A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Six

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 8:29am
"Mary's Poem"
by Mary Wakefield

When she heard infinity
whispered in her ear, did the flashing
scissors in her fingers fall
to the wooden floor and the spool unravel,
the spider's sly cradle
tremble with love? Imagine

How the dry fields leaned
toward the news and she heard, for a moment,
the households of crickets –
When she answered, all things shifted, the moon
in its river of milk.

And when she wanted to pluck
her heart from her breast, did she remember
a commotion of wings, or the stirring
of dust?

"Mary's Poem" by Kathleen Wakefield from Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry


The direction to which our wills must be put is, like Mary, in obedience to God’s will. Then something decisive happens for this earth. In place of the confusion of injustice, strife, open war, and treachery, there is revealed a path of the most lively unity and clarity. We are released from the servitude of our own wants and desires, our selfish hopes and fears – we are redeemed, we become free.

Philip Britts
Source: Watch for the Light

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life). 
Categories: Blogs

Can Dr. King’s 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign Rise Again?

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 2:58pm

A revival of Dr. King’s 1968 Poor People Campaign was just announced by Rev. William Barber II, set for its 50th anniversary next year.

And just in time for that launch is the newly-published 50th Anniversary edition of Uncertain Resurrection, my account of the 1968 campaign, and how it ended in disaster for the movement. Can the second try be more successful?

What happened to the PPC in 1968? “Uncertain Resurrection” [ordering information here] tells the gripping story of the noble but failed effort by Dr. Martin Luther King’s associates to carry out his last, most ambitious campaign of activism in the months after his assassination in April 1968.

Rev. Barber announces plans for the new PPC in Washington in early December, 2017.

The Poor Peoples’ Campaign went beyond demanding civil equality for one racial group; it called for a broad multiethnic effort to end poverty and reverse militarism.

Yet despite a huge initial outpouring of goodwill and concrete help, the collapse of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign was complete. Its end marked a major setback to civil rights and social activism in the U.S., with ramifications that lasted for years.

This book, based on original, first-hand reporting, was initially published in 1969. But until the campaign’s 50th anniversary approached, that turbulent summer near the Capitol had been largely forgotten.

Now this saga is again timely, even urgent, as the political establishment is tearing at the safety nets, but being confronted by an upsurge of protest and struggle. More of us are challenging growing economic inequality, the rise of racial extremism, and the relentless spread of militarism.

A theme for the new PPC.

This book offers a unique chance to learn from the experience of their forerunners and have a more substantial and lasting impact.

“Uncertain Resurrection” is an indispensable case study of how badly the best intentions of even highly-talented and dedicated people can go wrong. Its concise, suspenseful narrative shows how an ill-starred crusade that was aimed at advancing peace and justice, took shape in the wake of murder and riot, and marched into a maelstrom of confusion and chaos.

Yet its example has helped keep hope alive.

Chuck fager reporting on the Poor Peoples Campaign in Washington, summer 1968.

An excerpt from Uncertain Resurrection, Chapter One:

The overall strategic outline for the Campaign was roughly as follows: Several thousand poor people would converge on Washington and settle there in a highly visible shantytown. A brief series of exploratory demonstrations would culminate in a one-day mass rally of liberal forces.

Then the Campaign would get down to business in the form of arrest-provoking nonviolent disruption of government operations. As the campers trooped to jail by the hundreds they were to be joined by hundreds, even thousands more, including students from the nation’s colleges and blacks from the Washington ghetto, whose indignation at the spectacle of poor people going to jail for protesting their plight would be mobilized into action by SCLC’s organizers.

The arrests were expected to focus widespread sympathy and attention on the marchers’ cause, especially among black people around the nation. This sympathy would be the base for the Campaign’s next phase: nationwide boycotts of selected industries and big-city shopping areas, supported by continuing demonstrations and arrests in the capital and elsewhere. These boycotts were expected to prod business leaders into pressuring Congress to meet the Campaign’s demands, pressures the legislators would be unable to resist. . . .
Similarly new was Dr. King’s attempt to forge a coalition among poor people of different ethnic groups, probably the most serious effort of its kind since the 1930s Depression. Dr. King traveled thousands of miles in the early months of 1968, meeting and negotiating with prominent Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, American Indians and poor whites. He seemed, in those last weeks, to be making real progress towards bringing them together under the Campaign’s banner.
Another major innovation was the shift of focus implied in the Campaign’s goal of ending poverty. Dr. King’s earlier movements were based on appeals to reasonably well-defined constitutional guarantees: the right to vote, equal protection of the laws, freedom of assembly and petition, etc.

But, as James Bevel, one of King’s best strategists, put it, “There’s nothing unconstitutional about children starving to death.” . . .

Thus, while with the Poor People’s Campaign he was shooting for bigger stakes and expected to encounter much stiffer opposition than he had in his other movements, Dr. King felt that anything less would be insufficient. He was planning to bring into play nonviolent weaponry of much larger caliber than he had used before.

The groundwork for the movement was almost finished at the time of his last trip to Memphis, and Dr. King had every reason to feel that when the April 22nd kickoff day arrived, he and SCLC would be ready.

By the time his funeral was over and the rage of riots and city fires had subsided, the date for opening the Campaign had nearly arrived.

The SCLC staff was staggering under the weight of their loss and the almost continuous labor it made necessary. But they decided to go ahead with the Campaign, now seen as the most appropriate memorial to Dr. King, as nearly according to plan as possible. . . .

This decision was to prove an unfortunate one. An event like Dr. King’s murder would have debilitated any small, leader-oriented group; it was especially hard on SCLC because, as Action Director Hosea Williams was fond of saying, “We are a movement, not an organization.”

The executive staff apparently was gambling that, once settled in Washington, the Campaign would proceed roughly according to their strategic scenario, and that the staff would overcome their fatigue and grief sufficiently to carry it off.

The gamble was lost almost as soon as it had been made. . . .

Uncertain Resurrection is available as an inexpensive paperback and an electronic edition. [Ordering information here


The post Can Dr. King’s 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign Rise Again? appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

The Independent Report on the Charlottesville Riots

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:41am


A long read.
[But there’s a much longer version if desired.]

These excerpts from the full report, linked below, have been compiled to make the substance of it more accessible.

NOTE the principal author of this 220-page report is Timothy J. Heaphy, of a major law firm Hunton & Williams. The firm was retained by the City of Charlottesville to conduct an exhaustive investigation and produce this report.
From Heaphy’s biography on the firm’s website:

Prior to joining Hunton & Williams LLP, Tim was the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, serving as the chief law enforcement officer responsible for prosecuting federal crime and defending the United States in civil litigation.

During his tenure as United States Attorney, Tim served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, advising the Attorney General on emerging policy issues, He has testified before Congressional committees several times on issues ranging from guns to synthetic drugs to sentencing reform.

Tim’s experience includes investigations and prosecutions in a broad range of subjects including national security, financial and health care fraud, public corruption, international and national organized crime, environmental crime, money laundering and civil rights. He also has significant experience in matters involving public institutions, state agencies, and colleges and universities.

Timothy J. Heaphy

Before serving as the US Attorney, Tim was a partner at an international law firm where he represented individuals and business entities in white collar criminal defense matters. From 1994 to 2006, Tim served as Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia and the Western District of Virginia. Prior to law school, Tim served on the staff of then-Senator Joseph R. Biden.

The full text of this report is online here. 

Excerpts From the Executive Summary:

The three protest events we were asked to evaluate in this report all took place in the immediate vicinity of two statues of confederate generals—Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. While these statues have stood in our town squares for years, they are not universally celebrated or embraced. To some members of our community, the statues are symbols of discrimination and violence. To others, they are proud symbols of a history from which we must learn, not ignore.

This conflict played out in a public discussion facilitated by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces, a group convened by City leaders to evaluate the future of the iconic statues. After receiving recommendations from the Commission, the City Council voted to remove one of them from the park where it stood for years. The Council decision was challenged in court and remains stalled by litigation involving the interpretation of a state law governing “war memorials.”

The statue controversy has drawn interest from people around the world, on both sides of the issue. . . .

Local resident Jason Kessler strongly opposed the City’s efforts to remove the statues and the broader effort to brand Charlottesville as a haven for liberal opposition to President Trump. Others shared his views, particularly members of the self-proclaimed “Alt-Right” community that had largely communicated in electronic forums. Kessler found an ally in Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who had developed a following of like-minded individuals through the National Policy Institute.

Jason Kessler

I. May 13-14

Spencer and Kessler joined forces to organize the first protest events that are discussed in our report. They convened two events on Saturday, May 13—a daytime march from McGuffey Park to Jackson Park and a nighttime event at Lee Park at which white nationalists carried torches. Over 100 people attended both events, carrying flags and chanting Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” and “you will not replace us.” Several speakers addressed the crowd at these events, suggesting that Charlottesville’s attempt to remove the civil war statues was part of a broader war against white people and their heritage. These events were not promoted in advance. Organizers did not obtain permits for either one. Accordingly, they did not attract counter-protesters until near the end of each event, when small groups came to confront the racist ideology. . . .

The May 13 events prompted a strong, immediate reaction among Charlottesville’s progressive community and broadened its focus beyond the statues themselves. Political leaders criticized the symbolism of the use of torches and the racist ideology espoused at the events. A group quickly organized a counter-protest on Sunday, May 14—a candlelight vigil at the Lee statue. A large crowd gathered at the Lee statue that Sunday night. Speakers at the event focused on embracing diversity and inclusion and rejecting imagery and tactics used by Kessler and Spencer. Several fights occurred when Kessler arrived and disrupted the event. Several people including Kessler were arrested. The events of May 13 and 14 hardened the resolve of both sides to continue their ongoing battle over the statues and broader issues of race and history. . . .

II. July 8

Shortly after the May 13-14 events, a Ku Klux Klan group in North Carolina applied for a permit to conduct a demonstration in Charlottesville on July 8. The Klan group wanted to protest the potential removal of the civil war statues and “stop cultural genocide.” The City immediately began preparing for this event, as leaders knew it would generate a great deal of interest and controversy.

City officials prepared to protect both free expression and public safety at this event. They gathered information, secured the assistance of other agencies, and formulated an Operational Plan for July 8. Police reached out to both the permit holders and representatives of groups opposed to their speech, though their efforts were criticized as an attempt to “intimidate” and “curtail leftist speech and expressive conduct.” Charlottesville Police Department (CPD) commanders worked with their counterparts at the Virginia State Police and other agencies to bring police, fire and rescue resources to the event. They created a plan that attempted to ensure separation between the Klan and counter-protesters, who were expected to vastly outnumber the permitted protest group.

City officials worked together to discourage attendance at the Klan event. . . .

The Klan rally took place on July 8. Law enforcement was able to facilitate the Klan’s arrival, speech, and departure while protecting public safety. While there were arrests and minor disturbances, no person in attendance was seriously injured and no property damaged. The City also protected the free expression of the Klan, despite its odious character. The City’s response to the Klan event adequately accommodated both compelling interests at stake on July 8—free speech and public safety . . .

KKK Rally, Charlottesville, July 8, 2017

Despite the overall success of the event, law enforcement made several critical mistakes on July 8. CPD and VSP did not operate with sufficient coordination before, during or after the event. There was no joint training, unified operational plan, or joint radio communication between the agencies. VSP operated largely independently throughout the Klan rally, rather than in an integrated multi-agency force. CPD planners failed to anticipate the counter-protesters’ desire to disrupt the event by impeding the Klan’s arrival and departure. To protect the safety of all participants, officers had to adjust plans and use an enclosed parking garage for Klan vehicles and a mobile field force to clear a path of ingress and egress into the park. While officers created separation between the Klan and counter-protesters, they left too little space between barricades and allowed media representatives into the buffer zone between the conflicting groups.

After the Klan’s departure, a group of counter-protesters focused their anger at law enforcement. Crowds failed to disperse when directed to do so and obstructed the actions of officers. This led to scuffles between officers and counter-protesters, multiple arrests, and the declaration of the event as an unlawful assembly. VSP ultimately deployed three canisters of CS dispersion powder to disperse the crowd, which impacted both counterprotesters and officers. The decision to deploy a chemical agent was based on incomplete information and did not follow the protocol that had been established for its use.

The use of military-type equipment, number of arrests, and deployment of chemical dispersants generated strong opposition in the community. City leaders failed to adequately respond to that criticism. They did not provide a complete explanation of the reasons for the use of chemical irritants and other tactical decisions made on July 8, in part because they turned immediately to preparations for the larger August 12 Unite The Right rally. The City’s inability or unwillingness to engage with community members concerned about the July 8 event created distrust in law enforcement and City government.

III. August 11-12

Jason Kessler obtained a permit to convene a rally at the Lee statue at which he planned to bring together a wide array of right-wing and white nationalist groups. This event was called “Unite The Right” and was expected to be a much larger event and more significant public safety challenge than the July 8 Klan rally. Counter-protesters began mobilizing for this event and similarly recruited a range of left-wing groups to come to Charlottesville to confront the racist ideology of the Unite The Right groups. Charlottesville was destined to become the latest arena for a conflict between various groups who had clashed in Portland, Oregon; Berkeley, California; Pikeville, Kentucky, and various other locations where these so-called “Alt-Right” gatherings had taken place. . . .

. . . [P]olice planning for August 12 was inadequate and disconnected. CPD commanders did not reach out to officials in other jurisdictions where these groups had clashed previously to seek information and advice. CPD supervisors did not provide adequate training or information to line officers, leaving them uncertain and unprepared for a challenging enforcement environment. CPD planners waited too long to request the assistance of the state agency skilled in emergency response. CPD command staff also received inadequate legal advice and did not implement a prohibition of certain items that could be used as weapons.

CPD devised a flawed Operational Plan for the Unite The Right rally. Constraints on access to private property adjacent to Emancipation Park forced planners to stage particular law enforcement units far from the areas of potential need. The plan did not ensure adequate separation between conflicting groups. Officers were not stationed along routes of ingress and egress to and from Emancipation Park but rather remained behind barricades in relatively empty zones within the park and around the Command Center. Officers were inadequately equipped to respond to disorders, and tactical gear was not accessible to officers when they needed it.

CPD commanders did not sufficiently coordinate with the Virginia State Police in a unified command on or before August 12. VSP never shared its formal planning document with CPD, a crucial failure that prevented CPD from recognizing the limits of VSP’s intended engagement. CPD and VSP personnel were unable to communicate via radio, as their respective systems were not connected despite plans to ensure they were. There was no joint training or all-hands briefing on or before August 12. Chief Thomas did not exercise functional control of VSP forces despite his role as overall incident commander. These failures undercut cohesion and operational effectiveness. CPD and VSP operated largely independently on August 12, a clear failure of unified command.

On Friday, August 11, the Unite The Right organizers held another unpermitted torch lit march, this time at the University of Virginia. University officials were aware of this event for hours before it began but took no action to enforce separation between groups or otherwise prevent violence. They were unprepared when hundreds of white nationalists walked through the University grounds and surrounded a small group of counter-protesters at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson next to the Rotunda. As more and more marchers arrived, shouting and chanting became punching and kicking. When the University Police Department invoked mutual aid—only after repeated offers from CPD— officers from both agencies dispersed the unruly crowd. The tenor of this event set an ominous tone for the following day. So did the relative passivity of law enforcement whose failure to anticipate violence and prevent disorders would be repeated on Saturday at Emancipation Park.

The planning and coordination breakdowns prior to August 12 produced disastrous results. Because of their misalignment and lack of accessible protective gear, officers failed to intervene in physical altercations that took place in areas adjacent to Emancipation Park. VSP directed its officers to remain behind barricades rather than risk injury responding to conflicts between protesters and counter-protesters. CPD commanders similarly instructed their officers not to intervene in all but the most serious physical confrontations. Neither agency deployed available field forces or other units to protect public safety at the locations where violence took place. Instead, command staff prepared to declare an unlawful assembly and disperse the crowd. When violence was most prevalent, CPD commanders pulled officers back to a protected area of the park, where they remained for over an hour as people in the large crowd fought on Market Street.

Once the unlawful assembly was declared, law enforcement efforts to disperse the crowd generated more violence as Alt-Right protesters were pushed back toward the counterprotesters with whom they had been in conflict. Once Emancipation Park was clear, the violent conflicts spread beyond the park. Small groups of people wandered through the streets and engaged in frequent skirmishes unimpeded by police. Violence erupted at the Market Street parking garage, Justice Park, High Street, the Water Street parking area, and on the Downtown Mall. Police attempted to respond to these violent conflicts, but were too far away and too late to intervene. The result was a period of lawlessness and tension that threatened the safety of the entire community.

The most tragic manifestation of the failure to protect public safety after the event was declared unlawful was the death of Heather Heyer.

Heather Heyer, and ramming crash scene.

Early on August 12, CPD had placed a school resource officer alone at the intersection of 4th Street NE and Market Street. This officer feared for her safety as groups of angry Alt-Right protesters and counter-protesters streamed by her as they left Emancipation Park. The officer called for assistance and was relieved of her post. Unfortunately, CPD commanders did not replace her or make other arrangements to prevent traffic from traveling across the Downtown Mall on 4th Street. A single wooden saw horse was all that impeded traffic down 4th Street as large groups of people continued to roam the streets. This vulnerability was exposed when James Fields drove his vehicle down the unprotected street into a large crowd of counter-protesters at the intersection of 4th Street SE and Water Street, killing Ms. Heyer.

James Fields, and the car he drove into the protesters.

CFD and the UVA Health System had effective plans and promptly responded to the vehicle incident at the intersection of 4th and Water. Every person who was injured and needed hospitalization was removed from the scene and received treatment within thirty minutes, a remarkable feat given the circumstances. This prompt, effective response represents a bright success on a day largely filled with failure.

Several hours after the incident at 4th and Water Streets, a VSP helicopter crashed, killing two troopers inside. While the crash appears to have been an accident, the loss of the troopers is another disheartening tragedy. Their loss compounded the earlier loss of Heather Heyer and emphatically reinforced the terrible toll this event took on our community.

A VSP helicopter crashed near Charlottesville, killing two state troopers.

In contrast to the July 8 event, the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12. The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech. This represents a failure of one of government’s core functions—the protection of fundamental rights. Law enforcement also failed to maintain order and protect citizens from harm, injury, and death. Charlottesville preserved neither of those principles on August 12, which has led to deep distrust of government within this community.

From “Methodology”

IV. Resistance to Cooperation

Over the course of our review, we were unable to access certain information that we requested from various sources. Some of our requests for information were denied due to pending litigation. Others were rejected due to skepticism about the independence of our review and potential uses of the information we collected. Despite this resistance, we believe we obtained sufficient information to understand these events from diverse perspectives and ultimately justify our conclusions.

A. Charlottesville Police Department

The approach to our review within the Charlottesville Police Department evolved over time. Chief Al Thomas initially attempted to sequence our review by limiting our access to information about various topics. He directed subordinates to provide us only with information regarding the planning for the protest events, not the events themselves.

Charlottesville Police chief Al Thomas

He later admitted to us in an interview that his goal in this process was to educate our review team in a methodical process which he controlled. He told officers that he wanted to first convince us that the planning for the protest events was thorough and considered all contingencies before going into the unexpected turns during the events themselves. Pursuant to the Chief’s strategy of controlling the flow of information to our review team, we had several interviews with officers in which they refused to discuss certain topics. We objected to those limitations, after which they were removed by the Chief. Nonetheless, we had to schedule multiple interviews with several lieutenants and other key personnel. The initial limitation made those interviews less productive and unduly lengthened and complicated our review process.

In our interviews with CPD personnel, we learned that Chief Thomas and other CPD command staff deleted text messages that were relevant to our review. Chief Thomas also used a personal e-mail account to conduct some CPD business, then falsely denied using personal e-mail in response to a specific FOIA request. Chief Thomas and the commanders with whom we spoke denied any effort to hide information from our review team. Conversely, they indicated that we received everything in the Department’s possession that bears upon the issues at stake in our evaluation.

In addition to limiting our initial access to all relevant information, Chief Thomas directed the creation of various documents that outlined CPD’s preparation for these events. For example, Chief Thomas asked his captains to create a “checklist” to document CPD’s preparation for each event. In response to the Chief’s direction, Captain David Shifflett located a Department of Justice Document entitled “Checklist for the Preparation of Mass Unrest Events.” This document is essentially a planning guide, designed to be used in advance of large demonstrations. Captain Shifflett asked the Chief’s executive assistant to convert this checklist to a format in which it could be edited. She did so, and sent the template to Captain Shifflett for his use in creating a checklist for the July 8 event. Captain Shifflett then went through the various items in the checklist and “checked” each task that had been performed. He then sent the completed document to the Chief’s assistant, who affixed a CPD logo to the front of the document and created a finished checklist for delivery to our independent review team.

When the July 8 checklist was uploaded to the system created for production of documents to our review team, Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson noticed that it was undated. Ms. Robertson then directed that the checklist and other documents created for our review be dated to reflect the time of their creation and contain a footer that makes clear the document was created for Hunton & Williams for the purpose of the firm’s provision of legal services to the City of Charlottesville. Captain Shifflett then complied with that request and produced a finished checklist with the footer included.

Chief Thomas and Captain Shifflett both denied any intent to “back-date” the checklist or any other document. They indicated that the checklist was created as a mechanism to catalogue the preparation that informed the Department’s approach to the July 8 event. Chief Thomas acknowledged that the document was designed to be used in advance of Hunton & Williams LLP | 14 these events, though he denied any intention to suggest it had been used in advance of these events.

In addition, Chief Thomas attempted to gather information from CPD personnel about the substance and tenor of our interviews. He questioned his assistant and members of the command staff after interviews occurred, asking about what areas were covered. His attempts to follow our interviews resulted in the City Manager directing all CPD employees to refrain from discussing the substance of our interviews with others. Chief Thomas’s attempts to influence our review illustrate a deeper issue within CPD—a fear of retribution for criticism. Many officers with whom we spoke expressed concern that their truthful provision of critical information about the protest events would result in retaliation from Chief Thomas. They described a culture of conformity within the Department that discourages officers from raising issues and providing feedback. These officers suggested that this hierarchical approach hampered the planning for the July 8 and August 12 events, as lieutenants, sergeants, and line officers were not sufficiently consulted or asked to provide input.

Regardless of these issues, we were able to develop fulsome information from CPD regarding the handling of the protest events. We eventually obtained all requested documents and got access to all CPD personnel with whom we requested to speak. In the face of the culture of conformity described above, many officers were willing to criticize the Department’s planning for the rallies and conduct during the events. Some officers provided information without attribution, but others openly provided important details that appear in this report. Without the cooperation of a large number of dedicated professionals within CPD who elevated duty over fear of retaliation, we would not have gotten the truthful information that informs the findings and recommendations below.

B. State Government

Upon our retention in this matter, we immediately contacted state officials to discuss access to information maintained by various agencies within state government involved in preparations for and responses to the Charlottesville protest events. We first contacted Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, who initially expressed a willingness to coordinate the various after-action reviews that were underway or contemplated. He referred us to a lawyer in the Office of the Governor to discuss the specifics of such coordination, which led to a series of discussions with counsel Noah Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan initially expressed the same willingness to cooperate with our review. However, Mr. Sullivan informed us on September 8, 2017, that Secretary Moran would not meet with us or provide information regarding the protest events. He explained that the Commonwealth wanted to maintain executive privilege over the information we requested and was concerned about the prospect of anticipated litigation against the state. Mr. Sullivan indicated that the Governor was planning to appoint a Task Force on Public Safety Preparedness and Response to Civil Unrest which would separately conduct its own review of the Charlottesville protest events.

On Monday, September 11, 2017, we reached out to Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, the Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, in an attempt to schedule a meeting to discuss the State Police response to the summer protest events. We received a call from Victoria Pearson in the Office of the Attorney General, who indicated that her office represents VSP for purposes of this matter. Ms. Pearson expressed concerns similar to Mr. Sullivan’s regarding the confidentiality of the requested materials, given the prospect of litigation against the Commonwealth. She indicated that she would facilitate our request for information from the State Police and attempt to find a way to minimize her client’s concern. On September 15, 2017, we delivered a letter to Ms. Pearson requesting information from the Virginia State Police.5 We specifically requested the opportunity to interview Colonel Flaherty and other Virginia State Police personnel who were involved in the Charlottesville protest events, and we identified categories of documents and recordings we wished to obtain. We also suggested cooperation between the law enforcement experts from The Police Foundation we had retained to assist our review and those working with the Governor’s Task Force from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). We sent a similar letter to Mr. Sullivan, reiterating our request to speak to Secretary Moran.

On September 15, 2017, we submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Virginia State Police, the Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Office of the Governor, and the Office of the Attorney General. These identical FOIA requests sought information regarding assistance provided by each agency to the City of Charlottesville before, during, and after the summer protest events.

On September 22, 2017, Mr. Sullivan sent us a proposal to govern the sharing of information between all state agencies and our independent review. He specifically requested certain documents regarding the August 12 event, and he asked that IACP be given the opportunity to interview four specific individuals in Charlottesville: Chief Thomas, Captain Victor Mitchell, Lieutenant Steve Knick, and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Rogers. In response to this request, we submitted a request for five narrow categories of documents we wished to obtain from VSP and identified five specific VSP personnel we wished to interview. We also requested an opportunity to meet with the VDEM personnel who were involved in the Incident Management Team sent to Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. Our hope was to facilitate an information-sharing agreement by which the Governor’s Task Force and our independent review could coordinate efforts to access facts regarding the effectiveness of state/local agency coordination—an important issue for each after-action review.

The City of Charlottesville agreed to accommodate the Governor’s request for information. Subsequently, we provided the specific documents identified in Mr. Sullivan’s September 22 proposal. We also facilitated interviews of the four individuals identified in that request by the team of consultants from IACP. That information was provided, and those interviews took place before IACP completed its report to the Governor’s Task Force on November 15, 2017.

Despite the City’s cooperation with the IACP review, VSP provided only limited information in response to our requests. The agency provided us with only one document— the VSP operational plan for the July 8 event. VSP did not provide documents regarding training of officers prior to the protest events, radio communications, briefings, timelines of the agency’s role in that event, or after-action reviews. VSP did allow us to interview Colonel Flaherty, along with two troopers who were not present in Charlottesville on August 12. They refused our requests to interview the other four individuals we had identified as important to our evaluation, including the major who was primarily responsible for pre-event coordination with CPD, the lieutenant who served as the VSP ground commander in Emancipation Park, the sergeant in charge of communications, and a lieutenant who supervised one of the VSP mobile field forces.7 The level of VSP cooperation was disappointing, given the agency’s substantial role in the summer protest events.

VSP’s refusal to cooperate with our independent review is consistent with the agency’s relative independence before and during the August 12 event. As we develop in detail below, VSP did not share its formal planning document for the Unite The Right event with the Charlottesville Police Department. VSP conducted separate trainings and convened an exclusive briefing for its on-scene personnel on the morning of August 12. VSP utilized separate radio communications channels during that event, in clear contravention of the IMT plan and CPD’s expectations. When viewed in the context of these failures in coordination, VSP’s refusal to cooperate with an evaluation commissioned by the City of Charlottesville is not surprising.

While disappointing, the lack of cooperation from VSP and other state agencies did not ultimately undermine our ability to draw certain conclusions about the nature and effectiveness of state/local agency coordination during the protest events. We obtained a large amount of VSP information about the protest events from other sources, including material that was in the possession of CPD and other departments of City government. . . .

C. Organizational Responses

Over the course of our review, we attempted to obtain information from a wide array of organizations that were represented at the summer protest events. We had varying levels of success with these efforts.

Early in our review process, we contacted the individuals who obtained the permits on July 8 (Amanda Barker) and August 12 (Jason Kessler). We were able to interview each of them and incorporate their perspectives into this report. We were also able to interview a number of white nationalist leaders who attended the August 12 rally, including Chris Cantwell, Mike Enoch, and Trace Chiles. We also attempted to interview individuals associated with various groups who participated in the Unite The Right Rally, including Identity Evropa, the National Workers Front, the League of the South, the National Policy Institute, and the Nationalist Front. We had discussions with Sam Dickson, an attorney who indicated that he represents many of these organizations. Mr. Dickson initially indicated that Richard Spencer, Nathan Damigo, Evan McLaren, Eli Mosley, and Michael Hill, were unwilling to speak with us. He cited the City’s pending lawsuit filed against his clients and their affiliate organizations as reasons for their lack of cooperation with our review. Nevertheless, on November 20, 2017, we received a short letter from Mr. Spencer restating his position that police had failed to protect his group’s First Amendment rights.8 We also received a longer narrative from Mr. Dickson describing his experience on August 12.

We also attempted to speak with individuals who organized counter-protests or actively resisted the Klan and Unite The Right protest events. We interviewed a number of antiracist activists, including Emily Gorcenski, Seth Wispelwey, Willis Jenkins, Ann Marie Smith, Rebekah Menning, Tanesha Hudson, and Lawton Tufts. We also reached out to representatives of Black Lives Matter, Solidarity Charlottesville, Standing Up for Racial Justice, and Congregate Charlottesville. As with the organizations above, we were unable to obtain fulsome cooperation from these groups. We also attempted to interview Walter Heinecke, who obtained permits for counter-demonstration events on August 12 at McGuffey and Justice Parks. Mr. Heinecke refused to speak with us, citing the “implications” of our review and his participation in litigation surrounding the protest events.

In response to efforts to contact voices in the progressive community and gather their perspective on the protest events, we received an inquiry from the National Lawyers’ Guild (NLG), a legal organization that claimed to have advised many members of anti-racist groups with respect to the protest events. NLG made a number of requests of our firm before agreeing to speak with us and advise others to do so. Specifically, NLG wanted us to keep information received during interviews with various individuals confidential from our client, the City of Charlottesville. NLG also asked us to modify our engagement with the City of Charlottesville to compel public release of all information gathered.11 As explained in our response, we were unable to accommodate those requests due to our ethical obligations.12 Accordingly, we have not been able to access information from NLG or others who they advised.

Much like the VSP resistance outlined above, the lack of cooperation from various organizations and individuals engaged in counter-protest activities mirrored their approach to the protest events themselves. For example, when CPD detectives attempted to obtain information from various groups who had openly promoted resistance to the July 8 event, their efforts were criticized as “an intimidation tactic intended to curtail leftist speech and expressive conduct.”13 NLG made a similar allegation in response to our attempts to interview people who were present in opposition to the permitted events. Many of the individuals in this category do not trust local government or law enforcement, and that distrust informed their reluctance to talk with police in advance of the protest events. They viewed our review as an extension of City government, as we were retained by the City to conduct this review.

In addition to the protesters and counter-protesters present for these events, we attempted to interview the militia personnel who appeared on August 12. In public statements and in conversations with us, the militia members claimed objectivity. They indicated that they appeared in Charlottesville to protect free speech and discourage violence on all sides. We had constructive discussions with several militia members, though we were unable to arrange formal interviews with any of them. As described above, the City’s lawsuit against the militia groups halted our constructive efforts to obtain their cooperation. Once the lawsuit was filed, the militia groups told us they were no longer willing to provide information to our review.

V. Consultants

Several law enforcement professionals served as consultants to our independent review. We enlisted the assistance of The Police Foundation, an independent, non-partisan organization devoted to improving policing through innovation and science. The Foundation has provided expertise to several critical incident reviews in the past, including after-action reviews of recent civil unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, the occupation of a police station in North Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the San Bernardino, California terrorist attacks. . . .

In addition to The Police Foundation, we identified two additional experts and enlisted their assistance to our review. Chris Perkins is the retired Chief of Police in Roanoke, Virginia. When we were first retained, CPD Chief Thomas suggested that we solicit the expertise of Mr. Perkins. While he is not regularly engaged as a consultant, Mr. Perkins agreed to work with our team and provide his insight and expertise to our review on a pro bono basis.16 We also reached out to Rachel Harmon, a tenured professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Professor Harmon is a recognized expert on police practices and has published widely on issues related to effective policing. She is also a former prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division at the United States Department of Justice. Professor Harmon also agreed to provide consulting services to our review free of charge. . . .

From Factual Findings:

B. History of the Lee and Jackson Statues

Charlottesville received the property now known as Emancipation Park as a gift from resident Paul Goodloe McIntire in 1918. McIntire transferred the land to the City to serve as a public park bearing a statue of Robert E. Lee. The deed also granted the City the right to “control, regulate, and restrict the use” of the property, which was then known as Lee Park. The statue of Lee on his horse Traveler was installed in 1924.

The Blue Ribbon Commission later appointed by the City to study the potential removal of the statue noted that “[r]eflecting many of the racist attitudes of the Jim Crow-era South, an unveiling ceremony for the sculpture was organized by local chapters of the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate veterans, and United Daughters of the Confederacy.” Virginia Military Institute cadets also marched in the dedication ceremony. The Blue Ribbon Commission report further noted that “[a]lthough a public park, the landscape surrounding the Lee sculpture retained a reputation as a segregated ‘whites only’ space for decades.”

McIntire gifted the land for what is now called Justice Park in late 1918. Three years later, he donated a statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on his horse Little Sorrel to stand in the park. The City dedicated Jackson Park and the statue on October 19, 1921. At the time, “the sculpture … was considered to be one of the best equestrian statues in the country” and was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.23 As the Blue Ribbon Commission report noted, “[l]ike the dedication of the Lee sculpture … the dedication of the Jackson sculpture was organized by local chapters of the Confederate Veterans, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and United Daughters of the Confederacy and included a parade, dances, and decoration of [Charlottesville] with Confederate colors and flags.” . . .

A postcard from the 1924 unveiling. [NOTE: the ranks of what look like white hoods re NOT a unit of Ku Klux Klansmen. Rather they are the distinctive feathered ceremonial headgear of a local Virginia militia unit.]

From Recommendations

1. E. Protecting Both Public Safety and Freedom of Speech

In addressing large political protests, City officials, including law enforcement, must both protect public safety and facilitate free expression. Though many find the belief of the protesters in these events hateful, the City is legally obliged not to allow such views to affect its planning. Strategies used on objectionable speech today could be used to suppress other kinds of critical speech tomorrow. Thus, both command staff and field officers should prepare for events with both of these paramount goals in mind. Operational plans should make both goals plain, and specific tactical decisions should be mindful of the need to ensure security and to protect free speech.

Law enforcement should not plan to declare an event unlawful and disperse crowds before an event begins or permit violence that is likely to disrupt a planned event. Nor should it plan to arrest aggressively as a means to create order. Although arrests are sometimes necessary to protect public safety, they are also costly for individuals, can be frustrating for communities, and increase liability for cities. Rather, command staff should make every effort to ensure that a permitted event takes place in a manner that protects the safety of all attendees. Preventing violence and addressing individual acts of violence quickly when they do arise are the best ways to protect both public safety and free speech. Rather than wait for large assemblies to be declared unlawful, law enforcement should attempt to create conditions that ensure lawful behavior. . . .

V. Restoring Faith in Government

Over the course of our work on this review, we repeatedly encountered community frustration with Charlottesville City government. Many people expressed frustration with various City agencies and officials and provided specific information about ways in which they felt underserved by the City’s response to these protest events. As detailed above, we spoke to a number of witnesses who were critical of the processes used to consider and grant permits, the lack of communication and information provided prior to the event, the late attempt to move the Unite The Right rally, and the law enforcement response to the protest events.

Community skepticism of City government handicapped our ability to gather facts and develop relevant information. Representatives of various anti-racist groups told us that our attorney-client relationship with the City was the basis for their refusal to provide us with information. These individuals wanted us to keep information received confidential and not share it with the City, and they asked us to guarantee the public release of our full report. The distrust of City officials was palpable in our conversations with those groups. We have also witnessed a lack of faith in City officials at City Council and other public meetings.

Community criticism of the Charlottesville Police Department is particularly acute. Some of this skepticism is a reflection of the actions of CPD and other law enforcement agencies during these protest events. We heard strong criticism of the deployment of tear gas on July 8 and the seeming police inaction in the face of violence on August 12. Some people see those actions as part of a broader pattern of law enforcement inability or unwillingness to protect public safety, particularly in communities of color. Skepticism about CPD is also informed by concerns over racial profiling, drug enforcement, and other systemic issues beyond the protest events.

Not everyone shares the concerns outlined above. We spoke to a large number of people who praised the police response to these protest events. Witnesses described the patience and restraint shown by officers in the face of extreme animosity directed at them on July 8. CPD officers reported strong support in the community and described repeated expressions of gratitude at and after the protest events. Other witnesses expressed similar support for the City Manager, City Council, and professional staff within City government. This information suggests that there is a diversity of opinion within our community about the effectiveness of CPD and City government more generally. Our community is divided with respect to belief in the efficacy of government, which has lasting consequences if left unaddressed.

We recommend an increased effort to restore confidence in City government through a focus on the issues that have arisen in the wake of these events. Community engagement is paramount for proactive, effective policing. CPD must commit on an ongoing basis to being a citizen-centric partner in promoting community well-being rather than a reactive, independent force. As one manifestation of that commitment, CPD needs to understand and respond to community concerns. City Council needs to find constructive ways to solicit community input and identify specific areas of potential change.

Citizens share the responsibility to facilitate communication and strive for improved understanding. Everyone interested in contributing to a better Charlottesville must approach that effort with patience and flexibility. We must involve all voices in this effort and affirmatively encourage the participation of a diverse array of stakeholders. We must listen to each other, not yell at each other. The division that exists in our community will make this spirit of cooperation both difficult and essential.

If we do not recognize and endeavor to address community concerns, we will remain a community divided. If, however, we use these events as an impetus to confront difficult issues and learn from each other, we can emerge a stronger, more united community.

The full text of this report is online here. 

The post The Independent Report on the Charlottesville Riots appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Five

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Tue, 12/05/2017 - 8:10am
"Too much to ask "
by Luci Shaw

it seemed too much to ask
of one small virgin
that she should stake shame
against the will of God.
all she had to hold to
were those soft, inward
and the remembered sting
of a brief junction--spirit
with flesh.
who would think it
more than a dream wish?
an implausible, laughable

and it seems much
too much to ask me
to be part of the
different thing--
God's shocking, unorthodox,
unheard of Thing
to further heaven's hopes
and summon God's glory.

From The Risk of Birth: A Gift Book of Christ Poems (Harold Shaw Publishers, 1974).


"We humans contribute to the world’s gloom, like dark shadows on a dark landscape.…But now this man from Nazareth comes to us and invites us to mirror God’s image, and shows us how. He says: you too can become light, as God is light. What is all around you is not hell, but rather a world waiting to be filled with hope and faith."

by Jörg Zink 
Doors to the Feast

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).
Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Four

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 7:00am
From the beginning, writers of the Christmas story have been bothered by the inn, with the stable and manger close at hand. That is where we find ourselves: not by the shepherds, whose poverty and simplicity we lack; and not by the wise men, whose watchfulness and decisiveness we lack. We are, at best, guests at the inn. We sleep, we follow our own plans and dreams. Can we be awakened by the angels’ news? That is the question.

-- Rudolf Otto Wiemer
Source: from the foreword to the play “The End of the Night”
Categories: Blogs

That Gospel – I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means

Micah Bales - Mon, 12/04/2017 - 2:00am

This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 12/3/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Isaiah 64:1-9, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, & Mark 13:24-37. 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

I’ve been accused of many things. But I’ve never been accused of being without imagination. When I was a child, I had what you could probably describe as an overactive imagination. Every book I read, every cartoon I watched, I wanted to act it out. I wanted to live it. I wanted to make it my own.

There is something delightfully self-centered in small children. I say “delightful,” because there is nothing malicious in it. A child doesn’t have the layers upon layers of self-deception that we adults tend to have. All of it is right up on the surface. Children are better than anyone at placing themselves in the center of the story.

For me as a kid, I was really good at this. I could always imagine myself in the role of the protagonist. When my parents showed me pictures of Russian dancers, I got some of my mom’s pantyhose and used them for tights, so that I could be a Russian dancer, too.

When I was maybe four or five years old, I was mildly obsessed with the Disney movie The Rescuers. I loved the characters and the story. Most of all, I was enchanted with the lead character, a little girl named Penny. Maybe you can guess what happened next. Before long, I had put my hair into ponytails, just like Penny. I ran around in the backyard wearing a makeshift brown skirt, role-playing all sorts of death-defying scenarios of intrigue and adventure.

I may have been a particularly theatrical child, but even as adults, most of us have a certain inner flare. We’ve got a taste for story. We find it totally natural to place our lives, our experience, within the context of that story. Nowhere is this more true than in the most important story, the narrative arc that we are exposed to through the writings of the Bible.

For thousands of years, women and men have read the Scriptures in a participatory, childlike way. We imagine ourselves as Moses, parting the Red Sea. We participate spiritually in the adventures of the apostle Paul, imagining what we would have done in his place.

Those of us who are particularly daring also cast ourselves in the role of the villain. What was it like to be Pharaoh, with his hardened heart? What was Cain thinking when he murdered Abel? How did Judas feel when he came to his senses and realized that he had betrayed his master and friend to death? When we imagine ourselves as the heroes of the story, we’re invited to take on the virtuous traits that they exhibited. But when we put ourselves in the shoes of the evildoer, we are able to wrestle with the same darkness that exists within us and could lead us to the same terrible actions.

So all this is to say, I like my inner child. I like yours, too. I think our inner five year old is essential to our spiritual development. Only that daring and imaginative inner child has the guts to fully take on the story of the Bible and try it on for size. Through child-like play, we discover ourselves in the stories. And then, hopefully, we are able to apply what we learned their to our everyday lives.
But while this is a vitally important way of engaging with scripture, reading ourselves into the text can also present some problems. Think about all the doomsday cults throughout history that have read themselves into the more apocalyptic texts of the Bible. Filling in all the blanks, we human beings are capable of weaving an intricate, internally-coherent web of deception that distorts our vision. These false visions can even lead to death.

Apocalyptic cults are not the only ones who misuse scripture in this way. The crusades, anti-semitism, and slavery—all of these were justified and perpetuated by a distorted reading of scripture that places people like us at the center, and relegates those who are different to a marginal role, at best – and to outer darkness at worst.

So while it’s generally a natural and healthy thing for us to read ourselves into the scriptures, we have to be careful. Who are we reading ourselves as, and how does our story-telling position us in relationship to Jesus, who emptied himself and became obedient even in the face of shame and death?

Sometimes the danger in reading ourselves into the text is that we don’t really understand the context of what is written. I think of the Renaissance painters who depicted first century Romans and Jews as being white Europeans, dressed in medieval garb. They read themselves into the story so much that they imagined the times and cultures of the Bible were no different from 1500s Italy.
In our gospel reading this morning, it’s dangerous for us to be ignorant of context. It is problematic to imagine that we are the intended audience of the text. It is a mistake to assume that we have a grip on what Jesus is talking about, the situation he’s speaking into.

In 1988, Ched Myers wrote a ground-breaking commentary on the gospel of Mark, called “Binding the Strong Man.” This book has helped raise my awareness of the situation in which Mark was authored. Myers makes a strong case that the gospel was written by Galilean Christians during a period of upheaval in Roman Palestine, just before the destruction of the Temple.

He argues that the gospel of Mark came into being during the years in which the Jews were in open rebellion against Rome. The Roman legions would soon crush this rebellion, lay waste to Jerusalem, and destroy the Temple once and for all. But in the meantime, the Christian community in Galilee found themselves in the desperate position of rejecting both the Roman invaders and the zealot insurrectionists who reigned from Jerusalem.

The audience of Mark’s gospel was a people under mortal threat – both from the established empire of Rome, and the rebel empire of Jewish revolutionaries. In the midst of this death, destruction, and upheaval, Mark’s community found themselves being called by Jesus to stay true to the kingdom of God, even as the nations raged all around them.

It’s in this context that Jesus says to the church in Galilee, “Stay awake.” It would be easy to fall asleep, to breathe in the lies of Roman supremacy on the one hand, or theocratic Jewish ethno-nationalism on the other. To stay awake in the midst of war and domestic conflict means risking a lot. Acts of violence against authority, or submission to it, can both provide an illusion of safety. But the followers of Jesus in Mark’s community could not afford any such illusions.

It’s in this actively dangerous context that Jesus is explaining to the church in Galilee about all the tribulations that are coming their way. The destruction of the Temple. The desolation of Jerusalem. False messiahs, famines, earthquakes, wars and rumors of war. To stay awake meant to acknowledge these present realities and resolve to follow Jesus, despite the cost.

Today, it’s easy for us to look at Jesus’ words in Mark 13 as being foreboding and mysterious. Millions read these words as a prophecy about some mythological “end times.” But for the Christians in Galilee, Jesus’ words weren’t mysterious and other-worldly. They were concrete and actionable.

The community that authored Mark was watching Jesus’ words unfold all around them. Everything he said was true to their experience. Despite the apocalyptic ravings and resistance of the zealots, Rome was on the move to destroy the holy city. False messiahs sprang up every day, attempting to deceive the Galilean church, baiting them into a clash of civilizations. In days before rapid transit or communications, rumors of war must have been rampant.

And just as Jesus had predicted, the greatest threat to the church was often the civil and religious authorities that sought to regulate the faith of Jewish people on the one hand, and bolster an insurrectionist agenda on the other. Mark’s community was being delivered over to councils and beaten in synagogues. Their livelihoods and families were threatened as they refused to take up arms with the rebels, or collaborate with the invading Romans. The church in America likes to talk a lot about the “end times,” but the Galilean church was living it.

So the church in Galilee was experiencing the pain and confusion that Jesus refers to at the beginning of our reading today, when he says, “after that suffering.”

It is “after that suffering” that “they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” It is “after that suffering” that Jesus will gather his people from the four winds and the ends of the earth. It is “after that suffering” that the kingdom of God will be revealed.

It would be dangerous for us to imagine that we are the intended audience of these words of Jesus. It would be easy for us to use these words to put ourselves to sleep, rather than staying awake as Jesus commands us. It is tempting for us to skip straight to the “great power and glory” without having experienced the lesson of the fig tree. In the Middle East, you know it’s about to be summer when the fig tree puts forth leaves. In the family of God, you know Jesus is about to come to reign when we as a community suffer for his name.

And as much as some Christians today like to talk about “persecution,” let’s be real. That’s not us. I don’t want to downplay the serious trials and sorrows that many of us experience at different times. But we as the church in America are not, generally speaking, being persecuted for our faith.

I mean think about it. Seriously. When was the last time you had to make a major sacrifice to be true to your Christian convictions? When was the last time that we, as a congregation, faced the active disapproval of the civil authority and paid a price for it?

And that’s great! I’m very happy to live in a country where my faith in Jesus is not grounds for persecution. Following Jesus is hard enough without adding on the burden of a hostile regime.

But we need to be real about the fact that we are not the early church. We are not the audience of this text, the gospel of Mark. The original audience of this piece was facing death, torture, and all kinds of brutalization in the midst of a nasty, Vietnam-style war in their homeland. They were facing exclusion and persecution by their non-Christian Jewish countrymen.

For the community of Mark’s gospel, the Jesus was coming to inaugurate the kingdom of God very soon. He had to, or there would simply be no survivors! As Jesus says in Mark 13:20, “And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short these days.” That’s what the kingdom of God meant to the Galilean Christians: A chance to survive and overcome the horror.

What is the kingdom of God for us? What does it mean for Jesus to tell us, “stay awake”? How are we to learn the lesson of the fig tree? The community that wrote Mark was living in late spring; summer felt very near. What season are we living in?

Until we can answer those questions, we’re really not much different from a five-year-old Micah Bales, dressing up in pig tails and a skirt, running around playing Penny from the Rescuers. We’ll be living in a story that isn’t our own, one that blinds us to the real work that God is calling us to in our own time and season.

All that being said, there is at least one part of Mark 13 that was definitely written to us specifically. We know this because Jesus explicitly says so. He warns his followers that no one knows the hour at which the master will return. None of us knows when our own time of crisis may be coming. No one knows when the kingdom of God will shine out of the darkness for everyone to see. So Jesus warns us that regardless of our context, regardless of the season, we must stay awake.

“What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Related Posts: Does the Bible Contradict Itself About Faith Versus Works? With So Much Fake Religion Out There, How Can I Tell What’s Real?

The post That Gospel – I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means appeared first on Micah Bales.

Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Three

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Sun, 12/03/2017 - 7:00am
"Winter Grace"
by Patricia Fargnoli

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.

“Winter Grace” by Patricia Fargnoli from Hallowed. © Tupelo Press, 2017


The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so. Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days.

-- Dorothee Soelle
Source: Watch for the Light

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).
Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day Two

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Sat, 12/02/2017 - 7:00am
Although we sing, “All glory to God on High and on the earth be peace,” there seems to be today neither glory to God nor peace on earth. As long as it remains a hunger still unsatisfied, as long as Christ is not yet born, we have to look forward to him. When real peace is established, we will not need demonstrations, but it will be echoed in our life, not only in individual life, but in corporate life. Then we shall say Christ is born.…Then we will not think of a particular day in the year as that of the birth of the Christ, but as an ever-recurring event which can be enacted in every life.

-- Mahatma Gandhi
Source: from a talk given on Christmas Day, 1931

Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).
Categories: Blogs

A Quaker Advent Reader: Day One

Holy Ordinary (Brent Bill) - Fri, 12/01/2017 - 10:39am

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.
Thomas MertonSource: Watch for the Light 
Yes, I know that Quakers don't recognize liturgical seasons. But I like Advent and so will be sharing various readings during this season (all of which fit with my understanding of Friends faith and life).
Categories: Blogs

"All Creation Waits" - An Advent Book Recommendation

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

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?


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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

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Categories: Blogs

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.)

Rev. William Barber II, former president of the NC NAACP, and new leader of an effort to revive Dr. King’s 1968 Poor peoples Campaign.

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 agreed 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 duress, 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.)


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: whole 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 (or Margaret Fell) also leaves us blinking in the long shadow of Indiana’s “Chief Kluckeress,” Friend Daisy Douglas Barr; a white supremacist for sure.



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Categories: Blogs

Dr. King & the FBI: Orgies & Commies & Wiretaps, Oh My!

A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager) - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 10:35am

It was only a matter of time before the current furor over sex harassment and misconduct by prominent people added Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the list.

And now his name has surfaced, by way of the FBI in the newly-released JFK assassination papers.

One of these documents, stamped “SECRET” is titled Martin Luther King, Jr. A Current Analysis. It  was dated March 12, 1968, just three weeks before King was assassinated in Memphis.

This paper, or rather, one section of it, is the topic of a major article by Donovan Harrell, and published by the McClatchy newspaper chain, under the headline  JFK files: FBI documents allege Martin Luther King Jr. had secret love child, orgies. It was reprinted in the Raleigh NC News & Observer, which is where I learned about it. And it’s been circulating more and more widely since. (The full text of the FBI paper is here.)

The cover of the newly-released FBI paper on Dr. King, written in 1968.

It’s been widely shared enough to provoke a furious denunciation from a columnist for the Black-oriented site, “The Root.”  

It’s a sign of the times — then and now — that these allegations, under the heading, “King’s personal conduct,” come last in the 20-page paper, and take up only about a page and a half. The sign then was that the FBI was far more concerned in what it considered King’s many ties to Communism, and to present and former U.S. Communists. Allegations about such ties take up the first third of the paper, and are scattered throughout much of the rest.

Stanley Levison, 1912-1979, ex-Communist, later close advisor of Dr. King.

King was in fact connected to some persons with Communist associations in their past. One of his closest advisers over many years was Stanley Levison, a new York City businessman and lawyer who had once been a high-level member of the Communist Party-USA. But FBI files also state that Levison terminated his Communist associations in 1957, though that shift did not end FBI interest in, or surveillance of him.

I saw a number of these billboards in the South in the 1960s.

No, the McClatchy article is interested in what’s hot now, and that is sex. And for those so inclined, it is not necessary to turn to the JFK files to find such assertions. Major biographies by top scholars include them, and Yale historian Beverly Gage, wrote in the New York Times in 2014 that “King’s extramarital sex life, [was] already an open secret within the civil rights movement’s leadership.”

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once wrote that King was like “a tom cat with obsessive degenerate sexual urges.” 

In fact, Hoover evidently became convinced from wiretaps and other surveillance, that by 1964 the FBI had accumulated enough salacious material to force King to retire in disgrace from civil rights activism, or even drive him to suicide. 

A notorious “suicide letter” was drafted by one of Hoover’s close aides, and anonymously sent, along with an audiotape full of heavy breathing and the like, to King in November, 1964. As dramatized in the movie “Selma,” King’s wife opened the package.

The letter was only one unsigned page (Full text here). Its punchline was stark: “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You are done. There is but one way out for you. . . .”

The “punchline” of the FBI-written, anonymous “suicide letter.”

King decided to ignore the tape and the letter, as did the news reporters the FBI tried to interest in the tape. It appears that King continued with his extramarital activities until his death in April 1968.

All this is lurid enough; but the question of the moment today is one only implicit in the resurfaced FBI paper: was King a sexual harasser, or even a predator, who forced himself upon any of the many women he allegedly had sex with?

And a related question is, doesn’t  this behavior pattern call into question, or even discredit, his august moral standing? Does King deserve to be, say, enshrined in a statue on the tidal basin in the heart of Washington DC?

I can’t answer the first question, but can offer some perspective as a junior staffer for King’s group in 1964 and 1965. And I have some thoughts about the second.

First of all, though I have no direct evidence about King himself, I can say that sexual harassment of female employees and associates was rife in King’s group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, even at high levels. My late wife Tish experienced it often when she worked in the SCLC office in Selma, Alabama.

Other women staff told me of incidents. And being a young male in 1965, I talked with other males in the group, and things were said that corroborated the other reports, and would not pass muster today.

Indeed, the atmosphere of the movement was sexually charged. This was due to many factors, no doubt, but one that ought not to be dismissed is the impact of charisma. Dr. King was a very charismatic figure; several of his top staff members also had quite magnetic personalities, based on their eloquence, personal bravery in the face of racist violence, and reflected glory by being close to Dr. King.

Such charisma is a fact. It occurs in many professions, and beyond a certain point has little to do with physical appearance. Henry Kissinger proves the rule, and offered one of its most apt summaries: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

I had one real and unsettling experience of this, at the height of the Selma, Alabama voting rights campaign led by Dr. King. It is described in my memoir, Eating Dr. King’s Dinner.

I was very busy in the two hectic weeks after the famous “Bloody Sunday” attack by state troopers and deputies on marchers attempting a peaceful walk from Selma to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery. People from all over the country, shocked by the violence, came pouring into Selma. Coping with this influx was a nonstop challenge. And the role that fell to me for several days was that of chauffeur.

SCLC rented several cars, and I managed to commandeer one. I happily spent several days ferrying various notables, most of whom I had never heard of, back and forth to the airport.

The car brought more than a hint of luxury to my $25 per week standard of living: it was warm, new, and had a good radio. It also served as a useful stage: for a series of rapt, terrified passengers, I turned the journey down Highway 80 into an instant history tour,  starting with the full-size John Birch Society billboard near the airport, which demanded that we Get the US OUT of the UN, and do it now. Then, a few miles west:

“Yes, this is Lowndes County, with a population that  is eighty per cent black, but where no blacks are registered; none. They say the last black man who tried to register there was shot dead on the courthouse steps; that’s what they say.

“And there–see that ramshackle old building? It’s a real, functioning one-room schoolhouse (well, three rooms actually), with holes in the floor and walls that let in the winter wind; that’s right, it’s all the public education available for Negroes in the county.”

A “Colored school” in Lowndes County, Alabama, circa 1965.

Twenty or so white-knuckled miles later:

“And don’t miss that bank billboard there, the one that welcomes us to Selma as ‘the city with 100 per cent human interest.’ Look to the other side, and there’s another for the White Citizens Council (a pause for gasps); and they’re both located just about at the spot where the troopers attacked the march–they hid their horses behind that building over there.”

By then, eyes were wide, necks craned.

Once across the bridge, we turned right at the courthouse, where I casually mentioned my own three arrests and a close encounter with the sheriff’s possemen’s wielding electric cattle prods, cruised cautiously past City Hall, describing the two jails it housed, and then jogged again to get to Sylvan Street and Brown Chapel AME church, the movement headquarters.

There I dropped off my passengers, who by now were usually half-dazed with awe at the apocalyptic spectacle they were joining.

One trip turned out differently, though. At the Montgomery airport, looking for the Selma contingent, I saw a stunning blonde, dressed in demure but elegant black, coming toward me. She flashed a winsome smile, said something about coming from Michigan, and asked for a ride to the church.

With pleasure, ma’am, I thought, and welcome to the Southland.

She insisted on sitting up front with me, and listened to my tourist spiel with a semblance of interest. I had some trouble getting through it, though, because she was so good to look at; the black suit, despite its modest cut, only set off her full figure. Then as we approached the bridge, she interrupted to ask if I knew where Dr. King was.

I shrugged. Maybe at the church, maybe somewhere else, I wasn’t sure.

But she persisted. She wanted to see Dr. King. She needed to see him. That, she said, was why she came.

Well, let me think; it was midday, the mass meetings were probably in a lull, and Dr. King could be conferring with staff in the back of the church, or possibly resting somewhere – I knew of an apartment in the projects nearby where he often slipped away for some quiet. But he might be someplace else entirely, coming back later–

But where is he now? She insisted. I need to see him.

And all at once my guard was up. Who was this woman? What was she after? She did not seem acquainted with Dr. King or the movement. But the very elegance of her appearance, I realized, exuded an unspoken awareness of Dr. King’s fondness for female pulchritude. And her sense of mission reinforced my sudden suspicion. She seemed to presume he would want to talk with her, be with her; and she might well have been right.

But for what purpose? By now I was familiar with the steady stream of death threats that Dr. King received. Most were no more than racist invective; but some were serious. I knew at least one such firsthand:

A few weeks earlier, top Justice Department officials had called and begged Dr. King to stop a planned night march, because they said there was a KKK assassination squad ready to attack it, and him, in the dark, and they wouldn’t be able to stop it.

Dr. King at first said no, we would march despite the threats. But he was finally persuaded to back off the plan by the pleas of top aides, who stressed the danger to others in the march.

I was there that night, with other staffers, and heard the calls, and the debate, listening and scared out of my wits. I’d also seen postcards declaring murderous intentions toward King.. Other threats, less dramatic, kept coming.

And for a serious, skillful assassination plan, there would be more than one way to get close to him, to bait a fatal trap. A beautiful woman could be just the thing.

As the memories of the planned night march came back, my responses to my passenger’s queries became suddenly vague; the tour guide banter subsided into bumpkin monosyllables.

I managed to creep through the crowd milling along and into the street, quite close to Brown Chapel, pulled up, and pointed toward the back of the church.

“The offices are there.” I strongly doubted Dr. King was inside; but if he was, he’d surely be surrounded by staff, with dozens of reporters and photographers close by.

She thanked me, snatched up her small travel bag, and was gone, pushing her way into the crowd swirling around outside the building.

That was that; I never saw or heard of her again, and whatever happened, Dr. King survived for three more years.

But I was thoroughly rattled. Even if she was no more than a celebrity stalker, the trip showed how magnetic charisma could be. (Less than two years later, I was part of a similarly convincing demonstration, at Shea Stadium in New York. There I watched nearly 50,000 girls and women shrieking their lungs out for two hours at four complete strangers trying to play music in center field. I saw the Beatles with them that night; and though I couldn’t hear a note the band played, the experience was unforgettable.)

But now let’s return to the other question: does the sexual adventurism of Dr. King and some of his associates along with the atmosphere of sexual harassment this fostered undermine his legacy, and moral stature?

To get at this, I’ll return to Eating Dr. King’s Dinner and note another encounter from 1965 It was in September, several months after the successful march to Montgomery, and passage of the Voting Rights Act, which (for some decades at least), changed the politics of the south, and the U.S.

I was invited to an SCLC staff retreat at the Penn Center on the South Carolina coast. The Penn Center is the successor of a school founded and long operated by Quakers from the North, to educate newly freed slaves after the Civil War. It’s now a cultural center and national monument for the rich Gullah culture of the area; it also hosts small conferences. Dr. King held many retreats there, during the years when official segregation made it difficult to find locations for integrated meetings.

At the 1965 retreat, there were momentous issues on the table: should Dr. King take the movement north, specifically to Chicago? (The answer was yes, in an ill-fated campaign the next year.)

And should Dr. King come out strongly against the rapidly escalating Vietnam War — and thereby defy many powerful people who were warning him to stay away from “foreign policy.” (That answer was yes, too, but it took longer, until early 1967, for Dr. King to take a bold antiwar stance.)

James Bevel, left & Dr. King.

But these big issues of the day are not what is before us now. Instead, what comes to mind is an entirely informal encounter there, between the plenary sessions.

In fact, it happened while we were all standing in line for a meal. I heard Dr. King talking earnestly ahead of me, and tuned in, as by degrees, did most of the rest.

King was talking with James Bevel, his Direct Action Director, and one of the most insightful tactical thinkers, and electrifying speakers, in Dr. King’s inner circle. They were talking, debating really, about sex and marriage.

How the topic came up, I don’t know, but there they were. Bevel, in his tenor staccato, was making the case for what were known euphemistically as “open relationships,” marriages in which the partners were explicitly allowed to seek sexual pleasure with others.

To this Dr. King sounded a baritone bass note of dissent. He had no faith in any such couplings, he said; the right way was the traditional one: monogamy and fidelity.

This was a friendly argument, like a college bull session; voices were not raised, no personal charges were hurled, and Dr. King did not attempt to pull rank. But it was still evident that their positions were deeply felt, and the colloquy was riveting to the listeners.

Surely all of us present knew, by regular hearsay if not personal observation, that neither of these men was exactly a model of monogamy. I would thus have expected Dr. King to go along with Bevel, at least to some extent, if only to provide himself with moral cover for what we all assumed was his habitual practice.

But no. Bevel argued skillfully: love was expansive; possessiveness outmoded, and jealousy a bad habit. But Dr. King refused to budge: one man, one woman, forsaking all others–given the fallen state of human nature, that’s the way it had to be. It was also what the Bible said.

Looking back, this exchange, finally interrupted by the arrival of the food, revealed a great deal. In Bevel there was the spirit of the times, pushing the limits and opening things up, trying to be ethically and situationally inclusive, and to see good in what he, and many others of the time, were doing.

I don’t recall if he did, but he could have parried Dr. King’s biblical references with one of his own, the Apostle Paul from First Corinthians, proclaiming that “All things are lawful for me,” a verse which conventional exegetes are anxious to diminish or ignore.

Dr. King, on the other hand, was tipping his hand as the more orthodox Christian: the standard is there, was his argument. He didn’t say, but the implication was obvious, that his and our failures to live up to it didn’t mean we should redraw the lines, but rather admit that we are sinners. We don’t need new morals, was his point; we need the old remedies: forgiveness and grace.

Put into a gloss on their own, reputedly similar behavior, Bevel was insisting, “I’m not doing anything wrong,” while Dr. King was admitting, “I am.”

At the time, standing transfixed in that dinner line, I was mostly on Bevel’s side, or at least I thought I was. A part of me still is, too, a bit; but time and my own misadventures have lately edged me more in Dr. King’s corner.

Are all things really lawful to me? Maybe more than some people think should be; but even so, there are limits. And do I need grace and forgiveness?

Do I need to breathe?

*    *    *

Suppose for a moment that the bullet at the Lorraine Motel had missed Dr. King that evening in April, 1968. Suppose he had continued with the campaign there in support of sanitation workers — and then gone on to lead his planned Poor Peoples Campaign in Washington that summer.

Besides these boiling issues (along with the continuing Vietnam War), there were others waiting to ambush him, and one of these was sex.

The male chauvinism embedded in much of his and others’ behavior was corrosive to the cohesion of the movement’s key cadre: marriages were broken up; colleagues parted ways; many rank and file supporters backed away. These patterns were not “victimless.”

Further, it had practical effects: it split the movement between those who were “in the know” about the private recreations of King and others, and the many who did not, or only suspected. That fed an elitism which ultimately generated deep and persisting distrust of exalted “leaders” among many. It also exposed King to continuing, unnecessary risks: of blackmail, exposure in the press, or retaliation from a cuckolded spouse. 

Who better to signal some of this internal cost than the movement’s most sophisticated and sardonic chanteuse, Nina Simone, in her 1964 recording of “Go Limp”:

“Oh Daughter, dear Daughter
Take warning from me
And don’t you go marching
With the N-A-A-C-P. 
For they’ll rock you and roll you
And shove you into bed.
And if they steal your nuclear secret

You’ll wish you were dead. . . .”

Four years later, back to Dr. King: how much longer would his wife Coretta have put up with his frequent philandering? By then the “second wave” feminist movement was taking off, and challenges to male dominance and sexual consumerism were rising, inside the movement as well as outside. King & SCLC were thoroughly male chauvinist; a reckoning was likely.

This is speculation. But in another case, there is, sadly, more: James Bevel was notorious in the movement for his many sexual exploits. By 2005 he had been married four times and had fathered sixteen children by these and other women.

I thought highly of Bevel in my days in the Selma movement. But over time his behavior and political alliances came to seem bizarre and we lost touch.  The last time I talked with him was in the 1990s, and he then expressed regret for his behavior in the 1960s, and said he had changed his ways. He wanted me to help him write an autobiography. I demurred; keeping a distance felt safer.

Then in May, 2007, Bevel was arrested and charged with committing incest with one of his daughters in the 1990s. The alleged incident happened in Virginia, which has no statute of limitations on such charges. Three other daughters later said Bevel had had sex with them too.

He was tried and convicted in April 2008, and the testimony included statements of his that resembled the outlook I heard him express that day at the Penn Center, extended across generations. He was sentenced to 15 years, but released in November of that year, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died the following month.

In midsummer, while Bevel was awaiting sentencing, his wife emailed me, to ask that I write to the judge, requesting a reduced sentence.

I agonized about this. There was no defending or mitigating what he had done to his children. I didn’t want anything to do with it. Yet it was also true that Bevel had made signal contributions to the civil rights movement: the whole Selma-Montgomery march, which became the key to the Voting Rights Act,  was his idea. This and his other best work had benefitted millions.

What do you do about people who are a mix of good and evil?

Ultimately my resolution was this: I wrote to the judge, but offered no brief for the actions he had been convicted of. Instead I told him of the substantial positive, even historic work I felt Bevel had once done. And I asked the judge to weigh this in a spirit of mercy. I doubt it made any difference, but it felt truthful, if difficult.

I’ve had more time to consider Dr. King. And I find his legacy still endures;  Dr. King as a sinner makes sense.  And no children were involved, so far as I know. The impact of his charisma, as shown by the episode of the blonde in black in my rental car, was pervasive.

For me his flaws, his sins were dwarfed by his larger witness, and the sacrificial courage he showed facing death threats daily — including the “suicide letter” from the head office of the FBI — until one of them succeeded.

That witness stands, with no need to disguise or dismiss the shortcomings. Is it noteworthy that almost fifty years after his death, there have been to my knowledge, no “women coming forward” in print or other media, to take down his reputation, as, say, Bill Cosby’s or Harvey Weinstein’s has been? Despite the personal and family costs, could there be more to this than meets the judgmental eye?

Anyway, more disturbing to me personally than King’s philandering was the revelation that he plagiarized much of his graduate work and his doctoral dissertation, a serious intellectual infraction which is now well-established. Maybe that’s just me.

We’re probably not going to hear much about that in news articles based on the FBI papers released about the JFK assassination. It may be true, I believe it was important; but it isn’t sexy. Or for that matter, even Communist.

The post Dr. King & the FBI: Orgies & Commies & Wiretaps, Oh My! appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

November Flashbacks

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Sat, 11/04/2017 - 2:00pm

Once a month I’m doing flashbacks to past eras in my blog.

One Year Ago: November 2016

A year ago the shock to the system was Trump’s election. One reaction of mine was a promise to blog more; I set up the system but I’m still not as frictionless about it as I’d like.

Waking Up to President Trump: We do not get to choose our era or the chal­lenges it throws at us. Only some­one with his­tor­i­cal amne­sia would say this is unprece­dent­ed in our his­to­ry. The enslave­ment of mil­lions and the geno­cide of mil­lions more are dark stains indeli­bly soaked into the very found­ing of the nation. But much will change, par­tic­u­lar­ly our naiv­i­ty and false opti­mism in an inevitable for­ward progress of our nation­al sto­ry.

Five Years Ago: November 2012

Five years ago I wrote about how I had been blogging for fifteen years. Do the math: it’s now 20 frigging years since I started blogging.

Fifteen Years of Blogging: I keep double-checking the math but it keeps adding up. In Novem­ber 1997 I added a fea­ture to my two-year-old peace web­site. I called this new enti­ty Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront and updat­ed it week­ly with orig­i­nal fea­tures and curat­ed links to the best online paci­fist writ­ing. I wrote a ret­ro­spec­tive of the “ear­ly blog­ging days” in 2005 that talks about how it came about and gives some con­text about the proto-blogs hap­pen­ing back in 1997.

Ten Years Ago: November 2007

Freelancing and working the overnight shift at Shoprite, I wondered if my Quakerness was hopelessly useless to my new circumstances.

Who are we part one (just what pamphlet do I give the tattooed ex-con?): I love the fel­low who gave the mes­sage and I appre­ci­at­ed his min­istry. But the whole time I won­dered how this would sound to peo­ple I know now, like the friend­ly but hot-tempered Puer­to Rican ex-con less than a year out of a eight-year stint in fed­er­al prison, now work­ing two eight hour shifts at almost-minimum wage jobs and try­ing to stay out of trou­ble. How does the the­o­ry of our the­ol­o­gy fit into a code of con­duct that doesn’t start off assum­ing mid­dle class norms.

Twenty Years Ago: November 1997

Four years before 9/11, I was asking how we could break the cycle of terrorism.

How Come the U.S. Trains All the Terrorists?: It would seem a sim­ple case of U.S. mil­i­tarism com­ing home to roost, but it is not so sim­ple and it is not uncom­mon. Fol­low most trails of ter­ror­ism and you’ll find Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment fund­ing some­where in the recent past.

Categories: Blogs

Expanding the Quaker writing pool

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 4:00pm

Shhh: there have been a few times lately when I wish we had more options when choosing articles forFriends Journal issues. Yes yes, we did notice that the feature article contributors for the October issue on “Conscience” were all older men and that the topics were perhaps a bit too familiar for Friends Journal (nonviolence, civil disobedience, conscientious objection). They were all great articles. And I think cliches can be important (see footnote below) for a publication like ours. But yeah.

I had hoped the idea of conscience would leap up to new writers, especially in our current political climate, and that the articles might serve as a bridge between 1960s Quaker activism and today. Sometimes our themes inspire writers and sometimes they don’t.

I’ve occasionally written Quakerranter blog posts about upcoming submission opportunities but I’d like to make it more official and post these every month from the Friends Journal website. We’re calling the feature “From the Editor’s Desk.”

I’d also like you all to share these with people you think should be writing for us, especially if they’re new writers coming from different perspectives. Diversities of all kind are always welcome.

I was a Quaker blogger (and thus writer) for many years and I worked for Friends Journal for part of that time but I only once sent in a submission before I became senior editor. Why? Was I waiting to be asked? Was I unsure what I might write about? Whatever the reason, we need to always be finding and encouraging new people. Some of the most interesting articles we’ve published started after one of our fans shared an upcoming issue topic with someone who was outside of our network. My goal with these posts is really to encourage you all to share these in emails and on your Facebook walls so we can keep expanding the Quaker writer universe.

Here’s the first one: a call for writers for the March 2018 issue on Quakers and the Holy Land.

Writing Opp: Quakers and the Holy Land

In March 2018 Friends Journal is publishing an issue on religion and politics in the Middle East. We could have…

Friends Journal

Footnote: Every once in a while we’ll get some article in and I’ll sigh because I can remember a previous article that covered the same ground. When I go to look it up I realize that the earlier article was published fifteen or more years ago. We have new readers every year and it’s okay to circle around to core themes every decade or so. We also need to remember the interesting people and incidents that happened long enough ago because our collective memory is always in the process of fading. I’m a peacenik longtime Quaker so I knew Dan Seeger was the named defendant in a major landmark Supreme Court decision in the 1960s, for example, but I don’t assume most Friends knew this. It’s still a cool story. It still inspires. It’s important to keep the story alive.

Categories: Blogs

Essential Mac Apps 2017

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 5:32pm

Oh dear: a few weeks ago Wess Daniels started a Twitter discussion about the new Mac app Cardhop. In the thread he asked me about other apps which apps I find essential. I thought I’d type up something in ten minutes but then the draft post kept growing. I’m sure I still missed some. I guess I didn’t realize how particular I am about my computing environment.

Categories: Blogs

October flashbacks: Turns of phrases, Quaker political influence, and of course Halloween

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Thu, 10/12/2017 - 6:00am

Apparently I once had an idea of periodically sharing posts from earlier eras of my blogs: flashbacks to archival posts written one, five, and ten years earlier. Maybe I could manage this once a month.

1 Year Ago: October 2016

Bring people to Christ / Leave them there: One thing I love to do is track back on cultural Quaker turns of phrase. Here I looked at a phrase sometimes attributed to George Fox and find a largely forgotten British Friend who laid much of the groundwork for Quaker modernism and the uniting of American Quakers.

5 Years: October 2012

The secret decoder ring for Red and Blue states: Discussion of the Quaker cultural influence of American voting patterns based on David Hack­ett Fischer’s fascinating (if over-argued) book Albion’s Seed.

10 Years: October 2007

An Autumnal Halloween: A family post, pictures of kids posted to the web long before Instagram was founded.

Categories: Blogs

The lost A List

Quaker Ranter (Martin Kelly) - Wed, 10/11/2017 - 4:37pm

In #waitforyourlaugh (upcoming film on me) it covers my music being cut from Top Banana film because I wouldnt sleep w/ producer in 1950s.

— Rose Marie-Official (@RoseMarie4Real) October 10, 2017

As A List Hollywood stars come out to tell their Harvey Weinstein couch harassment stories, I have to wonder about those who didn’t make it through after saying no—actresses who saw their roles evaporate and left acting. The New York Times headlines profiling Weinstein accusers touts Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie but also introduces us a woman who is now a psychology professor in Colorado. How many better actresses and strong-minded women would there be in Hollywood if so many hadn’t been forced out?

I thought of this after reading by a tweet from the actress Rose Marie. She’s best known as one of the jovial sidekicks from the 1960s’ Dick Van Dyke Show. Not to diminish the rest of the cast, but Rose Marie is one of the best reasons to watch the show, especially during those rare moments she’s allowed to step out from her character’s wisecracking spinster persona and sing or act. On Twitter, she shared that she lost a music contract in the 1950s because she wouldn’t sleep with a producer.

What if a talented actress like Rose Marie had been given more opportunities and wasn’t just known for a supporting part in a old sitcom? What if the psychology professor had gotten the Shakespeare in Love lead? (Imagine a world where Paltrow was only known to 800 or so Facebook friends for too-perfect family pics and memes from dubious health sites.)

Disclaimer: This is a minor point compared with any actresses who weren’t able to deal with the harassment and the industry silencing machinery. I’m sure there are tragedies that are more than just career pivots.

I’ve worked since I was 3, Im 94. W/ Weinstein, finally women are speaking up to power. I have suffered my whole life for that. Dont stop

— Rose Marie-Official (@RoseMarie4Real) October 11, 2017

Categories: Blogs

What I Said in Worship August 13, 2017

What Canst Thou Say - Tue, 08/22/2017 - 12:19pm

by Mariellen Gilpin

I could sense that Chuck was moved to speak, and then I was moved to speak. Here’s the message Chuck shared:

Chuck had heard the backstory of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Halleluia,” which has been played often in his memory after his recent death: Leonard Cohen had just come to New York City to seek his fame and fortune. He happened to hear a street musician who was playing 6 chords and a series of progressions that Leonard Cohen was especially intrigued by. He talked the guy into coming to Cohen’s apartment and teaching him the chords and progressions. The musician was a recent immigrant, I think from Rumania, and supporting himself by being a street musician. He came to Cohen’s apartment six evenings, but the seventh evening he didn’t come. Cohen made inquiries, and learned the street musician had committed suicide. Cohen made lots of use of those chords and progressions over the course of his career, but in his mind, his “Halleluia” was a memorial to that street musician.

I pondered Chuck’s story. I pondered it a lot. Finally I spoke, seconds before the end of our hour of worship. The message wasn’t completely together yet, but the message needed to come out of the silence, rather than spoken after worship was over. So, I spoke and let the message come together for the first time in the speaking:

“Recently I heard a saying that went something like this: Relapse is a stepping stone on the way to recovery. I certainly had my share of relapses on the way to my recovery. But I am not comfortable with the verb in the saying. It’s not IS. It’s more like the verb needs to be CAN BE: A relapse can be a steppingstone on the way to recovery.

“When I look back at my journey to recovery, I realize my husband’s emotional support was a very important factor. But I’m also remembering my grandmother this morning. I’m remembering when I was four years old and the two of us were walking hand in hand toward the gate that led to the hog barn. My grandmother always carried a stout stick, which she used to help her walk. She never talked about it with me, but somehow I intuited that my little hand helped her walk. It’s not that she depended on my hand to support her as she walked. I am now the age she was then, and I think probably holding my hand helped her know where she was in space—that I was a source of a little extra data that she needed to function.

“As we walked toward the gate to the hog barn, my grandmother told me I was not to go with her into the barn, as I usually did, to feed the hogs. One of the hogs was about to give birth, and was extra-irritable and might hurt me—and also lose her little unborn pigs. I was to stay outside the gate, and also be very quiet while my grandmother fed the pigs and made sure the mama pig was all right. A full-grown pig about to give birth probably weighed 350 pounds, and she had a mouthful of sharp and menacing teeth. Grandmother warned me the mama pig might come right through the gate out of the hog enclosure if she was upset. Then Grandma walked through the gate and shut it behind her.

“I stood there on my side of that gate while my grandmother disappeared inside the barn, alone with the pigs. I listened and listened. There was no sound while she was inside the barn. Finally she finished her job and silently came out of the barn and through that gate.

“Talk about profiles in courage! My grandmother was not only a profile in courage, but also a profile in empathy. Yes, we ate our pigs and sold them for meat. But my grandmother had a very strong feeling that those pigs were fellow creatures. I am also very aware that she took the time and thought, and empathy, to make me aware of the factors in the situation that made this particular journey to feed the hogs—a daily occurrence in my life—unusually dangerous. A little kid to an angry mama pig could look an awful lot like prey. My grandmother took care of me, not by protecting me, but by teaching me to be observant of the nuances in a situation.

“Whenever I had another relapse, I could have simply despaired like that street musician. I remembered my grandmother, and instead I thought about why I made the mistakes that caused the latest relapse. I chose to become more aware of the nuances—to look for the pattern and thus learn from my mistakes, and keep learning, so that a relapse could become a steppingstone to recovery.”

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