It didn’t look or feel like lighting the fuse to a load of dynamite.
But that’s what West Richmond Friends Meeting in Indiana did in June 2008 when they added a minute to their website.
They placed the post without fanfare. But the fuse, once lit, sputtered and flashed for several years, and the ultimate explosion blew up a yearly meeting that was nearing its 200th anniversary.
A new book, Indiana Trainwreck, is the first to tell the story. West Richmond’s 2008 minute announced that the group had “reached unity” on supporting full inclusion of LGBT persons, concluding to do so was in harmony with their best understanding of the Bible, the thrust of Quaker/Christian history & witness, and the will of God.
News of West Richmond’s minute soon reached the leadership of Indiana Yeatly Meeting, the regional association of which West Richmond was a member. And they soon sent word to the group that they wanted the minute removed from West Richmond’s website.
The meeting pondered this demand, prayed over it, and declined to comply; the minute stayed.
In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, areckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.
Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker. More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.
But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one. Continue reading A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?→
In 2010, after eight years at Quaker House, I couldn’t recall ever seeing an article in our local paper, the Fayetteville Observer, that was affirmative of GLBT issues, or in particular, supported the repeal of the military’s repressive “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which since 1994 had pushed gay troops into the closet or out of the services..
This doesn’t mean the paper was a font of homophobic verbiage; but when anti-gay articles did appear, they usually went unanswered.
That silence was consistent with the general atmosphere of the community. Racial integration has been the policy of the military for sixty years, and federal law for almost fifty; racism still exists here, but it skulks in corners and speaks publicly in code. Mixed families in mixed neighborhoods are everyday.
Homophobia was another matter. I was acquainted with a number of gays and lesbians there, some who were quite active in the community. But there was no visible gay presence in the city. No “Gay Pride Day,” no vocal organizations, and the gay bars kept a very low profile. It was the most closeted city I had lived in.
Hence when a homophobic Op-Ed appeared in the Observer in the Spring of 2010, praising “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the chances were that it too would go unanswered. That commentary, by retired Chaplain Ronald Crews, is excerpted below, for context.
This communal closeting had long been a burden to me, and after reading Crews, I decided to speak up for my own convictions, and perhaps those of some others who did not feel safe to speak.
My Op-Ed response was published in the Observer on June 3.
As advocacy goes, it was pretty mild. That reflected an effort to take the immediate audience into account.
Here’s a report written in 1977 (on a typewriter; imagine!), just after the Wichita Conference of Friends in the Americas in late June 1977. The gathering included all the branches, and it was when the issue of LG Friends (BT&Qs weren’t listed yet) burst onto the national Quaker agenda, where it has stayed ever since.
I didn’t go there to cover the event. As a rookie attending his first ever national Quaker event, I wanted more to socialize than do journalistic work. I had saved up to pay the fees and busfare, to avoid work-related distractions.
I should have known better.
1977 was the year for articles on gay rights controversies: Miami-Dade County, Florida adopted a pioneering gay rights ordinance, which sparked a widely reported repeal crusade led by singer and orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant.
None of this was on the official agenda at Wichita when I rolled out my sleeping bag on the floor of the gymnasium at Friends University, where we low-budget attenders did our best to sleep. (That’s also where I got kicked in the head a couple times in the dark, presumably by accident.)
May 24 was (Authentic) Religious Liberty Day (at least it was here), but the Administration has some strange ideas about how to mark it. Like: turn it upside down & inside out.
That day it releaseda proposed federal rule that would deny transgender persons many of the medical benefits and legal protections they gained in the Obama years. The proposal is one more chapter in the continuing drive to roll back just about everything the previous administration achieved or initiated. (Full text of the proposed rule is here.)
The Separation Generation, by Chuck Fager
A detailed summary of the five schisms that have rocked American Quakerdom in this century (so far), with an early assessment of their significance.
Imminence, Rootedness, and Realism: Eschapocalyptic
Action (or not) in the Age of Trump, by r. scot miller.
An effort to construct the elements of a 21st century Quaker theology, turning to such largely untapped sources as Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr.
A sermonDeliveredby Lucretia Mott, at Yardleyville.
Bucks Co., Pa., Sept. 26, 1858, by Lucretia Mott
A contrasting Quaker theological vision, advanced by one of the most influential (but unheralded) American theological voices the Society has produced. Presented 160 years ago, this vision is still keenly relevant, hotly disputed, and its author still largely unrecognized as the theological giant she was.
In the Northwest, the new Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends (SCYMF) is deep into its first round of recording ministers.
Five Friends have asked to be recorded. Their names & descriptions are being republished in the YM’s weekly news bulletin, for a60-day period of“Public Comment” on their candidacies, to be followed by further discernment.
I won’t speak here of any of these individuals; I’m not really familiar with them, and this post is about policy, not personalities.
As for the policy, I wish SCYMF was considering in depth not only whether some individuals ought to be recorded as ministers, but first the wisdom of having such a category in their yearly meeting at all.
Sierra Cascades began taking shape in early 2017, after several meetings in Northwest YM were deemed “liberal” (or insufficiently evangelical), particularly on LGBT and related issues, and were abruptly booted out. (Steve Angell and I reported on the buildup to these expulsions in Quaker Theology –Issues #24, #27, #28, #30-31 & #33.)
For several months, participants in the group of banished meetings informally referred to it as “Our New Thing,”and there was an air of discovery and reinvention to the messages from its initial proceedings. Yet as it prepares for its second annual session, some familiar outlines have appeared.
For ten summers, 1984-1994, I led workshops on “The Basics of Bible Study” for the Friends General Conference Gatherings. They were lively and well-attended, highly rated on evaluations.
Putting my thoughts together for it, I produced a handbook. The title was “A Respondent Spark,”which was taken from a quote from Robert Barclay’s early Quaker theological treatise, “The Apology for the True Christian Divinity”:
“In the Scriptures God has deemed it proper to give us a looking glass in which we can see the conditions and experiences of ancient believers. There we find that our experience is analogous to theirs….
This is the great work of the Scriptures, and their usefulness to us. They find a respondent spark in us, and in that way we discern the stamp of God’s ways and his Spirit upon them. We know this from inward acquaintance we have with the same Spirit and his work in our hearts….
Nevertheless, because they are only a declaration of the fountain and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate, primary rule of faith and manners. Yet…they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule…for… according to the Scriptures the Spirit is the first and principal Leader.” [Emphasis added
I’ve had some requests to see this handbook, and have resurrected it from my hard drive as a PDF. It is located here, and can be freely downloaded.
I’m conscious of its limitations: I’m not a trained Bible scholar; and the text is several laps behind recent biblical scholarship. Even so, there are some ideas in it which may be of continuing relevance.
Certainly the sections in it introducing the work of literalist biblical interpretations, and some of the nefarious ways these ideas were then being put to work in our society and politics are not obsolete. Some of the names are different, but the key issues are much the same.
For that matter, some of the names are much the same too: I wrote about Jerry Falwell’s so-called “Moral Majority” and its [mis]use of the Bible. There’s still a Jerry Falwell at work today, but his view of the Bible as a political battering ram is not much different from that of his late father. And then there’s Franklin Graham; lord help us.
Still the book was not and is not about politics, except incidentally and when it’s unavoidable. (Alas, there was too much of that unavoidable stuff going around these days; and in these days too; sorry.).The book’s main goal was to answer a query:
Is This the Book For You?
This brief handbook is for certain kinds of people:
First, people who don’t know much about the bible, but think they would like to.
Second, it is for people who are independent-minded, and prefer to form their own judgments rather than simply accept the pronouncements of a traditional authority, no matter how venerable.
Third, it is for those who have a high tolerance for ambiguity because, as we shall see, one thing the Bible doesn’t offer is easy, automatic, simple answers.
This book is also for people who want a practical approach. There is, of course, much more to this subject than could possibly fit into these few pages; but it is my hope that when you have finished it, and become familiar with the tools it describes, you will be able to pick up the Bible, begin to make sense of what you read, know where to get more information about it, and not be afraid of following your leadings about its meaning wherever they may lead.
Beyond the personal benefits it offers, the ability to find your way around in the Bible is of particular value these days, when groups who claim to have the exclusive, true understanding of Scripture are running around attempting to impose their understanding on everyone else, or else.
I happen to think that these groups are mostly wrong, especially about what the Bible means. But I don’t think their efforts can be effectively blunted except by people prepared to meet them on their own ground, that is on the basis of knowing something about what the Bible says and how to figure out what the text means.
So if you’re wondering about Bible study, give it a whirl. Did I mention that it’s a FREE download? No registering, no information sought, no facial recognition, and I won’t sell your data. (Some web prowlers might come and snatch it; but can’t help that.)
If you’re interested, check it out, and I welcome feedback.
In its September 20 issue, Christianity Todaymagazine [aka CT] reported that Azusa Pacific University, or APU (a southern California school that evangelical Quakers founded), had changed its behavioral rules to permit same sex “romantic” relationships (if they did not include sex; APU forbids sex to all outside marriage, and does not recognize same sex marriage). The shift was featured in a September 18 APU blog post with this graphic header: