The door to Matthew’s office was open a few inches, but Teacher Ellen still knocked tentatively. The door was big, the oak was heavy and dark, but not ornate. The sign that read “Matthew Evans, Head of School,” was small and visually unimposing. But no matter how modest, to her it still meant “The Boss.”
Matthew was an open-minded and friendly boss, to be sure. And encouraging to junior teachers with lots of ideas.
But still, the boss. His office where Ellen’s future as a Quaker private school teacher would probably be decided. It was also where the buck stopped, where the school’s most unpleasant tasks got done.
Like this one, Ellen thought, when she heard him say, “Come in.” She glanced back at the two students behind her. The girl, thin, her dark hair still tousled, was trying for an air of defiance. The boy, an entitled preppy if there ever was one, didn’t need to work for an insolent expression; it came with the pedigree.
Yes, Ellen, she thought, waving them in ahead of her, admit it: you’re prejudiced against seniors who drive their own Beamers. She admitted it.
They took their places in front of the broad, dark desk, The students in front, Ellen behind and to their left. She noted again that, no matter how affable Matthew could be in faculty meetings or bantering with students over lunch, he was also master of a dead-serious poker-face.
She had only seen it once before, when a student drug dealer was expelled. But that once made clear it was one of the tools of his trade as school head. The stern poker face was as necessary as his ability to charm donations out of wealthy parents for new programs and raises in teacher pay.
Matthew was examining a sheet of paper in an open folder. His jacket was off, but his tie was a solid navy blue and his demeanor entirely businesslike. He let them stand there in uncomfortable silence for a long moment.
Then he dropped the paper, glanced up and said, “Teacher Ellen?”
“It’s just as you see there,” Ellen said. “I went into the drama building last night, to get a book I’d left in a classroom, and on the way out I heard noises from the auditorium. I went in quietly, and, um, found Kevin and Connie on the mattress behind the stage. They were, um, unclothed, and apparently having sex.”
Matthew shifted a stony gaze to the students. “You knew this was completely against the behavior code?” He said.
Connie stared at the floor and nodded. Kevin’s response was something between a nod and a shrug.
“And you also understand,” Matthew went on, “this infraction is eligible for immediate expulsion?”
More nods, but from the corner of her eye, Ellen caught the hint of a curl to Kevin’s lip, which she took to mean, “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Connie,” Matthew intoned, “I’m sending you home for a month. Report to the Counseling Office, and they’ll escort you to your room to pick up your things. You may go.”
Connie started to sniffle, then put a hand to her face and shuffled out.
Matthew waited another long moment. It seemed to Ellen he didn’t even blink.
“Kevin,” he said, “This is your second incident. You were lucky there was a different head of school that time. I’m sending you home til after Christmas.”
“But I’ll miss finals,” Kevin protested.
“Not if you want to graduate,” Matthew said coldly. “You’ll make arrangements with the teachers by email, and your return is subject to their certifying that all the work is up to date.”
Matthew picked up the folder. “Report to the Counseling office, and you are not to speak to Connie there, or anywhere else on campus.
When Kevin’s footsteps had faded down the long old hallway, Ellen realized she felt as if she had been holding her breath through the whole ordeal.
Matthew shook his head and the poker face dissolved into a tight smile. “That’s definitely not the fun part of my job,” he said, “but sometimes –” he opened his palms, left the rest of the sentence hanging.
Then he stood up from the desk, stepped to a hanging file drawer, and slipped the folder in a slot. “Enough of that!” He said, as if he’d opened a window to banish an unpleasant odor.
“Now,” he was settling back into his chair, “I’ve got lots to do, but tell me a bit about your sophomore field trip.”
Ellen was relieved; the encouraging boss was back. “It was great,” she said. “The Old Roadside Friends Cemetery is a goldmine. It’s got gobs of Quaker and antislavery history, and the kids seemed to love cleaning it up. There’s lots more work to do, though.”
“What about the neighborhood?”
“It’s pretty rough,” she said, “but we had no trouble. We visited the Baptist church across from it, and the pastor was welcoming. Said he was glad to see Quakers taking some responsibility for what’s still their property. He invited us to visit a service, and I set that up for this Friday.”
“Excellent.” Matthew was beaming now.
A bell clanged, echoing up and down the hallway outside.
“Time for my class,” Ellen said, and turned to go.
“Keep it up,” Matthew said. “Your history & heritage program is great. I wish I’d had a history teacher like you when I was here.”
Matthew had only a couple minutes of quiet before Victor Washington, the Development Director, was in the doorway, a thick folder under one arm. “You wanted the latest on the fundraising campaign,” he said. He tapped the folder. “Got it right here.”
Of course, Matthew knew most of what was in Victor’s spreadsheets and charts. As head of school, he had to deal with more than student misbehavior; teaching, and teachers; campus sports, boards and committees. Besides all that, every day, maybe every hour, he thought about raising money.
From the outside, the school might look timeless and solid after almost two centuries in its wooded campus. But from inside, every single year, so much had to be paid for: buildings built, painted, trimmed, fixed, rebuilt, replaced. Teachers were underpaid, but their paychecks still added up. Tuition and fees kept going higher, but never quite caught up with expenses.
So Matthew, like every head of school, thought about fundraising every day. A head who didn’t was soon out of a job.
Matthew nodded reflexively as Victor said the money for a new swimming pool was on track; and the historic meetinghouse restoration was almost funded. These were places the alumni remembered, and things they had had fun doing: easy to raise money for.
“But where it’s still heavy lifting,” Victor was saying, “is the NIT.”
Matthew sighed. The NIT–or New Initiatives in Teaching. His favorite, and it was tougher. Computers were obsolete as soon as you turned them on. Software needed updates almost every week. And if something was focused on the past–like Teacher Ellen’s history & heritage plans– or you wanted more scholarships for poor or non-rich Quaker students–the first question behind closed doors was, “How will it help my kid (or grand-kid) get into Harvard?”
Like pulling teeth, and it never stopped.
These scholarships were also close to Matthew’s heart. Victor’s too: a scholarship student who finished top of his class. Now he looked over the newest report, frowning. “We need some new ideas for this,” he said, “some way to put it across better.”
Matthew shoved his hands into his pants pockets. “Yeah,” he said,”you’re right.”
He turned toward the window behind his desk. An old clock was on a mantel next to it. Across the grass, he could see the corner of the meetinghouse. Beyond it cars were parked along the road to the campus entrance.
As he watched, two white campus vans drove down the road. Matthew shook his head at them. From this distance, they looked shiny and new.
“You see those vans, Victor?” He pointed. “We had to put a new transmission in one last month. And the U-joint in the other one could go any day. Several thousand bucks in all.”
He turned back to Victor. “But without them we have no field trips, for Teacher Ellen’s program. The kids like those trips. And getting their hands into American and Quaker history is–“
A discreet tap at the door. Doris, his secretary. “Excuse me, Matthew,” she said. “You’d want to see this.” She handed him an oversize yellow post-it note.
Doris understood how things worked, so Matthew frowned down at the note as Doris retreated. At a signal from him, She shut the door quietly behind her.
“Victor,” he said quietly. “It’s Mrs. Mickleson.”
Victor’s eyes widened. But he looked confused. This should be good news. Yet he could hear alarm in the way Matthew spoke the name of the school’s biggest donor.
“What–?” Victor asked.
Matthew read from the note. “She’s here, outside.” He glanced up. “No,” he added, “we were not expecting her. She told Doris she was in the city for a board meeting of the Mickelson Charitable Foundation, and asked her driver to stop here before they went back to Washington. She said she has something urgent to show me.”
He considered the note again. “Doris has very good radar about this sort of thing,” he said. “It sounds like a problem.”
Victor hurried the reports back into their folder. “You want me to go?” He asked.
Matthew hesitated. It might be wiser to see her by himself. But in Victor and his work, Matthew thought he glimpsed a future head of school, either here or another Quaker school. So maybe he should see this too, whatever it was.
Matthew shook his head. “You’ve been working with her,” He said. It wasn’t really a question.
“Met with her twice at the Foundation office,” Victor said. He checked his phone calendar. “Have an appointment in Washington next week.” He paused. “Did have, anyway.”
“Better stay,” Matthew said. “We’ll see what it’s about. If I need one-on-one with her, I’ll say so.”
A moment later, the three of them had finished a round of hearty greetings, and Doris had asked if anyone needed coffee or juice, which was declined with forced cheer.
Mrs. Mickleson was near sixty, dressed in a subdued but well-tailored pantsuit, a single string of pearls, and a black leather portfolio. Matthew knew she was not typically condescending or imperious. But he could sense she was all business today. Curiously, though, she also had gloves on.
She launched right in. “Matthew, I won’t take much of your time. There’s another board meeting in Bethesda at four o’clock, that I mustn’t miss.”
“How can we help?” Matthew asked.
Instead of answering directly, Mrs. Mickleson said, “My granddaughter Amy Singleton spent the weekend with us, and she talked nonstop about the school. She loves it here.”
“Glad to hear that,” Matthew said, though he had a definite sense there was a “But” coming.
“And she had some of her chums over for a swim, and that night I heard them out on the patio talking and carrying on about a field trip her class took into the city.”
Matthew wanted to smile and nod; something kept him from it.
“They thought I’d gone to bed,” she said. “But I peeked out when they went off to the kitchen for snacks, and there on a table was this–“
She flipped open a silver-tipped latch on the black portfolio, dipped two gloved fingers into it, and lifted out a thick plastic zip-lock bag. She held it up for them to see.
Matthew was struck by how out of place the bag looked. The plastic was thick but translucent, with white patches at the top as labels.
It looked like something from a police evidence locker, or a hospital morgue, somehow mislaid in the gloved hand of a model from Tiffany’s. The juxtaposition was so visually absurd it was almost funny.
Mrs. Mickelson was not the least bit amused. “These are some of the souvenirs Amy and her class secretly brought back from that field trip, which I gather was to an abandoned cemetery in the inner city.”
She pointed at it with her other hand, highlighting a thin cylinder. “That tube, Matthew, is a drug addict’s syringe, complete with a used and bloodstained needle.”
The pointer finger moved down past a round beige lump. “And this,” she grimaced, “this is a used condom, evidently left behind by one of the prostitutes who ply their trade there.”
She turned a withering gaze on Victor. “Mr. Washington, was this, er, excursion part of the new program you told me about? What’s it called–??”
Victor cleared his throat. “Uh, history and heritage, Mrs. Mickelson,” he said softly.
Matthew couldn’t let him take the rap here. “We think very highly of the program,” he said. “It often serves to bring together critical issues of the past and present in vivid, concrete ways.”
As soon as the word “vivid” was out of his mouth, Matthew regretted it.
“‘Vivid,'” Mrs. Mickleson repeated for emphasis. “I’ll say.” She waved the bag for emphasis, then dropped it back into the portfolio. Clicking the clasp, she looked from Victor to Matthew. Her lips were tight.
“Matthew,” she said flatly, “One of Amy’s classmates claimed she found bullet shell casings from some sort of pistol, but a teacher took them.”
She stifled a shudder. “I believe you know, Matthew, that I am no reactionary. The long record of progressive Quaker values is a big part of this school’s appeal. And both the Foundation and I have long supported research and advocacy for forward-looking and humane drug and social policies.” An eyebrow arched. “The Foundation director testified before the Senate just last year.
“But this–” she gestured toward the portfolio — “Amy and her chums treated them like carnival prizes. But do you realize how dangerous those — those objects are? Bloody needles? Germ and virus-infested debris from commercial sex? Bullets?”
She leaned forward. “Do I have to spell it out?”
Her eyes were wide, as the memory of Amy and her chums in close proximity to any of those objects closed in.
“No,” Matthew shook his head, a hollow feeling settling in his gut. “No, you don’t.”
Mrs. Mickelson sat back stiffly in her chair. “Amy’s sister Bethany is In Eighth grade in Bethesda. We’ve looked at Westtown and Sidwell, but she wants to follow her big sister here. And they have cousins in Baltimore who say the same thing.”
She tightened her grip on the portfolio, and stood up abruptly. “But Matthew, I couldn’t possibly support anything like this.” She raised a hand for emphasis. “If they need field trips, Washington is within reach, and so is New York. I’m sure they would be received by the most progressive and responsible policy groups in these fields, and there are model programs they can also visit. Safely. I–“
The hallway class bell clanged and cut her off. Mrs. Mickelson took it as a signal. Giving each of the men a single pump handshake, she turned to the door.
“Matthew,” she said, lifting the portfolio, “I truly respect the enthusiasm and spirit of adventure you bring to your work here. But I must remind you that those adventures involve some of the most precious parts of my life–and that of others like me.” She pulled the door open. “Amy and your other students are here to prepare for life, not to risk it.”
“I’ll see to it right away,” Matthew said. But she was gone.
Victor closed the door, leaned against it, and wiped sweat from his forehead. “Whoa,” he murmured. “That was, um, vivid.”
“Yeah,” Matthew chuckled, and realized he was sweating too. “Victor,” he said, “we need some time to decompress and absorb this, but we’ll talk again after classes are done this afternoon.”
“Decompress,” Victor repeated, and gave a low whistle. “Totally.” He opened the door.
“Oh, and on your way,” Matthew said, “can you stop by the History room, and ask Teacher Ellen to come down?”
“Check,” Victor said. The door clicked behind him.
Matthew turned again to the window, his fingers moving reflexively to loosen his tie and unbutton his collar.
One of the campus vans was now parked next to the meetinghouse, while the driver carried in some cardboard boxes.
Another field trip. Friday, which was tomorrow. He sighed. Not a chance for that now.
Matthew dropped his hands. No. The tie and collar had to stay tight.
He crossed the office to a coat closet. A mirror hung on the back side of its door. He looked into it, wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, and arranged his features into the disciplinary poker face. Yes, he practiced.
It wasn’t quite right for this next encounter. But he couldn’t think of how to add a note of compassion without undermining the hard necessity of what had to be done.
The tap came on the office door.
He took the chair behind his desk. “Come in.”
Ellen entered, smiling.
Matthew opened a folder on the desk, and looked down without seeing what was in it.
Compared to what he had to do now, he thought, dealing with Connie and Kevin for writhing around on an old mattress — was it really only a couple of hours ago? — that was a piece of cake.
More about some actual events that helped inspire this story here,here & here.
Not all U. S. Friends Meetings are withering away; I live close to two of them (liberal unprogrammed) which seem to be thriving.
But many meetings are shrinking. Several formerly large yearly meetings, particularly in the Midwest & South, are now but shadows of their earlier selves. One of the largest among them, North Carolina, went entirely out of business in 2017, after 320 years.
In many other meetings, pastoral and non-, generational gaps are opening, with now elderly Baby Boomers more or less in charge, while their children’s and grandchildren’s generations seem to be missing or sparse in attendance.
Recently I read the amazing account of the Great Black Migration from the South, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson.
It’s a fine, fine book, and its relevance here is that, paradoxically, until it was well underway, there was no such thing as “The Great Migration”; that is, no one named or organized it, no one “joined” it.
Rather, there were individuals & families fleeing for their own survival: seeking escape from the personal costs of official southern racism, grinding poverty and unrestrained violence. Only after such private decisions were acted on by hundreds of thousands, over decades, did scholars & writers come along to christen, study and begin to chronicle it.
Yet while “spontaneous” and unorganized, the Great Migration was indeed real and momentous, with national impact that’s still being felt.
What “secret” am I talking about here? Lucretia Mott with a secret?
For her devotees, Lucretia Mott’s life is, or should be, an open book: born into a loving, encouraging family, married for 57 years to what one biographer called “the best husband ever”; she had a long public career of preaching and speaking, of which generous samplings have been preserved; and she wrote hundreds of letters which scholars have combed through. She endured sorrows: the loss of two of her six children, and then widowhood; and she overcame years of withering criticism of her ideas and “heresies.”
None of that is new, or unexamined. And in her personal carriage she was a model of traditional Quaker propriety: she disdained novels as frivolous and vain; it was husband James who sat in a quiet corner, burning the midnight oil, unable to put down Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Then, while Hicksites all around were shedding the grey and the bonnet, she was plain til the very end. Continue reading Lucretia Mott’s Birthday Secret: No Woman Is an Island?→
Lucretia Mott, considered at the time of her death in 1880 to be the “greatest American woman of the nineteenth century” by many of her contemporaries, was a Quaker abolitionist, women’s rights activist and social reformer. She was also a key figure in an important insurgent movement of Progressive Friends. Her messages and actions are very pertinent today – and laid much of the foundation for the current women’s movement.
Wednesday First Month (January) 3, 2018, will mark Lucretia’s 225th birthday.
What message would she have for us if she were here today?
HINT: She’d likely tell us we’re in deep trouble and should get up and get busy. (She’d say it nicely, but urgently).
Here is an array of candles, lit during worship at Chapel Hill Friends meeting in North Carolina, on the night called Christmas Eve, 2017.
I first took part in such a ceremony at State College Friends meeting in Pennsylvania. The event was quite simple; it began after dusk, with the meeting room unlit except for a single candle on a large table, covered with highly reflective aluminum foil.
Out of the silence, as moved, Friends came to the table in ones or twos or family groups, and each lit another candle, which they placed on the table; they spoke if moved, then sat again in the silence.
From the first time I experienced it, the way the whole room was progressively illuminated, seemed in fact to glow, as the number of flickering flames increased, was very moving to me.
In a way it was a visible, wordless, yet eloquent evocation of Quakerism at its best: a motley, seemingly haphazard collection of candles of witness, more diverse than we outwardly seem, mainly anonymous and individual, somehow joining together to become more than the sum of the parts.
This time, at the end of 2017, a year which for me has been very heavily shadowed, often deeply gloomy, and yes, dark, the full array became something of an encouraging signal for the year ahead. (Let’s hope!)
At State College Meeting, we were told that this custom had originated in Berlin, shortly after the end of World War Two, when the city was still devastated in the wake of bombing and and combat. I pass on the story we were told below, knowing it mainly as an oral tradition:
How the Christmas Candlelight Meeting Began
Berlin in 1945 was a devastated city, bombs had destroyed most of the homes and buildings and things were in terrible disarray – children without parents and homes, shortage of food and shelter — all of the terrible consequences that accompany war.
Ilse and Gerhardt were a Quaker couple with three small children who suffered terrible hardships during the war — she (a school teacher) because she defied the authorities ‘speaking truth’ and Gerhardt because he had a Jewish father.
They were homeless and spent many months searching for shelter for their family. While doing so, they were willing to have other homeless orphans join them simply out of compassion, but with the knowledge that with each additional child, there would be less to share among their own family.
They eventually found a bombed-out building that gave them some shelter from the cold winter days and nights. The children slept in Army blankets in the clothes that they wore during the day. Taking turns, Ilse and Gerhardt would search for food to feed the always-hungry children that grew daily in numbers.
Once in returning with a loaf of bread, a hungry soldier asked Ilse for a piece. With reluctance, she shared the bread, only to find upon returning to the children that a Quaker care package had arrived with nuts, dried fruit and chocolates.
On Christmas Eve, Ilse and Gerhardt felt terribly sad about having so little to share with their extended family, but they were determined to make the Eve of Christmas a joyful event for themselves and their children. It was then when they and the Berlin Quaker Meeting conceived of the idea of a candlelight service as we now know it.
By that time, the meeting had been assigned space in a mansion that had been confiscated during the war. Their large room had little furniture and, have course, no Christmas tree. However, nearby was a stand of fir trees and from these, they cut branches and carpeted the floor with green cuttings. They had a good supply of candles and gave one to each child.
They began the meeting for worship with a single candle illuminating the darkness of the winter night. One by one, after lighting the candle from each other, the children gave the best and only present that they could — they shared their talents that God had given them.
One little girl had just learned to whistle and tried her best at ‘Joy to the World’. An older child had composed a poem thanking Isle and Gerhardt for their compassion. Many shared memories of their own families, making everyone a bit sad and happy at the same time.
As more children lit their candles, Ilse said the room was turned into a carpet of light (licht teppich in German). After everyone shared their talents, they sang the wonderful Christmas songs that we still sing about God’s gift to us and the hope of Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward everyone.
That sharing became a tradition in the Berlin Quaker meeting that continues today. Years later, an American family visiting Berlin experienced it while living in Berlin and also introduced it to the Live Oak Friends Meeting in Houston, TX. It has migrated to some other meetings from there.
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.
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:
White supremacy was an explicit part of the KKK “Kreed,” as shown above. And this outlook continues.
Another such group, the “outing” of which shocked me at the time (early 1960s), was the Democratic party in many southern states. Alabama, for instance. The party there featured this emblem on its slates of candidates: a rooster and the motto: “White Supremacy for the Right.” Not much doubt there.
And while the Alabama Dems have changed (now mostly black, they dumped the rooster), their place has been taken by others; many others. Here is a selected list:
ACTBAC NC, Traditionalist Workers Party, Proud Boys, Vanguard America, Identity Evropa, Generation Identitaire, Traditionalist Youth Movement, National Socialists, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Council of Conservative Citizens, the League of the South.
I don’t hesitate to call these “white supremacist” groups.
And they’re not distant abstractions to me.
One of them, ACTBAC [“Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County”], is centered in the rural community of Snow Camp NC. The Friends meeting I attend is also in Snow Camp. A few months back, ACTBAC organized a pro-Confederate rally in Chapel Hill (in the next county east) in “defense” of a Confederate statue on the UNC campus. They have organized many similar rallies.
Then there is the “League of the South,” which put up this billboard in Montgomery, Alabama, where I saw it:
With admirable conciseness, this billboard sums up their program:“The League of the South [they say] is not a “neo-Confederate” or “Southern heritage” organization, although we certainly do honor our ancestors and our largely Christian historic inheritance as Southerners. The League is a present- and future-oriented Southern Nationalist organization that seeks the survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people. We stand for our Faith, Family, and Folk living in freedom and prosperity on the lands of our forefathers. If this vision of a free, prosperous, and independent South appeals to you, please join us in our struggle.” [Emphasis added.]
But “the Southern people” they want to secede with are white; just for the record. And what will happen to those nonwhites already settled in their projected southern ethnostate? They get rather fuzzy on this, but insist they don’t advocate violence. Really? I wondered again when I saw this bumpersticker on a pickup not long ago.
Anyway, “white supremacy” has maintained its usefulness to me as a distinct descriptor of such groups and ideas; it continues to carry very specific meaning, and I have not hesitated to use it as such. (You can find it several times in a book of mine on civil rights published more than 40 years ago.)
Now, what about, as Liz said, “the rightness or appropriateness of the use of the phrase ‘white supremacy’ when referring to today’s Quakerism.”
First off, “today’s Quakerism” is not an easy thing to pin down. Does it refer to, or include, Kenyan Friends, the largest Quaker population in the world? Are they white supremacist? I wouldn’t think so; they have their issues, but that isn’t near the top. Or what about Latin American Friends, many of whom are “non-white”? That also seems doubtful to me. (I could be proved wrong about all this; but pending that, I’m sticking with this hunch.)
What about North American Friends? Even this relatively small slice of “today’s Quakerism” is quite a varied group. But I don’t mean this to dodge the issue.
For instance: in the 1920s, many American Quakers and their meetings became all but absorbed into the Ku Klux Klan, especially in Indiana. As we’ve seen, the KKK is the quintessential white supremacist group, and I would certainly extend the term to those Friends who joined or went along with it.
And this connection was not just a matter of rank-and-file Friends (tho they are important!) The head of a major division of the Indiana KKK was a prominent Quaker pastor, who had served at least half a dozen Friends churches there in a long career. And that pastor was also a prime example of Quaker “distinctives,” namely that rarity in Christian clergy, a woman, and a birthright Hoosier Friend, Daisy Douglass Barr. (I wrote at length about her here.)
So in my view, big chunks of American Quakerism were at least for some while clearly white supremacist in their orientation and connections. The outline of this has been well-documented by non-Quaker historians; but telling the full story of this KKK-Quaker fusion and its unhappy legacy has not yet been taken up by any major Quaker historian. Shame on them.
So are Friends in Indiana still a white supremacist group? For me that’s very much an open question, for two reasons.
First, as I have researched and documented here, the spirit of the Klan, definitely including its white supremacist outlook, and strong ties to the currently ascendant right wing Indiana politics, pervaded and haunted the 2016 election campaign there and elsewhere. So 80 years after the Klan peaked and then withered as a mass organization (though it’s not entirely gone!), what astute observers called “Klanism” is still very much alive, and quite prevalent in Indiana.
And second, in the face of the stonewalling vow of silence about the Quaker-Klan connections by those yearly meetings, and major Quaker historians, the jury is still out.
But then, what about other yearly meetings, say Philadelphia, which was the subject of the blog post that Liz is commenting on. Is Philadelphia YM properly to be called a “white supremacist” group?
My answer is a firm no. But with a qualification:
There are plenty of mainly white religious groups, maybe most, which are on record against racism and slavery and its racist legacy — yet which fall short in living up to these ideals. Some fall more short than others. Does this make them “white supremacist”?
It could, as the Indiana case shows. But the histories of the two groups here are, in my view, quite different. One could make a good case that PYM was “white supremacist” until 1758, when it banned slaveholding by members.
But even before that change, I cannot dismiss the long line of antislavery Philadelphia Friends, from those in Germantown in 1688, to Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet & John Woolman, Lucretia Mott, Bayard Rustin, and numerous others lesser known, down to our own time, who have carried an active concern, and taken many risks, for racial advance and equality. Further, that body has sponsored many useful (if imperfect) related projects and concerns and remains under the weight of them, if still incompletely.
To be sure, with the highlights there are shortcomings: the segregated bench; the long-segregated Friends schools; and some more recent incidents. And where do PYM’s conflicts which seem to be about race, overlap with and shade into issues of class? (Indeed, my own sense is that class issues may be the bigger elephant in PYM’s room than race; the fact that I hear so little about it is a big clue.)
But does PYM’s mistakes and failures put it in the same category as the KKK or the League of the South?
I have read such charges; one person of color asserted in a Facebook discussion a few months back that PYM and its leadership was “as bad as could be” on race.
“As bad as could be”? Nope: can’t buy that. And in that Facebook thread, more than one Friend of color dissented from it too; PYM has issues, they said, but it was not as that one person described it.
I 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  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.
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 affirmLGBT 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 TheChurch 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.
Is There Life after Death in Quaker North Carolina?
[A long read]
Several years of intense struggle in North Carolina Yearly Meeting culminated in August 2017 by the YM going out of business, after more than 320 years. [Its “Concluding Minute” is online, and when we wrote this, copies printed on parchment were available. ]
So, in standard American fashion, the question arises. Who won, who lost?
No doubt there could be long debates about answers, especially over who lost, and what.
But as to the other side, the answer is quite clear. Who was the winner in the demise of North Carolina Yearly Meeting?
Why, it was North Carolina Yearly Meeting.
That’s right, NCYM is still alive and, as far as can be determined, well.
Someone will quickly point out that I’m referring now to the otherNorth Carolina Yearly Meeting, the one that adds “C” for “Conservative” to its name. And maybe shrug: “Ah, but that’s different.”
Is it? This NCYM lays an equal claim to the “apostolic succession” of Friends in the Tarheel state going back to the same origins, not long after George Fox visited the area in 1672. Further, it has been much more careful about retaining several features of that earlier heritage.
These features were once thought to be inviolable Quaker traditions, but were long since discarded by the counterpart; and these, after all, were what NCYMC was created to “conserve.” In fact, its 2017 annual session, held in Wilmington NC on July (err, Seventh Month) 13-16, was listed in its minutes as the 320th— the same number as that of the other, now deceased NCYM-FUM.
Which means, it’s the only North Carolina Yearly Meeting left standing.
Thus, this summer also brought to a successful close the exodus they began, quietly but firmly, in 1904.
The “Conservatives” were the Friends from meetings which resisted what they called “such departures [from previous Quaker practice] as hired ministry, congregational singing, instrumental music, pre-arranged ‘prayer meetings’, testimony meetings & etc. …”
And there’s more. They also formally objected to the adoption of the creedal Richmond Declaration of Faith and the so-called “Uniform Discipline” of the new Five Years Meeting (now FUM) which was built around the Declaration, only to see their objections ignored and silenced.
No wonder the Conservatives minuted that that they were “persuaded that such . . . can only tend to lead us farther and farther from the desired unity of faith and practice . . .”
Which is to say, the Conservatives didn’t think they were leaving NCYM, but rather that the body, under misguidedofficers, was leaving them and the tested old ways, in favor of foreign, imported notions and practices.
So they not only “conserved” these ways, but claimed the NCYM name and history as well. And now they’ve got the name back, all to themselves.
To be sure, the current NCYMC officers are not going to gloat about this, and will likely be peeved at me for even mentioning it. NCYMC long ago let go of spending energy on that old controversy; “to each their own” fits well with their contemporary Quietist ethos.
This NCYM has always traveled light: no pastors, no pastoral committees, no paid staff; no health plans or pensions; no office; no real estate. Its investment funds total in the low five figures. In many ways it is more a cycle of regular events than an institution.
And from their perspective, even to ask whether this denouement amounts to a fulfillment of Matthew 5:5 (“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”) will be thought in very poor taste. Besides which, the “Conservative” part of their culture has also evolved considerably over time (and that’s another story).
All this is very irenic. But again for the record, next summer in 2018, session #321 of North Carolina Yearly Meeting will beconvened on schedule (as way opens), but there will be only one Recording Clerk writing this number in a minute book, not two.
The end of NCYM-FUM left two successor groups to define themselves and chart a future for their segments of programmed Quakerism in North Carolina. During the closing phases, the larger, more evangelical bloc was provisionally dubbed the “Authority Group,” because it wanted to exercise top-down disciplinary authority to purge a handful of “liberal” meetings, particularly for their reported friendliness to LGBTs.
These targeted meetings were provisionally named “The Autonomy Group,” because they denied that NCYM had any such top-down disciplinary power.
The “Authority Group” wanted to use the NCYM Faith & Practice as the basis for the purge; but the Autonomites pointed out correctly that the current edition contained no such provision, and moreover it did not mention LGBTs anywhere.
In late 2015, someone in the Authority group reported that the1967 edition of NCYM’s Faith & Practice did have a top-down rule provision (as, indeed, most YMs’ books once had); but this had “somehow” disappeared then, and was absent from half a dozen subsequent approved revisions of the volume over the next 48 years.
Charging that this change had not been authorized, the Clerk declared that a shouted “voice vote” at a 2015 Representative Body directed that this “disappeared” section be reinserted forthwith. Protests of this maneuver by the Autonomists were ignored.
This was for many the turning point toward dissolution. Yet the Autonomites did not simply walk out. They resisted the continuing charges of inauthenticity and heresy, and declined to abandon NCYM to the other group.
At this point, enter the lawyers.
Thus, in the end, the “Authority Group” leaders came to agree that to rid themselves of the liberals, NCYM itself had to go, and it did.
Also in the end, there were two concrete items left to haggle over: Quaker Lake Camp, and NCYM’s endowment of around $12 million dollars.
The camp was given a shove toward independence, but left with an evangelical-tilted board for the meantime. The endowment is in the care of a new corporation, NCYM, Inc, called “The Inc” for short. This is essentially a foundation, whose sole function is to manage the endowment and pass out the earnings.
Friends were told that under state law, The Inc is definitely not a church. Its board is drawn 50-50 from the two groups, but the fund’s earnings will be distributed based on membership, which means the Authority Group will get about 75 per cent, the liberals 25 %. Both groups agreed to help support Quaker Lake Camp for several years: $60,000 per year from the larger, $30,000 from the smaller.
Once the “Closing Minute” was adopted on August 5, the two groups went their separate ways.
So far, this is all necessary background, which (except for the parchment suicide note) has been reported before. What has happened since then is of more interest, and can be put in the form of another query:
Is there life after death in NCYM-FUM territory?
The answer is not so simple. We’ll look at one side, then the other.
“Authority” & “Autonomy” were only temporary designations. So one of the groups’ first tasks was to pick an official name. The Authoritarians had gathered on June 24, 2017 at Cedar Square Friends, for a general organizational meeting. By far the longest discussion in their minutes was on nomenclature.
A Naming Committee reported that ten names had been suggested, and their recommendation was to call themselves the F. O. C. U. S. Church of Carolina, with the initials standing for “Friends Obedient to Christ and United to Serve.”
Some liked it, others didn’t. Advocates stressed that it was pointed ahead, toward the new, and said it was time to “let go of holding to things of the past.”
(This was not a new refrain: in an earlier meeting, on April 4, pastor Mike Wall told the group, according to the minutes, that “he does not feel [the] Traditional [term] Friends has any modern appeal, that anything with Quaker or Friends in it has not had a positive image for the last 25 years, that if we are facing a new day we should have a new name, that our name should denote a new direction, that our name should be new and vibrant.”)
But others were not pleased that F. O. C. U. S. seemed to be leaving the Quaker heritage behind. And one Friend noted dryly that, “we already have a Ford Focus.”
When the Clerk asked for approval, it wasn’t there. So the issue was discussed further: the periods in “FOCUS” were dropped, but views were still mixed, “with many Friends commenting and several offering that if we weren’t able to unite on this it didn’t bode well for our future.”
Ultimately, though, the group approved calling itself “FOCUS Church of Carolina–Friends Obedient to Christ & United to Serve.”
But, then — no, not done.
When sixty or so FOCUS Friends arrived for their next “general meeting” on September 30, 2017, they were welcomed with documents headed with the name, “Friends Church of North Carolina.”
What or who was that? The group’s new Clerk, Roger Greene, attempted to explain. But what was disclosed was much more than a name: it was the opening example of how the new group worked.
Greene said that the day after the June 24 general meeting, he had googled “Focus Church,” and found there was one near Raleigh. He added that “one meeting” had then expressed opposition to FOCUS Church. So then he consulted with lawyers and some other weighty persons, and in short order, FOCUS was dumped.
Then a new set of possible names was compiled, and from this was selected the “Friends Church of North Carolina” (FCNC), very retro, but recognizable. (Evidently Mike Wall’s plea to dump “Friends” in favor of something “new,” which he repeated four times, did not reach the right ears.)
Greene registered the revised name with the state in August. And only now, at the end of September, more than three months after the group’s first major decision was unilaterally & summarily overridden, was this change announced to the body.
Greene admitted all this was “probably a little departure from normal process,” and asked for belated approval of the change. A rather subdued mumble was heard.
This was, I think, arather revealing incident. It shows that from the jump, in FCNC, the group’s decisions are subject to in-group after-hours veto; even a single meeting, which had as much chance to raise concerns at the general session as any other, can still, ex post facto, torpedo an approved formal decision without even having to be identified. (No doubt, it must be the “right” meeting; one suspects that means a large one, which could be expected to have substantial “input” into the group’s budget.)
The reception of this report also indicates that those who show up for the general sessions are prepared to accept such “leadership” passively, with scarcely a murmur.
The next major item was the establishment of what could be called the Pastor Protection Program: the rolling over of several committees from the old NCYM into FCNC, which together will keep pastors and their perceived welfare at the center of attention. These included a Recording Committee, a Pastors Association, a Pastoral Care Committee, a Pastor-Meeting Relations Committee, a Christian Vocations Committee, a procedure for issuing pastors certificates and ID cards, signed by some official, plus the transfer of all those who were recorded as pastors in the old NCYM into FCNC with the same status.
There was also comment from the floor lamenting FCNC’s lack of a paid Superintendent, whose major priority would be to manage and protect the pastors’ interests. (The reason for dropping the post was money: salary, benefits, etc.) Many of these committees had been non-functional in the old NCYM for some time, and many as yet unidentified volunteers will be required to staff them; but their reconstitution, at least on paper, was agreed to.
Then the matter of authority soon came up again, in the form of an “Unpaid Askings Policy.”
“Askings” are what the old NCYM called its head tax for members, collected from monthly meetings. It’s not clear how long the term had been used there, but some seemed to think it was as old as George Fox (it isn’t. In many early Disciplines, it was called, plainly, a quota. In Philadelphia Yearly Meeting it is a “covenant.” In Baltimore Yearly Meeting an “apportionment.” There are other names.)
One of the Authority group’s grievances against the liberal meetings was that some had withheld part of their “Askings”, either in protest of various grievances, or from applying different bases for calculating the amounts due.
Such selective tax payments are, of course, a direct challenge to yearly meeting authority; and the FCNC leadership was determined to put a stop to it.
So: “To ensure integrity, fidelity and unity,” a draft “Unpaid Askings Policy,” was passed out. It specified that in FCNC “The only acceptable reason for unpaid askings will be financial hardship.”
Further, a meeting may not simply claim hardship, it must apply for the status, like an indigent applying for welfare. A committee of FCNC will then investigate and determine if the meeting is deserving.
If the meeting is denied, but still doesn’t pay, this
“will result in the meeting being inactive for 12 months, for a period of reflection. During this inactive period, members of this local meeting will not participate on any FCNC committees or any other leadership capacity.”
Following the 12-month suspension, “if a resolution has not been reached (i.e., complete payment of delinquent dues) it will be deemed that said meeting has resigned its membership from the FCNC.” [Quotes from the printed draft.]
In discussion, someone pointed out that the term “Askings” didn’t fit this new policy, because the sums assessed were by no means “Asked” for, but mandated, under penalties of suspension and expulsion.
Alternative terms were proposed, and “Financial Obligations” was settled on, then substituted throughout the draft, which now became the “Unpaid Financial Obligations Policy.”
The rationalehere was clear, yet the policy initially had the air of slamming the barn door after the horses have run off. After all, the main targets of ire about unpaid “Askings” in the past three years were some of the “liberal” meetings.
But now they were all gone, out of reach. So was this hardline policy really necessary?
Perhaps it was. Later, in discussion of the FCNC budget, Michael Fulp, Sr. rose.
Fulp was the last Clerk of the defunct NCYM, and was no shrinking violet in that post, but spoke now in a much more truculent tone. He charged that there were as many as “a dozen” meetings on the FCNC roster “who have paid none or minimal dues,” and “didn’t seem to care if they were in or out of the group.”
A dozen, out of 30 or so total? (For that matter, nine more meetings, nearly a third, were absent from the session. These are not very hard data, but they suggest something less than high morale.)
Well. Maybe there’s trouble bubbling in the purified FCNC paradise? Fulp went on to say that there were even representatives from some of these scofflaw meetings sitting right there in the room. “You all got to pay up!”he scolded.
The possibility of new internal unease came up again, when pastor Eric Morrison asked about procedures for inviting meetings that left NCYM to return. He said he had talked to people from a couple of those meetings, and they first wanted to know if there would now be definite procedures in place for disciplining meetings that “don’t follow Faith & Practice or Scripture.” (Remember, the existing Faith & Practice, for fifty years, has said nothing about such top-down rule, or homosexuality.)
Clerk Roger Greene did not rise to the bait: he quickly deflected this sally, replying vaguely that it would be referred to a committee to “develop.”
And along with holding back funds, maybe even new doctrinal troubles could be simmering: after all, there are dozens of intra-evangelical controversies about the Bible & various doctrines; they don’t stop just because you bounce all the “liberals.” We already saw what happened to the group’s first officially-approved name.
Some readers may even recall that from one of the larger meetings that left, there had been a serious proposal for a compulsory doctrinal “audit” (aka Inquisition), by which every single NCYM meeting would be interrogated for its doctrinal soundness on various points, with expulsion as a penalty for stubborn “unsoundness.”
This might sound extreme, but the proposed process for dealing with those out of doctrinal “compliance” would have been quite similar to the suspension/expulsion mandated by the newly adopted “Financial Obligations” enforcement policy. It sounded as if only something similar about the Bible and theology would mollify some of the departed dissidents.
A first step in that direction was soon taken, again by Eric Morrison when the budget was considered. A barebones tally, with only $170,800 in “Askings”/obligations, it included a list of “affiliated organizations” to which FCNC would make token donations of $100 each, from Friends United Meeting, to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, to the Quaker Earthcare Witness.
Morrison said there were two groups on the list he had problems with, and couldn’t approve donations to them; he did not name them.
The Clerk took a suggestion from the floor to withhold all those donations and refer them to a committee, which will take comments and review the groups, reporting sometime in the spring.
How much further will this housecleaning go? Well, my deep sources in the body have indicated that there are those in FCNC who, for instance, harbor deep doubts about the rigid homophobic views that have been spread around like toxic coal ash during the recent years of struggle. And these leaks are corroborated by poll data about how evangelical groups are losing appeal to young adults.
So will there be a rush among the meetings which had quit NCYM to join (“rejoin”?) FCNC? Who knows? Wait and see. Greene, however, did not sound sanguine about the prospects.
But never mind: some of the longtime pastors said they had a remedy: outreach & evangelism. They asked that endowment funds in the budget targeted for church extension be allowed to accumulate for about three years, to finance a big church planting project. And to start the process, they proposed to bring in a “church multiplication” expert from Barclay College in Kansas to do an intensive, inspirational “kickoff weekend” next spring.
Clerk Greene was for it: “If we don’t grow, we die,” he said. The outreach work, he added, may be the FCNC’s most important mission: everything should support it. He asked for approval for the plan. He got it, but it was another subdued murmur.
Indeed, the mood that morning deserves closer attention: if the doors had burst open then, or at any point in the three-hour session, and a SWAT team rushed in, to arrest anyone showing signs of enthusiasm, they would have gone away empty-handed. If there was any excitement and exhilaration among this group, they left it at home.
And now to the Autonomites.
Most of the new yearly meetings in the U.S. are the result of a convergence of interests among independently growing localmeetings, looking for wider fellowship and connections to national/international Quaker bodies. Folks get together, tentatively at first, then finding the connections congenial and useful, grow them into something formal.
That is not what’s happening to the post-NCYM Autonomites. Their experience was more like this:
Some folks went to a meeting of a club they were members of; several were descendants of generations of club members.
But at the door they were met by a large, redoubtable doorman, who put up a big hand, the flat palm blocking their way. He said, with an effort at an apologetic tone that didn’t quite ring true: “I’m sorry, but you can’t come in here. You’re not part of this club anymore.”
They reacted with consternation; some were indignant: “But I’ve been a member here all my life; my parents & grandparents too!”
The doorkeeper shook his head. “Yes, I know,” he said, “but that’s all over with.”
Then he smiled. “But don’t worry — we’ve arranged for a new club just for you. It’s down that side hallway, third door on the right. You’ll be fine there. More, er, at home. Really.”
He wasn’t budging, so the folks, after some hesitation, started down the hall, and opened that strange third door.
Inside, they were surprised to find some other folks, who also turned out to be newly expelled members of the old club.
Some in the room were acquainted, others not. Of those who knew each other, some were close, others not so much. And they were all looking at each other in a state of confusion.
A man tapped his spoon on a glass, and got their attention: “Friends,” he announced, “we’re here to organize the new club.”
We are? That’s not what we came here for. Whose idea was this? And what’s this new club are you talking about?
Forgive this little fable. But it does evoke the uncertainty that the ex-Autonomites are grappling with: they didn’t want a new club. They preferred to stay in the old one, patch it up, work things out.
Yet here they are, and there’s no going back: the old club has folded.
In real life, a few have drifted away; others still might. But those who chose to stay, at least for now, are confronting a whole new list of unanticipated questions. Even though they come from somewhat similar backgrounds, all they really have in common is that they’ve been forced out of the old club, against their will. That’s not nothing; but such solidarity is strictly negative. Now they need to find out how far it extends, and decide on some positive steps:
But what kind of club are they to make, these who didn’t want to start a new one at all? How? On what basis? And what will they call themselves? (They did agree early on that nobody liked “Autonomites.”)
With considerable discussion, but not rancor, they settled on a name: the North Carolina Fellowship of Friends (NCFF); and they have stuck with it.
They have also held several general meetings since last spring, in which they considered what kind of body they wanted to be. Numerous issues remain to be worked out.
Their Clerk is Frank Massey. He was once General Secretary for Baltimore Yearly Meeting, and more recently on the staff at Guilford College, in addition to being pastor at Jamestown, one of the meetingstargeted for purging from the old NCYM.
Massey insists that he doesn’t seek anything like the top-down structure that the “other body” is pursuing. Even though NCFF rejected “autonomy” as part of their name, he believes the group wants to maximize autonomy of member meetings as a key principle.
This aspiration pervades a draft “Identity Statement,” which was presented on September 23, briefly discussed, and then sent out to local meetings for discussion and feedback. Its main thrust is here;
North Carolina Fellowship of Friends is a non-creedal, cooperative fellowship of Friends meetings rooted in traditional Quaker teaching, gathered under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and guided by our vital practice of seeking God’s presence and activity today. While our meetings differ in many ways, we do the best we can with the Light we have today to be open and inclusive to anyone who would like to journey with us. While our meetings differ in many ways, we do the best we can with the Light we have today to be open and inclusive to anyone who would like to journey with us. Our mission is to affirm the autonomy of each member organization to pursue God’s peaceable Kingdom on Earth as put forth in their individual mission statements. . . . [Emphasis added.]
No sooner was it read, than a sticky question popped up, namely — which “traditional Quaker teachings” is NCFF rooted in? Consider that for 200 years, traditional Quaker teaching in NCYM flatly forbade paid pastors; but most of the NCFF group have them. Same goes for music in meeting: once strictly verboten. And there’s a long list of other longstanding, aka “traditional” Quaker “teaching” which have been discarded by the meetings starting this new group. So what is this “traditional” Identity, exactly?
There was no answer to this, except to hurry up and buck the statement to the local meetings for review. But the query underlines the group’s plight, as suggested in our opening fable: NCFF members are not here because they developed a common plan based on mutual understanding; they were pushed. Now they’re feeling their way.
There was no “trouble” over this question in the NCFF sessions; but as was soon clear, there is still lots to sort out. In fact, the next effort at a common stance has likewise proved stickier than one might have thought:
One of the main charges against the “liberal” meetings in the recent troubles was that they have affirmed LGBT persons and relationships, including same sex marriage. And indeed, some have, and have said so in public.
But not all, and not all in the same way. Still, now that they were out from under the purge effort, it was proposed at an early meeting, last May, that they adopt an anti-discrimination policy which would cover issues of sexual preference and identity.
It seemed that everyone was for this. And yet, as of the end of September, no such statement had been settled on.
First, there was a jurisdictional point: in keeping with the principle of autonomy, any such policy would apply only to NCFF corporate actions, committees or staff. Otherwise, it would override local meeting autonomy and thus open the door to top-down rule.
A draft was brought in to the September 23 session. It stated:
“The North Carolina Fellowship of Friends (NCFF) is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment for all member monthly meetings, churches, affiliated organizations, and individual members. NCFF will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in any of its activities, ministries, or employment. Additionally, NCFF will take affirmative action measures to ensure against discrimination.”
But rather than approval, this was met with a request that it be redrafted, and put in the form of a (Traditional Quaker?) query. Behind such moves, there are typically unspoken questions and hesitations. What might those be here? One could easily think of several:
First, there could be meetings not entirely on board with the idea.
Something similar happened way back in 1827, when Philadelphia Yearly Meeting divided into Hicksite & Orthodox factions. Many of the new Hicksite leaders, branded “liberals” by opponents, were no such thing; they were actually quite traditional Friends, who were simply fed up with the domineering behavior of the entrenched Orthodox establishment. Otherwise, they wanted to keep their new group almost exactly the same, but with different faces (mainly theirs) at the top.
When it soon turned out that a growing number among the Hicksite rank and file actually did harbor some “liberal” ideas about theology and practice, these leaders were generally horrified, and much internal turmoil ensued.)
There’s no question that among some meetings in NCFF, there is a definite libertarian streak, which led them out of the authoritarian camp. But this does not necessarily mean they share all the culturally progressive social attitudes of the more openly liberal groups.
Further, even for those who agree with an anti-discrimination stance in principle, there are questions of how best to state it, what it should include, and how, if at all, it is to be enforced.
Again, there was not exactly controversy about this proposal, but the draft will be tweaked some more and another version is supposed to be offered in a January session.
The extended discussion over the “Identity” and “anti-discrimination” statements underline the reality of diversity within the NCFF constituency in yet another way. There are those in the group who seem to imagine that NCFF can be more or less a duplicate of the old NCYM, only with some softer edges, and friendlier to LGBT people. (Remember the traditionalist Hicksites!)
This old model comes down to corporate-style evangelism: the YM collects money (and some volunteer labor) from members; hires and trains staff to be pastors, and to organize and run “ministries”, which center on “missions,” some far away, some nearby. The goal of all is multiplication: new members, new pastors, new “ministries,” new churches, new YMs. And the mode is top-down.
But others in NCFF with their strong libertarian streak, staunchly oppose anything like a clone; they want a bottom-up rethinking of the structure. Their model, though more intuitive than clearly laid out, is flat, non-corporate and congregational — meeting centered and volunteer-staffed. The central structures would be minimalist and non-directive, as described in the Identity draft: cooperative, driven by leadings and concerns, not by a hand-me-down roster of standing committees from the old NCYM Faith & Practice. (Most of the liberal YMs in the U.S. follow this pattern; so, to a large extent, does NCYM- Conservative.)
Let common NCFF efforts, they argue, arise, be financed and driven by the active concerns of those at the bottom, and be project-centered. Let local meetings handle their own affairs to the maximum degree. Let NCFF focus on facilitating (not leading) grassroots initiatives and cooperation. (Really, it’s not a new idea.)
NCFF is likely to be best at promoting fellowship among the meetings and members. It will make its first attempt at that with a day-long “All Friends Gathering” on November 11 in Greensboro NC, on the theme, “Recognizing the New.”
But what about pastors? Here some very tricky issues emerge: for more than a century, the old NCYM was a pastor-centered structure, both in its central activities, and in the monthly meetings. As can be demonstrated by a comparison with NCYM-Conservative, the church culture and institutional paraphernalia is quite different without pastors.
Furthermore, there can be little doubt that the centrality and activity of pastors fed much of the old NCYM’s pathologies, and chronically exacerbated points of conflict. For instance, most pastors withseminary training obtained it in evangelical or even fundamentalist institutions, with militantly anti-liberal outlooks.
Further, in the past several decades, a succession of abrasive controversies in NCYM centered in the Recording Committee, substantially undermining its credibility. Factions there repeatedly attacked pastoral candidates for purported heresies, particularly anything that could be put under the headings of “liberalism: or “universalism.” (A sample of one of the uglier persecutions, that of the late pastor Willie Frye, is here. )
But at least one former member of the Recording Committee suggested that one could now be run efficiently and tolerantly by NCFF, presumably because the militantly evangelical sectarians wouldn’t be there. And this message was heard in the “temporary committee” on the Recording (and Care) of Gifts Ministry,” which reported discussion of the idea that
There may be a need for a standing committee in NCFoF. It was noted that NCYM had four committees: Recording, Pastoral Care, Pastor-Meeting Relations, and Christian Vocation, and that a NCFF Committee, possibly under the name of “Ministry and Vocation” could provide resources to Monthly Meetings in all four areas formerly covered by NCYM committees.
But there was strong pushback against this idea (and some, to be candid, came from me.) The counterclaim was that the NCYM Recording Committee’s problems were less individual than systemic, and NCFF would be better served to have no such committee at all.
Why not? Because there would always be potential points of difference about pastors; personality clashes could be (and have been) as divisive as doctrinal differences. Further, the very role envisioned for this new committee, overseeing “vocational discernment, accountability groups, continuing education opportunities, mentor partnerships, and counseling resources,” etc. would make it a key steppingstone to, and element of, top-down rule.
Instead, it was proposed to make recording a congregational matter: those meetings which want pastors can have them. And they can record them, hire and fire, and provide pay and benefits. The pastor is their employee; let her or him be their business. And let pastors who want “accountability groups” and the like organize them informally.
Yet this shift of emphasis was very new in this group, maybe shocking to some. Most of their meetings have had pastors for generations; most of those have been vetted through the old NCYM Recording Committee (some with scars to prove it).
And many Friends sensed a truth here: moving pastoral matters to local meetings will alter the congregational and associational culture. Pastoral yearly meetings, as is evident in FCNC, are pastor-centered. If pastoral relations move to meetings, that system will be, to some extent, de-centered. Some may not like that. The discussion is far from finished.
But the issue is important, and I would contend, crucial. If NCFF’s operating principle is indeed to be congregational autonomy, this is where the rubber will meet the road. Those familiar with the non-pastoral, unprogrammed yearly meetings can testify that the group culture is different without a guild of full-time paid “professionals” at its center, whose paychecks and job tenure are in the body’s hands.
Moreover, the membership base for supporting Quaker pastors is shrinking, in NCFF, FCNC, elsewhere in U.S. Quakerdom, and in many other American denominations. More and more congregations will soon be obliged to give up pastors, at least as a full-time proposition. (In the old NCYM, both a YM-sponsored insurance and pension plan collapsed due to this shrinkage.)
How different can it get? In the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest U. S. Protestant denomination), “bivocational” pastors — pastors who work a full-time secular job, and do ministry work “on the side” — are already the “new normal,” i.e. a majority. For that matter, the American Catholic church has seen a sharp decline in the number of priests as well, even while attendance has been increasing overall.
Pastoral-nonpastoral: I don’t insist that one system is intrinsically better, though I have my preference. The key point, rather, is that NCFF is setting out to encompass what is likely to be a growing variety of arrangements; some meetings with full-time pastors; some part-time; some without. In which case, the main responsibility for meeting staff ought to rest in the meetings which will be paying them and making the personnel decisions, including recording.
As noted earlier, propping up that old pastoral system is alreadythe top operational priority for the Friends Church of NC, and frankly, it looks like an uphill slog. Since its pastors’ jobs are subject to the same erosion as the Baptists and those in other larger denominations, it’s easy to imagine that the burden on the central structure will grow over time.
As tensions fed by these changes increase, internal stress will also deepen. Indeed I believe something like this has just played out in the fracturing and disappearance of NCYM. For the health of NCFF, this dynamic should be kept off its agenda.
The morale in NCFF sessions has so far been more upbeat than the torpor of FCNC. But it’s early; and just as FCNC is vulnerable to internal differences even without the despised liberals, NCFF’s discussions could run into crosscurrents of rancor. And my guess is that the fate and centrality of pastoralism will be the most ticklish item for it to figure out.
What’s the alternative? We have just witnessed it: last year there were two NCYMs; one had long carried the burden of the pastoral system at its center; the other didn’t.