The Supreme Court: Lighting the Fuse of Revolution?

Lighting the Fuse of Revolution?

There’s a grimly fascinating update from “Rightwing Watch” (RW) detailing how the harder core of the religious right is throwing down the gauntlet to the U.S. Supreme Court, to wit:
Legalize same sex marriage nationwide, and you’ll face an armed insurrection. A new Civil War. A Boom-Boom-Bonhoeffer Moment.
Your Honors, You Have Been Warned.”
(RW is an ongoing project of People for the American Way.)
JudgeRoyMoore
Irony Alert: the artist may believe the text in this image. This blogger does not.

Continue reading The Supreme Court: Lighting the Fuse of Revolution?

Baltimore Friends School Blows It

Baltimore Friends School Blows It

The educational “Philosophy” stated on the website of the Baltimore Friends School [BFS] sounds great. The high points:

[Baltimore] Friends School seeks to live the conviction that there is that of God in each person. At Friends, we work together to build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all people; we value diversity and cherish differences. . . . Quaker education is a pilgrimage–a continual seeking after Truth. The search for truth requires a willingness to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.

Excellent. But this high-minded talk went out the window this week, after the school posted a link to a Washington Post  article about one of its graduates, one Ryan Anderson.

Anderson happens to be a public spokesman for opposition to same sex marriage. He’s one of the bright young, right young things working for the conservative Heritage Foundation.  He’s an Ivy-leaguer, a millennial, a Conservative Catholic — and a grad of Baltimore Friends.

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Ryan Anderson, of the Heritage Foundation — And Baltimore Friends School.

 

Presumably Anderson’s alumni status at BFS was why the school posted his article — that and “a willingness,” as the Philosophy states,  “to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.”

But it turned out that this “willingness” was not universal. Within hours, the article was deleted, and in its place was soon posted a long, abject apology and self-flagellating mea culpa from  school Head Matt Micciche.  That statement also was soon deleted from the page, but can be read in full on a conservative site here. It said, in part:

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Matt Micciche, Head of Baltimore Friends School.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Mr. Anderson undoubtedly has the right to express such views, by posting this article we created legitimate confusion as to whether or not they were being validated by the school.
And yet, the decision to remove the post, once I had heard the deep concerns it was causing, was not without conflict for me. I found myself torn between two seemingly opposed aspects of our School Philosophy. We believe, as we say in that document, that “Quaker education is a pilgrimage–a continual seeking after Truth. The search for truth requires a willingness to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.” I take very seriously our responsibility as a school to encourage the free and open exchange of all ideas, from across the political spectrum. I firmly believe that we must support, foster, and celebrate divergent thinking to the greatest possible extent. There can be no “party line” in a truly great educational institution, no sense that there is only one acceptable view on any complex topic.
We also affirm in our Philosophy that “Friends School seeks to live the conviction that there is that of God in each person. At Friends, we work together to build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all people; we value diversity and cherish differences.” With this ideal in mind, the celebration of divergent viewpoints is not, and cannot be, without boundaries. When the views that a person espouses call into question the full humanity or the full access to human rights of others, based on their very identity, the active harm that the espousal of these views causes outweighs the opposing value of freedom of expression.
My decision, in other words, places a priority on the very real and human sentiments of the actual members of our community (as expressed to me in the wake of our posting of this article) over the more purely philosophical commitment to the free flow of ideas. Those of us in the majority – in this case, the heterosexual majority -have the luxury of treating the debate about same-sex marriage as an issue of abstract ideals. That luxury is simply not available to those whose humanity and civil rights have historically been degraded in this area and many others.

I see two issues  in this statement by Micciche, and in my view  one is legitimate, and the other is a deeply troubling and problematic one.

The legitimate issue is what I have called the “Paradox of Universalism.” Such “universalism” is in the schools philosophical commitment to “build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of ALL people.” [Emphasis added.]

This is a noble sentiment, which one can hear in liberal Quaker meetings any First Day. But in practice it is very difficult to carry off; indeed, in my experience, it is unsustainable.

Why? Because if your group undertakes to include “all people,” how do you deal with those people who say, “Only the people I choose or who  agree with me can be part of this group”?

If the group permits such exclusion-oriented people to stay, it will not be “inclusive of ALL” very long, because many will be tossed out, and others will leave in protest. (This is no abstract matter; it’s happened to many political, cultural and religious groups, including many among Friends, present as well as past.)

But if the group acts to defend its ability to include — maybe not ALL people, but a pretty broad range — then it will have to limit or exclude those who would make it arbitrarily “exclusive” according to whatever criteria.

Yet if the group sets such boundaries, whether of belief, speech or practice, then it has in fact given up the claim to be “inclusive” of “ALL.” It’s no longer universal, even in intent.

So there’s the paradox: many groups, especially those associated with liberal Quakerism, want to be “inclusive of ALL.”

But in practice, they can’t be; not when push comes to shove.

Most liberal Quaker meetings these days manage this paradox informally and by passive aggression: persons who are outside a local meeting’s de facto, usually unwritten limits are quietly frozen out. But occasionally these boundary struggles break into the open.

So it was this week at Baltimore Friends School.

Why did Matt Micciche rush to, first, delete the offending Washington Post article, and then apologize so profusely?

In his own words:

I regret that by highlighting this article, we have caused pain to many members of our community, first and foremost, to our students. We have no greater responsibility than to continually strive to create a safe, nurturing environment for all the children in our care, and it is clear to me that leaving this article in place on our Facebook page is counter to that goal.

And later: “While Mr. Anderson undoubtedly has the right to express such views, by posting this article we created legitimate confusion as to whether or not they were being validated by the school.”

Posting the article “caused pain” to some. And reading a profile of Ryan Anderson somehow produced “legitimate confusion” as to whether the school “validated” (i.e., approved) of Anderson’s anti- same sex marriage views.

Here we get to the second and very troubling issue. The sentiments Micciche reports and explicitly validates are in flat contradiction to the other, and I would contend, more central part of the school’s philosophy, which (pardon the repetition, but it’s important) comes down to cultivating, a willingness to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.

If Micciche really thought posting the article would leave the impression the school was endorsing its alumnus’s views, there could have been a simple disclaimer appended, for instance: “Ryan Anderson’s views in this article are his own, and not those of BFS staff or board.”

Or more positively, “We are posting this article in keeping with our commitment to ‘to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy,’ and because Anderson is a BFS alum.

There is yet another dimension. Micciche also states in his apology statement that

 I take very seriously our responsibility as a school to encourage the free and open exchange of all ideas, from across the political spectrum. I firmly believe that we must support, foster, and celebrate divergent thinking to the greatest possible extent. There can be no “party line” in a truly great educational institution, no sense that there is only one acceptable view on any complex topic.
We also affirm in our Philosophy that “Friends School seeks to live the conviction that there is that of God in each person. At Friends, we work together to build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all people; we value diversity and cherish differences.” With this ideal in mind, the celebration of divergent viewpoints is not, and cannot be, without boundaries. When the views that a person espouses call into question the full humanity or the full access to human rights of others, based on their very identity, the active harm that the espousal of these views causes outweighs the opposing value of freedom of expression.

To be sure, there are boundaries to freedom of expression; courts and legislatures have set them in such doctrines as “crying fire in a crowded theater,” or posing “a clear and present danger” of violence.

And if Ryan Anderson or the Washington Post were thus “crying fire” or organizing events that posed a “clear and present danger” of actual violence, then I’d be first in line to call the cops.

But I am unable to find anything in the Washington Post article , or in Ryan’s reported statements there, that even remotely approaches such boundaries.

In the Post article, to summarize, Anderson points out that the Supreme Court, which is soon expected to render a decision on the constitutionality of same sex marriage, and he argues the court should leave such decisions to the states.

In doing so he repeats a familiar set of arguments about heterosexual marriage being ancient,  universal and best for children. He has also co-authored a book, What Is Marriage, making his case at length.

I don’t find his talking points persuasive, and note that a long succession of judges has rejected them as well. I’m no lawyer, but my hope is that the Supreme Court will reject them this time around as well.

[BTW I first published an article supporting same sex marriage in 1988, and paid some dues around it. We’ve come a long way in 27 years, but I guess there are still dues to pay. The 1988 piece can be read here. ]

AS for “boundaries,” a close reading of Ryan’s views as portrayed in the Post article turned up nothing even close to inciting violence against persons. The fact that some persons find the Washington Post article about him and his views “painful” is regrettable, but hardly the same thing.

For that matter, in the article several of Ryan’s opponents speak respectfully about him, dismissing his arguments, but lauding his civility and articulateness — characteristics one may hope were inculcated in him at Baltimore Friends.

And for pete’s sake, calling the posting of a profile of a school alumnus the equivalent of “validating” his controversial views is way over the top.

To be sure, it is to be expected that BFS will work to protect and nurture its students. But here I see things differently from Micciche. To me, “safety” and “nurture” are strengthened by taking seriously  the BFS  philosophy’s declaration that

Quaker education is a pilgrimage–a continual seeking after Truth. The search for truth requires a willingness to listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.

To thus attempt to spare some persons the “pain” of reading a profile about a conservative BFS graduate is in my view to stunt the school’s efforts to help them learn how to “search for truth,” and to develop the resilience and grit to “listen openly to the ideas of others, even in fields of controversy.

Persons thus prepared will be safer, better-nurtured, and can be expected to fare better in the diverse and often conflicted society they will face outside the school.

I believe Micciche was mistaken about the dilemma he faced: fleeing from the “pain” of disagreement was a shameful default on the Baltimore Friends School’s educational mission, not a choice between conflicting aspects of it.

It also suggests that the school’s “Philosophy” in fact is different from the stated one. In actuality, it is more like this:

At Baltimore Friends, we work together to build and sustain a community that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of all people — well, at least many people.

We value SOME diversity and cherish SOME differences, but NOT all. . . . Quaker education is a pilgrimage–a continual seeking after SOME Truth.

The search for SOME truth requires a LIMITED willingness to listen openly to the ideas of others, EXCEPT in fields of controversy.

You know, I liked the original much better, paradoxes and all.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Startling New Look At Liberal Quakerism

Book Review: A Startling New Look At Liberal Quakerism

Personality and Place, the Life & Times of Pendle Hill. Douglas Gwyn., Plain Press, 500 pages, Paperback. $20.00. Available online here.

Reviewed by Chuck Fager

Sometimes I look around and think, Pendle Hill is God’s little joke on the Society of Friends.”       
– Janet Shepherd, former Dean

 Gwyn-Cover-better[NOTE: From one perspective, it’s a conflict of interest for me to review this book. After all, I’m described in it, because I was on staff at Pendle Hill for three years (1994-1997); more recently I spent nine months in residence there as a research scholar. Furthermore, the author is a friend of mine.

But having disclosed these items, there’s a problem with this otherwise quite proper standard. Continue reading Book Review: A Startling New Look At Liberal Quakerism

O.M.G. –Wal-Freaking-Mart??

O.M.G. –Wal-Freaking-Mart?? In Arkansas??

The Arkansas legislature has passed a religious-based antigay law, HB 1228, that is a near-clone of the controversial Indiana law. It now goes to the governor.

But Attention Wal-Mart shoppers!

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Let me repeat that, after picking my jaw up off the floor:

<< “Every day in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers an communities we serve,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement. “It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold.” >>

[NOTE: as far as I can tell, this story is NOT an “April Fool.”]

 Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has previously said he would sign the bill. Will Wal-Mart’s opposition change his mind?

Stay tuned.

Review: “A Convergent Model of Renewal” (for Quakers)

Review: A Convergent Model of Renewal

By C. Wess Daniels. Wipf & Stock. Reviewed by Chuck Fager

A Convergent Model of Renewal: Remixing the Quaker Tradition in a Participatory Culture. C. Wess Daniels. Pickwick/Wipf & Stock Publishers. 224 pages. Paper, $21.60.

There’s more than little déjà vu about Wess Daniels’ book project. Quakerism, his book argues, will be renewed by the coming together of Friends from the fringes of the various branches, particularly younger members and seekers. Or as he puts it: “It could be said that convergent Friends signal the emergence of a new Quakerism that transgresses the boundaries of any one Quaker group.” (D 16f)

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Why déjà vu? Such a sentence could have been written in the 1920s, either for young Friends in the Northeast, or the “All-Friends Conference” of 1928. Then again in the late 1940s through the 1950s for gatherings of Young Friends of North America (YFNA). Or in 1977 for the all-branch Friends gathering in Wichita. Or in 1985 and 2005, for the two World Gatherings of Young Friends, in Greensboro, North Carolina and Lancaster, England. Nor let us forget the YouthQuakes of the ’80s & ’90s. (And there were more.) Continue reading Review: “A Convergent Model of Renewal” (for Quakers)

BREAKING QUAKER NEWS: North Carolina Schism Takes Dramatic Turns

BREAKING QUAKER NEWS: North Carolina Schism Takes Dramatic Turns

 Poplar Ridge Friends Meeting of Trinity, NC, the instigator of the attempted purge of “liberal” Meetings within North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM (NCYM), has drafted a letter addressed to “like-minded Friends,” proposing to abandon that effort, then leave NCYM and form a New Yearly Meeting, this blog has learned.

This letter, dated March 18, 2015,  marks a sharp reversal of Poplar Ridge’s previous effort, which was to have several other meetings expelled from NCYM to ensure what it called doctrinal “unity” and “integrity.”

Further, while Poplar Ridge pursues formation of the New YM, the March 18 letter also abandons its earlier threat to withhold its regular dues (or “askings” in NCYM parlance) as of April 1, 2015, if such “unity” and “integrity” had not been achieved on its terms by then. No such enforcement has yet been attempted or attained in the yearly meeting.

Despite the widely-distributed threat, Poplar Ridge “approved to continue to pay askings to the NCYM as long as we are a part of this Body,” the letter stated.

The March 18 letter was issued by Poplar Ridge’s Ministry & Counsel, in response to the outcome of the NCYM Representative Body session on March 7, 2015. (A report on that session by the journal Quaker Theology, is online here, with background and documents related to the controversy, which came into the open in the summer of 2014.)

(As reported in the Quaker Theology online report, the March 7 representative session did adopt various “affirmations,” but did not move to enforce them or expel any meetings which did not adhere to them.)

This outcome was not satisfactory to Poplar Ridge: As its March 18 letter said, “we can approve words all day, but what good is that approval if it is not going to be upheld with honesty and integrity?”

It appears that in this context “honesty” and “integrity are understood to mean doctrinal enforcement satisfactory to Poplar Ridge Ministry & Counsel.

In the “rough draft” outline of a new Faith & Practice for the New YM, attached to the March 18 letter, a provision would allow expulsion of meetings which are judged by an 80 per cent majority to be “against our agreed upon statement of faith.”

The present NCYM Faith & Practice has no provisions for such expulsion of meetings, and does include several declarations that it is not a creedal document.

The Poplar Ridge proposed Statement of Belief specifically  approves the use of “sacraments” (i.e., communion and baptism}, in worship. It also defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

 The belief statement makes no mention of a peace testimony, names no history or commitment to racial or gender equality,social justice, overcoming poverty, or intention to adhere to Friends business practices. A possible opposition to human trafficking is named.

On a list of “Difficult Details That still Need to Be Figured Out,” the letter speaks of division of NCYM assets, properties and pensions, and expresses a hope to “try and minimize any legal procedures.” It also wants to continue its extensive use of Quaker Lake Camp.

Since the initial Poplar Ridge effort to enforce “unity” at the NCYM sessions in September 2014, several of the meetings targeted by them have issued letters upholding their integrity and rejecting any calls for doctrinal enforcement. Links to those responses can be found here.

One targeted meeting, Fancy Gap Friends, left NCYM last summer.

The March 18 Poplar Ridge letter, YM Reorganization plan, Outline of Faith and Practice, and proposed Statement of Belief are all online here, in full.

Jacob Wrestling With the Angel,” by Leon Bonnat.

A View of Vegas: the Beast & 7 Deadlies

Vegas: the Beast & 7 Deadlies

I admit that the tourist spectacle of Las Vegas, the very shamelessness of its gilt-edged tawdriness, stirs a certain repulsive fascination for me.

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But that aside, my sense of the city is that it combines a manifestation of the Beast of the Apocalypse with a showcase for the Seven Deadly Sins.

The photo below shows Lust, but even greater is greed (primarily on the part of the hordes clustered around the gambling, including me mthe other night for $2 worth)

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Then there are legendary buffets that cater to gluttony (I went for a very Chocolate French pastry by the Eiffel Tower.)

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Pride, in the form of hubris,  pervades everything. It shows above all in the confidence this endlessly lavish, spectacle of pointless, metastasizing consumption can be plopped down & maintained in the middle of a desert.

image This hotel has it right: it’s a mirage. And the Mexican section of “The  World’s Largest Gift Shop” jauntily shoves at customers the underlying reality of it all: memento mori! Eat drink & be merry, suckers, because tomorrow. . .

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I photobombed this advance guard for El Dia de Los Muertos. Can you tell?

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. . . Oh, but there is no tomorrow in Vegas.

Only one of the Seven Deadlies eluded my prying gaze here: sloth, acedia. Every where I turned, people were working hard, from the pimps on the corners, to scurrying hotel clerks,  the dealers at the craps tables,–even most of the revelers crowding the Saturday night street appeared diligent to the point of obsession in their-pleasure seeking; I certainly was.

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But what about the culminating deadly sin of Anger/Wrath? Seemingly it doesn’t fit the city’s painstakingly maintained image of naughty fun.

But fear not: it’s right offstage, just up U.S. 95 at what is reputed to be the biggest U.S. Killer drone facility, Creech Air Force Base.  (There was a round of little-noted anti-drone protests there early this month, and a “Sacred Peace Walk” from Vegas to  Creech is underway this week.)

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A drone at Creech AFB. The biggest gamble of all?

Think these two places aren’t connected?

That’s exactly what they want you to believe.

You can bet on it.

 

wanting the Best of Everything: Including Opinions

We Interrupt These Lenten Meditations for a Few Stray Words of Wisdom:

I’ve not read any of Saul Bellow’s novels, or non-fiction either.

But the following quote from a new book of his essays may force me to banish this ignorance. It comes out of his reflections on life & culture among the outwardly well-educated, usually solvent and seemingly liberal:

“People who have the best of everything also desire the best opinions. Top of the line.” He added: “As the allure of agreement — or conformism — grows, the perils of independence deepen. To differ is dangerous.”

That says so much in so few words, one can only add a few more of his stray comments:

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That is all. Have a thoughtful day.

 

Vote To Put A Friendly Woman On The $20!

Put A Friendly Woman on the $20

I like this.  An online  campaign has taken off to bounce old Andy Jackson off the $20 bill and replace him with  a woman.

“Women on 20s”

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I admit it: here’s my true #1 favorite. She’s not on the finalists’ list, alas. But there are plenty of Quakes & Quake-ish faces there anyway.

Continue reading Vote To Put A Friendly Woman On The $20!