Category Archives: Signs of the Times

LGBTs & Western Evangelical Quakers: A Reflection

LGBTs & Western Evangelical Quakers: A Reflection

Stephen Angell is Associate Editor of the journal Quaker Theology, and in  his day job Professor of Quaker Studies at Earlham School of Religion. He wrote an extensive report for the journal’s current issue on the ongoing controversies over LGBT issues at George Fox University and in Northwest Yearly Meeting. This struggle has resulted in the expulsion of one Meeting and loud protests from several others, and many individual Friends there. 

Based in Indiana, Steve reported extensively on the recent schism in Indiana Yearly Meeting. But a major project centered in Oregon, Washington & Idaho was not on his agenda when last summer opened. In the first part of this conversation, we look at how he came to report on how an evangelical Quaker college dealt with a transgender student.

Steve-Angell Continue reading LGBTs & Western Evangelical Quakers: A Reflection

Norman Morrison: November 2, 1965

Norman Morrison: November 2, 1965

50 years ago, November 2, 1965, Norman Morrison, a Quaker from Baltimore, drove to the Pentagon, and walked across its broad lawns to a spot very near the office of Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. McNamara was busy making decisions to expand the burgeoning U.S. war in Vietnam, a war that Morrison despised.

Morrison-Headline

In one arm Morrison carried his daughter, Emily, age 11 months; in the other, a wine jug.
He opened the jug, poured the contents over himself, and lit a match.
The jug was full of kerosene. The flames shot into the air. Norman Morrison quickly burned to death. Emily was unharmed.

Continue reading Norman Morrison: November 2, 1965

Exclusive Interview: CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou — Part 3

Exclusive Interview With CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou — Part 3 of 3

[John Kiriakou will visit North Carolina October 27-29. As background for the visit, we conducted this email conversation. The Prelude is here.  Part One is here.  Part Two is here.]

AFL: Besides telling of some pretty hair-raising “derring do” and anti-terrorist actions, you wrote very favorably overall in your book, The Reluctant Spy,  about the CIA (calling it “THE CIA” marks me as an outsider, yes?), and most of the people you worked with and for. I wonder if, in the years since, given what you’ve been through since, that estimate has evolved any?

john_kiriakou_shetterly-painting
A portrait of John Kiriakou that is part of a series, “Americans Who Tell The Truth,” by Robert Shetteerly. For more about the series, go here: http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org

John Kiriakou: I still believe that the CIA is full of many brave and dedicated patriots who want nothing more than to protect the country.  Continue reading Exclusive Interview: CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou — Part 3

CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou: Interview – Part 1

CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou: Exclusive Interview – Part 1

[Read the Prelude, from John’s book The Reluctant Spy, here.]

AFL: John, can we start with a quick background sketch? I gather you’re of immigrant Greek heritage, and grew up in southwest Pennsylvania. From there you made your way into a CIA in 1990 which was long widely regarded as almost iconically WASP and old-family. Was that era over by the time you got there?

Kiriakou-n-CIA-logoJohn Kiriakou: Hello, Chuck!  Great questions.  I’m very happy to answer them.  I’m in Athens right now, working with the Greek government to craft a new whistleblower protection law. I have a nice block of time open this morning, so I thought I’d start writing. Here goes: Continue reading CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou: Interview – Part 1

“Have You Given Up Bottled Water?” Um, No. Why Not? (See Below.)

 “Have You Given Up Bottled Water?” Um, No. Why Not? (See Below.)

“Chuck,” wrote a FB friend this weekend, “this one is for you. Or have you already given up bottled water?

“This” was a short rant from a site called “Gizmodo” entitled,  “Stop Drinking Bottled Water,” by Alissa Walker. From the jump, Walker lays her cards on the table: 

Rumor-BW-not-cause“There are few things on this planet I hate more than bottled water,” she declares. “Just the crinkling sound of someone wrapping their mouth around one of those squeaky garbage accordions fills me with rage. I stopped drinking it a long time ago—and you should stop drinking it, too. . . .”

I won’t keep my FB friend who sent this — or anyone else — in suspense here: 

NO, I have not “given up” bottled water. In fact, nowadays I drink almost nothing else, especially at home.

Why is that? For much the same reasons that a recent article in “The Week” magazine about bottled water gave for the rapid growth in its consumption, notwithstanding all the hate-mongering against it:

“Between 1990 and 1997 . . . annual U.S. bottled water sales jumped from $115 million to $4 billion, thanks largely to public concern about obesity and water contamination.”

Bottled-Water-growth-Chart
Bottled water: going UP; Soda: going DOWN; the Twain Are About to Meet. This is a big deal, and I like it.Obesity & contamination. An uphill slog against the former, and deepening concern about the latter; that’s me.

Obesity & contamination. An uphill slog against the former, and deepening concern about the latter; that’s me.

It’s also reporter John Lingan, summarizing many gallons of industry data. And while the trend he pointed to has had bumps, its overall growth is undeniable:

“Bottled water is poised to overtake soda as America’s foremost commercial drink within the next year. Americans drank 10.9 billion gallons of it in 2014, a 7.3 percent increase over 2013. ” 

Lingan’s report was recently confirmed in “The Decline of Big Soda,” in the New York Times.

And you know what? I think this shift is a GOOD thing.  

Hog-waste-billboard-Raise-A-Stink
A North Carolina hog waste water-pollution billboard.

Why? Here, I’m going to skip rehashing the data and arguments  gathered in my previous articles, and point curious readers to them. These include my 2009 “Classic”, the many-times re-posted & linked-to “Top Ten reasons Why Bottled Water Is a Blessing.”   

Regarding the tap water contamination concerns, let me point out to those at a distance that I live in the state with the second largest hog-raising industry, which produces hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic stew, stored aboveground in many thousands of ponds, which leak in to groundwater, spill over into rivers, and jump their banks in gales. (And can anybody spell :”fracking”?) Personally I think it’s nuts not to worry about public water contamination. Nor am I alone in this view.

But I can also point to a more prestigious source, a series of shocking, stunning, mind-bending (and utterly neglected) investigative pieces called “Toxic Waters,” also  in the New York Times. Just the headlines are enough to make one queasy: “Millions in U.S. Drink Dirty Water”; “Tap water often tainted but ‘legal’; and more.

Dirty-drinking-Water-nyt
Contaminated drinking water samples from a California public water system. Photo from the NY Times.

Evidently Gizmodo hasn’t seen this work, or has disregarded it. Certainly it doesn’t hold Alissa Walker back:

“Drinking municipal tap water means connecting yourself to your local water system, where the goals are to think holistically about the conservation of natural resources, replenish local aquifers, and build a resilient infrastructure to distribute water to the public.”

Really? If these municipal systems are all so holistically wonderful, what was the New York Times writing –fiction? Or how about this additional report, done for the National Institutes of Health? It’s entitled, “Risk of waterborne illness via drinking water in the United States,” and concludes that “The total estimated number of waterborne illnesses/yr in the U.S. is . . . estimated to be 19.5 M/yr.” 

In this last sentence, “M” stands for million. That’s 19 million illnesses per year, from public drinking water.

By contrast, Walker insists that 

“Drinking bottled water means colluding with a corporation which is not required to release any public information about how it plans to cut costs, exploit workers, dig wells, or employ a fossil-fueled supply chain in its quest to get a bottle of overpriced water into your hands.”

She’s right that bottled water companies should be pressured to be more forthcoming with data and access; and their facilities inspected more often (Tho their safety record overall is quite good).

Nonetheless, my main hope here is that Alissa Walker can get some help for her water rage issues. Because my own explorations suggest to me a long list of things to be more enraged about (which I’ll spare you), while bottled water looks ever more benign.

To a small extent, Walker’s water-rage outbursts are understandable because she lives in drought-stricken California, Los Angeles to be specific. There “rage and hate” at bottled water among certain bien pensant circles has been carefully nurtured by the anti-bottled water campaigners. Special vituperation has been aimed at the several BW companies that are still (legally) taking water out of the ground there and selling it.

Some seem to regard this water bottling as a main source of all the state’s massive water woes. The industry evidently makes an easy target as the yards around LA turn ever browner.

But this charge is absolutely not correct. Not even close.

In fact, as I discovered and reported here some months back, bottled water makes up only a nano-tiny, infinitesimal, doesn’t-even-move-the-needle part of the state’s unimaginable (38 billion gallons every day) water consumption. Getting rid of all bottled water there would do nothing useful about easing the drought. 

M-nM-Green-Villain
One of the REAL culprits in the California water crunch: Big Almonds, Inc. One gallon of water PER nut here. (Chocolate not included.)

Instead, Alissa Walker’s barely controllable “hate” would be much more accurately and usefully directed at pressuring the state’s almond industry; because it takes a gallon of water to grow one single almond; the nuts use up as much as ten percent of the state’s entire water usage. (That’s a truly mind-boggling figure, which I say with regret, as an almond aficionado; but beside it,  bottled water is barely a drop in the bucket.) Add in the rest of California agriculture, and there you are: two-thirds of California water (about 26 billion gallons a day) goes to feed the rest of us. 

Anyway, moving back from California to the U.S. overall, the upshot here is that widespread public water contamination, plus a shift away from fattening and chemical-loaded soda and related sweetened stuff, accounts for the growth in national bottled water consumption, as well as my personal loyalty to it. If this seems worse than most war crimes to Walker and Gizmodo, so be it; but its growth looks quite reasonable to me.

alissa-walker
Alissa Walker, while not thinking about bottled water. Photo by Ryan Essmaker.

And Alissa Walker’s rage and hate don’t connect well with either the causes of California’s drought (global warming? Divine vengeance on Disney and Hollywood? Voting Democrat?) or its meaningful policy remedies (taking on that political powerhouse, Big Almonds, and the even more fearsome Big Broccoli; which sounds funny but is not a joke.) Nor does it establish the iniquity of bottled water as an industry or a consumer item.

Pondering the Buzzfeed rant, I was struck by the fact that, beyond the undeniable fact that the water bottlers are for-profit companies, Walker provides no references to back up her charges of all the other iniquities the piece alleges. I wondered how, minus the evidence, we were supposed to take the piece seriously?

Wonderment increased when I googled up an interview/profile of her on another site. Turns out Walker’s educational background is in journalism and advertising, unsullied (like her article) by in-depth exposure to matters scientific. She recalls her professional epiphany thus:

“I very clearly remember walking out to the Mediterranean, sitting on the beach and playing with the rocks, and thinking, ‘This is what I was meant to do: I was meant to tell stories, talk about places, and walk around all day.’”

Which, she says, is what she does, having among other things given up cars. Moreover, she summarized her work at Gizmodo thus:

“I wake up at 6am, start working around 7am, write three or four articles, and end work at 4pm. My title at Gizmodo is Urbanism Editor, so that’s mostly what I focus on, but I write about a million other things, too.”

To be frank, her piece that was re-posted on my Facebook page reads exactly like that: one item among several churned out in standard click-bait mode during one such work shift. (Gizmodo brags that it attracts a hundred million  page views per month; that may be fine for business, but I’m not the first to notice that such frenetic content factories are often more like Chinese baby food factories when it comes to actual research and hard data.)

The upshot here is that, while bottled water sends Alissa Walker and Gizmodo over the edge, her rant about it doesn’t move my needle much.

But it is driving me to drink 

Except not soda or beer.

Come here, you squeaky garbage accordion. Let’s do the crinkle crinkle again.

PS. One of the best meditations on water issues I ever saw was a light-hearted but hardly lightweight sonnet penned in 1962 by the late great Quaker social scientist and systems thinker, Kenneth Boulding. Here it is:

Ode, on the General Subject of Water

Water is far from a simple commodity,
Water’s a sociological oddity.
Water’s a pasture for science to forage in,
Water’s a mark of our dubious origin.

Water’s a link with a distant futurity,
Water’s a symbol of ritual purity,
Water is politics, water’s religion,
Water is just about anyone’s pigeon.

Water is frightening, water’s endearing,
Water’s a lot more than mere engineering,
Water is tragical, water is comical,
Water is far from the Pure Economical.

So studies of water, though free of aridity,
Are apt to produce a good deal of turbidity. 

An Interview: Is North Carolina YM Out of the Woods? Or Not?

An Interview: Is North Carolina YM Out of the Woods? Or Not?

Chuck Fager is the Editor of the twice-yearly journal, Quaker Theology, which has just published a new issue (#27). In it is a major update article about the struggle in North Carolina Yearly Meeting-FUM.  Here the Editor is interviewed by the blogger behind “A Friendly Letter,” who also happens to be Chuck Fager.

Q. So there’s an updated report in the new Quaker Theology issue, about North Carolina Yearly Meeting (FUM) and its recent struggles. 

A. That’s right. It’s available now. And you can read it online too, here.

Cover-Front-Hayti-Angel-CVR-QT-27-Front Continue reading An Interview: Is North Carolina YM Out of the Woods? Or Not?

The Day I Didn’t Help Bury Bobby Kennedy

A Facebook Friend said he was writing something about the death of RFK (Bobby Kennedy), and did I have any thoughts or memories? Here’s what came up:

 When RFK was killed, June 6, 1968, I was in suburban DC with my first wife & 3 buddies, working on a book about the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). It was planned to be a pictures-and-text thing; everyone else was a photographer; I was the writer.

bobbys-grave-june-68 Continue reading The Day I Didn’t Help Bury Bobby Kennedy

Quakers & Membership: The Ifs, Ands, & Butts

Quakers & Membership: The If, Ands, & Butts

Did you know?

American churchgoers lie about how often they go to church.

It’s a fact. Americans LIE about going to church. They (we) lie habitually; we lie ecumenically; we lie shamelessly; and we lie on the record.

In the classic studies, researchers first polled people from carefully selected churches, and 50 per cent said they attended church weekly. Then the pollsters compared this with actual Sunday head counts in the same churches, which showed that only half of those who claimed to be there actually showed up. These results have been replicated numerous times.

BITS-image

Which means that for every “churchgoer” telling the truth, another was lying. 

Let’s keep this result in mind when talking about Quaker membership statistics. Because some more needs to be said about them.

A few readers have pointed out that, in my 09/28/2015 post on how North Carolina YM-FUM has been losing members dramatically while Baltimore YM next door has been steadily growing, the measurements were not precisely equivalent. 

The BYM total of “around 7000” cited by its interim General Secretary included both attenders and members, while NCYM’s 6500 numbers were supposedly members only. 

The key term here, I think, is “precisely.” Recent Quaker membership statistics, in my experience as a reporter/researcher, are anything but precise.

Quaker-Birth-RecordMany historians feel differently about Quaker numbers during the first, say, 200 years: Friends’ record-keeping regarding births, deaths, transfers, disownments, and so forth, are regarded by many scholars as meticulous and highly reliable.

And who am I to question these worthies? 

But that was then.

Nowadays, what do we find?

That Quakers today fit right in with the pattern established by denominations that are much larger (but not, it seems, as large as they claim). Indeed, working with Friends’ records moves me to revise the old saw from my peacenik days at Quaker House in Fayetteville/Fort Bragg: 

“There’s lies, damned lies, statistics, Pentagon cost estimates — and bringing up the rear, Quaker membership numbers.”

This goes not only for the utterly fanciful data presented by FWCC about foreign yearly meetings in countries where census figures are chronically unreliable. It also applies to reports from meetings in the supposedly high-tech first world setting of Baltimore YM and NCYM-FUM.

And let’s not stop there. In communication with Bob Rhudy, the interim General Secretary for Baltimore YM, I learned that other YMs grapple with even bigger gaps than average. In Philadelphia (PYM), for instance, where the official number is around 11,000, PYM staff recently instituted a periodic practice which I call the BITS survey. 

BITS stands for Butts In The Seats: several First Days a year, PYM sends visitors to meetings for the BITS survey; the BITS counts butts.

And compared to the “OP” (On Paper) tally of 11,000, the BITS butt count has yielded a deflating, or more charitably, humbling tally of about 3000 living, reliable participants for PYM, barely a quarter of the “official” number.

Butts-NOT-In-The-SeatsWhy the huge discrepancies? A variety of factors: recordkeeping by volunteers, who are very rarely get around to the laborious chore of “cleaning a list,” removing all who are dead, comatose, in their second quarter-century of living across the country, or have been sojourning with The Church of The Sunday Paper since 1987. 

Further, in some YMs, that’s not to mention “birthright” Friends who are on the list because their parents (and maybe several sets of grandparents) were on it, and out at the burial ground, some are still in it.

Even more delicate: what about meetings where whole battalions of Friends, who were made “Junior Members” at birth, were supposed to confirm their membership at 21 — except they never bothered, and now they (or the survivors) are in their 40s, and the Clerks are way too timid to actually, you know, seek them out and ask them to fish or cut bait. (Plus, in many liberal meetings, the entire notion of “membership” itself is increasingly suspect — a total can of worms.)

I also remember one year when the membership of Baltimore YM, after steadily rising for more than a decade, suddenly dipped by over a hundred. Good grief, I thought, when I saw the number: what have we here? An unacknowledged schism? A raid by Zen Buddhist privateers? A dreadful epidemic?

Nothing so dramatic. The largest monthly meeting had simply nominated a recording Clerk who actually DID go over the membership list and culled out the dead, the de-converted, and the decamped. (Actual, you know, attendance had hardly budged, I was assured.) The following year, the numbers climb resumed.

What does a humble scribe/blogger do in the face of such uncertain and unreliable data? The answer is relatively simple, if not very “precise”: one attends meetings, especially annual sessions, over a number of years, reads many reports and gathers impressions, then considers the recorded numbers as part of the mix. 

In this jumbled mass of “data,” one looks above all for trends: to use an analogy, if we lack reliable instruments for judging the precise depth of our various Quaker “ponds,” we can still hope to get a pretty plausible bead on whether their water level is rising, or falling. 

And that’s what I have done with BYM and NCYM-FUM: attended them collectively close to forty times. Read many minutes and reports, absorbed lots of numbers.

And while the figures might be “imprecise,” vulnerable to flunking the BITS test — well, the trend, I still believe, is unmistakable: Baltimore is growing, its morale is pretty good; NCYM has been shrinking, and its morale is, um, challenged.

To be sure, within these overall patterns, there are some meetings bucking the trends, growing in NCYM or declining in Baltimore. But overall, I stand by my sense of the trends.

As to what accounts for the rising tide in Baltimore, and the drying up in NCYM, that’s a rich subject, but trickier: harder to nail down, and it elicits more debate.  We’ll get to it another time.

Meantime, will Quaker membership records ever regain their old-time precision and credibility? 

I’m doubtful. For one thing, in those “simpler” times, before Social Security and Medicare, membership records were very important credentials for those in need. And when communities were smaller and scattered, they were much like passports and could even be a kind of credit card.

Today? Regardless of how various yearly meetings tally their members/participants, in almost fifty years among Friends, visiting them in three other countries too, I’ve taken many private BITS counts. But I can’t recall ever meeting a Quaker with a “membership card,” of any kind.

But there’s much of Quakerdom I haven’t visited, so maybe I missed it: is there any yearly meeting today populated by “card-carrying” Quakers?  If so, please tell me about it.

– – – – – – – –

For Those Who Want More on this Topic:

Here is a book review from  Quaker Theology, Issue #21, page 91ff, of the book, American Religion, Contemporary Trends, by Mark Chaves. Princeton University Press, 2011, 135 pages. 

Reviewed by Chuck Fager 

Most Quaker groups I know of worry about growing. Whether they call it “outreach” or evangelism, whether they preach about it endlessly or only whisper furtively in the hallways, the desire, the need for more members and attenders hangs over Friends like an ever-present specter. 

Chaves-American-Religion-Cover-Church-GrowthThis concern (obsession?) is as prevalent in large pastoral churches with many staff as it is in small silent meetings wondering how to pay the light bill. In response, barely a season goes by without a new outreach/evangelistic scheme popping up and seemingly catching fire, be it “friendship evangelism” for the pastorals or “Quaker Quest” among the unprogrammed liberals. Some are quite expensive, requiring training sessions, purchase of materials, consultants’ visits, and so forth. 

And just as quickly, it seems, these programs fade, like last year’s must-have video game or a shark-jumping “reality” show. They recede, alas, because they don’t show results after the early flurry. And in the Quaker groups which are losing members most rapidly (you know who you are; your name is legion), an undertone of desperation can be detected in discussions about their future; if the tide can’t be turned, Friends, oblivion – denominational as well as congregational– lurks not far around the corner. 

Where, the urgent query rises as eyes anxiously scan the clouded horizon, where can we find real help? 

Right here, I’m pleased to report. 

Mark Chaves has it all, in this slim, packed, award-winning volume. A professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University, his American Religion, Contemporary Trends, sums up more than 40 years of careful, wide-ranging, and impartial survey research on U.S. Protestantism. And in this body of work are all the time-tested ingredients needed for solid, continuing church growth, which I’ll pass on to you presently, no extra charge. 

But first, a bit of background. The overall picture of American Protestant Christianity which emerges in Chaves’s pages is not, at first blush, an optimistic one. For one thing, church attendance has been stagnant since at least the 1970s, and now there are signs of slow but gathering decline. (The trend seems clear, even though Americans obscure it by habitually lying to pollsters about their religiosity, claiming to attend church substantially more often than they actually do. (43-45)) But they haven’t fooled Chaves: “Any talk of increased religious participation in the United States in recent decades,” he declares flatly, “is baseless.” (47) 

For another, the prospects for smaller congregations (which includes most Friends meetings) seem dim indeed: churchgoing Americans continue to flock to and swell the rolls of the so-called megachurches (65f), while the smaller ones dwindle: collection plates get emptier, and the main way their membership grows is older. 

It used to be that this church shrinkage was primarily a liberal or “Mainline” problem, while evangelical bodies kept expanding, and took the differential as a sign of divine favor. 

But that was then. In the past fifteen years, the Mainline virus has seeped widely across the Mason-Dixon line. (92, 131) Now even the once-mighty Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant association and one long under staunchly evangelical control, has been losing numbers and money bigtime. (Barna; Rankin; Stepp) 

Meanwhile, the fastest-growing category on the religious landscape is the un-churched. (18f) Few of them are actually atheists (though non-theist numbers are on the rise), but they seem content to deal with God or Whoever on their own, thank you very much. Yet for the custodians of institutional religion, their indifference is just as great a calamity as if they were out-and-out unbelievers. 

So, as Chaves repeats, anybody who tells you the U.S. is undergoing some kind of religious revival is either ignorant, or kidding: themselves, you or both. 

Yet, amid the overall gloom, there are (non-mega) churches which are growing, some quite rapidly, and the reasons for their increase come down to a startlingly simple formula. Simple, but time-tested, and not limited to a particular doctrinal system. 

What is it? Get out your tablets and prepare to pound the keys, Friends, because here it is: 

The Guaranteed Formula For Church Growth 

Step 1. Have lots of kids. And;
Step 2. Hang on to most of them. 

That’s it. 

As Chaves says, “Differential fertility has produced approximately 80 percent of the shifting fortunes of liberal and conservative Protestant churches.” (88) Until the past generation, evangelicals had the growth drill down pat: their fertility was high, and busy youth ministries kept young people (and many parents) involved all the way through the high school years. (89) 

The “retention difference,” Chaves explains, “probably exists because evangelical families place more emphasis on religion than mainline families do, and conservative churches involve young people in a denser social web of youth groups, church camps, and church-based socializing, all of which increase the chances that a young person will remain in the fold as an adult.” (90) After that much programming, even many young adults who wander off for a decade or so tend to drift back when they have kids of their own. Or at least, they used to. 

By the way, contrary to some reports, Chaves notes that only about 10 percent of youths who drop out of liberal churches then turn to the evangelicals. The rest then “drop in” to the “none-of-the-above-ites,” who don’t go to church at all. (87) 

To repeat: if your group wants church growth, have lots of kids and keep most of them. That’s the law and the prophets. The once robust growth rate of evangelical churches, Chaves reiterates, came “because their families produced more children than did mainline families and because they retained the people they had better than liberal denominations did.” (91)

Simple. 

What? Is that reader resistance I’m already feeling? Did someone say it has to be more complicated than that? 

Go ahead, cavil. Check it out for yourself (the book is short, barely 130 pages of widely-spaced, accessibly written text), and ponder the results. See if you find any way around it. 

But what about all those nifty evangelism/outreach programs? Don’t they work? 

Basically, no. 

Sure, some bring in newcomers, a few of whom will stay. But if you look only at the visitors coming in the front door, Friend, thee will fail to notice the other attenders slipping out the side and back doors. Attrition is an ongoing fact. In the face of such erosion, outreach work is at best a wash, that maintains the status quo; except usually not quite. 

By contrast, evidence for the efficacy of this “Guaranteed Formula” runs all through the research Chaves summarizes, and is widely confirmed from outside it too: the Amish and the Mormons are Exhibits A and B. Many Islamic groups are Exhibit I; Orthodox Jews are Exhibit J. 

With the remedy in view, let’s look back at the American Society of Friends, to gauge the implications. 

One word sums them up: dire. 

Overall, U.S. Quakers flunk the formula test on both counts. Our fertility is very low, and our retention record ranges from tepid to dreadful. 

On the one side, liberal Friends have for years been under the sway of an eco-orthodoxy that, stripped of softening verbiage, basically regards having children as a sin against earth. For instance, the leading Friends environmental group long offered grants for Quaker men to have vasectomies, and urges fertile Friends to consider adoption rather than bearing children themselves. (Vasectomy; Adoption) Clearly, from their perspective, one of the many crises facing the world is that there are too many Quakers, and they are eager to help us eliminate ourselves. On the other side, our religious ed programs are, to put it kindly, mostly unpersuasive, and often mainly a flimsy faith in osmosis. 

The record among most pastoral groups is, if possible, even worse, though perhaps for different reasons. The Clerk of a pastoral yearly meeting that was once one of the largest, but has shrunk to half the size in a generation, summed their situation up for me this way: “We’re too male, too pale, and too stale.” 

They also fit the latest research, that Chaves only alludes to, which shows that most evangelical groups have definitely lost their mojo on the formula front: not only are birthrates down, but despite frenetic effort, they are hemorrhaging young adults, the fabled Millennials, legions of whom are voting with their feet against the spirit of rightwing obscurantism and repression that largely reigns among their churches. (91, 99f; Barna). 

For both wings of Quakerdom, fertility is being further suppressed by the ongoing economic drag of the current economic depression: births in the U.S. have fallen for each of the past four years. (CBS; CDC) So for many younger Quakers today, starting a family is seen as too great a financial risk. 

Well. In light of this bleak survey, what is to be done? 

The great economist John Maynard Keynes liked to speak of “animal spirits” as a mysterious source of “positive decisions”, be they “moral or hedonistic or economic.” They involve trust, confidence, optimism, and a sense of adventurous courage, all of which can be affected by many environmental factors. (Keynes) 

Clearly, American Friends could use a major boost in their “animal spirits.” Those in their fertile years could begin seeking one by rethinking (and rejecting) the propaganda that stigmatizes producing Quaker kids as treason against the planet. Older Quakers could encourage them in this overdue reappraisal, then focus on the retention side, supporting young parents, and helping create and staff the “denser social webs” that knit meeting communities together and keep youth (among others) engaged. For pastorals, it would also help to cut out the “Christian” Right malarkey. 

I’m well aware that these suggestions are easy to make, but hard to execute, for a myriad of reasons, both internal and external. The temptation to avoid dealing with them, and instead send a committee running after the latest outreach/evangelism nostrum is understandable. But to paraphrase the Catholic teachers of my youth, extra ecclesiam, nulla salus: outside the Guaranteed Formula, there is little hope in sight. 

Chaves does not mince words: “The religious trends I have documented [of the past 40+ years] point to a straight-forward general conclusion: no indicator of traditional religious belief or practice is going up . . . . If there is a trend, it is toward less religion.” (110) 

Given the record amply documented in this compact, eye-opening survey, our respective status quos and their self- limiting orthodoxies are also a recipe for continued Quaker decline, or worse. 

Keynes was no Quaker, but his words still resonate: “Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits – a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.” 

I’m not an economist, but I suspect that if Keynes had been a Quaker, his rendering of “animal spirits” for us today would be what they used to call, “Grace.” 

Other Works Cited: 

Barna Group, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave church,” September 28, 2011, http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church 

CBS News, US Birthrate drops for fourth year; http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-501367_162-57524932/baby-bus t-continues-us-births-down-for-4th-year/ 

CDC report on birthrate: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_05.pdf 

Keynes, John M. (1936). The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. London. Macmillan. pp. 161-162. 

QEW: Quaker Earthcare Witness, ‘Men-4-Men,” Vasectomy grants: http://archive.quakerearthcare.org/Publications/Pamphlets/PamphletPDFs/M4Mc.pdf ) 

———-, Adoption: http://www.quakerearthcare.org/Publications/Pamphlets/Pamphl etPDFs/Adoption.pdf. 

Rankin, Russ, Lifeway Christian Resources, “Southern Baptists decline in baptisms, membership, attendance.” June 9, 2011. http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Southern-baptists-decline-in-baptisms-membership-attendance 

Stepp, Laura Sessions, “Why Young Evangelicals Are Leaving Church,” Special for CNN, December 16, 2p0011. http://www.cnn.com/2011/12/16/opinion/stepp-millennials-churc h/index.html 

Annals of Homophobia: Don’t Cry For Kim, Rowan County

Annals of Homophobia: Don’t Cry For Kim, Rowan County

Remember the “Rainbow Tour” song from the movie version of “Evita”, the rock opera about Eva Peron? (If not, listen to it here right away.

It follows (and deconstructs) Evita’s supposedly triumphal European tour in the late 1940s:

Evita-Time-cover
A 1947 cover of TIME Magazine, featuring Eva “Evita” Peron, on the occasion of her “Rainbow Tour” in Europe.

The third verse from this stunning ensemble piece came back to mind on Wednesday:

More Bad news from Rome — 
She met with the Pope;
She only got a rosary, a kindly word–
I wouldn’t say the Holy Father 
Gave her the bird,
But papal decorations, never a hope . . .”

Who else met with the pope, more recently, and came away with only a rosary and some kindly words?

Yeah, Kim Davis.

News of the brief September 24 encounter was “leaked” by her lawyer.

It happened at the Vatican embassy in Washington, the day before Davis visited the Values Voter Summit, put on annually by Family Research Council Action. 

Family_Research_Council_Logo

FRCA is an ultra-rightwing lobby which has specialized in homophobia, plus anti-divorce, anti-same sex marriage and lots of other anti-stuff in the U.S., as well as support for draconian antigay laws in African countries. It has been named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

FRC-hate-groupIn presidential years, the farther-right GOP candidates line up at the FRCA “Summit” to preen and toss red meat. This time most of them showed up, even Trump (but not Jeb!?) The Summit also runs a straw poll, of course, and this time ted Cruz, perhaps the nastiest of them all (but it’s a tough choice), won.

Still, despite the flurry of media attention that followed the disclosure, the visit turns out to be not exactly a big deal.

To be sure, Francis is on record as being against same sex marriage, and LGBT issues generally (even if he said “Who am I to judge?”); and has repeated the “religious liberty” meme which the American right (including its large Catholic wing) has been turned into a dog-whistle for protecting homophobic discrimination. None of this is new, even if he went out of his way to NOT repeat any of it in public while he was here.

In all his public, to-the-country statements repeatedly (& honestly) trashed the right wing Catholic political agenda, and the bishops’ alliance with them. If I was scoring all this, it would go: 20 for Francis’s good stuff, 1 (so far) for bad. In sports or politics, that would be a landslide or a rout. And in Vegas, betting on the pope saying progressive things while in the USA would have been a very big, loud winner. 

Compare: the Davis meeting was held in private, with no papal aides, news media,  or Davis’s lawyer; it lasted  only a few minutes; the pope’s reported pleasantries were boilerplate; and when asked later, he did not seem well-briefed on her case

Further, the fact of the meeting was embargoed until the pope was safely back in Rome. And late on September 30, the Vatican was still declining to comment on it, sounding embarrassed and blindsided. Some ballyhoo.

Of course, homophobic crusaders like Davis’s “Liberty Counsel” and the “Alliance Defending Freedom” were ecstatic at the news leak, and insisted that it showed that Francis was on board with their campaigns. They can’t be stopped for grabbing this patronizing shred of recognition.

But time to cue the Evita sound track again:

She only got a rosary, a kindly word–
I wouldn’t say the Holy Father 
Gave her the bird,
But papal decorations, never a hope . . .”

Papal decorations? Yeah, there are lots of them. They weren’t likely in this case; but just so you know.

papal-decoration-1
Papal decorations: the order of St. gregarious (above) and the Order of Pope Pius the Ninth. There are several more.

papal-decoration-3-GoodYet Davis didn’t go back to Kentucky unrewarded. Family Research Action gave her a “Cost of Discipleship Award”; its president compared her to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks.  So don’t cry for her, Rowan County.

But the rest of us could shed a tear for Parks, King and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose witness and martyrdom  were twisted by a creepy group whose worldview would have all of them spinning in their graves. 

PS. Update: Jesuit editor Fr. James Martin adds his well-informed insider perspective here. His verdict also: NBD

 

Kim-Davis-hands-raised

Evita-madonna