his baloney.

One reason why progressives should pay attention is that Bartonism is taking dead aim at some of the issues closest to their hearts and communities.

For an example, here from the current edition of the legislative playbook, is part of a lengthy section on what they call–

“The Marriage Tolerance Act (a/k/a/ First Amendment Defense Act) — which ought to be dubbed the Whole-hog Homophobia Protection Plan. It is:

An act to prohibit discriminatory action against a person who believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage.

Section 1. Title
This act shall be known as the “Marriage Tolerance Act.”

Section 2. Purpose
This act is intended to ensure that the First Amendment’s protections for the free exercise of religion is statutorily enforced in (State) so that no legal ambiguity exists regarding the fact that all persons are free to believe, speak, or act upon their sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage, without fear of discrimination or adverse or discriminatory action initiated or enforced by any governmental entity. . . .

As used in this act, the term:

A. ‘Discriminatory action’ means any action that directly or indirectly adversely affects the person against whom the discriminatory action is taken, places the person in a worse position than the person was in before the discriminatory action was taken, or is likely to deter a reasonable person from acting or refusing to act. It includes, but is not limited to, any action to:

a. Alter in any way state tax treatment of an exemption from taxation under state law;

b. Cause any tax, penalty, or payment to be assessed against a person or deny, delay, or revoke an exemption from taxation under state law;
c. Disallow a deduction for state tax purposes of any charitable contribution made to or by a person;
d. Deny, withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, reprimand, censure, or otherwise make unavailable any government grant, contract, subcontract, cooperative agreement, loan, guarantee, license, certification, scholarship, accreditation, employment, or other similar position or status from or to a person;
e. Deny, withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, or otherwise make unavailable any public benefit from or to a person, including for purposes of this act admission to, equal treatment in, or eligibility for a degree from any educational program at any educational facility administered by a government; or
f. Deny, withhold, reduce, exclude, terminate, condition, or otherwise make unavailable access to any speech forum (whether a traditional, limited, or nonpublic forum) administered by a government, including access to education facilities available for use by student or community organizations; or
g. Enter into a contract that is inconsistent with, would in any way interfere with, or would in any way require a person to surrender voluntarily the rights protected by this section.

B. ‘Government’ means the State or any local subdivision of the State or public instrumentality or public corporate body created by or under authority of state law, including but not limited to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and every department, agency, board, bureau, office, commission, authority, or similar body thereof; municipalities; counties; school districts; special taxing districts; conservation districts; authorities; and any other State or local public instrumentality or corporation.

C. ‘Person’ means any individual, corporation, partnership, proprietorship, firm, enterprise, association, public or private organization of any character, or other legal entity.

D. ‘Public benefit’ means any grant, accreditation, certification, license, advantage, employment, access to public facility, or other benefit conferred in whole or in part by government.

Section 5. Prohibition and Enforcement

(a) Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.

(b) A person may assert a violation of this act as a claim or defense in a judicial, agency, or other proceeding and obtain special damages, a declaratory judgment, or injunctive or other appropriate relief against a government.

(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action under this act may be commenced, and relief may be granted, in a court of competent jurisdiction without regard to whether the person commencing the action has sought or exhausted available administrative remedies. [Emphasis added.]

Note the emphatic repetition of “any action”. “Any action” against LGBTs “in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief” is to be put beyond the reach of any government penalty. It is worth noting here that the biblical texts cited by such “sincere” homophobia advocates mandate, as a key such “action,” the execution of those involved in such “abominations.” If there’s any exception in this bill allowing for prosecution of such “sincere” murders, I didn’t see it.

There’s lots more here, transphobic bills among it, all to be wrapped in “official” labels like “In God We Trust.”

But isn’t this stuff just the rancid raving of sinister wackadoodles with too much rich fanatics’ money to spend? A few years ago it seemed that way. But I won’t belabor the point that that was then, and now we’re in a very different moment, with Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.

But I will repeat that for liberal Quakers and other progressive church folk, our response starts with a serious homework assignment. Continuing to ignore the history that John Fea lifts up could help leave him and us — and many of our most treasured values — on the ash heap of history.


The post Time To Do Some History Homework appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

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