Category Archives: Quaker Theology

Re-Re-Re-Inventing The Wheel: 170 Years of “Convergent” Quakerism

Re-Re-Re-Inventing The Wheel: 170 Years of “Convergent” Quakerism

With a few exceptions, many of the most important pieces of American Quaker history since before the Civil War have not yet been well-studied or written up.
One of the biggest pieces that’s missing, in my view, is a close look at the long, occasionally successful, but very often tortured record of intra-Quaker ecumenical efforts.Hicks-Leopard-Youthquake-CLR Continue reading Re-Re-Re-Inventing The Wheel: 170 Years of “Convergent” Quakerism

Lunch With the Anti-Christ at Western Quarterly Meeting

Lunch With the Anti-Christ at Western Quarterly Meeting
(& With David Koresh & Jim Jones for Dessert)

There were some remarkable visitors at the session of Western Quarter in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) on May 9.

Among them were: “false prophets,” others working “in the spirit of the Antichrist,” and not least, potential reincarnations of cult leaders David Koresh and Jim Jones.

Anti-christ-Hot-wings

Continue reading Lunch With the Anti-Christ at Western Quarterly Meeting

Baltimore Friends School Blows It

Baltimore Friends School Blows It

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

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

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

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

Ryan-Anderson-2
Ryan Anderson, of the Heritage Foundation — And Baltimore Friends School.

 

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

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

matt-micciche-BFS
Matt Micciche, Head of Baltimore Friends School.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it was this week at Baltimore Friends School.

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

In his own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Doug Gwyn’s Startling New Look At Liberal Quakerism

Book Review: Doug Gwyn’s Startling New Look At Liberal Quakerism

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

Reviewed by Chuck Fager

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

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

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

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

Review: A Convergent Model of Renewal

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

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

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

Daniels-CVR-3B

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

New Report: “Quaker Thunder In Carolina”

A Preview of the forthcoming issue of “Quaker Theology is now online
It features “Thunder In Carolina,” a major report on the situation in NCYM-FUM, in which an evangelical faction is attempting to force a purge of “liberal/universalist” meetings, and a showdown is imminent. The report was written by Chuck Fager, Editor of the journal “Quaker Theology.”
This journal has been reporting on various controversies in Friends yearly meetings almost imagesince its inception in 1999.

Continue reading New Report: “Quaker Thunder In Carolina”

The Appeal of Quakerism to The Non-Mystic

The Appeal of Quakerism to the Non-Mystic

Can you be a Quaker in  the 21st century (especially a Liberal one), and not be a mystic?

Yes. And that’s been true for a LONG time. A century ago, in 1916, a noted British Friend made this case (but he was not the first or the last) in a striking pamphlet that unfortunately is little-known today.

To help relieve this work’s obscurity, we present it here; just click on the title below.

Take it away, William!

Littleboy-Appeal-of-Quakerism-to-the-Non-Mystic

Is A Baptist Style Bust-Up Coming to North Carolina Quakerism?

I’m reading a history of Baptists in Alabama, and it’s tough going. After several days, I’m only as far as 1850. Yet the book is well-written, the story often absorbing; so what’s the trouble?

This: almost every paragraph evokes parallels to current events in North Carolina Yearly Meeting of pastoral Quakers.

Continue reading Is A Baptist Style Bust-Up Coming to North Carolina Quakerism?