A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager)

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Chuck Fager -- Writer, Editor
Updated: 5 weeks 3 days ago

Mowing Down Free Speech in the Heart of Carolina

Tue, 03/05/2019 - 9:20pm

On Monday March 4, I visited the Johnston County NC County Commission.

I’ve been there many times, since 2006. Whenever I spoke, I raised the issue of the Johnston County Airport being home to “torture taxis” through a CIA front company based there, Aero Contractors. (More details here.) I regularly urged them to investigate the company, because involvement in torture is already against U.S. federal law, and international law as well. (They listened, but haven’t acted yet.)

There have been anti-torture protests at this airport since 2005. They continue, even though the “War On Terror” is supposedly over (replaced, of course, by the Endless-String-of-Bloody-“Little”-Mostly-Secret-Wars). One effect of this shift is that the CIA front company is not only still there, it’s grown, and upgraded its security by several levels of paranoia. In the era of endless war, business for Aero Contractors is still good.

Over thirteen years, I’ve been part of many, maybe most of the protests there. So the County Commissioners were doubtless not surprised to see me in their chamber Monday evening. That’s because the Commission has a “free speech” period before they begin work on their formal agenda, when anyone can address them, for several minutes, on whatever is on their minds.

[Above: Chuck Fager speaking to the Johnston County Commission, January 2019.]

This time I shifted a bit from my usual call for an investigation of Aero, because I was targeting the board of the entire Airport. Just two week before, on February 18, the Airport Authority had suddenly issued a new handbook of rules for tenants and visitors to the facility.

Most of these had to do with technicalities about safety procedures, runway rules, noise abatement and suchlike. All above my pay grade.

What got our attention were new sections on “Non-commercial Activities,” and in particular, “Demonstration.”

In sum, the new rules would make such activities more  or less impossible. I showed these sections to the Commissioners, and urged them to work to get them revised, and pointed out that there was something called the First Amendment involved. The new  rules seem aimed at excluding it from this public airport, and turn it into a No Free Speech Zone.

Protesting at Aero, with their hangars behind us. We can’t do that now; security is much stiffer.

Rather than going on a big rant about this here, I’ve copied out the relevant sections, pasted them in below, and included my specific suggestion to return the First Amendment to the Airport’s public service mission (there’s only the one suggestion, but I repeated it several times, at the points where the new rules seemed meant to stomp on it like a bug). I printed this out in a flyer which I gave out to all the Commission members. 

The flyer included several photos taken over the years, which are also here, illustrating our ragtag crew of anti-torture activists, busily exercising what used to be our First Amendment rights there. I emphasized that all our protests have been entirely peaceful, with no property damage, no injuries, and even frequent cleanups. 

Anyway, where will this matter end? Maybe we’ll wind up in court, or in the hoosegow for doing things we’ve done for years without trouble. Plans are being made for future free speech exercises there. Will they be able to happen?

The text excerpts are below. I don’t think the whole handbook is online yet; but if anyone wants a copy, email me at qkrtheology@nullgmail.com . The bit in bold red italic is my suggested revision; again, there’s only one, but it’s repeated.

Thirteen years on this case. Am I tired? Am I discouraged?  Is this image an illusion?


Johnston County NC Airport (JNX)
New Rules – Excerpts & Suggestions:
Presented by Chuck Fager
to the
Johnston County Commission
March 4, 2019

 II Activities on Airport Property

SUGGESTED ADDITION: The Airport Authority shall at all times respect the First Amendment rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. The Airport Authority shall also at all times respect the First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

  1. Non-Commercial Activity

  2. No person may engage in activities undertaken for non-commercial, nonprofit purposes, defined as the distribution of any written or printed matter to the general public not described above, on the Airport property without first applying to and obtaining a written permit to conduct such activity from the Airport Authority as provided herein.

3. Demonstration

      [We picked up trash outside the airport every quarter for four years. More on that project here and hear.]

  1.  No person may engage in demonstration activities, defined as the act of picketing, parading, marching, carrying, or displaying signs or placards or assembling in groups for the purpose of promoting, objecting to, or otherwise commenting upon a political, economic, social, governmental, or religious issue not described above on the Airport without first applying to and obtaining a written permit to conduct such activity from the Airport Authority as provided herein.

  2. Use of mobile devices

Mobile devices include moveable devices and vehicles.

  1. No person may operate or station any vehicle with operating amplified audio device or mobile billboard on the Airport Property, whether for commercial or non- commercial purposes, without first having obtained the written approval of the Airport Authority.

[We parked our cars in the Airport public lot, usually on weekends, when there were many open spaces. And we didn’t have a permit — except the First Amendment.]

3. Permit for Non-commercial or Demonstration activities

SUGGESTED ADDITION: The Airport Authority shall at all times respect the First Amendment rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. The Airport Authority shall also at all times respect the First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

  1. Permit Required

  2. Each person conducting any non-commercial activity or demonstration as defined above must hold a valid permit issued by the Airport Authority and shall conduct such activity in conformance with the terms of the permit issued therefore and the requirements of this Chapter. Each permit shall be issued on a non-discriminatory basis, subject to availability, the provisions of these Ordinances, and all restrictions aimed at avoiding injury or property damage and assuring the safe and orderly use of the Airport. Each permit shall describe the activity authorized, the area within which it may be conducted, and the period of time for which the permit is issued. Each permit shall be non-transferable and non-assignable. The Authority shall limit the number and type of permits issued as needed based on safety concerns, venue availability, other Airport users and Airport development with the purpose of avoiding injury or property damage and/or assuring the safe and orderly use and operation of the Airport.
    [Above: This sign was on the Airport lawn. And “each person” did not have a permit, except the First Amendment.]

3. Permit Application

  1. Each person seeking to conduct any non-commercial activity or demonstration shall submit a signed written application in the form prescribed by the Authority setting forth the following information:

1)            The applicant’s name, mailing address, and telephone number;

2)            If the applicant is an agent of or represents an organized body or institution, the name, address, and telephone number of the entity, and a letter or other documentation certifying that the applicant has current authority to represent the organization or entity;

3)            The name and title of the person who will have the immediate supervision of and responsibility for the applicant’s activities at the Airport;

4)            The type and purpose of the proposed activity;

We also prayed about it. (This time was at the courthouse; but the Airport was the subject of all the transcendent appeals.)

5)            The dates and hours during which the proposed activity is requested to be permitted;

6)            The number of persons who will be engaged in the proposed activity at any one time;

7)            A certification that all persons participating in the proposed demonstration will be fully instructed concerning the Ordinances and will conform with and abide by the same during all periods of demonstration activity; and

8)            Any information concerning potential activities that may be hostile or antagonistic to the proposed activity and might tend to create disturbances or security problems.

  1. Applications shall be submitted to the Airport Authority at least 30 days prior to the date of the requested activity. An applicant’s failure to submit the required information and/or to do so in the time prescribed shall result in the denial of a permit. An applicant’s submission of false information shall result in the denial of a permit or the cancellation of a permit in the event that the false information is discovered after the issuance of a permit. In the event that the requirements of these Ordinances are satisfied the Airport Authority shall issue a permit, valid for a period not to exceed 7 days.

[Below: Professor Deborah Weissman, of the University of NC Law School, speaking at the Airport in 2012 (with an amplified microphone, which the new rules much dislike) about the release of a detailed report which meticulously corroborated complicity with torture by Aero Contractors, located at the Airport. Numerous media reporters were there. Nobody had a permit — except the First Amendment.]

  1. Additional Prohibitions

SUGGESTED ADDITION: The Airport Authority shall at all times respect the First Amendment rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. The Airport Authority shall also at all times respect the First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

  1. Prohibited Conduct

    2.             Notwithstanding any provision contained herein, it shall be a violation of these Ordinances for any person to engage in any activity described in this Chapter in the following manner:

9)            While using a table, counter, or stand without the express written permission of the Airport Authority . . . .

[Above: the 2012 Weissman-UNC Law report on torture complicity at the Airport. It was distributed from a table, while Weissman spoke. The event was peaceful and professional.]

VII. Improper Sound Devices and Airport Public Address System

  1. The following prohibitions are in addition to the prohibitions stated throughout these Rules and Regulations:

  2.  Sound-amplifying devices, amplified sound-reproduction

machines, and sound trucks are prohibited on the Airport unless prior written authorization has been received from the Airport Director. . . .

XIV.            Special Events

SUGGESTED ADDITION: The Airport Authority shall at all times respect the First Amendment rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. The Airport Authority shall also at all times respect the First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

  1. Festivities, trade shows, exhibits, and any other special events that are not part of normal business operations conducted on Airport property require coordination, regulation, and prior written authorization by the Airport Director.

  2. Requests for special events shall be in letter form to the Airport Director.

  3. The Airport Director reserves the right to decline events or activities that may interfere with normal operations or use of the property at his or her discretion.

XVI.            Commercial Photography, Filming, and Recording

SUGGESTED ADDITION: The Airport Authority shall at all times respect the First Amendment rights of citizens to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances. The Airport Authority shall also at all times respect the First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.

  1. The Airport Director reserves the right to deny permission for filming on its property for any reason.[NOTE: This display was mounted on the fence at Aero Contractors during a protest in 2007. When it ended, all these images were carefully removed, without damage to the fence. And we didn’t have a permit — except the First Amendment.]


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Categories: Blogs

The Attack of the Generic Meds

Mon, 03/04/2019 - 7:42am

So I was in Wal-Mart yesterday at the prescription counter. Had two renewals to pick up. One was Losartan, for blood pressure. W-M had sent me a text that it was ready. The other was — well, another blood thing.

There was a line. It was moving slow. I was pressed for time.

A harried-looking clerk called “Next.” I was next. I told her my name and birthdate. She went rummaging among the long row of white plastic bags hanging on a rack, then walked to a corner of the back and murmured to another clerk, who was tapping on a computer screen.

She came back looking more harried. “They’re both not ready,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“But they sent me a text, at least about the Losartan.”

She sighed. “Yes, but there’s been more recalls of it. We don’t have any.” The other one was tied up somehow too. I left with no med refills.

 This was not a matter of money: their prices were tolerable. I had heard about the recalls.

Not only from the “mainstream media,” but also from the FDA’s most persistent gadfly critics, Joe & Terry Graedon, who operate the People’s Pharmacy. They recently reported, with an appropriate bit of snark, “Another Day Another Losartan Recall | Can We Trust the FDA?”Adding, “Are you one of the millions of people taking an ARB for hypertension like losartan or valsartan? Did you know there’s a NEW losartan recall? Are you fed up?”

{NOTE: The Graedons are Quakers, and their well-informed site is a fine example of speaking truth to power, Big Pharma being one of the main financial, political, and cultural superpowers of our day.}

And yes, I’m one of the millions who take blood pressure meds, including Losartan. The reported problems with much Losartan have to do with contaminated batches produced by Chinese & Indian manufacturers: they include chemicals that seem to be carcinogenic.

(Hmmm. Trading heart disease for cancer; now there’s a different idea . . .)

Well, I was taking the stuff; I’m on an involuntary hiatus at the moment.  (I have some left of the other one I was seeking, so maybe that will be straightened out before they’re gone too. Maybe . . .)

But the generic issue won’t go away when the new bottle of Losartan arrives. For years the Graedons have been collecting adverse reports about FDA oversight (or lack thereof) on generics, and their site is stuffed with bad reports on safety & effectiveness. Their bulletins practically scream its rhetorical question: “Are Fears About FDA’s Generic Drug Oversight Justified?” Adding,There have been so many reports of problems with FDA’s oversight of generic drugs, we have lost count.” They also flag an extensive new investigative report by Bloomberg that is very scary.

I have other unnerving drug stories too. In 2004 I began taking a new generic version of Prilosec for esophageal strictures (If you don’t know what those are, good. Suffice to say they don’t seem to be life-threatening; they just feel like it.)

The label on the pills said, don’t take it for more than two weeks.(Same warning is on name-brand Prilosec.)

I asked the Doc about that; he shrugged. There’s no evidence it’s bad for you, he said. Don’t worry.

But I’ve been a reporter too long to swallow that: “No evidence” about a new drug (or new use of an old one) does NOT mean “It’s safe.” It means there haven’t been enough people using the new drug or the new regimen for long enough to discover what the effects of long-term use will turn out to be. That takes time and careful information-gathering.

But meantime, the Prilosec (& generic versions) did its main job for me:

it stopped the esophageal strictures cold. I guess it also worked for others; soon millions of us were/are taking it.

So I put off worrying about the long-term effects. In fact, I took it happily for 13 years.

Well, happily at first. But soon the sheen wore off. After a decade, the long-term arrived: data about side effects piled up, and analysts dug through it. And I saw the reports.

What the analysts found was bad. Lots of ways bad. Everything from spikes in the incidence of softening bones to suspicions about promoting Alzheimer’s to —breaking news — solid reports about big risks of kidney damage. Read ’em and weep, all ye Prilosec takers!

So after a few years, I began to get nervous; the more data came out, the nervouser I got. Finally I went and had a bone scan; sure enough, my bones were getting soft not osteoporosis soft; not yet, but on the path.

Yikes! What was I supposed to do? The Prilosec was still keeping the esophageal episodes at bay. But kidneys, and bones and Alzheimers — oh my! (There are, I am discovering, numerous such medication dilemmas waiting for us as we get older, which many docs and Big Pharma want us to just pass whistling by.)

Anyway, I finally, reluctantly, after much hesitation & procrastination, made a tough decision: I quit Prilosec. A very tough decision. It is now well-known that quitting it brings back heartburn and such in spades — and getting past that takes a long while.

Yep that’s been true for me; and the esophageal stricture episodes reappeared too, though not as often as Back in the Pre-Prilosec Day. (Had an awful attack on Christmas; don’t get me started.)

So I’m relieved to be off. But what about Losartan? My family Doc insists I should go to a bigger dose — oh and she also wants me to go back on Prilosec, and up that dose, too.

No thanks.

The clerk fidgeted when she gave me the bad news. “I’m ready to quit,” she said. Too much confusion and trouble.

I can dig it.

And before you chide me about shopping at Wal-Mart, consider: they’re the good guys, at least in this case. They pulled the sketchy  Losartan. How many others would just have filled the bottle and let me go on my toxic way?



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Categories: Blogs

Quaker Theology: Weaponizing “Quaker Process”

Thu, 02/28/2019 - 10:14am

What accounts for the wave of schisms we at Quaker Theology have been chronicling since 2010 & dubbed “The Separation Generation”? And what could be done about it? In our 20th Anniversary issue of Quaker Theology, we began to raise these questions in a survey of the carnage inflicted by these disruptions.

Doug Bennett, former president of Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana.

Doug Bennett, a former president of Earlham College and a savvy Friend, provides one of the key clues.

While at Earlham he was a member of an Indiana  meeting which went through the purge of 2011-12. Afterward,  he reflected delicately on what had happened in a blog post from  September 7, 2012:

“Schisms require some governance fiddle.

My earliest wondering about schisms was about how they could ever occur given Friends governance practices, our commitment to acting in unity through attending to our business in worship.  If we have to act in unity, how can we divide?

I think the answer must be that somewhere, somehow in each schism there has been some forcing, some deviation from our best governance practices. We have divided by not finding unity – or declaring  ‘unity’ when there was none.”

Our reporting on these recent crackups persuades me that Bennett is basically right, and his insight here is a very important one. Still, I have some quibbles.

My first quibble is that his post falls short of the Friends aspiration to “plain speaking.” That is, “Fiddle” is a woefully insufficient word to describe much of what happened. “Cheating” is plainer, thus more accurate. Chicanery, duplicity and treachery are apt corollaries. 

In some of these recent cases, particularly Indiana and Northwest yes, the fiddlers/cheaters got their way. In North Carolina, Western &  Wilmington YMs, they faced pushback, and the “fiddles” didn’t work out as planned. In our culture today, it’s a pushback world. 

So that’s another quibble with Bennett. Cheating,  if identified and faced, can be stopped, or at least blunted; but besides calling a treacherous spade a corrupt shovel, a meaningful response requires courage. Speaking truth to power, carrying the cross, and all that. Or, in pietist argot, “spiritual combat.”

Western Yearly Meeting was graced with a Clerk who spoke and was “valiant for the truth” about the body, which was that there was nothing close to the demanded “unity” to banish Phil Gulley, notwithstanding the scheming of a vocal pastoral faction. Hence Western got through its ordeal, though in a wounded, reduced state. Wilmington likewise.

On the other hand, Northwest’s powers, operating in a culture of extreme secrecy that could teach the CIA some lessons, struck like nighttime lightning. In North Carolina, the oldest of the five, the conflict was particularly ugly, and the only way the cheaters could succeed was by treachery and ultimately an act of utter, shocking self-destruction.

A final caveat, not really a quibble, is that Bennett’s trenchant observation calls for, but hasn’t received, more attention.

What is to be done about leadership and factional cheating and malpractice? About weaponizing “Quaker process”?

From the jump such malpractice requires the intentional undermining of the discipline more familiarly known as “Quaker process.” Many Quakers, especially convinced Friends escaped from openly authoritarian churches, can become quite sentimental about this. But such sentimentality can easily facilitate victimization. 

How do we identify and call out such maneuvers, not in histories composed long afterward, but as they unfold?

In conventional “Roberts Rules” proceedings, there are at least the beginning of such tools: motions to appeal from the ruling of the chair; motions to delay, etc. To be sure, such rules are also vulnerable; anyone watching the U.S. Congress can see that. But at the least, truth can usually be spoken, and find a place in the record. Friends do not seem to have much of a counterpart.

Another widespread weakness is what I call the Quaker Doormat Syndrome; others have named it the Curse of Quaker Niceness: a carefully-prepared faction makes strident demands; too many others then simply roll over and let themselves be trampled. This is part introversion wanting peace and quiet–Quaker Process seen as a warm fuzzy security blanket; part a conflict avoidance reflex by those who have faced abuse or major trauma; and part plain old fear, even panic. 

We don’t have a settled prescription for dealing with this disorder. But I contend that to start with, Friends need to follow Doug Bennett’s example, speak its name and begin to face up to it. Serious grappling, intellectual, historical, and spiritual, is called for.

So thanks again to Doug Bennett for surfacing this malady. Although it’s been rampant in The Separation Generation, it is nothing new, in Friends or Christian history.
And it’s not always successful. We can push back. And the first push is not to ignore it or accept it passively.

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Categories: Blogs

Quaker Theology and Today’s “Separation Generation”

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 1:17am

The journal Quaker Theology was started to promote & participate in informed theological discussion & engagement. The need for such  engagement was made clear, at least to this editor, by what turned out to be a major, but unexpected themes of the two decades of publication, the rise of what is called  in the 20th Anniversary issue, The Separation Generation.In this period, five U.S. yearly meetings have split; one of them disappeared entirely, after 320 years.

It’s not easy – in fact, impossible – to pick a starting date for this schismatic wave in American Quakerism. My personal preference is July 1977, when the first major interbranch conference in decades nearly blew apart in Wichita, Kansas, over the surfacing and demand for recognition by gay men.

That was surely a dramatic moment. Others might home in on the “Realignment” struggle of 1990-1991, with its undercurrents of panic over feminist Wicca and (nonexistent) Satanism. The goal of “Realignment” (not yet realized, but which some still hope for) was the ripping apart of the umbrella group, Friends United Meeting (FUM), which once straddled these lines. [Both these incidents are described in my book, Without Apology (1995)].

But others could leapfrog over that, to 1957 when much of Nebraska Yearly Meeting demanded to be “set off” as a separate, evangelical group, which became the evangelical Rocky Mountain Yearly Meeting.  Or to the years 1926 to 1937, which saw secession from FUM’s predecessor, the Five Years Meeting, by the evangelically-oriented Oregon YM (1926).

That same year brought a fundamentalist schism in Western and Indiana YMs, from which came Central YM; and then, in 1937, the departure of Kansas YM, also evangelical, from Five Years Meeting.

Or even return to 1904, when North Carolina YM, an Orthodox group, saw an exodus by its monthly meetings which had rejected the YM’s shift to leadership by paid pastors, with programmed worship and the related new “Holiness” theologies.

The exiles named themselves North Carolina YM (Conservative). We published a sketch of this group on its centennial in QT #11. In Iowa, a similar division in 1877 had produced Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and planted the seeds of an independent Quakerism on the West Coast. 

That’s not to mention the earlier Conservative (or Wilburite) separations, beginning in 1854, or the contemporaneous Progressive Friends insurgency among Hicksites. And behind them all, dim now after nearly two centuries, remains the cataclysm of 1827-1828, when most YMs splintered into Orthodox and Hicksites.

I don’t want to go back that far, though; 1827 and the Wilburite separations have been chronicled extensively, and some of the best Quaker historians have tackled the “Holiness”/pastoral rise. Moreover, there were similar controversies within and among groups that stayed in the Five Years Meeting through most of the twentieth century. Besides, the profusion of initials and labels which sprouted amid the doctrinal and organizational weeds is dizzying; I’ve studied it for years, and am still only moderately confident I know what they all mean.

The giant corpse flower. When it blooms, the stink is like death ad it spreads widely. Have American Friends been living through a “Corpse Flower” blooming?

So here we’ll fast forward again, skip past Wichita and “Realignment,” to land in western Indiana, home of Western (Indiana) Yearly Meeting, in 2003. Then the spotlight was on a Friends pastor named Phil Gulley. His ordeal, marked the beginning of what we call The Separation Generation. Like the blooming of the Titan Arum, one of the largest, most acridly malodorous of blossoms, its vapors spread widely and rapidly.

Phil Gulley, 2016

There was an acrid premonitory whiff of this in 2003’s QT #9, in a review of Gulley’s book, If Grace is True. Phil Gulley was (and remains) a Quaker pastor living near Indianapolis. He had also built a successful side career as an author of homely, Lake-Wobegon-in-Indiana-like “Front Porch Tales.”

But both his “day job” as a pastor and his achievements as an author seemed to be in mortal peril when Grace appeared. In it he made an argument for a universalist Christian theology, and critiquing the orthodox theories of atonement and hellfire he had abandoned. Our review spoke of the resulting outcry by some hardline pastors to “unfrock” Gulley for his book’s “heresy” as if it were all over with. Our naïveté was soon obvious: the struggle continued for six more years; by the time it abated i Western YM, it had also migrated and expanded.

As a result, beginning in QT #18, in the fall of 2010, there began crowding into the pages  of Quaker Theology a procession of yearly meeting schisms and purges. Like a stubborn grassfire they raged from sea (in Atlantic-bordering North Carolina) to shining sea (Oregon-Washington at the Pacific’s edge), with outbreaks in flyover country too. Our overall impression at this point is that these years could mark as deep a rupture as that of the “Great” Separation of 1827, when Orthodox and Hicksite divided.

Theology was, at least rhetorically, central to all:

Who was Jesus? What is the Bible’s status? Do we need to be “saved”? From what? By whom, and how? Is there a Quaker creed (in fact, if not in name)? How (and again by whom) are allegedly holy books to be interpreted, and yearly meetings to be governed? Should LGBT persons be affirmed?

These and related issues recurred; answers are still in dispute, and the membership of many individuals, the legitimacy of monthly meetings, and even the existence of yearly meetings – all were at stake.

The Editors of Quaker Theology have had their opinions here, which have not been hidden; but we don’t pretend to have resolved these matters.

Instead, we worked as hard as we could just to keep up (barely) with the struggles, in a largely journalistic fashion. At first this was an opportunity; soon, it became a duty. That’s because coverage of these struggles by other Quaker publications has been so sparse as to be nearly nonexistent. 

Someday (we hope), serious Friends and scholars will review, extend and correct our reporting; in the meantime, Quaker Theology has by default become the “paper of record” for this decade-plus of upheaval.

As the 20th Anniversary issue took shape, it was our impression that the Separation Generation may be largely played out.

But then again, maybe not; perhaps it is only shifting shapes and venues: we note that some liberal yearly meetings have of late been tying themselves up in knots over identity issues, especially race. These too have theological dimensions, even though many liberals foolishly think they are “beyond” or “above” such stuff. Will these struggles be peaceably resolved, or will they lead to new divisions?

We hope not: a respite from the corpse flower stench of schism would be very welcome.

Yet just as we were finishing up this post, came the disconcerting news of the Methodist Church’s rejection of same sex marriage and LGBT affirmation, which could portend schism in that much larger denomination. We won’t make predictions about that, except to venture that it seems a sign this struggle is far from over, outside Friends as well as within our own ranks.

Further, it recalls the warning of Koheleth in the Book of Ecclesiastes (8:17), that humans will “never be able to understand what God is doing. However hard you try, you will never find out. The wise may claim to know, but they don’t.”

And neither, for that latter, do we.

If you find this post of interest, please pass it on.

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Categories: Blogs

Quaker Theology at 20: People, Witness, and Ideas

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 10:24am

Much of what we’ve published in the journal Quaker Theology has been about people, mostly Quakers, past and present. This may be unusual in theological journals, but Quakerism is very much a lived religion, embodied in people, their witness, and their thought.

[The first 32 issues of Quaker Theology are all online here [www.quakertheology.org], available to all in searchable form. The 20th Anniversary issue, #33, is now ready at Amazon (https://tinyurl.com/y26gmlbj ), and will be on the web soon. ]

Theology is about more than persons, though; it also deals with ideas. And while theological notions are often arcane and tedious, some can be startling, even shocking. At least several times in this effort they have shocked this editor. Many of these shocks came from reading and reviewing books. (It does help if a theologian is something of a book nerd.) 

For instance, the most acute critique of the reigning ideology of permanent war that has possessed America’s rulers since at least 2001came to my desk not from a liberal or left-winger, but from their polar opposite, a strict evangelical-fundamentalist and libertarian named Laurence M. Vance.

His book, Christianity and War, and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, was miles ahead of most other antiwar screeds I have read (or written); it was reviewed and excerpted in QT #20. 

I was handed the book by a young soldier who was considering becoming a Conscientious Objector.  At that point I’d been searching for a liberal/left or conventionally evangelical challenger to what I call “American War Christianity,” a cult which is deeply (and dangerously) rooted in the U.S. military. But I had found nothing of any consequence.

But  Christianity and War wielded its theological bat like Babe Ruth on a tear, knocking pro-war piety right out of the park. A representative affirmation: 

“The love affair that many conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have with the military is an illicit affair. It is contrary to the tenor of the New Testament. It is an affront to the Savior. It is a cancer on Christianity.”(254) 

Further, as a biblical literalist, Vance believes that indeed, “God commanded the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to fight against heathen nations (Judges 6:16). . .” 

But . . .

(Then he goes right for the jugular): 

but [the U. S. president] is not God, and America is not the nation of Israel . . . .God sponsored these [ancient Hebrew] wars, and used his chosen nation (Deuteronomy 7:11-12) to conduct them, [but] it does not follow that God sponsors American wars, or that America is God’s chosen nation. It does not follow unless, of course, one is a Christian apologist for the U.S. government and its wars.” (p. 126, 129) [Emphasis added.]

And that is precisely what American War Christianity comes down to: the shockingly idolatrous identification of U.S. interests as being dictated by God, and treating its leaders (especially conservative presidents), as the equivalent of God. But it was Vance, the avowed fundamentalist, who published the most trenchant religious naming & critique of it I have seen.

Equally shocking, in a very different way, was another tome, Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, by Aric Mcbay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen; DGR for short.  The title seemed appealing, and there were several favorable references to Quakers in the hefty text. 

Yet its “strategy to save the planet” came down to a dead-serious plan to do that by eliminating the large majority of humans. Yes, they called for, and laid out a detailed plan to, carry out genocide on a mega-industrial scale, using conspiratorial tactics directly copied from terrorist groups of various stripes.

We surveyed this scheme in QT #21, from 2012, and note here that the group and its agenda is still out there, presumably working in secret toward making its neo-September 11 big debut.

Am I exaggerating in this description of DGR here? Well, consider this Q&A snippet from their website:

[Q].If we dismantle civilization, won’t that kill millions of people in cities? What about them?

[A] Derrick Jensen: No matter what you do, your hands will be blood red. If you participate in the global economy, your hands are blood red because the global economy is murdering humans and non-humans the planet over. A half million children die every year as a direct result of so-called “debt repayment” from non-industrialized nations to industrialized nations. Sixty thousand people die every day from pollution. And what about all the people who are being forced off their land? There are a lot of people dying already. Failing to act in the face of atrocity is no answer. . . .

I take that as a “Yes.”

A more familiar demon appeared in QT #5: the Ku Klux Klan. The vehicle was, of all genres, a 1999 young adult novel: Mim and the Klan, by Cynthia Stanley Russell. The story is straightforward: Mim Hanley is an Indiana teenager, whose passage through a seemingly ideal small town adolescence is disrupted by the discovery that her beloved, doting grandfather was a Ku Klux Klansman during the Klan’s 1920s revival.

This is not the shocking part; nor is the disclosure that grandfather Hanley is a devoted lifelong Quaker; and not even the fact that there were other Indiana Quaker Klansmen (and women) in those days.

No, what’s shocking about all this is that Mim & the Klan, seventy years after the fact, was the first published Quaker-oriented reference I found to this Kan-Quaker alliance. After all, it’s not a rumor: secular researchers have known about it for years. But there has been a kind of omerta oath of silence about it among Quaker historians. [A few years later, this KKK-Quaker connection was mentioned briefly in the landmark book, Fit For Freedom, Not For Friendship, which we reviewed in QT #16.] And in 2019, the shock persists, as the KKK’s apparently easy infiltration into much of Midwestern Quakerism still awaits detailed examination (and stock-taking) by Quaker scholars and theologians.

Yes, theologians. For after all, if the Klan was anything, it was a theology-driven movement. (Reminder: they burned crosses, not dollar signs or flags; these pyres were not to destroy, but to project the cross, as a sign of searing theocratic –aka theologically-justified — power.) The Klan handbooks were full of their theology; and each klavern had one or more chaplains, called a Kludd. 

And not least, while the Klan as an organization has largely withered, its theology and basic agenda have not only persisted, but have now leaped into the highest circles of public power. Our contention is that meaningful resistance to this resurgence will require theological, as well as other forms of engagement by many. And that work includes Quakers.

The need for such engagement was made clear, at least to this editor, by the other major theme of the two decades of Quaker Theology’s publication, what is called there The Separation Generation. We’ll take a look at that in the next post.

If you find this post of interest, please pass it on.




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